The Extraordinary Event of Everyday Cinema: The Beautiful, Strange Films of Marc Lafia

This is an edited excerpt from a forward that introduces, and attempts to frame, a soon-to-be published monograph 
dedicated to the films of Marc Lafia. 

We watch videos all day on YouTube, Facebook, Vine, Vimeo. The recorded moving image has shifted from over there on the big screen to right here in front of us, always. Recording and playback have become ubiquitous, networked, and computational.  We live within a cinematic infrastructure: everyone recording, editing, distributing, viewing all the time. 

And yet what we call our the so-called movies remain, for the most part, univocal and monumental: big stories that move in one direction. So-called indie films tend to be even more monumental. I'm thinking of "Little Miss Sunshine" with its paint by numbers narrative of bourgeois redemption. On the other hand, Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean" films are multivocal, unsettling, post-internet films — and smart as heck, to boot. My point being that being monumental is not just a matter of money, special effects, or indie cred. Films today may include ubiquitous recording as something to represent—think of the Jason Bourne films or Catfish—but those films themselves remain monumental. What is "Catfish" but one big D'oh! moment? (Please note: this does not make them bad movies. I am not passing aesthetic judgement. I, for one, loved those Bourne films, perhaps even more than my son did.)

My point is that how we watch "movies" is different than how we watch videos every day on our phones — and that the way we watch on our our phones might be interesting, might open up new possibilities of cinema. Hopping about the interweb, we enjoy all these snippets and moments that present a character in motion, living a life, not cohering into a linear story. I see your Facebook posts of this or that; maybe a tweet here or there; a few images of you at a party, with your kids, drinking a martini, mugging with Snoop Dog. I keep hearing Christopher Moltisanti kvetching about his lack of an arc. But, today, we don't create or expect an arc as much as we expect a splattering of moments, posts, tweets, Instagrams, Vines, comments. What can we learn about cinema from how we watch our iPhones?

The always-on recording of the social Web is fundamentally changing our way of standing toward the image, toward ourselves, toward each others. And yet when it comes to watching “movies,” we have very different expectations—not just in terms of craft or quality but in terms of what counts as real, as scene, as screen, as a film.

As a trained filmmaker who once made feature films, Marc Lafia has no doubt been afforded new methods and undeniable freedoms by new media. He doesn’t need six truckloads of booms, cables, and grips—not to mention a truckload of money. He has an idea; puts together a cast; and films wherever he is—usually the streets of New York.  Often, he has actors film themselves on their own, armed with some kind of instructions and a small HD camera. His process is open yet exact, somewhat “scripted,” always developing, adjusting to circumstance.

But this is not an inexpensive way to make a so-called indie film with quirky characters and redemption narratives. This is not a way to make a film on the cheap and avoid the Hollywood scramble for money. For Lafia, new media means new ways of going. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari, new media offer a line of flight from the state apparatus of the film industry. The everyday tools of cinema breed a different kind of cinema, with different narrative strategies, different notions of character, a different interplay of ideas, scene, and even screen. Lafia’s films do not as much use or embrace new media as they are of this everyday cinema. This is not simply a new way of recording: it is a recoding—of cinema, of narrative, of self, of life.

I want to call his films a cinema of the event in which the very act of ubiquitous recording creates something new —new ways of knowing, of being, of looking, of living. The camera in this digital age is not a means of mediating an encounter or representing reality. I'll remember this moment forever! Click! On the contrary, the camera is constitutive of the encounter. It doesn’t just record something else happening over there; it forges events in which it is a player right here. The camera doesn't come after the fact; the camera's presence helps forge the very nature of the event itself: we are always already recording and hence acting accordingly.

Lafia's brilliant "Hi How Are You Guest 10479" explicitly takes on the always-on camera of the social Web as we watch a woman alone her in Manhattan apartment seek intimacy and connection through adult chat rooms. At some point, it occurs to the viewer that there’s no cameraman there. The incredible Raimonda Skeryte is not just the actor: she sets the scene and records herself. It's an elaborate Instagram selfie.

Hi, How are You Guest 10497
from marc lafia on Vimeo.

This is the condition of cinema today: we are all actors, filmmakers, editors, producers, and distributors. As we are all folded into the cinematic event, what is real and what is fiction becomes irrelevant, not because the recording and the flesh are the same but because the recording is real, too. The camera doesn’t capture action that’s been scripted elsewhere; it’s not an illustrated storybook. As we all relentlessly record ourselves and are recorded, we become part of the cinematic fabric of life, the spectacle of which we are both constituent and constitutive.

These conditions demand a new mode of film. The contemporary French philosopher François Laruelle writes of the necessity of addressing immanence via immanence in an immanent manner, not allowing for an all seeing purview. . . .” And that is precisely what Lafia gives us: films of the cinematic everyday using methods of the cinematic everyday. Here, there is no outside the gaze, no all-seeing director behind the camera, no fourth wall. If monumental cinema stands back and films what’s over there, Lafia’s everyday cinema flourishes within the infinite web of lenses and screens, within the relentless event of recording, not as his subject matter per se but as his formal approach. 

“Hi How Are You Guest 10479” is not a recording of the event of social media, as if Lafia were trying to put a finger on the pulse of the kids today. This is not old media capturing new media. What Lafia does is operate within the world of the always-on camera, the camera that we first read about in Bergson’s Matter and Memory and which, with the rise of the digital, became externalized: from our heads to the world and then, as Debord notes, back again. There's no arc. It's all just moments here and there, some more intense than others, some more poignant, some adding up, some drifting away.

No, Lafia’s films are not about this new world order. They are of this new world order, of the always recorded, always played back world: of everyday cinema.

The cinema of the right here, of the everyday, involves a shift in the economy of the screen, the scene, the story, the character, and the affective experience. This is what makes watching Lafia’s films so uncanny: they operate in a functional and affective space that is at once known and unknown, everyday and extraordinary, familiar and unfamiliar. There are threads of story but his films operate more like social media, a smattering of moments, of posts, woven together to forge this experience. Characters and actors blur into each other without fanfare and pretense; this is simply the condition of everyday cinema. And the affect is intimate, at times uncomfortably so—intense, inchoate, confrontational. 

This everydayness of our social media creates a pervasive recording environment that is very much alive. Recording and screening are always right next to us, with us all the time. It is continuous—with itself as well as with the so-called real. We act now as though a camera were always present because, alas, a camera always is present. Lafia is tapping into the vast, living, breathing cinematic organism that our world has become. We live in a cinematic experience that is always already happening.

And, for Lafia, this introduces new possibilities of film. A hard and fast story line rarely prevails. Rather, all sorts of things happen that are unexpected and unpredictable. Everyday cinema is more like a conversation than a story. We don’t need that old standby, the suspension of disbelief. All we have to do is go with the flow of images, a flow that happens on multiple screens and in multiple times simultaneously. If cinema has always told us stories about ourselves, inflected how we imagine ourselves, this new cinema offers new kinds of stories, new ways of imagining ourselves, new modes of perception and relating, ones that are vital and relevant to the now.

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