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November 30, 2010

Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia

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Jonathan Rosenbaum - 2010
The University of Chicago Press

It may sound silly, but with Jonathan Rosenbaum discussing new ways of watching movies, I was feeling a bit old fashioned, reading a book in its traditional bound and printed form. I have never even entertained the idea of buying a Kindle. I find find the idea of doing sustained, lengthy reading from an electronic device problematic because I find it difficult to look at a computer screen for the same kind of length that I can read several pages of a book. How this connects with Rosenbaum's book is that to a limited extent, considering the book has been out for just a couple of months, it is already out of date. Unless I missed it, there was no mention of film viewing done in the form of streaming or video on demand, as well as the ability to see films through various bit torrent programs. While what is made available is still limited by a variety of factors, these more recent ways of film viewing are gaining on not only the traditional theatrical mode of viewing films, but also watching films on DVD or television broadcast.

More many readers, Jonathan Rosenbaum may be preaching to the choir. My own viewing of films has changed drastically since my first purchase of a DVD player back in 2001. That purchase, plus a subscription to Netflix had made it possible to start seeing films I had often read about, and expanded my ability to see films that would never have gotten theatrical release. And yes, as nice as it is to see a film in a theater, I don't miss the out of focus projector, the sound that is too loud or not even turned on, or the other various snafus that occur in the projectionist's booth, not to mention the audience members who forget to turn of their cell phones, or worse, think nothing of having a conversation in the theater, as happened to me when I first tried to watch Chunking Express.

I don't think there is an argument regarding what is called film, cinema or movies being in constant change with the physical properties of a movie not always being of celluloid in the production or in the format used for presentation. Likewise, film criticism shifting from print to the internet, with what is written and how it is written being more flexible. It's not an easy change, as one film blogger felt that she was not given the same kind of respect in covering a recent film festival as those still with printed publications. There is a former print film critic, who took a severance package shortly before the newspaper he was with folded, whose blog only covers films receiving theatrical release, never particularly provocative, as if he was still writing for the same general audience. As for that audience, there is a greater choice of films to be seen in one format or another, but encouraging people to look beyond the familiar choices is another matter.

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Samuel Fuller and Francoise Vatel in Brigitte and Brigitte (Luc Moullet - 1966)

Where Rosenbaum is most valuable, at least for me, is in discussing filmmakers I don't know about, like Pere Portabella, or filmmakers I have read about but haven't seen yet, like Luc Moullet. Possibly the best argument for film critics not writing about other film critics is a piece on Raymond Durgnat, with Rosenbaum's essay interrupted in part by Durgnat's responses, clarifying himself in some instances. What is best would be the pieces on films, filmmakers and even actors. The book acts in much the same way that I like communicating with others online about film, or reading their posts, in either looking at a film or an actor with a different set of eyes, or discussing a film that I might not have known about previously.

Best tidbit was reading that Carl Dreyer was given a movie theater in Copenhagen to run from 1952 by the Danish government. Among the movies that played at this top theater were Carmen Jones and East of Eden, as well as a revival of Gone with the Wind. According to Rosenbaum, Dreyer was able to live in relative security because of the movie theater. I'm not sure how well known this aspect of Dreyer's life was known outside of Denmark, or how or when Rosenbaum received this information. I have to regard this news with a sense of irony, based on how seemingly every other month, Herman G. Weinberg would wail about how philistine Hollywood would have the money to produce, for example, The Poseidon Adventure but wouldn't fork over anything for Carl Dreyer. Maybe Carl Dreyer proved to be pragmatic, and found a way to get support from Hollywood after all.

Posted by peter at November 30, 2010 04:48 AM