The Film Critic of the Future, Today
It felt appropriate to watch Jean Grémillon’s late impressionist film Gardiens de phare (marvellously shot by George Périnal, whose camerawork is omnipresent at Il Cinema Ritrovato, with screenings of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and David Golder this weekend, and Bonjour Tristesse, Otto Premingers masterpiece in CinemaScope, on Wednesday) before attending the second debate on the state of cinephilia yesterday. I was overwhelmed by Grémillon’s audacious mise-en-scène, and, while walking from the Cinema Jolly to the festival centre, even got more excited. After all, the upcoming debate would feature Jim Hoberman, probably my favourite contemporary film critic. Being a self-proclaimed Hobermanbot, I of course deeply bemoaned that The Village Voice had recently, as part of cost-cutting measures, eliminated his position as a senior critic, but at the same time, this urged my curiosity about his vision on the endangered profession of the film critic.
Surprisingly it was Hoberman’s fellow debater Ian Christie, a British film scholar and regular Sight & Sound contributor, who first mentioned the name Andrew Sarris. After emphasising the huge impact The American Cinema: Directors and Directions made on him as a young cinephile (Christie and Hoberman will certainly not be the last this week to admit possessing a dog-eared copy of Sarris’ auteurist bible), he took a moment to pay tribute to another recently passed away cinephile; Belgian scholar Paul Willemen, whose collection of essays Looks and Frictions: Essays in Cultural Studies and Film Theory (Indiana University Press, 1994) heavily influenced the realisation of this website – especially his dialogue with Noel King, ‘Through the Glass Darkly: Cinephilia Reconsidered’, in which he first coined the term cinephiliac moment.
Then Hoberman, consistently using the term cinemaphilia, took over by admitting that his mentor (Hoberman described himself as Sarris’ personal projectionist during his studies at Columbia University) influenced him even more in a different way: hosting a radio show on a local New York station, he used to browse the television broadcast programming, commenting on the best films of the week. This confession inevitably pushed the discussion towards today’s wider dissemination of films, and the activities of the cinephile 2.0. While acknowledging that cinephilia has been transformed from the irrational love that transcends all boundaries which it was in modernistic Paris (where impressionists and surrealists lyrically praised films as Gardiens de phare), Christie and Hoberman proved to be significantly less nostalgic than their French colleagues yesterday. Watching films on mobile phones or in airplanes is, after all, better than not watching them at all. Moreover, a lot of their most precious cinephile memories were situated in front of a minuscule black and white screen. Even then, Hoberman recollected, seeing Vertigo for the first time was no less than a revelation.
“The digital revolution has happened, so stop whining about it,” was undoubtedly their central message. Technological revolutions have always evoked a lot of grievances from sceptics, predicting the death of the cinema, but then again, Rudolf Arnheim wrote his rebuttal to their complaints in 1935, in a piece called ‘The Film Critic of the Future’…