The fourth discussion in the ‘Cinephilia Rediscovered’ series united three cinephile critics: Jonathan Rosenbaum, who published extensively on cinephilia (must-reads are his Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia and Movie Mutations, co-edited with Adrian Martin), Miguel Marías, former director of the Spanish Film Archive and of the Spanish Film institute ICAA, and Girish Shambu, probably today’s most influential blogger on cinema, and co-editor (also with Martin) of the wonderful online film journal LOLA (of which the second issue was released two weeks ago). Last October, I had already attended one of two captivating masterclasses on cinephilia Rosenbaum gave in Brussels, so it seemed beyond doubt that this session would again provide some valuable insights.
As in the earlier panel debates, the participants touched on the altered ways of film viewing – a subject that usually tends to generate very diverging opinions. I was intrigued to hear how Miguel Marías claimed that the big screen not only amplifies the impact of films, but also stimulates their remembrance. Because earlier generations of cinephiles realised that it was highly probable that they would see a film only this one time, they made sure to absorb it intensely – not in the least, of course, when they had to write something about it afterwards, solely relying on their own memory. Marías’ idea reminded me of Jim Hoberman’s confession earlier this week, admitting that a lot of his strongest memories stem from television broadcasts (although what he meant was, of course, that the most powerful films even endure to be watched on a little screen).
Marías remark made me think of a related shift in film viewing, much discussed within the context of cinephilia. Earlier generations of cinephiles not only understood that they would be able to see certain films only once, they sometimes also had to make serious efforts to actually see them. This definitively encouraged them even more to fully experience the spectacle. Talking with film scholar Ruben Demasure about the possibility of travelling to London to visit a screening of a restored print of Otto Preminger’s Laura at the British Film Institute, we ended up considering the lengths a cinema purist has to go to in order to watch certain films in the appropriate conditions. He cited John Cassavetes, who once said: “You should work to see my films, you should go a long way to see them on a big screen, and boy, you should pay for the privilege!” (Actually quoted in Adrian Martin’s article ‘Curiosity/Exigency’).
Although the increased availability of films and the modern methods of viewing are partly the reason why there are so many in-depth film analyses available today, the fact that films are so much more easily obtainable might also have caused laziness among film viewers. Precisely because one is able to see the canonical films in various ways, so many of them remain unwatched, and added to an ever-growing pile of films-to-see. Luc Moullet once defined cinephilia as the dialectic between accessibility and inaccessibility. Because of its short history, one can relatively quickly (especially compared with literature) become an expert on cinema. Nevertheless, in order to actually see certain individual films, a cinephile sometimes has to overcome practical difficulties (cited in Christian Keathley’s Cinephilia and History, p. 20):
“Reaching cinemas in the neighbourhoods, the suburbs, the countryside or abroad was a very hazardous affair… Until a short time ago all these difficulties gave me a feeling of being a pioneer, an explorer, a dare-devil, a hero. This victory over adversity gave me a naïve pleasure, like that of someone who conquers a summit or discovers a virgin pass, a specific pleasure that was part of the quest. Inaccessibility creates a sense of urgency, forces you to see films the moment they are shown. I bent over backwards to watch Autant-Lara’s Lucien Leuwen (which, by the way, was a disappointment) when it was shown on television, because I knew there was a possibility that I’d never again have the chance to see it, while it took me twenty years to read Stendhal’s remarkable ‘Leuwen’, because I knew I could always get it at the library.”