Doomsday Cinema Package
Aiming to investigate what lives among new generations of cinephile critics, Il Cinema Ritrovato dedicated the fifth of their panel discussions to the ‘New Cinephile Brigade’. With Olaf Möller, Christoph Huber and Gabe Klinger, Roy Menarini, curator of the Cinephilia Rediscovered series, invited three of the enfants terribles of this new wave of critics, so it promised to be an animated discussion. Known for their nonconformist opinions, Möller and Huber are the founding members and self-assigned ‘Other First Secretaries of the Central Committee of the Ferroni Brigade’, named after Giorgio Ferroni, a rather little-known Italian director of adventurous epics. Together with two other associates (Barbara Wurm and The Hidden Member) they regularly hand out their infamous Golden Donkey awards to important films that are in danger of being overlooked by traditional critics. Möller frequently writes for Cinema Scope and Film Comment, while Huber is the main film critic for the Austrian newspaper Die Presse and European editor of Cinema Scope. Despite sharing their views on cinema, Gabe Klinger is no official member of the Ferroni Brigade. Teaching film at the National-Louis University and Columbia College, he has published in Indiewire, Undercurrent and De Filmkrant.
This threesome is somewhat notorious for their fundamental views on a number of hot topics, which often result in polemical and vibrant debates (their session in Bologna was certainly the most animated in the series). They claim to take on a radical position, because they sincerely believe that contemporary film culture finds itself in a very critical situation. Menarini immediately came to realise this, when he asked his guests about their ideas on the digital revolution and its consequences for film experience. Klinger instantly reacted by defining DCP as their great enemy, condescendingly unmasking it as the Doomsday Cinema Package. However, these young critics’ reservations about new modes of film viewing proved to differ significantly from the concerns some of their French colleagues had expressed earlier this week. While Douchet and his contemporaries displayed a rather unpractical nostalgia, the new cinephile brigade’s arguments sounded more pragmatic, although they were articulated in the same polemic fashion. One of their main worries was the fact that major restoration projects tend to save only the canonical films (although, as earlier discussions have proved, this is in itself an unsteady term), while films that are neglected by traditional platforms threaten to disappear. We witnessed many cinephiles this week moderately welcoming the wider dissemination of films through new (digital) sources, but these young Turks radically claimed that one hasn’t really seen a film, when it isn’t viewed in its original format: on film, in a theatre on a large screen. But as I mentioned, their motivation behind this statement sounded more plausible and nuanced than a nostalgic worship of all-things-cellulose. What worried Klinger is the uncertain life expectation of digital cinema formats. Echoing an anxiety that I heard among various film restorers and programmers this week, he sketched an alarming hypothesis. It sounds conceivable that in twenty years all canonical films have been transferred to DCP, and museums and archives start to get rid of original copies due to a lack of space. Only to discover, yet another twenty years, later that DCP’s lifespan isn’t as lengthy as expected.
Simultaneously with this session, the festival was screening a digital restoration by Sony Columbia of Bonjour Tristesse, Otto Preminger’s virtuoso lesson in widescreen staging. However, Huber used this screening as an example to argument why this film deserves a 35mm print, recalling how a fellow film buff preferred to watch the film at home on DVD, instead of attending a DCP screening in a theatre with a rather small screen. Klinger claimed that he had actually never seen a DCP that approached the texture of film stock (he didn’t even know then that, despite the stunning colour restoration, the screening suffered some synchronisation problems). The downside of the broader availability of film on different formats is indeed obvious: filmgoers become lazy. I’m not suggesting that cinephiles should, by definition, travel miles to see certain films, but the proliferation of home viewing formats threatens to evoke an increase of couch potatoes. Klinger noted that when he invites 30 of his students for a screening in a theatre, only four of them show up, while the rest just downloads the film from the Internet. As an alumnus of two film programmes at the University of Antwerp, I understand his concerns all too well, unfortunately. When taking a course in film history, more than 200 students were enthusiastically encouraged to go and see twelve canonical films (usual suspects, from Sunrise to À bout de souffle) that the university had selected to screen in perfect conditions at the Antwerp Film Museum (Cinema Zuid). Great was my astonishment right before the first screening, when I noticed that less than ten of my fellow students had shown up to see a reasonably good print of Intolerance with live piano accompaniment. Möller, Klinger and Huber argued that museums have an important responsibility in guiding young cinephiles to the film theatre. However, even granting free annual passes to all university film students (one bachelor and two master programs that is) at the start of the academic year in early October appears to have little or no impact, seeing that in March most of the students had not even come to pick up their pass yet…