This weekend I picked up Movie Mutations a new book of essays edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin. The book opens with a collection of letters exchanged in 1997 by Rosenbaum, Martin, Kent Jones, Alexander Horwath, Nicole Brenez, and Raymond Ballour, all of them children of the 60s grappling with their generation's brand of cinephilia.
Although I haven't read past this opening section (33 pages), the letters are so rich with ideas that I'm recommending the book to cinephiles even if the remaining chapters turn out to be trash. Having skimmed them, I'm sure they won't.
Each of the letters contains more than its share of wisdom. For example, Kent Jones writes:
The emergence of the rock video and the home video revolution were concurrent phenomena that influenced and reflected back on each other. I've read a lot of useless theorising about rock videos, on the one hand panicky rants about how they have destroyed narrative coherence and on the other hand misguided assertions that their aesthetic had such historical precedents as Bruce Conner, Kenneth Anger and Un chien andalou (1928). But it always seemed clear to me that the rock video originated in yet another, earlier technology. One of the key experiences for American teenagers of my generation was driving with the radio on and feeling the intoxicating effect produced by the marriage of rock music and the passing landscape....
A secretly manufactured form of virtual reality, producing mysterious epiphanies when the blur from the car window was mixed with the sounds of whatever was coming from the airwaves, the music/movement experience was soon refined by the appearance of the tape deck, thus allowing the music to be chosen and to fit either the exterior or interior landscape (they had a way of mixing together), and henceforth become an actual soundtrack. The Walkman was a further refinement, releasing the whole experience from the limits of the car and giving it the potential for complete privacy and more direct physical impact. Rock videos were an intuitive outgrowth of this new form of experience writ monumentally large by mass production.
Those of us who grew up in the video age often overlook the massive but not always obvious impact that video has made on cinema. Now you can order up a movie based on personal whim, choosing a movie as a "self-prescriptive therapeutic device," as Jones says. In many ways, the availability of movies &mdash which has exploded since the writing of these letters — is a great thing. But in other subtle ways, we've become accustomed to movies meeting us, massaging our individual interests, rather than us having to work to meet a movie on its own terms.
Strangely enough, the Internet feeds this sense of individualism, even though it's a communication device, even though it connects people. We can choose our news feeds, dial up our channels, and speak into the wind on our Internet weblogs, islands.
I read this over Christmas, and I have to agree, it's a great read, even if the above essay already appeared online somewhere (Senses of Cinema?) and I'm not familiar with the films of Masumura.
I'm also quite intrigued with cinephilia as its represented by various generations and how it has evolved from the '50s and '60s to today. I like your point about the isolationism of the Internet, and so potentially is the act of watching videos in one's living room instead of screening 16mm prints at a local repertory theatre or coffee house or classroom. I think we young-uns are probably just as likely to wax nostalgically for an era we've only heard described to us, but I sometimes wish I was 20 years older. :)
I also think it's interesting that Rosenbaum differentiates between his generation and people like Kent Jones. They're both Baby Boomers, for crying out loud, even if one is older and the other is somewhat younger. It's interesting that almost everyone cinephile I know with a website is 20-40 years old, whatever you want to call that generation. I wish they would've included us, too.
This sounds good, thanks for the tip. Hope to hear your reactions as you progress through the book.
Ah, the letters are online. I didn't think to check. They were originally published in the French journal Trafic, which is cool but not in English (and I've never been able to find a web site). Then it looks like they appeared in Film Comment.
As for the web-aged cinephiles, I guess we'll just have to define ourselves. Those ol' fogeys don't understand. Granted, the web — and the cinephiles it encourages — have grown tremendously since these letters were written in 1997. And DVD, too.
Maybe it's time for another round of letters.