This article first appeared in L’Atalante. Revista de estudios cinematográficos, issue 18, July-December 2014. We are very grateful to the editors for allowing us to republish it here.
One can describe the era we have entered – the period of DVD and VoD, of LCD and LED, of smart-phones and tablets, of streaming and files – as the post-cinematographic age in which the film has become immanent to our lives, thought and behaviour, while the traditional site at which spectators would encounter images and sounds, the cinema, is slowly but steadily shifting into obsolescence.See as further extensions of this argument Patricia Pisters: The Matrix of Visual Culture. Working with Deleuze in Film Studies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2003; Malte Hagener: “Where Is Cinema (Today)? The Cinema in the Age of Media Immanence“. In: Cinema & Cie. (special number “Relocation” edited by Francesco Casetti), no. 11, Fall 2008: 15-22; Francesco Casetti: “The Relocation of Cinema”. In: NECSUS – European Journal for Media Studies, no. 2 (autumn 2012): http://www.necsus-ejms.org/the-relocation-of-cinema/ (20.9.2013) If the cinema in its traditional sense is vanishing, what then is happening to cinephilia? Rather than being nostalgically tied to a specific space and place – the auditorium – or to a specific carrier and method for presenting moving images – projection of 35mm on a reflecting surface before a paying audience – I want to propose that cinephilia is rather characterized by a specific attitude towards the filmic and a way of experiencing audiovisual material. After outlining the classic period of cinephilia – the 1950s and 1960s – I want to sketch how we might begin to understand the transformations that “cinephilia” has undergone in the age of the post-cinematographic. I consider cinephilia to be a practice always exceeding the fixity and stability of meaning, an active way of appropriating the world and its images in an idiosyncratic fashion. My take on cinephilia therefore looks to the past in order to attempt an outline of how cinephilia in the 21st Century might be shaped.For recent takes on the transformation of cinephilia see Malte Hagener, Marijke de Valck (eds): Cinephilia. Movies, Love and Memory. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2005; Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin (eds): Movie Mutations. The Changing Face of World Cinema. London: BFI 2003; Scott Balcerzak, Jason Sperb (eds): Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction. Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture. London, New York: Wallflower 2009.
I. Cinephilia 1.0 – Cinémathèque, Cahiers and Nouvelle Vague
“Classic” Cinephilia, a socially and culturally situated practice, first emerged fully blown in 1950s Paris as a specific attitude towards films. In his cultural history of cinephilia, Antoine de Baecque characterizes the practice as a view (“un régard”), a way of watching films and speaking about them, and a certain manner of spreading a discourse which provides the cinema with a context.Antoine de Baecque: La cinéphilie. Invention d’un regard, histoire d’une culture, 1944-1968. Paris: Fayard 2003: 11. [“La cinéphilie, considérée comme une manière de voir les films, d’en parler, puis de diffuser ce discours, est ainsi devenue pour moi une nécessité, la vraie manière de considérer le cinéma dans son contexte.”] In the screenings at the Cinémathèque française, where the editors of Cahiers du Cinéma gathered, but also in other Parisian theaters such as the MacMahon, a taste culture developed that took the cinema seriously both as an art form and as a specific manner of experience. Cinephilia was supported by magazines and tied to sites and places – the cinemas itself, the seats which individuals occupied by habit, cafés and editorial offices as meeting points and arenas for debate. These configurations gave birth to relatively rigid group structures that were most often, it has to be said, heterosexist, patriarchal and hierarchical. Watching films at the cinema, often several per day, counted as a substitute for film schools which the later protagonists of the Nouvelle Vague did not attend, while writing about films initially took the place of making films; in fact, launching and defending specific positions in public was often meant to be understood as making films with other means. And indeed, for Truffaut, Godard, Rivette, Rohmer and Chabrol, it proved to be only a small step from being a critic to being a filmmaker, from a cinephile to a cineast.
A central aspect of classic cinephilia is the often idiosyncratic and original perspective on films that went hand in hand with a similarly personal style of visiting the cinema. Indeed, spatial as well as temporal aspects of watching films became an integral part of the cinema experience. Telling in this respect is the self-characterisation of Jean Douchet, a fellow traveller of the Nouvelle Vague, key author of the Cahiers du cinémaand teacher at the film school IDHEC in the 1970s, who describes the cinema visit as a cultish and ritual experience in which every action has a significance and nothing can be left to chance:
I have to enter the auditorium by the right-hand stairway and aisle. Then I sit to the right of the screen, preferably in the aisle seat, so that I can stretch my legs. This is not just a matter of physical comfort, or the view: I have constructed this vision for myself. For a long time, at the Cinémathéque, I sat in the front row, in the middle, with no one in front to disturb me, in order to be completely immersed in the show, always alone. Even today, it’s impossible for me to go to the cinema with anyone; it disrupts my emotion. But over the years and after many films, I’ve drawn back a bit, off to the right, and I’ve found my axis toward the screen. At the same time, I’ve positioned my spectatorial body with minute care, adopting three basic positions: streched out on the ground, legs draped over the seat in front of me, and, finally, my favorite but the most difficult position to achieve, the body folded in four with the knees pressed against the back of the seat in front of me.Jean Douchet: „La fabrique du régard“. In: Vertigo, no 10, 1993: 34. Translated by Timothy Barnard and quoted in Christian Keathley: Cinephilia and History, of The Wind in the Trees. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press 2006: 6f.
Jean Douchet’s favoured body posture acquired legendary status – or how else could a British cinephile like Thomas Elsaesser have heard about it in London before coming to Paris, as he confesses in his own éducation cinephilique: “Stories about the fetal position that Jean Douchet would adopt every night in the second row of the Cinémathèque Palais de Chaillot had already made the rounds before I became a student in Paris in 1967 and saw it with my own eyes…”Thomas Elsaesser: „Cinephilia or The Uses of Disentchantment“. In: Marijke de Valck, Malte Hagener (Hrsg.): Cinephilia. Movies, Love, and Memory. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2005: 27-43, here 29. The attention to the space and time of projection, to the specific experiential aspects of visiting the cinema, coupled with an adherence to the faintest detail, is central to this form of cinephilia.
It is important to keep in mind that every projection of a film is a singular event. The site- and time-specificity of film viewing – at what time do I watch which copy of a film, in which auditorium, on which seat, with whom, and under which circumstances – exceeds the meaning that a text can generated semiotically. The meaning of a film is not only constituted by textual cues, but also by aspects of transmission and contagion, of intensity and interaction between film and spectator, between audience and projection that depends as much on the specific disposition of the individual as on the film as an aesthetic object. To rephrase Heraklit: No man ever steps in the same film twice.
Yet again, if the film experience is so singular, how is it possible to achieve intersubjectivity, to communicate about it? A key to understanding cinephilia is its capability of connecting subjectivity and objectivity transforming a radically subjective practice into an intersubjective experience that enables communication. On the one hand, cinephilia implies a radical centering of the self, on the other hand stands the search for shared value judgments which opens up identity towards others. The affirmation of the self in its insular solipsism meets with a (verbal, written) externalisation of ideas that have to prove themselves in the eyes of others. It is on this field between radical individuality and connoisseurship or taste culture as social marks of distinction that French-inflected cinephilia developed in the course of the 1960s. Not only Antoine de Baecque marks 1968 as the endpoint, when the so called “affaire cinémathèque“ turned out to be the dress rehearsal for the failed revolt of spring and summer 1968. The removal of Henri Langlois in February 1968 as head of the Cinémathèque by the French cultural minister André Malraux led to public protests by artists, intellectuals and cinephiles that lasted until Langlois was reinstated – a victory over the state apparatus that did not repeat itself three months later in May 1968.
In the 1970s then, academic film studies took over and substituted libidinous affection with a deep-seated mistrust that found perhaps its most formative expressions in Jean-Louis Baudry‘s apparatus-theory and in Laura Mulvey’s theses on the male gaze.Laura Mulvey: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. In: Screen, vol. 16, no. 3 (autumn 1975): 6-18; Jean-Louis Baudry: “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus”. In: Film Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 2 (1974): 39-47 and Jean-Louis Baudry: “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema”. In: Camera Obscura, no. 1, Fall 1976: 104-128. Both theories argued against the significance of the single film instead turning towards the overriding structures dominating the cinema as apparatus and dispositif. Baudry claimed that the spatial and apparative configuration of the cinema, no matter which film was being shown, was part of a potent machinery of power and domination to which the spectator readily subjected him/herself in a search for pre-symbolic happiness and wholeness. Mulvey, on the other hand, related the different gaze structures inherent in the cinema as a technical medium but also as a storytelling machine to the century-old social discrimination of women. One can see these strongly negative, dystopian ideas about the cinema as expressions of disappointed love and, therefore, as a reaction to the (perceived) failure of 1968, the missed chance of radical political and social change that many hoped for in the late 1960s. Cinephilia, in any case, until the mid- to late 1990s was not a term that promised political or cultural surplus value, but it was used – if at all – as a disclaimer for a romantic and apolitical attitude towards the cinema which had to be overcome.
Cinephilia can be seen as a theoretical practice – or, vice versa, a practically applied theory. As in the case of photogénie, the unrepeatable and therefore unique experience of the cinema projection is highlighted. If we follow this idea that film is not a stable text or a reproducible artifact, but a unique event, film is not anymore a commodity of the entertainment industry or a medium of social communication, but it becomes part of a biography like accidental meetings and other supposedly contingent things of life. In this perspective, cinema is the place where energy is liberated connecting the individual with the film and thus coupling and short-circuiting him/her with further discourses and affectivities. In this sense, cinephilia sees the cinema as trans-subjective, as a medium that is capable of questioning, deconstructing, and reconfiguring the boundaries between individuals. This also hints at the processuality and instability, even the contradictory nature and the necessary failure of any process of subjectivisation that the cinema uncovers and thematizes if taken as a means of expression capable of reflexivity. Cinephilia then can be seen as a paradoxical structure of feeling, a specific disposition that is both radically subjective, but strives for communication and understanding. In a way, cinephilia corresponds to the peculiar viewing situation in the cinema when one is at the same time alone with one’s feelings and thoughts while being situated within a group of strangers that might temporarily turn into a community through shared laughter, tears, and emotions.
II. Immanence of the cinema and the post-cinematographic
It is by now widely acknowledged that the cinema has lost much of its material, textual, economic and cultural stability, instead giving way to a fuzzy and ubiquitous omnipresence. The cinema in its traditional configuration is losing cultural significance, while film as a specific form of affective address, temporal structure and narrative organization has become the implicit norm of moving image culture. As Francesco Casetti has argued, the cinema as medium is not anymore tied to a specific apparatus, but rather to the memory of an experience and to a cultural idea which he described as follows:
The traits that define the form of our experience of cinema are […] a relationship with images in movement, mechanically reproduced and projected onto a screen; a sensory intensity, tied most closely with the visual; a constriction of distance with the world; the opening up of a fantastical universe which is just as concrete as the real one; and finally, the sense of collective participation. These are the characteristics that allow other situations to appear or to be understood as cinematographic. However, these traits do not come to light only in theory – we extract them from our habits. Film theatres still exist and we continue to attend the cinema; every time we do, we experience the same cardinal elements and engage in the same behaviors. In essence, we can count on a consolidated experience that at every step confirms what cinema gives us and what it asks of us.Francesco Casetti: “The Relocation of Cinema”. In: NECSUS – European Journal of Media Studies, no. 2 (autumn 2012); online at http://www.necsus-ejms.org/the-relocation-of-cinema/ (5 September 2013)
What follows from these observations is that the cinema has penetrated the fabric of everyday life to such a degree that it appears senseless to talk of the relationship between reality and cinema in any traditional way (real/copy, signifier/signified, sign/referent, condition/symptom). We can no longer claim that there exists on the one hand a reality untouched by media while on the other hand there is the media which is depicting or representing this world. We live in an age of the immanence of media in which there is no transcendental horizon from which we can evaluate the ubiquitous mediatised expressions and experiences.
The term immanence evokes Gilles Deleuze’ philosophy which attempts to break out of the binary logic between subjectivity and objectivity, between percepts and perceiver, between inside and outside. The plane of immanence – as described by Deleuze and Guattari – forms the absolute ground from which one has to start thinking, an immanence not opposed to transcendence, but immanent unto itself. In this sense, the media could be said to form a plane of immanence since there is no possibility of thinking outside or beyond it. Our experience – our memory and subjectivity, our percepts and affects, our images of ourselves and the world – are always already mediatised, so we are in the cinema, even if we are not physically there. We have entered an era of media consciousness in which our sense of self and world are guided by frameworks related to the cinema and media at large. It is in this sense that Deleuze has referred to his cinema books as “a natural history of images”, in which the cinema becomes the (second) nature and life we all inhabit.
If this is true, then there can be no fundamental doubt about the audiovisual world that has become so pervasive and omnipresent in our world because there is no outside position, no place where one can escape mediated images. As Patricia Pisters, paraphrasing Gilles Deleuze, has put it: “we now live in a metacinematic universe that calls for an immanent conception of audiovisuality and in which a new camera consciousness has entered our perception.”Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2003: 16. This moves us beyond the classical philosophical opposition of pitching ontology – something outside the subject in the world – versus epistemology – everything being located in the perceiving subject. Instead, this position argues for the immanence of mediatised images in us and the immanence of us in these images – the distinction between an act of perception and the perceiving subject breaks down as the plane of immanence offers a realm that is beyond the traditional opposition between transcendence and immanence. This is something that cinephiles always already knew – the cinema is not a world apart unto itself, separated from life as a representation or a mere shadow of reality, but it is part of the same substance and it does not make much sense to draw any clear distinction between life and film. Finally, it seems, the immanent reality of media has caught up with cinephilia (or vice versa) – and this could be at least one reason for the revival of the concept.
III. Art Appropriating Film: Theft, Reverence or Blissful Ignorance?
While traditionally, film attempted to borrow the mantle of art from literature, painting, sculpture and music in order to be recognized as a serious form of expression, this relationship has been radically reconfigured, if not turned upside down, as contemporary art of the past twenty years has increasingly appropriated film and cinema as its source material. This is a further argument for the immancence of the cinema as visual artists increasingly discover film not only as a reservoir of visual imagery, but as a central aspect of the world one has to deal with. The remediation of film in installation work can be found in many already classic examples since the late 1980s – and this list is very far from complete: Matthias Müller’s reworking of 1950s Hollywood melodrama, Douglas Gordon’s treatment of classic movies by Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Henry King and others, Steve McQueen’s homage to Buster Keaton and others, Pierre Huyghe’s examination of temporal aspects of film, or Monica Bonvicini’s work dealing with power, space and gender in the cinema. Many of these installation works walk the line between cinephile practices and art traditions, but all share an understanding of how the canon of film from the 20th Century provides a cultural reservoir of images, characters, situations and narratives that have become our second nature.
I want to discuss one specific work to exemplify how cinephile practices have entered the mainstream of cultural production. I am aware that it is probably not particularly innovative to evoke Christian Marclay’s blockbuster installation The Clock which made the global round at art festivals since 2010, winning one of the main prizes at the Venice Biennale and creating buzz everywhere it was shown. It has garnered similar amounts of praise and criticism and I am not interested in putting myself into either camp, be it the detractors or the fan boys.See, as examples, Thom Andersen: „Random Notes on a Projection of The Clock by Christian Marclay“. In: Cinemascope, issue 48; online at http://cinema-scope.com/wordpress/web-archive-2/issue-48/random-notes-on-a-projection/ (5.12.2011); Zadie Smith: “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”. In: The New York Review of Books, 28.4.2011; online at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/apr/28/killing-orson-welles-midnight/ (5.12.2011); Bert Rebhandl: “Raum-Zeit-Kontinuum. 24 Stunden sind alle Tage. Christina Marclays Filminstallation ‚The Clock’“. In: Cargo, no. 11, September 2011: 32-35. What I rather want to propose is to look at the kind of relationship to filmic material the installation allows for or even requires. Marclay‘s work, a montage of shots from (mainly) commercial feature films, is based on a simple, yet highly effective premise, that of real time which is transposed onto the cinema in its entirety. The projection consists of clips from films that deal with time, that show clocks or other markers of diegetic time. These hints can be subtle and hidden as a clock tower in the far background or open and direct as the insert of a wrist watch, while someone mentions the time. Intradiegetic time always corresponds exactly to extradiegetic time, so a shot that shows the time to be 2.37pm is being shown in the installation at exactly 2.37pm. Quite logically, the installation has a running time of 24 hours, so film becomes a second nature reproducing the daily routine of work, sleep, eating and leisure time, while also perpetually renewing itself incessantly because a new day always follows the old one. Just like life, The Clock never stops. It has an almost irresistible draw, but it also shows the banality of every day being exactly the same as the one before.
The Clock has been shown exclusively as an installation piece within art institutions, never at cinemas or film festivals, even though one could imagine the work to be marketed on DVD or as a video stream. Marclay consciously controls and limits his work (which is, in principle, endlessly reproducible) to specific contexts; it was widely reported that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) paid close to half a million Dollar for a copy of the work, mixing indignation about the allegedly inflated price with the knowledge of exclusivity that results from it. Apart from limited runs at galleries, museums and art festivals, only six copies exist in museums around the world (among them such seminal institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, and Centre Pompidou).Daniel Zalewski: „The Hours. How Christian Marclay created the ultimate digital mosaic“. In: The New Yorker, 12 March 2012. Online at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/03/12/120312fa_fact_zalewski (5.9.2013) Somewhat paradoxically, this artificial limitation of a (reproducible) work which refers to the logic of the art market, implies, even demands, a spectatorial disposition that foregrounds the uniqueness of the filmic event, something seemingly lost in the digital age. As one cannot buy The Clock on DVD or have access in other ways, one is dependent on specific places and times to see the work. Interestingly, most reviews mention the context of encountering the work, the travel involved, the wait and anticipation, the time one entered and left again, the battle against fatigue and other contextual factors. In former times, this was part and parcel of cinephilia when one often had to travel to see a particular film or retrospective. Generations of cinephiles have experienced tension and anticipation before a projection – the knowledge that this will be possibly the only chance to encounter that specific work for a long time renders the experience specific. The resulting attitude attempts to absorb every sound and image because one consciously knows the uniqueness of the event – The Clock supports a similar mindset, as the piece is hard to see and almost impossible to watch in its entirety at a single occasion.
Clearly, the work uses two key elements familiar from modernist aesthetics which are central to cinephilia if seen as a specifically modern practice – fragmentation and montage. Cinephilia is less interested in the rational understanding of a plot or in the logical reconstruction of the motives of characters, but it rather uses details and juxtapositions in order to pry open a work towards new significance and meaning. Marclay himself readily admits that he hardly ever watches whole films, but is rather interested in the unexpected connections and contrasts he finds when channel-surfing in a foreign hotel room late at night. Just as Jean Epstein highlighted the detail in his thinking about photogénie and the close-upSee the essays collected in Sarah Keller, Jason N. Paul (eds): Jean Epstein. Critical Essays and New Translations. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2012., just like the surrealists would walk in and out of films in order to forge new and unexpected connectionsSee the essays collected in Paul Hammond (ed.): The Shadow and Its Shadow. Surrealist Writings on Cinema. London: British Film Institute 1978., The Clockunderlines the particular temporal logic that comes with these practices.
In a different way, but similarly related to (classic) cinephilia, The Clock supports a manner of reception that focuses on the recognition of actors and films. In this respect, the work is based on a very direct structure of gratification because one is constantly asked to guess the titles and actors. Since the fragments are invariably short (unlike, let’s say Andy Warhol’s or Douglas Gordon’s durational pieces), this game is highly entertaining. With longer viewing, other questions move into the foreground – sometimes one sees within minutes the same actor in films shot decades apart and within an endlessly recurring day aspects of aging and decay are foregrounded. Or, the relationship between one’s own life and the installation move into focus when one leaves the installation to eat at lunch time, while one sees many food-related clips. In these respects, Marclay’s work is a complex reflection on different forms of temporality and subjectivity in a world of the immanence of film and media because time (the daily routines, the logics of plot construction, the different ages of a human life) cannot be thought separate from media. Time, of course, has been a core concern of film studies for many years – from André Bazin to Gilles Deleuze, from Jean Epstein to Mary Ann Doane – but here it is coupled with the specificities of the installation and the peculiarities of the art system, as well as with new forms of access and availability which raises a whole set of new questions.
Of course, the many ticking clocks, the inexorable onslaught of time can also be seen as a memento mori, a stark reminder of our own mortality. In The Clock it is no longer clear what my relation to time is – am I master of my own life as subject or am I subjected to the installation which only shows me time passing, reminds me of the many hours and days I have spent in the cinema and now I am spending in an installation consisting of film fragments? In this sense, the subject-object-relation is being questioned and reconfigured as the grotesque repetition of the clock face incessantly manifests itself on the screen – unlike a film in the cinema, it does not anymore have a beginning or an end, it just continues as the stream of life.
IV. Cinephilia and the politics of film criticism
A controversial example might help to focus in closing on the question of the political ramifications of film analysis and the future of cinephilia in the age of (seemingly) unlimited access. Room 237 (US 2012, Rodney Ascher) is a documentary offering five interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, from the comprehensible (the film is an allegory of the genocide on the Native Americans) to the hilarious and outrageous (Kubrick’s apology to his wife for staging the fake moon landing). Some critics have reproached the film for refusing to take a position, even as it presents absurd interpretations as a result of critical and theoretical, one might say: cinephile, reasoning. Here is Jonathan Rosenbaum: “Unlike his five experts, Ascher won’t take the risk of being wrong himself by behaving like a critic and making comparative judgments about any of the arguments or positions shown, so he inevitably winds up undermining criticism itself by making it all seem like a disreputable, absurd activity.”Jonathan Rosenbaum: “Room 237 (and a Few Other Encounters) at the Toronto International Film Festival, 2012”, online at http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2018/01/room-237-and-a-few-other-encounters-at-the-toronto-international-film-festival-2012/ And star blogger Girish Shambu seconds this argument: “There are at least two problems with Room 237’s depiction of criticism. First, it is an activity that often comes across as outré, freakish or crackpot. […] Second, and more important, film criticism here is a largely apolitical, hermetic activity that moves inwards, carving out a self-enclosed space, the space of a cognitive puzzle, a puzzle to be solved based on clues well hidden by a genius filmmaker.”Girish Shambu: “On ‘Room 237’, Criticism and Theory”, online at http://girishshambu.blogspot.de/2012/10/on-room-237-criticism-and-theory.html Both Rosenbaum and Shambu criticize the film for not drawing a distinction between an acceptable critical activity and a practice that they deem inappropriate, whereas I would claim that the film is not even concerned with criticism per se in the first place.
It is helpful to turn to David Bordwell’s assessment of the film who relates it to his earlier reflections on interpretation and meaning making.David Bordwell: Making Meaning. Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1989. Bordwell, in his blog entry on Room 237, notes how the film hovers between a documentary about cinephilia in its more pathological guise (think of Angela Christlieb’s and Stephen Kijak’s Cinemania here) and the videographic film essay, as can be found on Catherine Grant’s Vimeo-channel “Audiovisualcy”.David Bordwell: „All Play and No Work? Room 237”. In Observations on Film Art, 7 April 2013, online at http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2013/04/07/all-play-and-no-work-room-237/ Without wanting to side completely with Bordwell, I nevertheless believe that he is correct when portraying interpretive activity as a matter of degree on a scale between the obvious and the ludicruous with salience, coherence, congruence and authorial intention as relevant categories for making intersubjectively transferable value judgments. While I do understand the argument against the political vacuity of the film (at least, on first viewing), I think that the film is ultimately aiming in a different direction.
Room 237 shows, in a densely layered and complex audiovisual montage, what one can do with a film in the times of unlimited access and digital tools, even if a lot of it appears to be grotesque in its absurdity. The film very consciously starts by stressing the circumstances and contexts of encountering the work, with all five protagonists telling where, how and with whom they first saw the film and then takes turns in presenting five interpretations of the film. The film never shows the faces of the protagonists, it is a constant montage of voices on the soundtrack, while the visuals provide a running – and quite complex – commentary which reverses the usual hierarchy between vision and sound. The division between audition and vision asks of the spectator to simultaneously process the interpretation being advanced verbally and the vision track which appears to be the personal expression of the filmmaker illustrating the arguments, but also commenting on them.
Stylistically, the film presents a baroque array of techniques – freeze-frames, slow-motion, and digitally animated floor plans, re-editing and computer animation, effectively using the digital tool box now easily available to everyone at consumer level. At the same time, the film also goes to great length to find images in other Kubrick films for what the protagonist describe as their fascination with the film – Tom Cruise (from Eyes Wide Shut) stares in disbelief when one of the protagonists relates his astonishment, you see Ryan O’Neill (from Barry Lyndon) reading a book when the voice-over talks about the impact of a particular book, while Jack Nicholson (from The Shining) grimaces at a particularly ridiculous claim we hear in voice-over. It is as if the film was continually signaling that anything can be visualized from Kubrick’s universe, underlining in an ironic way the hermetic nature of the protagonists’ readings. Here, I depart from the criticism against the film quoted above, as a running commentary on the image track accompanies the voices, sometimes broad and obvious, sometimes subtle and ironic. Indeed, the frenzy of images that the film presents is very reminiscent of Marclay’s incessant clock montage rather than the essayistic pondering of Harun Farocki or Chris Marker. Instead of scolding the film for failing to take a stance, one could see the quick succession of images as problematic because the incessant visual stream makes it difficult for the viewer to reflect on the complex relations between image and sound. Nevertheless, the way the film frames the fascination with the film as highly personal, but simultaneously as moving towards intersubjective understanding is in line with other cinephile practices.
Cinephilia as a temporally and spatially situated practice that is capable of bridging the gap between individual and collective spectatorship, is not dead, but has – under the present conditions of digital networks – transformed markedly. Whereas in the past, one needed to live in (or, at least, visit) Paris in order to be a cinephile (with London, New York, Berlin, Vienna, Rome and other cities as distant seconds), one now has a much broader range of films available, but also of criticism, commentary and specialized information. There are many websites and places online that show healthy and active communities gathering around specific topics and groups of films. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to reduce the postcinematographic state of cinephilia to a matter of websites, portals and platforms. What I have proposed instead is to also consider works that are enabled by the conditions of the digital – the ideas, tools and capabilities that characterize early 21st Century image culture. While it is impossible to chart the transformations and novelties of present-day cinephilia in total, these examples hopefully show some possible avenues in which cinephilia might develop.
Cinephilia is characterized by its capability to reframe and repurpose the different temporalities and emotional registers that the cinema has offered in the past, but is increasingly opening up in the digital present and future. Both the object of affection as well as the manner of reception are flexible and malleable through new digital techniques, manners of circulation and a different configuration of the field in general. No matter if we cherish a blockbuster installation such as Marclay’s Clock or if we enjoy the deadpan absurdity of Room 237, cinephilia can be seen as a mode to appropriation that ignores dominant readings and instead offers idiosyncratic routes into complex audiovisual works. These practices are not progressive or enlightening in and of themselves, as the case of Room 237 illustrates, but at least cinephilia offers tools and perspectives that can be used for appropriating and using films in individual contexts and situations. The significance of cinephilia is to be found in offering such a potential.