Apr 6, 2011

Manohla Dargis and 21st Century Cinephilia

In her article “The 21st Century Cinephile,” NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis writes, “Not long ago, movies were bigger than life; today you can buy a movie, hold it in your hand and take it home to watch again and again, a revolutionary step in the short history of the medium.” She writes this in 2004 and since then the medium has gone further and further towards a digital revolution. It’s true that more and more of my peers are downloading or streaming movies from their computers and it makes me wonder how long theaters will be in the picture. Video stores are on the outs, will theaters be next?

This also begs bigger questions, such as what will this mean for the ever-changing nature of the cinematic experience and what it means for the art of film? With easy access to movies and the constant barrage of movies releasing in theaters, perceptions of cinema are bound to change. The medium runs the risk of losing its cinematic quality, that is, its beauty and its art.

On the other hand, this constant access allows mainstream audiences exposure to films they’ve never seen or heard of, and it allows independent filmmakers a chance to have their films seen. Case in point my parents. With the advent of Netflix’s Watch Instantly they’ve been able to watch movies from all over the world. These were two people who loved their Pierce Brosnan thrillers, who are now indulging in the works of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirô Ozu. Twenty years ago, the availability of these films in theaters would have been quite limited.

I, for one, am extremely grateful for online streaming of old classics and new releases (many a paper has been written thanks to Netflix). Yet, I agree with Dargis—going to see a movie in theaters is not yet a dead tradition. There’s nothing quite like seeing Late Spring or 8 ½ on the big screen.

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