Apr 19, 2014

Do I have Cinephilia? A rant by Ashley Morton

When we discussed in class whether the term “cinephile” was really accurate, or even useful anymore, it got me to thinking: am I a cinephile? To us, the word seems to be attached to a lot of historical context and it isn’t somebody who just watches movies a lot, but someone who insists on seeing them in specific settings and formats.

Out of curiosity, I did a little cursory Internet search. According to Wikipedia “Cinephilia is the term used to refer to a passionate interest in cinema, film theory, and film criticism”, Urban Dictionary defines one as “a film or movie enthusiast.” Use in a sentence? “A lot of cinephiles enjoy Pulp Fiction.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary simply says that a cinephile is “a devotee of motion pictures.” Dictionary.com: “a devoted moviegoer, especially one knowledgeable about the cinema.” Passionate, enthusiastic, devoted, all of these terms seem to be on the same page as our definition, but despite the appearance that all you need to do to be a cinephile is love movies, when we were discussing the word in class we could not shake the thought that to be a true cinephile one had to care not just about seeing films, but how ones see them.
If I had read all of those definitions, and had no other preconceived notion of what the word meant, I would have said that yes, I am absolutely a cinephile. I love movies. But, in class, I was hesitant to describe myself as such.  I am very much a modern day filmgoer. While, admittedly, I care a little bit more than maybe the average viewer—I don’t like to watch movies on my phone, or other tiny screens (but, then again, if I am on a bus from New York to Boston or back and that is the only option, get that Ipad out), I prefer to watch something in HD if that is the option, and I squirm when I have to watch a film without my Bose speakers, so yes, there are little details I care and can be absolutely snobbish about—I don’t think I have ever refused to watch something because it wasn’t in its original 35mm format.

Perhaps I am not a cinephile in the way we want to define it in class. But, if that is the case, if cinephile is a dated concept, something that is dwindling more and more with the invention of Netflix, Bluray, and IMAX, we have to find a new term for ourselves.
When I really turn it over in my mind, and consider what makes me different from someone who just casually watches films, I sometimes want to call myself a DVDphile. But that word is both horrible, and not quite accurate. I’m not in love with DVDs: I throw it out there because I hate streaming films. I love getting DVDs and Blurays because they offer something that no 35mm or Netflix instant movie can offer me: Extras. I love love love DVD extras. Commentary, behind-the-scenes, bloopers. I miss the days of VH1’s popup video. When I watch a movie I don’t just watch it, I wonder about how it was made, what the actor was thinking at that moment, whether the director liked how that scene came out, what inspired the film, how it was cast, in short, the entire process behind what I just saw. I can watch a movie and if I love it enough I will rewatch it the same day with the commentary. And then I will watch it again to pay attention to the set design, the costumes, and the guy in the back of the scene that is clearly a first-time extra. I love imdb and any other site that can give me fun movie-trivia. I have never called myself, but am often referred to as a "movie buff." And if I have the choice to see a film in theaters instead of my living room, I will go, because I think that that is still the best way possible to see a movie.

So I do have requirements, and I do approach the way I view a film differently than someone who hasn't been to a theater in years except to see the Hangover movies. My requirements and my approach is just different from how it was in the 60’s or the 70’s and so on. Am I a cinephile? After this long rant, I really want to say yes, just maybe a more modern version of one. Because at the end of the day, I am, most assuredly, devoted to, enthusiastic over, and passionate about the movies.

1 comment:

  1. By: Diana Ritter

    After I answered the question, Am I a cinephile? I was left thinking about it as well. In truth, I have thought about it since my first day in the cinema studies program at NYU. My first semester, I was taking an advanced seminar called Cinephilia/Cinephobia. In our first session, my professor ran through the list of movies she would be screening and was asking us which we had seen. One student raised his hand at nearly every film and I thought, "Man, he must really love movies. I am far behind." I felt this way for about half of the semester because my undergrad is not in cinema studies and there was so much, especially film theory, that I did not understand. I considered myself far from a cinephile.

    However, that thinking has drastically changed for me and I realized it after I gave my answer in curating. I said I was a cinephile and defined that as "I love to go to the movie theater and watch movies." The person after me said he was not a cinephile and one reason was because he was not into the silent films. I thought, "Well, I am not into silent films, maybe I am not a cinephile?" I also refuse to go to the cinema studies screenings on Friday nights because the movies they pick are so far from the beaten path, that I have no interest in them. I am not into experimental films, for the most part, and I am very picky when it comes to what I will and will not watch. Do cinephiles watch everything and anything because they are "devotees of motion pictures?"

    I then recalled a former classmate of mine who graduated last semester and told me he could not remember the last time he had been to a movie in the theater. I was always shocked when I learned one of "us" (cinema studies/MIAP majors) did not attend current movies regularly. Aren't we SUPPOSED to be doing that? But my classmate was not interested in current movies. His cinephilia revolved around 1950s westerns. What did he care that Wes Anderson had a new film out? Or that Leonardo DiCaprio was starring in yet another Martin Scorsese film? And now, after reading Ashley’s blog, I can see that she too has a distinct “cinephilia” in terms of how she most enjoys watching a film, what she likes to learn from a film, her love for extra features, etc. It all helps me with what I have been concluding about cinephilia since our class two weeks ago, which is (and this is only my personal take):

    Cinephilia is something we all have. If we didn’t, we would not be in this program. A “normal” movie goer/lover would not enroll in a program to either study moving images or preserve/archive them. However, just as movies are changing today (formats, viewing choices, preservation methods, etc), so is the definition of cinephile. And I think it is a personal one to all of us. Honesty though, I think even the cinephiles from back in the day, from Truffaut to Ebert, would have defined it differently as they saw it suited to their needs. I would not have paid a cent to watch an Alfred Hitchcock silent film back when Film Forum was running them, but if a theater ran a day long tribute to the movies of John Hughes, I’d pack a lunch and dinner and stay at the theater. Does that make me any less of a cinephile? No, it just highlights one aspect of my cinephilia. This loose definition is something I have developed since my first days as a cinema studies student and feel has been confirmed through my conversations with other students. In one way or another, we have enrolled in this program and are “devoting” ourselves to motion pictures as it fits our needs, and for doing that, we are cinephiles.


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