Apr 6, 2015

Sontag’s “New Kind of Cine-Love”

The sense of resignation and frustration in Susan Sontag’s “The Decay of Cinema” reminded me of a debate that took place in December 2014 between Mark Harris and Richard Brody. Harris kicked things off with a Grantland piece that—much like Sontag’s—bemoaned the current state of the movie industry. The launching-off point for Harris’s argument was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman: “The film is a flight of fancy, but it’s a very sad one; the wind beneath its wings is a crisp and rather bleak message about what movies are right now—and, perhaps, what they will continue to be for as far ahead as we can see.” Harris’s most attention-getting piece of evidence was a pair of graphics that outlined—from 2015 to 2020—the comic-book and franchise-oriented movies that already have set-in-stone release dates.

Brody, much in the spirit of the ideas present in his “Don’t Worry About the End of Film” and “The Limits of American Cinephilia,” responded to Harris by evincing an optimism at the exciting things happening on the fringes of the movie business. “Franchise films get most of the investment and take most of the box office,” Brody concedes. "But this is neither a big deal nor even a problem—because the movie business isn’t all that matters in the world of movies.” He continues: “McDonald’s does a lot more business than Per Se, and John Grisham sells a lot more books than Marilynne Robinson, but a book critic wouldn’t evaluate the state of literature through best-sellers any more than a food writer would use fast food to gauge the state of cuisine.”

Harris and Sontag both locate their disappointment by drawing a questionable parallel between the state of moviemaking and the kinds of movies that earn money and garner headlines. Near the end of her piece, Sontag acknowledges some worthwhile recent titles—“wonderful films are still being made: Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked,’ Gianni Amelio’s ‘Lamerica,’ Fred Kelemen’s ‘Fate’”—but why are these the only three movies Sontag brings up? Add in all the other directors who were doing great work at the time of Sontag’s piece—John Carpenter, Claire Denis, Hal Hartley, Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar-wai, etc., etc.—and there seems to be far less justification for her cynical, throwing-in-the-towel mindset.

However, Sontag’s ending—“If cinema can be resurrected, it will only be through the birth of a new kind of cine-love”—does foreshadow the recent Internet-energized cinephilia that has sprouted via countless online publications and social-media platforms like Twitter and Letterboxd. Indeed, it’s ironic that the two “artistically ambitious American directors” Sontag singles out—Francis Ford Coppola (Twixt) and Paul Schrader (The Canyons)—have both become causes célèbres for a certain niche of critics after their transition to digital technology. A line from Nick Pinkerton's defense of The Canyons helps identify an element of this "new kind of cine-love": "I wanted the full The Canyons experience," he writes, "so I watched it at home, alone." This doesn't negate Sontag's justified appreciation of the theatrical experience so much as it updates the sentiment for the Internet age. Much of today's cinephilia is about ignoring the box-office and sorting through copious sources and platforms to figure out which movies—and there are plenty of them—are worth getting excited about.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.