The End of Cinema (Again)

Via Rob Rushing at UIUC’s Kritik blog, I belatedly discovered Thomas Doherty’s Chronicle of Higher Education ($) article about the state of film, and by extension, the state of film studies. Like Rushing, I think Doherty’s first claim–that celluloid or analog film is likely to dissapear soon–is more or less correct. As more and more theaters convert to digital projection and as digital technologies open up new possibilities, such as the revival of 3D, it seems likely that the move towards digital will only continue. However, it’s Doherty’s second claim, about the state of cinema studies, that I find compelling, and again, I’m more or less in agreement with Rushing that Doherty’s “alarmist” characterization of a field in crisis misses the mark by a long shot. Doherty suggests that cinema studies scholars are “scrambling” to account for the shift from film to digital, when in my experience, cinema scholars actually find this transition to be a rather exciting one.

Like Rushing, I’m somewhat skeptical that the shift to digital will lead to viral videos replacing the film canon anytime soon. Viral videos serve a much different function than film classics, and in fact, are quite often dependent upon various forms of cinematic knowledge, as the fake trailer phenomenon illustrates. As Rushing asks, “Who, exactly, is picking up a date for dinner and a romantic online viral video?”   Rushing also discusses the ongoing complaints–Denby’s New Yorker piece on “The Future of Movies” is a classic example–about those crazy kids today who watch their epic movies on video iPods rather than seeing them on the big screen as they “ought” to be seen, pointing out that watch movies on an iPod or laptop is usually associated with moments, or perhaps more precisely spaces, of enforced waiting, such as airport terminals, doctor’s offices, subway cars (and, on a side note, how Lawrence of Arabia always ends up being the paradigmatic example for illustrating why video iPods are bad screening technologies escapes me).   Like Rushing, I think there is a lot of important work to be done in thinking about shifting practices of movie watching.

Rushing also faults Doherty for identifying a generational divide between older scholars (Doherty refers to them as “greybeards,” which seems like an oddly gendered term) who were trained on celluloid and “Young Turks” who have embraced digital media.  Like Rushing, I see little evidence that the older generation of film scholars is “uninterested” in new technologies, and in my experience at a number of panels at SCMS conferences, the situation is quite the opposite.  No matter what, Doherty and Rushing’s comments do illustrate the ways in which the status of cinema as an institution is being renegotiated.  Like Rushing, I don’t think that watching movies (or, just as likely TV shows) on an iPod is going to completely replace moviegoing as an activity–just look at those Iron Man grosses–but I do think it’s well worth looking closely at the narratives that are being imposed upon the shift from film to digital.

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