Film: Another Death, Another Life
By Gerda Cammaer
Or, in the words of Jean-Luc Godard:
“Le cinema est mort, vive le cinema.” (Le Mepris, 1963)
Decasia: State of Decay / Bill Morrison, courtesy of Plexifilm
The main topics I seek to address in this paper are the decay of cinema, of which the death of film is just one part, the loss of the filmic due to an imposed takeover by digital processes, and the relationship between these two trends. I will attempt to put these topics in perspective (historically and artistically) to illustrate that the current doom thinking represents a limited outlook on the future of cinema, although I agree that we should be concerned about the future of film. I will start by making distinctions between “film,” “cinema,” and “movies,” to clarify the terms of debate.
Film for me refers to the medium itself: as the filmstrip carrying a layer of light sensitive emulsion in which a latent image is formed upon exposure to light. Film is also the most general and neutral term when referring to any kind of motion picture, the entire medium, or all motion pictures collectively. Film in this sense differs from cinema, which comes from the Greek word “kinema” meaning motion, which also indicates motion pictures in general, as an art form specifically. I tend to restrict the use of “cinema” to the aesthetics and internal structure of the art of film (or film as an art form). The filmic refers to those specific aspects of the cinema that concern its technical qualities (usually discussed in relation to reality)–the pictures–while movies refers to film’s function as an economic commodity: a consumable, popular, entertainment product. The latter is not my object of study, but it is impossible to avoid referring to the movies in any debate about the death of film.
THE DECAY OF CINEMA
As an introduction to some of the current thinking about what the digital revolution means for the future of cinema, I turn to Godfrey Cheshire’s 1999 article in the New York Press titled, “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema.” Cheshire makes a similar distinction between film, movies, and cinema. Film for Cheshire refers to the “traditional” technology of the motion pictures: cameras, projectors, celluloid, lights and other gear needed to make a film. His prognosis of its future: sudden death. Movies refers to motion pictures as entertainment, as in “everybody loves the movies.” His prognosis: forced mutation. Cinema refers to film understood and practiced as an art. His prognosis: rapid decay.
Cheshire’s three scenarios are at the core of most debates about how the digital revolution will affect the movies, change cinema, and kill film. While themes and optimism vary, there seems to be consensus that the biggest and quickest change will be the replacement of film in movie theaters. The movie industry is eager to force this technology upon its consumers because it needs to recoup its financial investment in this new technology.
But isn’t this yet another overthrow of film by television? For years now, the industry adjusts all films to the TV-screen with reframing, dubbing and reediting. Thus, while many viewers already have a distorted view of films the industry now brings a television aesthetic into the film theatre. I can think of only one reason left to see a film in a digitized film theater that has become just a bigger version of your home movie system: sound. With the newest surround system developed by THX (10.2 channel audio) on its way into theatres, watching a film in total darkness with hyper-realistic sound might still be an experience worth paying for. But it is not unthinkable that the new price of admission will equal or surpass the declining price of DVDs. Hence the same market logic that pushes for digitalization everywhere, foreshadows the death of digital theatres: people will still prefer to watch cheaper DVDs in the comfort of their homes on their ever improving home movie systems.
Let’s turn to more systematic considerations of the death of film and ponderings on the decay of cinema. At the conclusion of a book titled The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties (2002), the film scholar and experimental filmmaker Wheeler Winston Dixon summarizes 24 reasons why “it is all over.” I would like to list some of his key arguments, complementing or countering them from a non-mainstream point-of-view.
First, he states, “Theatrical distribution is no longer a certainty.” I have already made my argument about why analogue theatrical distribution is at risk, but it is worth noting that this also means the loss of a particular and valuable experience. However, some, such as Peter Greenaway, argue that human beings are not made to sit still in the dark for two hours, only looking forward and not around. He states that the sooner a cinema with these characteristics dies, the better: “Cinema as our fathers and forefathers knew it was a passive, elitist medium, made expensively for the patronized many by the condescending few, with a distribution system that has made its own product virtually unviewable." Greenaway proposes to re-invent cinema by, among other strategies, the production of multi-media projects, which is indeed one of the possibilities for the survival of film.
“Movies cost too much to make, and there is too much merchandise.” Video technology has become increasingly affordable, opening up the “market” to many more voices. Virtually anyone can make “films” these days (for better and for worse). But this has reinforced the decline in materials and services available to the 16mm filmmaker. Because digital video is promoted as the tool for the independent filmmaker, those willing to work in film have seen their tools become increasingly scarce and expensive.
“Foreign films no longer get international theatrical distribution.” Indeed, the art-house circuit has shrunk to a few theatres in a few major metropolitan centers, and almost on par with their disdain for silent and black-and-white films, present-day audiences show a growing aversion to subtitled films. While globalization is heavily promoted on the one hand, the real picture shows mostly protectionist and solipsistic reflexes.
“The majors have an international lock on distribution and production, which is only intensifying as new markets open up. As the conglomerate parents of the major studios extend their reach through the portals of cyberspace, they seek to find a wider audience for films devoid of risk, talent, or originality, rather than giving voice to the new.” A good example: David Lynch toured his recent film, Inland Empire (2007) to various art-house cinemas himself. Despite critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival and regular distribution in Europe, he could not find a U.S. distributor. Ironically this film was shot entirely on digital video and thus could be a perfect vehicle to promote the latest technology. Inland Empire was also made without a pre-written script. Lynch created the dialogue and developed the storyline day-to-day during the shoot. So this is also a film that could serve to generate interest in the new possibilities digital video opens up for feature-length narrative filmmaking. The decision not to distribute his film might make financial sense, but it does not make artistic sense. Similar principles are at work in the production and distribution of technology as well. The Internet and its ever better and faster streaming quality has made phenomena such as YouTube possible, which serve to correct the monopoly of big conglomerates and have become an important outlet for alternative voices. But often cultural and political constraints are rapidly implemented to limit the gains in freedom of expression.
"We (the audience) no longer believe in images, since computer-generated images make any effect possible. […] The veracity of the moving image has been hopelessly compromised; the demarcation line between the real and the engineered (both aurally and visually) has been obliterated. All is construction and fabulation. All is predetermined; nothing natural remains." The experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky expresses a similar plaint. In a discussion with Stan Brakhage, Dorsky states:
When I look at this thing [video] on a monitor, and it’s wonderful as information, but it’s not touching what I want it to touch. When I’m with my Bolex […] I feel I am now working with a precious thing. Part of the art of filmmaking is the fear of intruding upon the blank slate [this is also what prompted Brakhage to work directly on clear film stock]. But on video, there really is not much of an intrusion, because you can just tape and erase. With a roll of film, it’s so expensive that when you’re going to push the button, it’s an existential decision.
Its direct relationship to reality and its artistry is an often-heard argument in favor of shooting on film, combined with the excitement and suspense of having to wait to see the result. On the other hand, especially for independent narrative and documentary projects digital production and distribution save money and time, thus making it easier and cheaper to produce films. Still there is no guaranteed access to distribution.
“All films are now ‘composed’ for TV screens rather than cinema screens, leading to a barrage of flat, uninvolving visuals.” I would add that there seems to be little thought put into the choice of aspect ratio anymore. Even in some artistic work there is a weird, nonsensical mixing of ratios with little or no consideration for how the frame impacts our perception of images. Greenaway, in his plea for a re-invention of the cinema, cites the frame as one of four tyrannies that cinematic language must liberate itself from. Digital technology definitely makes it easier to fashion the frame to fit the content. According to him, “it is no longer a passive jail of four right angles.” Other constraints that cinema needs to liberate itself from, according to Greenaway, include the tyrannies of text, actors, and narrative. I agree that these issues have prevented cinema’s development as an art, locking it in more repeated conventions, often derived from other arts such as literature and theatre.
“The demise of film itself in favor of digital video production and distribution is imminent.” With an industry frantically trying to curtail production costs, the aesthetic qualities of film, achieved through lighting, depth of field, image saturation etc, are abandoned in favor of a “clearer,” more “stripped down” image. Tom Sherman considers this transition a positive development. He declares video the “most direct, literal, explicit medium we have for exploring and manipulating reality.” Further, “Video has affected all sectors of society (sports, surveillance and security, dating, shopping, cooking, sexuality) and yes, it has affected film. Unfortunately, video […] has absorbed film and, in its saturation of all things cinematic, it appears as something it isn’t. Video is not film.” That distinction is quickly disappearing though, in part because video has not just affected film, it is now taking completely over. According to Dixon, “Film will reside only in the domain of archives, museums, and specialized revival houses.” The latter is maybe not such a bad evolution; within museums and specialized theatres, film may again become cinema, reclaiming its status as art. Indeed, experimental film has, for the longest time, been denied this place (not so with video art).
“The canon is increasingly rigid, and non-canonical films are disappearing.” One reason for this is the constant construction and repetition of “greatest film” lists, which are created to sell DVDs. These “classics of cinema” represent only a tiny fraction of film history and impoverish its heritage to the point that it is hardly worth preserving anymore. Countless shorts, features, narrative and non-narrative films (many made by women) have been excluded from the canon. DVD distribution is slightly correcting this: one can buy many more films on DVD than was ever possible on VHS, including countless obscure titles. Teaching film history has become easier now that you can order almost any film to illustrate a lecture. Also, many art houses and small distributors can afford to release and distribute the films in their collections in digital format themselves. On the other hand, many “boutique” DVD distributors are either going out of business as quickly as they arrive, or are obliged to limit their offerings, because many people still only shop from “best of something” lists, and these small distributors do not have the budgets to promote their products competitively against bigger labels.
“Classical film production methodology has collapsed.” Lots of traditional technical production methods have become obsolete: workprints, magnetic film sound transfers, Steenbeck editing machines, human controlled Chapman cranes, film stock itself: all of this has disappeared or is disappearing. This is mostly the industry’s loss. Many artists, against the odds, continue to work with traditional film products and processes, and with increasing attention. For instance, observe the revival of Super-8 and 16mm performances that highlight both the beauty and fragility of film, as well as the revival of hand-processed and camera-less films. Others have undertaken to rework cinema history by giving archival images a new life in collage films, a genre that–not surprisingly–has gained in popularity as the nostalgia for an (almost) dead medium blossoms, with so many leftovers of its glory days available to be recycled.
Dixon also observes that “optical effects, such as fades and dissolves, which once required extensive laboratory work, are accomplished with the flick of a switch. While the star-system remains as pernicious as ever, the style and polish of the films themselves is created entirely in a synthetic manner in post-production.” To extend Winston Dixon’s lament about mainstream media and its content, as a scholar interested in the medium of film, and its so-called immanent death, I am annoyed by the excessive use of filmic effects in television shows and commercials. Many of these, while obviously not shot on film, contain clear references to celluloid characteristics such as flares, dust, scratches and even frame burns (a now-common digital editing effect). Some commercials use academy leader as a count down, indicating something to take off from and leave behind, while others use old Super-8 images to evoke a nostalgic travelogue feeling. I suggest we let film be film, and video be video. This kind of fake filmic imagery only enhances the idea among general audiences that film is dead, or at least a medium of the past, only good for memories and trickery.
“The Internet and the Web have become important alternative visual and information mediums. The media mix has now so many potential avenues for exploration that one is hard pressed to commit to any image stream for more than a few minutes.” Indeed the most abrasive influence of the Web and cable TV is the convoluted layering of textual, visual, and aural information (i.e. the weather, the stock ticker, live images, graphics, advertising, each screaming for our attention, forcing us, in the case of the Web, to click on ever more new windows, even if just to close them). The impact of this on both our perception and attention span seems obvious. To what extent this pushes film to the scrap heap is another matter. Recall that many earlier avant-garde films were already commenting on the overflow of information in mainstream culture by layering images with multiple exposures and other optical tricks. Complex multilayered images are not per se a bad thing. But, if this is the only imagery people are offered, and if the result is decreased patience for a long, quiet, empty shot (be it zen-like or full of tension), then this means a tremendous loss for our visual culture.
"And yet, despite all this, the cinema will live forever." After all his pessimism, Dixon finally offers us some hope:
What I’m really taking about here is a technology shift, albeit a profound one, one that will end “movies as we know them,” but not the cinema itself. It may be that 35 mm film will be consigned to the scrap heap of memory. All-digital production and exhibition will offer us an entirely different sort of theatrical viewing experience. Audiences keep getting younger and more impatient, and yet classics of the past will continue to haunt us, informing our collective consciousness of mid-to-late twentieth century culture. It is entirely appropriate that we should witness this seismic adjustment in the first few years of a new century; seen from this perspective, one might just as easily argue that far from dying, the movies are reinventing themselves for the patrons of a new era. […] So, because Film as we know it has always been dying and is always being reborn, what we are witnessing now is nothing more than the dawn of a new grammar, a new technological delivery and production system, with a new series of plots, tropes, iconic conventions, and stars. What happens next is a matter for future historians to document, but for the moment, we must be content to speculate, and realize that no matter how the cinematic medium transforms itself in the coming decades, it will always continue to build on, and carry forward, the past.
Building on Dixon’s final statement it is time to consider how the death of film forces us to think about possibilities for the cinematic medium “to build on, and carry forward, the past.”
TOWARDS ANOTHER REBIRTH OF FILM
From the very beginning, film was considered an invention without a future. Louis Lumière, one of its inventors, already stated this. Since then cinema has died many deaths and survived them all. Stephan Jovanovich neatly sums up the end-of-cinema discourses, which collectively put forth “a multi-dimensional causal picture to which the end of cinema might be both anticipated and lamented,” at the same time continuing a persistent tendency to postulate the end of cinema that has been present since its birth. Indeed, since Tom Gunning launched the idea of a “cinema of attractions,” much scholarship on the invention of cinema emphasizes the uncertain technological and cultural status of early cinema, whose very existence competed with many other techniques and forms of popular entertainment and leisure. Jovanovich recounts the ongoing succession of film-historical traumas that followed: the arrival of sound (probably the only event that came close to marking a real death in cinema, that of the silent film), the introduction of television, the advent of video, VHS, the remote control, and now digital technology.
According to many, film is finally dying a real death. Many cinematographers now shoot digital rather than the more expensive 16mm or 35mm formats. In photography the switch to digital is even more dramatic. Most professional photographers now shoot digital and sales of digital cameras have been outstripping film cameras since 2003. But even before its passing, film is being mourned by many. There is no doubt that digital cinema lacks the formal qualities and romance of celluloid, and professionals–whether projectionists, D.O.P.’s, filmmakers, or teachers–all agree on this. However, as Jovanovich notes, hybrid cinematic works and dramatic improvements in digital technology throughout the last decade (such as increased resolution, anamorphic widescreen effects, and high quality video-to-film transfers) seem to have eliminated the aesthetic stigma of video as a inferior production tool in cinema. The accelerating pace of digital film convergence is rendering all of the old distinctions arbitrary, to the disadvantage (and in that sense, inevitable demise) of the celluloid medium. So, besides reinventing cinema as an art form, we also have to redefine it as a medium, and resituate it. This current death of film (celluloid) is a good place to start from, and artists working with film are the proper experts to contribute to this reinvention, redefinition, and rebirth of film.
I see experimental and expanded cinema as an important laboratory for film’s survival, not just as a moving image format in both a technical and aesthetic sense, but also as a memory of resistance in a cultural sense. Experimental cinema is a site where the passion for film can survive and surpass the doom thinking about the death of film. In a broader historical context this debate should be seen as a continuation of a tradition in avant-garde film to call into question, largely through radical form (sometimes combined with radical content), the very nature and perception of film in our society, such as the current discourses about the death of film. To achieve this, experimental filmmakers often treat film as an object, rather than an instrument, in order to express individual consciousness and conscience. Such films, particularly found footage films, act as a meta-commentary on moving images and their function in the past, present, and future. Process-based films (most experimental cinema), which provoke critical thought and active reflection more than mere pleasure and forgetfulness, open up possibilities for cinema to expand rather than to become extinct. The best experiments in film, ones that have carried the medium forward, usually happened at times of technological flux: many of film’s past deaths were actually rebirths.
It is no coincidence then that we are now witnessing a revival of experimental filmmaking. Hand-processed and hand-crafted projects bring the medium’s formal qualities to the forefront. Found footage films are receiving renewed consideration from film artists and scholars alike. The interest in found footage has, without any doubt, also been sparked by the increased availability of discarded material, especially 16mm and Super-8 footage, as they become more and more obsolete as screening formats (soon to be followed by 35 mm?). Found footage films are also cheap to make, and thus provide a way to continue working in film even as supply and lab costs become prohibitively expensive. Found footage films also allow for an interesting synthesis of film history. The latter is a main point of intersection between scholars and makers. Collectively, found footage films represent a set of historic documents about the medium, which re-exposes images that otherwise might be lost and remain unknown. They also expose and explore the very same physical qualities of analogue film that pushed the industry to seek digital “perfection” in the first place, and they celebrate all the perceptual pleasures that only analogue film can offer (i.e. Film Ist). Moreover, several filmmakers consciously work with the decay of images as a formal strategy, amplifying our nostalgia for the heydays of celluloid. Ironically, to see the decay of film on film is actually stunning (i.e. Decasia).
Film Ist. / Gustav Deutsch, courtesy of the Austrian Independent Film and Video Database
This brings me to the only true death of film so far: its constant decay due to its proper physical characteristics. Only about 20% of the films of the silent period have survived and nearly half of all films made before 1950 have been irretrievably lost to the twin exigencies of neglect and nitrate decomposition. Add to this the phenomenon of cellulose acetate degradation and the rapid fading of color prints and it is easy to conclude that the physical survival of our entire motion picture heritage is at serious risk. We must change how we see and handle our celluloid past, especially in defense against a ferocious film industry that favors cheap, digital technology in its attempt to save money, and which also destroys countless prints to prevent unwanted second-run screenings and copyright infringements. Dominique Paini, who has written extensively on experimental and avant-garde cinema, relates the disintegration of film texts (the fragmentation of narrative)–a new grammar of sorts–to film history, preservation, production, and the changes in these fields. He notes that, while formerly the notion of a “preserved” film was virtually synonymous with a film restored and re-shown in its entirety, the preservation and presentation of incomplete films–especially surviving fragments of films from the 1910s–has become more commonplace over the past decades. Accordingly, this trend “suggests a tendency to recast the history of film not as a successive series of complete works, but as a vast and heterogeneous visual anthropology of film fragments, an archeology of ruins.”25] Therefore the practices of compilation film and film citation are more significant than ever. They provide a way of thinking about the historical power of images, film’s current status as a crumbling object, and its uncertain future.
Where do we stand then with this current death of film? Isn’t the whole debate enhanced by another intrinsic aspect of the medium: its unrelenting hunger for drama, for images of horror, disaster, and trauma, even with regards to its own faith? Many filmmakers have scripted cinema’s death from within. So, if this is indeed the true, immanent death of film, it is in part a suicide. However, I have faith in celluloid’s future. It has been, and will be for decades to come, the most stable and secure moving image support, and it is therefore the medium of choice in film conservation. Digital work, when lost, is gone; when a film breaks, fades, or crumbles, one can still splice it, reprint the image, and restore it, if necessary, frame-by-frame. This is the beauty and the strength of the medium, and nobody knows this better than experimental filmmakers, whose artistic language is grounded in the materiality of film. Answering Godard’s statement that “Cinema is death 24 frames a second,” I say film is also life 24 frames a second. I truly hope artists and independent filmmakers will carry cinema’s past into the future by continuing to work on and with film, breathing new life into the medium, be it through small hand-crafted films, collages, or as multimedia installations. Film is and can be many things. Whether one believes that medium specificity is passé, or seeks to reinvigorate film through creative archival projects, for those who want to see it and know where to look, film is alive.
This essay is a revised and abridged version of a keynote speech presented on March 23, 2007 at “Is Film Dead? A Symposium on the State of Celluloid,” part of the inaugural Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival (Halifax, Canada, March 21-24, 2007). The symposium, organized by the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative, brought together artists, media arts presenters and representatives from artist-run centres from across Canada for two days of discussions on the evolution of film. During the keynote speech, excerpts from Film ist (Gustav Deutsch, 1998) and Decasia (Bill Morrison, 2002) were projected in the background.
1. Godfrey Cheshire, “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema,” New York Press (August 26, 1999), http://www.nypress.com/print.cfm?content_id=243
2. Shortly after this symposium, D. N. Rodowick published The Virtual Life of Film (2007) in which he analyses the recent changes in the medium, what it means in cultural terms, and the consequences for film scholars in particular. I quote: “The next ten years may witness the almost complete disappearance of celluloid film stock as a recording, distribution, and exhibition medium. For the avid cinephile, it is tempting to think about the history of this substitution as a terrifying remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In the course of a single decade, the long privilege of the analog image and the technology of analog image production have been almost completely replaced by digital simulations and digital processes” (8).
3. Cheshire also raises the problem that the general public is never consulted about their wishes or prospects when introducing new technology. See Cheshire, “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema.”
4. Peter Greenaway makes a similar argument, stating: “Cinema died on the 31st of September, 1983, when the zapper, or the remote control, was introduced into the living rooms of the world.” See Greenaway, “Cinema Militants Lecture: Towards a Re-Invention of Cinema” (2003), http://petergreenaway.org.uk/essay3.htm
5. Wheeler Winston Dixon is a Professor of Film Studies and English at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) and Editor in Chief of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video. During the 1960s he worked as an experimental filmmaker in New York, then moved to Los Angeles and London in the late 60s and early 70s to work in the film industry. Dixon is the author or editor of numerous books, including, most recently, with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, A Short History of Film (2007), Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader (2002), and The Second Century of Cinema: The Past and Future of the Moving Image (2000).
6. Wheeler Winston Dixon, “Twenty-Five Reasons Why It’s All Over,” in The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties, Jon Lewis (ed.) (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 356-66.
7. Peter Greenaway, “Cinema Militants Lecture.”
8. For example, in 2007 a Turkish court ordered a ban of YouTube. According to Nico Hines, “Greek videos reportedly accused the founding president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, of homosexuality; a Turkish user responded by calling Greece the birthplace of homosexuality. It is illegal to criticise either Ataturk or Turkishness in Turkey and the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul acted despite YouTube’s agreement to take down the offending videos.” See Hines, “YouTube banned in Turkey after video insults,” Times Online (March 7, 2007). Turk Telecom complied with the court order and shut down access to YouTube throughout Turkey. Since then there have been many other similar cases.
9. This interview between Ed Halter and Brakhage and Dorsky covers the new generation of avant-garde filmmaking, DV versus Film, the relationship of the experimental scene to Indiewood and Hollywood, etc. See Halter, “True Independents; Brakhage and Dorsky Hash Out the Realities of Poetic Cinema,” Indiewire, http://www.indiewire.com/people/int_Brakhage_Dorsky_010430.html
10. Peter Greenaway, “Cinema Militants Lecture.”
11. Tom Sherman, “Video 2005: Three Texts on Video,” Canadian Art (Spring 2005): 4. Other versions of Sherman’s arguments in favor of video can be found in his article, “Vernacular Video: How Video’s Belated Coming of Age will Change Everything,” UKALA, http://www.ukula.com/TorontoArticle.aspx?SectionID=3&ObjectID=1820&CityID=3
12. Tom Sherman op.cit.
15. For instance, check out UK artist Guy Sherwin’s work, http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/guy_sherwin/index.html, or California’s Wet Gate Collective, http://www.wetgate.net/
16. Two good examples are the films I use to illustrates this lecture: Deutsch’s Film Ist and Morrison’s Decasia. For more on Film Ist see Tom Gunning, “Film ist: A Primer for a Visual World,” sixpackfilm, http://www.sixpackfilm.com/archive/texte/01_filmvideo/filmist_gunningE.html. In my eyes, Decasia is a less successful model. For more on this and other films that use the decay of celluloid as basic material, see Claudy op den Kemp, “Plus belle que la beauté est la ruine de la beauté,” Offscreen (November 2004), http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/decasia.html
17. Stefan Jovanovich provides an extensive overview of the many arguments and debates about the so-called death of film, mentioning some of the authors cited earlier, including Cheshire. See Jovanovich, “The Ending(s) of Cinema: Notes on the Recurrent Demise of the Seventh Art (Part 1 & 2),” Offscreen (April 2003), http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/death_cinema.html
18. Tom Gunning’s concept of the “cinema of attractions” relates the development of cinema to forces other than storytelling, such as new experiences of space and time in modernity, and an emerging modern visual culture. See Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde,” in Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (eds.), Early Film (London: British Film Institute, 1989).
19. As Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz point out, “Cinema constituted only one element in an array of new modes of technology, representation, spectacle, distraction, consumerism, ephemerality, mobility, and entertainment – and at many points neither the most compelling nor the most promising one.” Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz (eds.), Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 1.
20. For an complete overview of how the recurrent debates on the death of film interfere with inherent qualities of works that portray death in film, see Jovanovich, “The Ending(s) of Cinema.” Cf. Laura Mulvey’s writings on death and stillness in cinema (footnote 27), particularly her ideas about how digital technology (through the possibility of freezing the image and making stills from it) exposes even more how film is in fact a medium of death.
21. Rick Hancox addresses this further in his article, “Film – Is There a Future in Our Past?” For an overview of the industry perspective, see the “The Death of Film? Digital Cameras Claim the Future,” http://www.financialexpress.com/old/fe_full_story.php?content_id=116702. See also, “The Death of Film,” LifeWire (September 22, 2005), http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/09/21/1126982069009.html
23. Many film-production professors insist on teaching 16mm to their students because it requires more rigorous practice. The cameras might be 40 years old but they still produce beautiful images with a clarity, depth and detail not possible in video. Shooting on film inspires students to learn more about aesthetics, lighting and framing. Even if the students choose to work in digital for the rest of their lives, they will always have those essential skills and understanding.
24. One of the most devastating changes for film as a medium, and consequential “deaths” of film, was the coming of sound. More than the introduction of TV or digital technology, the invention of sound actually meant a step backwards in the aesthetic development of cinema as art. As such this event can indeed be considered as a death of film or a decay of cinema. But, once sound technology improved, cinema soon reshaped itself as a more complete and rich form of expression than it ever had been (although there are still strong arguments for silent cinema, even today).
25. Dominique Paini cited in Stefan Jovanovich, “The Ending(s) of Cinema.”
26. Michael Witt has written an entire article about this. The author rightfully mentions how Godard–especially in his later work–weaves various figures of cinema’s death in his films, most notably in Éloge de l’amour (2001) and Histoire(s) du cinema (1997-1998). This is addition to his repeated pronouncements of cinema’s death in his writings and in interviews. See Witt, “The Deaths of Cinema According to Godard,” Screen 40, no. 3 (Autumn 1999).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gerda Cammaer is a film scholar, curator and filmmaker specializing in experimental and documentary film. She is currently working on a major film/video project that builds upon her passion for collage film, documentary, and new narrative as part of her PhD thesis. Cammaer is also a freelance programmer of Canadian experimental film and video. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Image Arts of Ryerson University of Toronto.