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Friday, November 27, 2009

Miscellanologies: Totally! The Myth of Cinema

(I found this among my things, written months ago but never published. So since I haven't written much new in a while, here it is...)

I was reading my usual IMDB hot links or whatever they are at the bottom of that familiar page, and came across this link to The Times (UK) 50 biggest movies of 2010 preview. So, there I am, eating my pop tarts and reading along and suddenly Im wondering if I got stuck in a time warp. I had to check the calendar, not for the date, not to see if I got daylight savings time right, but to make sure I was in the right decade. Heres why:

Red Sonja, Red Dawn, Clash of the Titans, Highlander, Predator, Wall Street, Tron, The A-Team.

No, that is not the highest grossing films from 1980-87 nor is it Carl Weathers filmography. Those are some of the titles you can look forward to seeing at your local movie theater this coming year. To be fair, Wall Street and Tron are sequels, but the rest are remakes. Why? Hollywood has run out of ideas. Now, that doesnt mean that Los Angeles, or the rest of the world has. But the studios are too afraid to lose any money, and have devised a very self-sufficient and safe way to make returns on sub-par product. There are plenty of great original ideas out there, but that would be risky, and thats not in the vocabulary of Hollywood.

But why these very Regan-era films? Why V on ABC? What in our world has suddenly seen the need to replay all of our anxieties from three decades ago? Sure, Red Dawn is now about a Chinese invasion, but seriously, why? All films are political and all films are historical. Political because people spend money on things which either relate to what is on their minds, or do the opposite and help them avoid the pressing issues. Historical because all films document and capture a moment of collaboration and audience reception in a given period of time. What does all this re-hashing say about us?

To further that point essentially all of the films the Times listed were adaptations in one form or another. Most probably because anticipate seeing our sequels, books, comics, and video games on the big screen.

Film has become an exercise in brand recognition, and if that becomes the approach it wishes to take it will be obsolete in 25 years if not much sooner when a new technology comes around which is able to immerse us further into familiar worlds. The question is where exactly does the film live? Where is the site of the creation of the film?

Film is fatally limited, just as any physical medium, when it comes to embodying or housing a kinetically ephemeral thing as creativity. It cannot pretend that it is self-sufficient, even if it equips itself with things like 3-d. In the 50s, 3-d was part of a wave of ballyhoo created mostly to differentiate watching a movie in a theater from watching a program on a television at home. Its revival in the early 80s coincided with the advent of home video. So, why is it returning again? The reactionary answer has been the Internet. But the internet has been around much longer, and the practice of watching video on computers has been around for a decade, far longer than the time it took for film to react to TV or video players. Why has it only reacted in the last 3 or 4 years with 3-d or Imax as an important part of film going?

Part of film has been the adaptation of new technologies. Color, sound, stadium seating. But 3-d and Imax are not new technologies. Sure they've grown leagues above what they were 25 years ago, but I think there is something far more personal here. I've already referenced Bazin and Barthes, so I'll only nod here to Benjamin, but why go to a physical space to view a film?

Now, I am not talking about genre, in fact I think that genre is the most vital element of narrative film. What I'm talking about is the branding of the cinema. Adaptation has always been a problem in cinema: to succeed in faithfulness to the work undermines the ability of cinema as a legitimate artform while success in making the work filmic usually fails to satisfy the audience and by extension the studio.

So, when a film is a brand, it bows to canon. In the early days of fanboy culture there was all sorts of cross-medium conversing, and creation in the universe of the world of the film. Star Trek fan-fiction, Star Wars action figures played millions of times in worlds not related to the films, for instance. The problem is that the fanboy culture has developed a literal view of the canon: It doesn't happen unless it happens on film. Film has somehow developed a supremacy in pop-culture over all other mediums, and place that can only end in its own destruction. Film trumps everything in terms of the canon of the universe of the text. You don't go to see a Harry Potter film to see what the director has done with it, you go to see if they got it "right," because if they got it wrong, they just ruined the book. I have a feeling that these remakes most likely aren't made to enter into any sort of dialogue with the previous work but to clean up and "fix" the problems in the first one, which might cause distress to such a view of film. his literalism has created an audience that has their imaginations marginalized rather than piqued or celebrated. And let's face it, your imagination is always better. It's not that the book is necessarily better, but that you're imagination is far more vivid than any image. Darth Vader was always more interesting when we had to create our own origin story. We still could, but it'd be a different practice.

Cinema can only survive in so much that it embraces a model where it finds a place to celebration the simultaneous mutual creation of a work. When a film is self-sufficient, when it so literal, you don't miss much when you watch it at home. In fact, the picture's better, you have a better seat, and the popcorn is 500% cheaper. You don't get people to go to the theater out of gimmicks for very long. Gimmicks, by their very nature are short-lived and are more and more easily translated to a personal version. You have to use the film as a spark to light their imaginations, and get them to interact, something that is far less fulfilling alone than it is with a crowd.

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