Cinema and Anxiety

26. 9. 2011 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2011

At some point last night we were talking about cinema, and I mentioned Masha Tupitsyn’s book LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film and, since I am here in Graz to write, suggested I would blog about it today, which I am attempting to do now, albeit indirectly. I particularly liked the review of it on HTML Giant. But it was in a review from The Big Other that I came across this quote from an interview with the filmmaker Eugene Green:

In my conception of cinema, its impossible to make real cinema in digital because it doesnt capture any energy; it just gives an intellectual image of what the director wanted to put in the frame, it is not the reality, the real presence, the spiritual presence of what has been filmed; because in order to capture energy, the energy which is in matter, you need other matter, the matter of film, the chemistry of film which captures that energy. And digital image is a virtual image, there is nothing real there, so there cannot be any real spiritual presence either. Nevertheless, there is a sort of economic pressure to abolish film, to make it impossible to shoot in film.

(In my internet-denuded brain, when I was trying to find this quote again, I had originally thought it was by Tupitsyn, and it took a long search for me to realize it was not. These momentary slippages of the real, confusions of memory.)

When I make performance I am always acutely aware that I am making it in a world rife with cinema, video, the internet and a cacophony of reproduced images. (Perhaps I am too aware of this. I over-fetishize it.) However, increasing I am also aware that cinema, as we knew it, is also in crisis, and has been so for the entirety of my lifetime. I make performance in a world in which performance feels weak to me in comparison to the more potent verisimilitude of cinema, in comparison to the world seen through the cinematic eye of the camera, and yet, behind my back, as it were, cinema is also in a perpetual state of weakening.

This idea, or, I suppose, problematic, has been with me almost from the beginning. However, there were two moments in recent memory when it struck me anew.

The first was in Lisbon near the beginning of the year, when I was taken to a live football match for the first time. I had only seen football on television, and it was striking to me how different it was live, almost opposite. There was no camera to direct my eye towards the relevant action and so my eye wandered freely across the field. I almost never watched the ball, which seemed too small to see anyway, and instead followed the players almost at random. The play seemed calm to me, barely containing any drama at all in comparison to what I had seen on television. It was an experience of the way a close up artificially ramps up emotion, experienced through its opposite, through watching the full field with the close ups removed. The difference between television and theatre writ large.

The second moment was reading an article about Jim Henson and Sesame Street where I came across this passage:

The chief complaint about Sesame Street was the very thing that had captivated the attention of its target audience: the show’s breakneck pace. It was impossible to be bored watching Sesame Street: if you did not like one particular segment, another was on its way. Taking its cues from the theater, including the considerable influence of vaudeville, Sesame Street endeavored never to be boring. To some, that was what made it dangerous to traditional learning how could the classroom compare to an expensive television production?

But the quick cuts and location changes possible on television surpass anything possible in vaudeville. From my perspective, real life cant convincingly compete and neither can performance. Television took its cues from vaudeville but surpassed it. Vaudeville, for example, will now always feel old-fashioned, will never seem as enjoyable again. (Or only as nostalgia.)

I feel anxiety about performance in relation to our mediated world and Eugene Green feels anxiety about cinema against the rise of the digital. There is always something more authentic being surpassed by something less so. This is of course a script no one should believe. (It might be impossible to make real cinema in digital, but it is certainly possible to make something astonishing.) At any moment it is possible for artists to re-invent, to attack the current predicament, with energy, ingenuity and panache. But, then again, new things do replace old. And when the old things try to catch up they are at a considerable disadvantage. That is the shock. The true, enervating challenge.