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February 1996, Week 4


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Gene Stavis <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 27 Feb 1996 11:55:55 -0800
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Struck me that there is some truth to what she's saying, that there is a
decadence besetting the film business [big budgets crowding out
inventiveness, and "art", etc.]  Mostly, though, the peice seemed like it was
written by someone who just doesn't like going to the movies anymore. And
what are we doing here anyway, eating chopped liver?
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What the 400 or so of us who read this list are doing is not eating chopped
liver (tempting though that may be), but we are largely preaching to the
converted. Anyone who has students in film classes, I am sure recognizes the
truth of what Sontag says. There is plenty of lip service to "loving" films,
but precious little demonstration of it.
Although she doesn't mention it, Sontag has identified one of the culprits in
another of her famous essays: camp. There is such reverence for films you can
feel comfortably superior to in today's students, precisely because film is
so powerful and seductive that many of today's students are terrified by it
and choose as their models the tame and harmless or the trivial and vacuous.
The cinema that dared to move beyond the mere production of adrenalin or the
easy conspiratorial delight in camp has largely disappeared. Oh, yes, one can
always point to exceptions, but the thrust of cinephilia today is
depressingly degraded.
Certainly Sontag is "Europhilic". She always has been. And one can understand
her preference simply by looking at the sheer number of great films to emerge
from non-American sources from WWII through the early sixties. However, that
hardly seems like grounds for trashing her premise. Even admirers of American
cinema must have noticed the degrading of the quality of thought in
filmmaking today.
The present crop of film enthusiasts prefer material steeped in "attitude"
rather than rational thought. Commerciality (always a factor in films) has
now swamped the few film artists (as opposed to craftsmen) working today. If
Susan Sontag doesn't like going to the movies today, I submit she is not
alone. There was a time, for instance, when you could go to the movies and
actually see great films of the past. Now that the experience has been
replaced by video, it has largely been taken for granted. Where is the
passion involved in renting a copy of "Children of Paradise" or even "The
Night of the Hunter"? For God's sakes, they're in black-and-white....and they
have monaural tracks!
It is depressingly like that legion of people who make tapes of everything
they love -- and then never watch them.
Gene Stavis, School of Visual Arts - NYC
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