Sound, vision, action

Postcard from London, by Frances Morgan

Hi Mike (and all),

In response to Andrew, a few thoughts on oversaturation. I think we all share those concerns. Again, it’s a conversation that’s frequently had in music criticism, in particular with regard to our knowledge of marginal or ‘lost’ music, as well as our instant access to what’s new – I haven’t read it yet but I think this is be explored at some length in Simon Reynolds’s new Retromania book. The problem is, of course, that we discuss it on the one hand while downloading with the other; concern and action don’t always mesh.

Slow criticism’ is one solution, in as much as I understand it – I’d like to hear more from the panel on this, if they have thoughts, because for me it’s a little confused with the idea of ‘slow cinema’ (which doesn’t necessarily have to be subject to slow criticism?). Certainly the pressure to be ‘first’ with an opinion, to show that you’re more abreast of a particular argument than others, seems more pressing – but I wonder if criticism has always been thus, it’s just that the audience – and our relationship with them – has grown and fragmented. As someone who only began a critical career in the 2000s, I realise that I have no idea really what a pre-Internet critical environment was like!

I wonder if another positive response to oversaturation is for lovers of film to foster a greater awareness of the process of making; a reiteration of the fact that a film is a thing made by people. Could this offset our concerns about ease of access, amassment, oversaturation? As a writer, process has always fascinated me: I’m always the one asking musicians about where they placed the mics for that song, as well as who inspired the melancholy lyrics. From discussions of process come some interesting insights, and knowing how something is made, understanding the language of its creation, can stop us seeing everything just as texts to be received, digested, filed away.

Here I’d like to come back to Mathieu’s idea of cinephile as activist, which resonated with me. At its most basic level, the idea of someone who acts, who does, is really potent: it is easy to feel disempowered by globalisation and its homogenising effect, and to forget one’s own potential for creation and action. In relation to film, perhaps Mathieu’s succinct aims for his film festivals – ‘bring together creators and an audience’ – puts this better than I could. Creating real spaces for people to come together and not only watch films but learn about how to make films, discuss them, feel involved in them – this is valuable, and, importantly, it contradicts the idea of ‘cinephilia’ as something rarefied and elite, and makes it urgent and community-building. On that note, I’d like to mention also activist filmmaking, perhaps as a topic for further discussion. Mathieu, do you feel that this is particularly strong at the moment? Recently festivals such as HRWFF, and projects such as this one,, have been much on my mind. Might the increased ease of filmmaking and distribution afforded by digital technology have a significant effect on political filmmaking? Mike, is this something you’ve seen in the underground film communities you support?

Neil, I hope you had a great evening at the pictures. ‘Cinemaphilia’ is an affliction I also suffer from – not least because of the above interest in how things are made and done. While some of us are lucky enough to have a home cinema set-up that includes fancy speakers, I feel that a cinema seat is generally the best place from which to experience the sound of film, which is a particular interest of mine. I’d maybe go as far as to say that sound is one of the things that draws me into the cinema when, as Mike points out, one could quite easily never go there again. I love the brash, often quite psychedelic and ever more theatrical sound design of science fiction blockbusters; at the other end of the scale, the atmospheric and creative sound design of Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee was one of my sonic experiences of 2010 – the way natural sound was recorded and manipulated was stunning (and really, really needed to be experienced in a theatre). I don’t think I fully ‘got’ Tarkovsky until I heard Stalker and Solaris on the big screen, and Lynch-heads will know that his menacing, lushly oppressive sound-worlds are all the more powerful in a darkened cinema. I’m very much with Neil on the notion that his appreciation of cinema is bound up with what he calls the ‘going-out-of-one’s-way-to-a-large-building-where-strangers-gather-to-stare-at-images business’, although to I’d add ‘and listen-to-voices-and-music-and-explosions-and-other-strange-noises’ to the sentence. Which makes it a little unwieldy, I admit.


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