How V/H/S Can Resuscitate Cinema

Every so often, maybe out of boredom or maybe out of fear, the current community of film writers/critics like to declare that the "death of cinema" is upon us. Whether it is discussed in terms of digital projection replacing film on film or pop culture Hollywood blockbusters edging out more thought provoking arthouse cinema, it seems cinephiles are always on the lookout to spark this topic/boost readership. I hate feeding this discussion, my initial reaction was to just write a post whose only text was "who cares" but, as someone who loves film, I feel the need to address the issue when so many are often eagerly ready to put the toe tag on what I consider an important part of my life....

I think the main issue that makes this line of questioning happen is the relatively newness of film culture. When critics, like Andrew O'Hehir over at Salon who might be the flint for this most recent spark, nostalgically talk about the 60s film heyday of people talking about French New Wave at parties, the flood of film theory and film journals and film professors, the intelligentsia's preoccupation with this medium as art, the medium was a new thing really! We'd been painting in caves for thousands of years, perfecting the art of painting into increasingly complex forms, but film, this new mode of expression was one whose first onset resulted in people running away from a train out of fear...and them slowly evolved into a control, a craft, an art that created the perfect condition for it to be studied and explored as a complex, flourishing form of expression. In timeline/historical sense alone it makes sense that the 60s were a time when humans began pushing the boundaries of film resulting in a very specific culture of interest....and then there was tv.

One thing that O'Hehir seems skeptical about is the crossover of movie makers to television, a thing that was a topic of discussion at a panel I attended at the last Sundance film fest where producer Christine Vachon imparted that the money available to creatives for television is causing progressive moving image makers to flee for this medium (take her own production of Gus Van Sant's HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce- a work that also moved from the classic big screen of Hollywood!). TV is definitely not film, but it is another relatively young medium that I think maybe we should embrace, especially if there is financial support, as a film culture since sharing the voices & concerns of directors is really the heart of making a films! Or is tv just not serious enough...?

...and then, as Jason Bailey writes for The Atlantic, do we think film culture is dead because it's maybe slightly less intensely serious? Why does entertainment have to be exclusive to thought provoking content? This is not to say that a heft in topics is unwanted....it still boggles my mind the lack of politically, socially, or psychologically engaging works that are being produced in such a turbulent global era....but what is it that we really want out of film talk? In the 60s I think the preoccupation with film studies was to validate something new and to give important issues of the times or subjects of interest a platform but what is it we want a current film culture to do? To say? To think? Entertainment alone doesn't cut it. And neither does an impenetrable heaviness that often results in boredom.

Personally, I think film- and all contemporary media- is meant to be a beautiful expression of how we live now. Film should incapusulate a specific idea that the filmmaker thinks is important enough to embody in the complicated medium of film and, by default, ends up being a relic of a particular time and place- both within the film and of the conditions surrounding the making of the film. I think the question we should be asking is not is film dead but why do should we want to keep it alive? Why do we keep blogging and directing and writing? Which brings me to a recent movie I saw.

After much hype and wait, I finally saw V/H/S a film that I really think is a perfect example of a new cinematic era! Set in a framework about a bunch of exploitation filmmaking nerds (a little Jack Ass -ey perhaps?) who are sent to enter a spooky house, retrieve a videotape, and end up watching a series of tapes they find there before entering their own creepy fate,  each film the characters watched was by a different director and each one had a cutting edge use of technology, an artistry, and an interesting story (however lose or vague!). Some leaned on the side of classic haunted house mixed with eerie I Spit On Your Grave-like actors in the attic, others relied on blood and guts (intestines really gross me out! as does some serious flesh ripping, some sort of alien ghost fetus c-section, throat slitting and so on), others had a psychological creepiness that played with internet trust issues (just who is that person you skype with on occasion?), and many had a white-boy chauvinism that is (unfortunately) indicative of our current days too...whatever the story may be the thing that really made me feel like this film is one for the new cinema culture was the construction.

First off, these were shorts within a feature film- shorts/increasingly short attention spans are oftentimes cited as a wound to the death of cinema...but in the case of V/H/S this problem was easily side stepped by compiling a feature film that still contained the buzz and cuts of our videogame addled brains. Then there was the distinct filmmaking itself. Found footage/POV cameras hinting at the current accessibility of the filmmaking medium, that oftentimes played with the medium itself (gorgeous use of manufactured glitch effects surpassing tons of tech art I have seen and adding a depth & texture that is most definitely of the moment..in addition to videochat POV, hidden camera POV, static-y cuts, tons of seamless computer special effects etc.). V/H/S is a layered masterpiece of a horror movie (dotted with jokes too!) and is most definitely a candidate to be studied as an object in a new era of cinematic culture.


Cinema is not dead and it is films like V/H/S that we must see, contextualize and build a new vocabulary of cinematic studies around in order to keep the discussion alive...a thing I think the blogosphere, and plenty of other resources, are doing and will continue to do no matter who declares film culture dead! Films are going to continue to exist, we get to decide how to approach them and we are in charge of what we want that voice to say and how we want to represent our culture through the lens.

 

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