CineMage - Episode One: How Old is the Cinema and Why am I Here?
If you are reading this then you are asking yourself the following question: What exactly is the age of cinema?
I’m not exclusively talking about what age the medium reigned as a populist art form. No. In other words, I am asking: how old is the cinema itself?
If we are going by Wikipedia’s page on the art and science of cinematography then we are talking about white guys and spinney gadgets like William Horner and his zoetrope, Simon von Stampfer and his stroboscope, and yes, absolutely, one cannot forget Joseph Pleateu and his phenakistoscope. These gents were the literal motion picture makers. Or, at least, some of the first to capitalize on the whole idea of moving pictures beyond making shadow puppets on the wall.
Going by these likely good protestant minds (can someone tell me if this is fact; none of these dudes have wikis) cinema is roughly 188 years old both today and tomorrow, and very much the next six months or so.
If we are to axe this idea about the spin of the zoetrope operating as the catalyst for cinema (please note this great Robert Ludlum book title: The Zoetrope Catalyst), essentially the seismic shift into a new medium, then we are to also dismiss Muybridge’s 12-frame horse, which galloped into view in 1878. We are also then forgetting the chronophotographic gun -- yes, a camera is basically an art gun -- in 1882.
On a mechanical level, a technical one, we can stamp all these dates quite proudly on each and every one of these wonder gadgets. Yet there is no great starting point for cinema as an art form. The development of cinema as an art form, like any other, has been linked with human evolution, the development of the mind... something of a vision. Cinema comes from a species that predominately uses sight and sound to navigate the world... and thus... cultivates, reevaluates and redesigns both tools and symbols that continue to utilize those senses over others.
Consider this loose human timeline: Music, dance, painting, sculpting, costume, theater, literature, cinema (which includes TV and video games), the internet.
Here we are, in a moment, a digital age, our fingers actually tapping on the glass, trying not to smudge it.
Because of this kind of self-awareness, we can stand up and say things like “the age of cinema is perhaps the most human age.” We see. We hear. We listen. We speak. We run. We struggle. We weep. Quite often we hide those last few acts mentioned about our lives, treat them like cast off children, clutter in the closet, a keepsake from your dead mother who abused you with a hot iron when you came home late and bleary eyed.
More often than not this causes strife, both inside and out. That is cinema
The art of human drama
Shadows on the wall
Projected from the blood vessels of the human heart and a mind reeling from itself.
And so here we are.
It’s 2018. 130 years into cinema. 188 years into cinema. Zero years. For as long as it exists for at least one person, it doesn’t matter how old it is.
When it gets down to it, what my new column aims to provide is film criticism through a sort of personal essay space. My goal is to chronicle the ways in which I, as an individual, not advocating for anyone else but myself, use cinema to weigh and balance anxiety and depression in my life.
Cinema, and various other cousins in storytelling, is one toolset that has supported the cultivation of a stronger equilibrium in my life. Something that is dynamic, both mentally and physically.
It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to know how many other people use the same devices to make sense of the world.
Knowing that is a comforting thought indeed, and at the core of why I’m wanting to talk about using film, it's culture, it's (lost) history and a sense of humor as a part of my therapy.
You see, for all those writers, stuck in an era that didn’t want literature and didn’t want trash, post-WWII, they found they could chronicle the menagerie that was the cinema in a way that entertained a new class of reader: the working, art-going public. The young and disenfranchised. The well-read and irritable. This keen-eyed and dog-eared worker claimed their high art as the art of the masses. cinema.
Writing about it like a revolutionary is only natural, really. I mean this is exactly why the French critics were the first to cite genre as exceptional. At the time, jacking off to Hitchcock and Jacques Tourneur was, I’m sure, considered a radical act in criticism.
Why is this?
Ever since the days of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Mary Shelly and Hans Christen Andersen, genre has always remained a staple of the people during the rise and fall of eras, administrations, gas prices and the mania of the stock market.
Genre is not pop culture squared, but pop culture disentangled. Genre’s bubble is bigger than that of the society it mocks, and can often get dangerously co-opted by that society all the same (see: male gaze and/or toxic masculinity). The elite don’t want to hear about it either. They’d rather remain skeptical about the realms of the imagination. Perhaps because the realms of the imagination offer something. Is that hope? Freedom. A kind of salvation. Skepticism in the opposite direction? Well, we know it at least offers you that last one.
My point here is that if criticism isn’t a radical act of sharing and expressing than writing -- or storytelling of most kinds -- isn't either.
If that is so, what is the point?
Well, that's not the damn point.
If the CineMage column has anything to state, it is that I have become wary of ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ criticism. I am tired of the As and the Bs and the Cs. I can't stand the “is it as good as?” query or the “I don’t understand it so it must not be a good movie” mentality. If anything, these attitudes are the true death knells of the medium, symptoms of a culture hungry for culture, but not willing to process it.
I’m not having that. I’m going to use the passion I have for the art form I know to know it better, and in turn, know myself better and perhaps even help someone else in the process. That’s sure worth me expending at least a few thousands words a month, ain't it?
At the very least, you can come back to see what happens after I watch a film stoned (which is legal in the state I live in).
Each episode will typically end with a capsule review of a new or old film I have watched or rewatched high. Case study number one is this write up on John Carpenter’s Escape from New York:
John Carpenter is the Fritz Lang of the 1980s and Escape from New York is perhaps the most pro cannabis movie of all time — I mean do you want to live in a world where doped up soldiers guard an island full of poor people? No, of course not. That would be insa—
oh, hi there prison-industrial complex, hi. How are you? How’s Nancy? How are the kids... Bobby trying out for football this year? Good, good. Mmm... Oh I almost forgot! Bonnie found this on our lawn... hmm what’s that? why’d we put it in a plastic bag? Well, prison industrial complex, it’s a strap-on, and you always want to do the polite thing and wash your delicates before returning them to your neighbor.
Well played, John Carpenter. Well played.