Cinephilia, Stars, and Film Festivals, Liz Czach

Susan Sontag’s 1996 essay “The Decay of Cinema”

  • Sontag’s lament for cinephilia’s death specifi cally mourns the passing of the conditions necessary for the cinephiliac experience, particularly the demise of the movie theate
  • It is the darkened theater that is the privileged site of the cinephiliac encounter between screen and spectator.
  • Adrian Martin has similarly pointed out, “immersion in the fi lm itself ” is a precondition for the cinephiliac experience

  • In the era of declining single-screen movie theaters and the concomitant “multiplexing” and “megaplexing” of theaters with smaller screen sizes, as well as the decline of art house cinemas and repertory circuits, the potential for the cinephile to watch a fi lm from the preferred vantage point of third row center has severely diminished outside of large metropolises with thriving fi lm cultures. In this context, it is no surprise that fi lm festivals emerge as one of the last refuges for the cinephile.
  • As Malte Hagener and Marijke de Valck point out, “[a]rguably one of the most ‘classical’ of contemporary cinephile practices is the festival visit.”
  • Thomas Elsaesser – cinephilia’s natural home is the “fi lm festival and the fi lm museum, whose increasingly international circuits the cinephile critic, programmer, or distributor frequents as fl âneur, prospector, and explorer
  • Film festivals present a seductive return to classical cinephilia with their promise of a unique, unrepeatable experience frequently offering a rare opportunity to view fi lms on the big screen before they disappear into the ether or only reappear on DVD
  • festivals are perceived as not facilitating cinephiliac connoisseurship, but rather the consumption of stars and celebrity culture
  • The perceived takeover of fi lm festivals by stars, particularly from Hollywood, threatens the cinephiliac public sphere that many festivals have traditionally fostered
  • Contemporary cinephilia is seemingly threatened by Hollywood and its star power
  • The assumption is that where stardom is celebrated, the importance of fi lm wanes.
  • five TIFF types—the diehard, the festival staffer, the cineaste, the stargazer, and the scenester (magazine Toronto Life that coincided with the 2006 TIFF)
  • By contrast, the diehard enjoys watching movies but does not love them, and the festival staffer is simply too overworked to watch fi lms. It is, however, the last two fi gures, the stargazer and the scenester, who provoke the most anxiety in their clear allegiance to celebrity culture over fi lm culture.
  • In a fi lm festival environment in which parties, scenes, and events overpower the status of fi lm as an art form, the cineaste, as exemplary of the cinephiliac disposition, appears as an endangered species
  • While viewing a fi lm at a festival may be a collective event, the cinephiliac moment is not necessarily communal.
  • Shifting the focus from the stars to the audience, whose gawking refers to watching fi lms and not spotting celebrities, Corliss suggests that the secret of Toronto’s success is that here “the audience is the star.”
  • At Cannes, it is no longer the fi lms but the stars that are exhibited as the chief attraction
  • What Cannes, and other fi lm festivals, makes abundantly clear is that creating the conditions for a cinephiliac experience is not a fi lm festival’s only consideration.
  • What is at issue here, then, is cinephilia’s visibility. While the scenester sniffs out the ultimate para-cinematic event, the not-to-be-missed party destined to become part of festival lore, the cinephile seeks by contrast the “classic” encounter with fi lm that is, though shared with a community of fellow cinephiles, a largely individual and personal experience.
  • Cinephilia is not in decline at fi lm festivals. Rather, star culture has profoundly permeated some fi lm festivals to an unprecedented degree, and this shift has diminished the status and visibility of the cinephiliac moment—making its very existence appear imperiled

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