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Filminfo og video

Cinemania

Dear Eddi,

I will do it. I do have a fairly unusual life in some ways, partly just as a result of being a childless urban bachelor who refuses to accept that he has become middle aged and who despite bachelorhood rarely has time to go out on a date. I see a couple of films a day on the average day, often more on weekends or certain days. I now have my own business and that largely enables me to see films at whatever time they happen to be playing, though sometimes I work unusual hours in order to compensate.

I am beginning to imagine, perhaps not incorrectly, that I have health problems (I sometimes genuinely feel like shit, if you'll pardon the Americanism), and as my friend Jack says in the film, there has to be a point at which you pay a price. I recently said to a fellow cinephile that she is not hardcore, not one of the elect, because she doesn't make sacrifices and specifically undergo pain for the sake of art. Every serious person I respect does that, whether it's in creating art or merely appreciating it. Like my friend Jack, although unlike him I have to earn a living, I live for the worlds of art and ideas. There is no room for any other preoccupation in my life, which is probably why I am a childless urban bachelor.

I can certainly keep a diary for a day and/or give you a fictionalized but accurate reconstruction of a typical day in which I go to films and do some reading, some of it film-related. I should add that I like watching films on video but rarely do. I'm driven by what's happening in theaters in New York, and have little time to see anything that isn't on the schedule. That's what makes it so hard to see current run feature films. I should say that I read Cahiers du Cinema, the only film magazine I take very seriously, and am now reading the new English edition that is available on line as well as the French edition which I buy in magazine shops. I recently decided to read only very good film criticism and not just look for anything I can find on a director I happen to be seeing films by. (I don't participate in any online forums, such as A Film By). I consequently read a lot of things published by Cahiers, and that means reading a lot of things in French. I see and like all kinds of films, and there are only a handful of major directors, Hollywood or international, that I would say I don't like, and I often see their films anyway, because personal taste is not necessarily a reliable criteria. I see films in theory in order to learn and in practice because it is a great source of a mysterious pleasure. Sometimes I get bored in theaters and my mind wanders, in a way that does not happen when I'm reading, but at other times I find the beauty of the image utterly captivating. Because of this theory/practice, knowledge/pleasure duality, I am currently, for example, seeing films by both Kiarostami and Imamura, an intellectual and sentimental director and a sensual and perverse one, and I am equally captivated in both cases, though obviously for different reasons.

My film tastes are fairly close to those of the magazine I swear by, because they like just about everything that's good. I'm not sure that Lenin was right that film is the most important art; probably literature is more important as an art form and mathematics and philosophy are more important than either, but good films do have a tendency to be meaningful, and if they aren't I either walk out or, more likely, don't see them a second time, or more likely still, don't see them in the first place because someone I trust has warned me not to bother.

I've matured aesthetically and as a person since the film was made. The film makes everyone in it, except possibly my friend Jack, look utterly ridiculous and for this reason I'd be quite happy if all copies of it were burned. On the other hand, people who have seen the film always greet me with compliments. (Though no dates have resulted from it). In real life, I'm actually not quite so much of a happy idiot. The thing about film that everyone I know understands that the general public does not is that art is not (fundamentally) entertainment; it is not there to be a source for pleasure, although that belief is of course why theaters sell popcorn. (Why not have sex while you're at, as some people do, or better perhaps, masturbate while enjoying the images, sounds, and, thanks to the theater's concession stand, tastes and smells? In the spirit of the Wagnerian gesamkunstwerk or total work of art that film has often aspired to be, why not include all five senses for a total experience? Moreover, the theater is a strange space which is at the same time totally public and, as each viewer is encased in darkness, totally private, which is why moviegoers who are annoyed by other moviegoers can be so aggressive (especially if you ask them to be quiet). It's a space for narcissists, because it is a space of regression to a primary process). My friend Laurie observed to me the other day that all her friends that she knows from the theaters we go to do not talk about their personal lives. No one says, how are the kids and what are you doing this weekend? That's not only because the answers to both these questions are known in advance (of course there are no kids, and of course I am going to these or those films this weekend); it is also because we aren't interested in everyday life, which we largely don't have, but only in art, which is by definition not ordinary but extraordinary and which gives us continual fixes of heightened experience in contrast to which our own daily lives could only be horribly banal. Unfortunately, the inescapable reality here is that art is in this way not separate from entertainment, and entertainment in its bourgeois form, which does precisely that. (Warhol may be important partly for bringing banality to cinema and making it the object of an aesthetic gaze). Not only does fascism aestheticize the political rather than politicizing art, as Walter Benjamin observed, but, as Zizek has noted, in late capitalist society people experience a duty to enjoy. I am not free of this just as I am not free of the various dynamics of the society I live in. When I read this I realized that I do indeed see films partly out of a compulsion, an obsessive pursuit of a certain pleasure or a certain knowledge or both. But even if one did accept the Lacanian distinction Zizek reiterates between enjoyment and desire, with the ethical demand being not to enjoy but to pursue one's desire, I don't see how one would easily separate the two in the case of cinema, outside of obvious boundary cases such as my example of sex and popcorn, which in the final instance are objectionable only because the other three senses are not part of the cinematographic object and so lie outside the frame that it places around the images and sounds to befound within it.

I will have more to say, and will include some kind of diary of a day, since that is what you asked for. You may quote any or all of this if you like.

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