Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whither Mondo Cine?

Hey, man, why so grumpy? Yeah, I'm going on and on about how I don't like digital - or how the studios suck.

This isn't a “bash digital” blog. (Digital will likely end up taking care of that itself, thank you very much.) More properly, I question the slavish brainwash that surrounds it, about what's being said about great digital will be, for exhibitors, for preservationists, and for film aficionados. They tell it like it's gonna save our lives.

Digital exhibition is expensive and unreliable. It puts the means of presentation back into the hands of the oppressors, and out of the hands of the people. (Digital production, firmly in the hands of the people, is a different kettle of rotten fish. The kitchen is too crowded and there's no out door. I think I mixed one metaphor too many there. It's problematic precisely because the exhibition side of it is too labor/capital intensive (I feel another post coming on...).)

Digital preservation also has a brand new set of issues, only recently coming to light. It's lossy, still unstandardized, it's expensive as well, ... and it looks like it's here to stay.

Listen - I was raised on film, and I've been working in movie theatres for over 20 years. I love the smell of celluloid in the morning. I sat in hundreds of theatres (many of which are gone now) watching big flickering images up on the white screen. I've followed careers from DePalma to DeNiro, from Fellini to Franco. From Meyer to Eisenstein (that's not the stretch you may first think). I've driven miles to catch the second half of a double bill before the film disappeared forever (those days are gone. Ruefully. Netflixing it is not only too easy, it defies the experience to be meaningful. Nothing against Netflix mind you. It prevented me from having to buy a copy of “3000 Miles To Graceland.”).

People ask me, how do you know so much about film, how it's produced, how it's released? I fuckin' pay attention, man. I'm curious, I read every book and watch every film I'm interested in – twice. Sober. It's all out there if you have eyes open to see, man.

I'm not a luddite or a purist - you can't be in 2008. A box of silent Renoir at affordable prices is financially feasible. Criterion notwithstanding, the days of the laserdisc, with its $99.00 videophile edition of “L'Avventura” are over. And the transfer was blurry anyway.

This blog actually has its roots in a 'zine I wrote and self-published about 9 years ago called Mondo Cine – remember 'zines? The good ones were sorta like blogs - on paper. It was 16 or 24 hand-made and hand-stapled pages concerned with the exhibition industry, which I was in the middle of then, as now, and discussed most of the things you see here. Like how customers don't get the film industry (but love to complain about how stupid those Hollywood types are), the industry doesn't get why customers come to see their films (just constantly amazed and thankful that they do), and are we sure we want to pay to see “Father Of The Bride” ($90 million in US alone) - they'll just make another one (and so they did).

I was heavily under the influence of “European Trash Cinema” at the time, the wild-and-wholly 'zine that covered a new frontier of world film (before the DVD revolution would bring Argento, giallos, Fernando Di Leo and others to every US Best Buy stores). My title had an international ”world of cinema” meaning, as well as referencing “Mondo Cane,” that trashy and seminal Italian import that declared, even to those who only saw the ads in the papers and never snuck into the film at the local theatre way back in the early '60s, that there was a whole other world out there of cinematic experience.

This was all very clever then.

I typed, stapled, and mailed stacks to Tower Records to distribute. Tower Records is gone now. So is Mondo Cine.

So 10 years later, the old name, now layered with even another set of obscure references becomes the obvious choice. It's not quite branding, but I'm capturing the same disciplines – a cross between an academic discussion of exhibition and production theory tinged with an existential panic for the pleasures that formed me disappearing forever.

Why so grumpy? What the studios think are going on in the theatres is not actually what's going on. Film, at 24 frames a second in a theatre, is social, mythic, and primal. It harkens back to the pre-historic days, in which the shaman of the village would tell the old folktales of the tribe in front of the flickering fire. The hypnotic strobes of light would affect our imagination, and make us susceptible to all symbolic and abstract concepts beyond the actual text and narrative.

It's magic. That won't go away will it? The internet allows people to download any scene or clip they might be interested in. I've talked to people who pulled the last 20 minutes of “There Will Be Blood” up on YouTube, so they would “know what happened.” They're familiar with it, but they don't actually “know” it.

It's one thing to seek out out-of-print or rare clips or personal films, to become familiar with new work. But to do that instead of the better alternative – and make it a habit, and to not mind the difference, is to do yourself a disservice. “There Will Be Blood” will survive a frivolous comment by yourself saying “It's stupid.”

You won't. You've just closed your eyes.

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