Balcerzak, Scott and Jason Sperb, eds. Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture, Vol. 1. London: Wallflower Press, 2009. Print.
Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture, Vol. 1 is, in many ways, a rebuttal of Susan Sontag’s famous article declaring cinephilia, an unabashed love of the medium of cinema, dead due to the onslaught of special-effects laden, cookie-cutter blockbusters that continually pour out of Hollywood. This collection of essays argues that, on the contrary, the rise of digital technologies actually facilitates an expansion rather than a replacement of what it is we enjoy about cinema. Rather than viewing all of these new trends in filmmaking as the end of the cinema that we knew and loved, these authors insist that cinephilia is entering a new phase. As Christian Keathley points out in the preface to the volume, cinephilia has reacted with similar trepidation each time that new technologies were introduced into film, such as the advent of sound, of color, and the popularization of VCRs in American homes (1). Each time, film fans worried that any changes to their medium of choice would sully the purity of the cherished cinematic experience, and each time, cinephiles wound up embracing the new regime, finding new pleasures to enjoy within cinema’s new aesthetic. Balcerzak, Sperb, and their contributors predict that the same pattern will emerge during this cycle of cinematic innovation.
The book is organized around three overlapping areas in which the digital can influence the experience of the cinephile. The section on “Affects” explores the emotions stirred up by digital cinema, such as Jenna Ng’s description of the revelatory experience that she calls “epiphanic cinephilia” (71) in Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon and Jason Sperb’s work on Star Trek: Nemesis which charts the ways in which digital effects can heighten the cinephile’s focus on so-called throw-away details in the cinematic image. “Ontologies” forces us to reconsider the privileging of the camera and the photographic image as central to the cinephile’s love of cinema. It includes Tobey Crockett’s reimagining of subjectivity through computer generated imagery and Robert Burgoyne’s discussion of art installations featuring moving images from film and video games. Finally, “Bodies” provides a series of discussions about the ways in which the human body is represented on the screen by digital filmmakers. In this section, Kevin Fisher and Lisa Purse look at the way that bodies are deployed in the Matrix trilogy and Scott Balcerzak investigates the craft of acting in the wake of motion capture technologies.
The authors of these pieces define “the digital” broadly. Of course, special effects techniques are explored thoroughly, but the writers also think through the ways that the digital age has revolutionized film distribution, from DVD collecting to the proliferation of screens (television, computer, IPod, and cell phone screens to name a few) and locations (living room, office, vehicle) outside of the traditional movie theater where we can now watch films. There is also a great deal of emphasis placed upon how Internet technology has changed the way that communities of cinephiles form. Instead of congregating on line at the local cineplex, fans from around the world are now gathering in cyberspace around blogs, message boards, and even online scholarly journals dedicated to the films that we love.
Part of this new phase of cinephilia is the ‘Net-driven expansion of the definition of the legitimate critic. After all, the web is bursting with examples of excellent film blogs by both passionate, untrained volunteers and academic professionals who have adapted to online scholarship, such as Roger Ebert, David Bordwell, and Henry Jenkins. Several of the entries in this collection are simply re-printed blog posts, such as Zach Campbell’s work on Ghosts Before Breakfast and Girish Shambu’s auto-dialogue about Code Unknown. These pieces are included to demonstrate that the wall separating traditional, scholarly professionals from the self-trained writers working outside of the circle of the academy is beginning to crumble. In a sense, the volume has an additional function beyond explaining cinephilia’s digital phase. It also serves as a historical document of the current era in film scholarship in which the barriers erected between these two groups of writers began to dissolve.
Unfortunately, placing work by these two types of writers side-by-side does not emphasize their similarities so much as draw attention to their differences because of the resulting unevenness of the volume’s scholarship. The reproduced blog posts are much shorter on research and much more casual in tone than their more theoretical neighbors. Furthermore, while the text of these articles refers to their online origins (mentioning things such as comment threads, email exchanges, and screen captures), much of what makes these blogs interesting historically as a means to organize a fan community fails to translate onto the page. Gone is the ability to surf from one link to the next or to actually join an ongoing discussion oneself by posting a comment onto an article. As I read, I found myself wondering if the book would have been better served were the space devoted to these blog posts given over to a more scholarly article that theorized film scholarship online. Or, alternatively, if the editors felt it important to create a printed archive of digital scholarship for the historical record, then they might have devoted the entire volume to that goal.
If one can overcome this dilemma as well as the book’s unfortunate scarcity of illustrations and the essays’ overreliance on The Matrix as the textual example de rigueur, then there is a lot of fascinating and thought-provoking scholarship to be found in this volume. Several of these essays would work well in an undergraduate course on film theory, and the enthusiasm for blog-style scholarship could be a great motivator for students who feel that they have something to say about cinema but are worried about their lack of official credentials. According to the introduction, volume two is currently in the works and I, for one, am intrigued to see where the series will go from here.
Bordwell, David. David Bordwell’s Website on Cinema. 25 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2010. <http://www.davidbordwell.net/>.
Ebert, Roger. Movies and More. Chicago Sun-Times. 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2010. <http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/>.
Jenkins, Henry. Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2010. <http://www.henryjenkins.org/>.
Sontag, Susan. “The Decay of Cinema.” New York Times Magazine 25 Feb. 1996: 60-61. Print.