Welcome to Selective Viewing

by Kate

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Pipilotti Rist, Zimmer –Interactive video art installation, 1994/2000/2007.

I used to maintain a blog called The Celluloid Phantom. After going back to school, I put that project on indefinite hiatus. Now I’m ready to start anew. New platform, new content, new everything.

When I decided to call this blog “selective viewing” it was really a play on “collective viewing,” which dominated the film viewing experience up until the last few decades. For most of the 2oth century, a movie meant something you went out to see. Paradigmatically, this meant sharing a dark, voluminous theater with a multitude of strangers. I grew up in a time when movies were readily available to watch at home, or on a computer. Growing up, movies didn’t necessarily signify “theater” to me. While going out to the Multi-plex to see a movie was still an exciting event, I didn’t necessarily have to leave my living room to see a movie. I definitely didn’t have to encounter anyone outside of my family unit. I might leave the lights on, or pause the movie to heat up some leftovers in the microwave which was mere feet away. As I’ve grown older, this has become increasingly the case, particularly as the demands of impoverished student life have affected my entertainment budget.

The paradigm of the viewing experience is shifting, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think the theatrical experience is a beautiful one, but it’s not inherently superior. In fact, the way we watch movies now does allow us to be more selective, as anyone with a Hulu plus or Neflix account can attest. (I have both.) You can stop and start movies at will, and you don’t need to live through the old fashioned horror of taking a DVD home from Blockbuster and realizing 20 minutes in that it’s total garbage. Or that someone put the Chocolat movie that stars Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in the case meant for Claire Denis’ Chocolat. (This also happened to me at a Blockbuster once.)

Thus, the “selective” component of my title seems to go right along with its divergence from the “collective.” The film-viewing experience has become far more personalized. Online viewing platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and even Youtube provide infinite choices. Netflix even provides (often hilarious) personalized film suggestions based on your viewing history. In addition to watching movies in the theater, I watch a lot of them at home by myself on screens ranging from the size of my computer to my modestly sized television. We have so many options competing for our attention, that the process of selection is much different from what it used to be. What can hold our attention, when we have the option to switch between different movies with the click of a mouse?

Attention has always been an important concept in cinema. As a visual medium, the main components of film language are based around the spectator’s attention. The style of editing, for instance, or the framing will cause a different level of engagement from the viewer. On increasingly small screens, with increasingly fickle spectators, how will film-language respond? Is it possible that, rather than witnessing a disappearance of cinema as we know it, that cinematic language might simply reinvent itself? I have no idea, but I’m excited to find out. I think there will always be a place for movies that strive to test our attention, to force it, to demand  our attention, and defy our urge to change the channel.

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Sandrine Bonnaire in La Ceremonie, dir. Claude Chabrol, 1995

I don’t want to make it appear as though I will only be exploring the cutting edge of cinema, the “cinema of the future,” as it were. I still love film, from silent shorts, to genres, to national cinemas and beyond. I think it is important to have a chance to experience all movies as they were meant to be experienced, which for movies produced in the 20th century still most often means 16, 35, or even 70mm projections. For instance, after spending hours watching Claude Chabrol’s 1995 film La Ceremonie on dvd in my apartment, I got the chance to see it in a 35mm print at the Gene Siskel Film Center for their Starring Sandrine Bonnaire program. I had heart palpitations. In its true form, the film seemed profoundly and movingly different.

I abandoned the name Celluloid Phantom partly because film is not my only interest, and it never really has been. I’m interested in exploring new media, video, video installation, television, digital cinema, etc. I’m also interested in embracing whatever the future might hold in these changing times. More and more movies are filmed using entirely digital processes. Most theaters these days are only equipped to project movies digitally. When a theater does have the capacity to project film, that in itself is enough to signify that the theater is doing something different, usually non-commercial. In the New York Times, Steven Spielberg recently remarked that the future of the movies will be mostly online. Movies will still exist, but they will be big events, much like sporting events are now. They will be immersive, possibly interactive. He’s a pretty smart guy, so I’m willing to bet that his assumption is not far from the truth, although it might take us a while to get to that point.

So in the end, “viewing” might be a limiting term in itself. Although in the end, viewing will always play a role in our perception of media. But maybe the future of movies will involve not only looking, but interactive play as well.

On that note, welcome to Selective Viewing, where virtually no visual media will be excluded from discussion.

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