' ' Cinema Romantico: Living in the Future (part 1)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Living in the Future (part 1)

Regulation time in the electrifying, extraordinary Game 1 of the last year’s NBA Finals concluded when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ mercurial J.R. Smith snared the rebound of a teammate’s missed free throw and, erroneously thinking his team up by a point with seconds remaining rather than still tied with the opposing Golden State Warriors, forewent a possible game-winning shot to dribble away from the basket and out toward the three point line, inadvertently running out the clock as teammate LeBron James, recognizing his Herculean 51 point effort was about to go for naught, launched the meme seen ‘round the world by incredulously excoriating his teammate. If the game was not technically over, emotionally it was, you could feel it, and so James and Smith trudged to the bench where they waited for the commencement of overtime (in which, yes, the Cavaliers officially lost) by sitting on the bench a few seats apart pointedly not talking. Because it was 2018, this entire moment was recorded for posterity’s sake. “Here’s Four Minutes Of Footage From Game 1 Of LeBron James Not Murdering J.R. Smith” went the headline on Deadspin where I watched the entire 4 minutes the next day, and then the next day too. It was riveting.


That, over there to the right, which you can hardly see, is a movie.
A month earlier My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I went to the Tacita Dean miniature exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. This included Dean’s short film “His Picture In Little.” That title is cribbed from Hamlet because Dean’s film features three English actors – Stephen Dillane, David Warner, Ben Whishaw – who have played the Danish prince. And in “His Picture In Little” these three actors don’t do anything much. They were filmed separately in various states of repose then blended together into a collage, of sorts, lasting fifteen and a half minutes where we see them on screen smiling, laughing, considering, sitting, sprawling out, but never speaking because the film is silent, all rendered on a screen no bigger than an iPhone. If we did not plan on sitting and watching the whole fifteen and a half minutes, we did anyway, so absorbing did it intrinsically become, and I thought of “His Picture In Little” as I watched “Four Minutes Of Footage From Game 1 Of LeBron James Not Murdering J.R. Smith.”


Paul Schrader made his stellar 2018 film “First Reformed” in the style of Slow Cinema, one dictating flat visuals and little camera movement, no music, frequent long takes, absorbing you into its rhythm, lulling you into a kind of detached yet heightened sense of spectatorship. In an interview with Now, however, during the publicity run of “First Reformed”, Schrader expressed fatalism about Slow Cinema’s place in contemporary cinema. “Slow cinema may be running its course,” he said. “It’s getting closer and closer to the art gallery and museum. It had a real interesting moment in the last 10 years, but now the novelty has worn off, and people are not as mesmerized as they were when the slowness was really being used as a new concept of film time.” Later, he re-underlined the idea of it spreading to art galleries, saying “You can’t go into a museum or a gallery any more without seeing a movie.” And that, of course, is where we were seeing in “His Picture In Little”, a sort of miniaturized version of Slow Cinema. And I wondered if Schrader’s prognosis was only half-right.

In a different interview with Vulture Schrader expressed confusion with motion pictures on a conceptual level. He said: “We don’t know what a movie is anymore. We don’t know how long it is, we don’t know where you see it, we don’t know how you monetize it. What if it’s a net series? That is half hours, or 15 minutes. What if it’s 115 minutes, you know? That’s still a movie, isn’t it? Yes it is.” These are ideas the film critic, my main man David Thomson, has been working through this entire decade, including in his books “The Big Screen” and “How to Watch A Movie.” In the latter, Thomson touched on the fragmentation of film, born of editing so hyperactive and disjointed that even lengthy movies can often feel more like individual bits acting independently of each other. Yet from that fragmentation, Thomson wonders, can a whole other sort of cinema emerge? Has it even been there all along?

He illustrates this through a Derek Jeter commercial, comparing it to a kind of short film, though even a commercial signals traditional artistic intent. What I’m wondering about goes beyond even that, those flashes on the screens of our devices existing as a kind of found art. After Winona Ryder’s life cycle of facial expression at the 2017 SAG Awards, Twitter was inundated with that clip and accompanying quotes like “Best Performance of the Year.” What if it was? The clip of President T*ump climbing the stairs of Air Force One in the rain, realizing he has no idea how to close his umbrella and then just leaving it sitting there upside-down at the top of the stair car was perhaps the most incisive piece of 2018 political commentary, the American people as the umbrella as the cake in MacArthur Park left out in the rain. And that brings me back to “Four Minutes Of Footage From Game 1 Of LeBron James Not Murdering J.R. Smith.”

Tacita Dean shot “His Picture In Little” in 35mm anamorphic color before reducing it to spherical 16mm and then actually exhibiting it on the miniaturized smartphone-ish screen, a process emblematically blurring the lines between big screen and small screen, as if illustrating filmmaking’s future. And if we tend to think of videos seen through the miniature screens of our phones as super-quick fragments, I wonder now if Dean consciously unlocked an alternate truth. If “His Picture In Little” slowed me down and brought me in, so, I realized, did ““Four Minutes Of Footage From Game 1 Of LeBron James Not Murdering J.R. Smith”, a theatrical experience in 4 inches. I’m starting to think that video should have won Best Picture.

No comments: