Rumours of cinema's death are much exaggerated. Digitisation is bringing film's history back to life and may revive cinema-going too. Plus, great films are being made all over the worldby Mark Cousins / March 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
As a boy I always loved the bit in a cowboy movie when, after the gunfight, with the smoke from Colt .45s still in the air, the undertaker, dressed in black, would run out on to the street and measure up the bodies. Judging by the film and entertainment press in recent years, the little men in black clothes are scurrying around the corpse of cinema as we speak, measuring it up for its wooden overcoat. Box office takings are down in many countries. Hollywood’s sequelitis shows that it is running out of ideas. According to the Guardian, French audiences are no longer queuing up for chin-stroking art cinema. DVD and home cinema is a threat to old-fashioned moviegoing as a social activity. Writer and critic Gilbert Adair summed things up when he said that, movie-wise, “the tube of toothpaste is almost empty… we are squeezing out the last drops.” One of the best writers on cinema in the English language, David Thomson, says that the films of Abbas Kiarostami, celebrated by many of us as among the greatest of their time, are “funerary art.”
I’m not convinced. Take the following. Recently a DVD of the East German fantasy film The Singing Ringing Tree by Francesco Stefani (1957) plopped on to my doormat. Although it thrilled me as a child, it’s been very hard to see since—until now. The DVD cover says the film has been digitally remastered and, sure enough, it looks and sounds gorgeous, as vivid as the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps from sepia into Technicolor. The week before, I received a seven-DVD box set of the complete films of the landmark Scottish animator Norman McLaren—15 hours of material, including 15 documentaries on his work. Stefani’s film and most of McLaren’s have been dead to me for decades in the very real sense that they were very hard to see. DVD labels are bringing them back to life. They are, in a way, remastering cinema. Multiply these examples by tens of thousands and you realise that, like some filmic day of judgement, cinema’s long buried past is coming back from the grave.
But I will watch these films at home on my television, rather than seeing them at the movies, and if moviegoing dies, won’t cinema stop being what it always was—collective, gigantic…