VIEWING HABITS


in the opening shots of “contempt,” jean luc godard quotes andre bazin: “the cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires.”

some people talk about losing themselves in a movie or a character. that’s one of those phrases, like “falling to pieces,” that my mind likes to take literally. how many people lose themselves in cinemas all over the world? and what happens after the end of the movie--do they find themselves again, perhaps sitting in another chair entirely? do they find themselves when they find their ride home? -oh there’s my car; and there i am, too!

of course i know what it means to lose oneself, but i think it is understood that if a film or story is good that you somehow forget that you are indeed watching a film or a story. i am always aware that i am watching a movie. even if the story and performances are emotionally brilliant and i am moved to tears, laughing hysterically, or terrified, i know that it is ultimately light passing through a medium and projected on the screen, and that is what i am responding to.

juliet’s mom, taki ernst, is an avid filmgoer. she sees more films in a week than some folks see in a year. her appetite for film was even written about in the newspaper covering a local film festival. almost every weekend, she attends all of the local openings in her town. sometimes she stands in line for hours, waiting to be one of the first to see the latest hollywood offering. during a festival week, she will see up to 30 films. she has been quoted in the article on her love of the independents. she says, "independent film is where the new ideas are."

i am a huge fan of taki and her love of film. her ability to take in so many at one time humbles me a bit. it bonded me immediately with my mother-law. the first film that i saw with her was the very interesting “into great silence.” it was the first mother’s day that i spent with my new family. she has passed her film fascinations and obsessions onto her daughters as well, and for that i am very grateful. there is never a loss for a gift on holidays, for her or from her. the only real consideration is, “do you already own that?” needless to say her collection of dvds is staggering! she’s even a little protective about them. i hope that she will not mind me writing that about it or her.


some time ago, i inherited a 16mm film collection through a connection at a local university. they needed to get rid of the collection for space and no one was watching 16mm film anymore, so they simply gave it away, ultimately to me. the collection is stored at my dad’s place in north carolina. it’s a pretty substantial load. i’m very grateful that he had the space and the willingness to house it for me. we have talked about sending them out to me a few at a time to enjoy here in california.

the collection is an odd array of shorts and features. some of the features are bootlegs, shot with another 16mm camera. one of the films is a bootlegged copy of howard hawks’ 1946 film “the big sleep” starring humphrey bogart and a young and singularly interesting lauren bacall. this copy has so many surface scratches both on the original projection and the resultant copy that at times it is as if you are watching the film through a downpour of rain. it reminds me of watching a stan brakhage piece. it’s fascinating.

i sort of came to understand what cinema means to me through this collection. it has to do with time. specifically the breakdown of a second. the instant of feeling and perception. frames of images flashed before light. if you think about it like that, there is no way to have the same experience watching the same film twice. each time is different.


in the interview included with the criterion release of la jetée and sans soleil, chris marker says, “godard nailed it once and for all: at the cinema, you raise your eyes to the screen; in front of the television, you lower them. then there is the role of the shutter. out of the two hours you spend in a movie theater, you spend one of them in the dark. it's this nocturnal portion that stays with us, that fixes our memory of a film in a different way than the same film seen on television or on a monitor.”

there is one film in my collection that solidified cinema for me, a sealed educational short for elementary grade children on the subject of hygiene. the print was absolutely pristine and it’s possible that it had never before been projected. i had an emotional reaction to the beauty of this print. it was like stepping lightly and respectfully on virgin soil.

photos from criterion’s release of godard’s “contempt.”

this post is a contribution to the self-involvement blog-o-thon at culture snob.