The Cinema In Your Head
As time goes by, I find myself wishing for, longing for, a better memory of all the films I watch. (Does anybody else relate to this?)
When I was a kid, I barely remembered much more than plot and performances in a movie. As I got older, character psychology and complexity started to intrigue me, and my memory of a film expanded to encompass them. Later, the manner in which a film told its ‘story’ — the form of the film — emerged in importance. The formal details of a film now started to leap out and register in my mind and memory.
Over the years, I’ve steadily become aware of a film as being not something abstract or intangible but instead a collection of concrete, material details: shots and cuts; bodies, gestures and speech of the performers; movement; sound and music; color and light; décor; setting; compositions; duration; etc., not to mention absences such as offscreen space and events, and ellipses.
A film contains hundreds (thousands) of such details, and in the aftermath of watching a good film, I have a great desire to savor, hang on to, remember those scores of details that struck me, affected me. I may indeed remember some of them for a few hours, days, or weeks, but eventually the memory of those details, once seemingly indelible, will fade. And it is this continual disappearance that I find myself, now more than ever, regretting, fighting….
I’m reminded of something Adrian said, in the comments to this post on re-viewing films:
I want to rewatch [films] in order to commit them to memory, so I can 'run them in my mind' whenever I wish: this is for me the sweetest cinematic pleasure of all, I guess like learning a poem or how to play a piece of music ... I recently watched Alain Bergala on the DVD extras of the marvellous French edition of Cafe Lumiere: [his] ability to conjure every detail of a scene (right down to the lighting, the rhythm, the gestures, the framing, the movements ... ) is really impressive, and what I want to do. Finally, I think, it comes down to this, more than any technological support: the cinema in your head!
It’s this vivid “cinema in your head,” forever on stand-by and ready to roll at the flick of one’s thought, that I crave.
I think of this when I read Raymond Durgnat or Manny Farber. They have a vast, keen sense for those myriad material details of a film, and their writing often involves evoking, describing, citing, connecting, and constructing from such details.
And so, I wonder: What helps us build a better memory for films and their details? What helps construct a better “cinema in your head”? Are there certain tactical activities that can help?
Walter Benjamin has a blog-like essay called “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting.” In it, he details and establishes the importance of his (a book collector’s) activities in the tactical sphere. e.g., putting the collection in some systematic order; strategizing about acquiring books at auctions; getting to know, in intimate detail, the provenance of each book; collecting not just books but also book-related artifacts, etc.
If we could make a comparison between book collecting and the collecting and affixing of film-memories, one key tactical activity for me would probably be: hunting down and reading what others have written about a film or filmmaker. I recently watched The Magnificent Ambersons and Jeanne Dielman, and then read (respectively) V.F. Perkins’s BFI Classics monograph and Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson’s essay “Kitchen Without Kitsch.” Both films still burn in my head because of those pieces.
Your thoughts on the subject? I'd love to hear 'em....
Well, now that Cannes has concluded, let's round up a few links:
(1) David Hudson's invaluable index to all the films and their reviews.
(2) His post on the awards.
(3) Sandrine Marques's coverage (in French) at her Cannes blog, Contrechamps à Cannes, includes this interview clip of Abel Ferrara speaking about his first comedy ("We're not the Marx Brothers, you know what I'm sayin'?").
(4) Several posts by Dave Kehr.
(5) Anthony Kaufman.
(6) Robert Koehler at Film Journey.
-- David Bordwell compares Lubitsch's The Shop Around The Corner (1940) and the Nora Ephron remake, You've Got Mail (1998), to illustrate "“intensified continuity”—the editing style that comes to dominate American films after 1960 or thereabouts."
-- At A_Film_By: a discussion thread on Jia Zhang-ke and Chinese cinema.
-- A 1958 Truffaut article on literary adaptations, translated and posted at My Gleanings.
Illustration: "Au Hasard Balthazar" by the Canadian indie comics artist Seth.