This week: casting a sentimental glance backwards, trying to retrace the footprints of my passage into cinephilia…
Is it possible to identify a point in time, a moment, for such a passage or ‘conversion’? I can’t speak for anyone else—and I’d like to hear from you about this—but in my case, I think yes.
I’d always been movie-crazy as a kid, and my interest in film grew steadily over time. But my movement from devoted film buff into full-blown cinephilia occurred in the spring of ’99 when I wandered into a screening at the Cinematheque in Toronto. I remember the three films that ‘initiated’ me that week. They were part of a Brazilian Cinema Novo program: Vidas Secas (“Barren Lives,” Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963); Macunaima (Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1969); and Iracema (Jorge Bodansky & Orlando Senna, 1976). Marvelous as these films are, it was also a matter of circumstance—I happened to meet them at the right time, when I was ready to make my leap.
What exactly marked this passage from film buff to cinephile? In my case I can point to two things: (1) The awakening of a serious sensitivity to film form (how a film tells its ‘story’); and (2) The act of making an intellectual commitment to cinema—not just watching it but also reading, reflecting, talking and writing about it, even if it was just in my journal.
I vividly (and sentimentally) remember that spring at the Cinematheque and its profusion of new discoveries: an incendiary double bill of Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns and Elio Petri’s The Tenth Victim; Aki Kaurismaki’s Drifting Clouds; Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow and Hamoon; Mitchell Leisen’s Remember The Night; Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur; Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout; and Sarah Moon’s Mississippi One. Also, to this day, my most pleasurable screening experience ever: seeing a restored Scope print of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort for the first time with a packed audience that responded, vibrated, to every tiny modulation and frisson in the film, musical or otherwise. Cinematic bliss, or as close to it as I’ve managed to get.
When it comes down to it, I owe my cinephilic coming-of-age to one person, James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario. Though we didn’t actually meet up in person until a few years later, right from the beginning his influence was formative and critical, specifically in two ways. First, opening up a world of great films through his comprehensive and painstakingly assembled retrospectives (Bresson, Rossellini, Godard, Ichikawa, Fuller, Nick Ray, Sokurov, and so many others). Second, the fleet, erudite, singing prose of his essays and program notes. My long-time Toronto cinephile comrade Andrew Proczek, who I also met during that first fateful spring, gave me a gift of a thick stack of old Cinematheque program books going back several years. For the autodidactic cinema student and auteurist in me, these director-centered ‘texts’ turned out to be foundational and invaluable.
I’ve always regretted that because Quandt writes mostly for the Cinematheque calendar/program books, his work is perhaps not as widely read as that of many film critics who write for cine-journalistic outlets with national or international reach. I even took out a subscription to Artforum a few years ago when he started writing regularly for them. A great example of a work that combines these two key aspects of Quandt’s contributions to film culture (curating and writing) is the Bresson book that he put together in 1998 to accompany the retrospective. Is there a richer single-volume collection devoted to a filmmaker in recent (or even not-so-recent) memory?
If you feel like it, I’d love to know: What films or people or writings are important to your passage into cinephilia?
A couple of links:
-- The new Cinematheque Ontario season gets underway this week. Some essays: Quandt on Tomu Uchida and Max Ophuls; and Andréa Picard on the Zanzibar films.
-- The big event of the week in the blogosphere is undoubtedly Matt’s Close-Up Blog-A-Thon at The House Next Door.