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Saturday, 14 January 2017

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (16) - Serious Young Cinephile Shaun Heenan returns to the critical fray to explain the old and the new

2016 is the year I fell out of love with cinemas. Not with cinema, mind you. I still love movies to a degree which even David Stratton once described as ‘unusual’. But I love the cinema as an art form, not as a location.

For years now I’ve been sitting in the fourth row of every cinema. It’s close enough to the screen to make most people uncomfortable, which means for the most part it helps me avoid the glaring light of the phones which now haunt these venues. (Expect that to get even worse now that Apple is ‘helpfully’ introducing a mode specifically designed for people texting in cinemas to the new version of iOS.)

Nobody reading this requires a paragraph about the irritation of people talking during screenings, so I’ll cut it down to a single thought: If a cinemagoer is going to whisper, they may as well shout. It is equally distracting, and more honest.

The risk of ending up in a bad audience is a gamble you take visiting a cinema anywhere in the world, but my local area (a certain 150km stretch of the NSW Mid-North Coast) is now also plagued by technical and presentational problems. My local cinema suffers from (amongst various visual problems) muffled and echoing audio, to the point where it is a serious struggle to hear the dialogue in most films. The main screen at the cinema 45 minutes north of me is covered in bright blue dots I assume are stuck or dead pixels, made only more obvious by a recent significant decrease in the brightness of the projectors. I contacted management about this and was met only with silence. The 5-screen cinema 80 minutes south of me belongs to the same chain, and has been hit even harder by this drop in brightness. Movies are barely visible at all on the screens in Port Macquarie.
What a joy it is to sit back for a moment and realise there has never been a better time to watch movies at home. In early 2016 I installed a home projector which offers a far better audio-visual experience than any of the local cinemas, which takes care of the issues of presentation quality. Even without taking such a step, one will find that truly gigantic televisions are now available for a fraction of their former price. The cinemas’ only remaining advantage is the early availability of new content, and the home experience is quickly making strides to close this gap.

Depending on geographical location (a minor hurdle if one performs a little research), Video on Demand websites now frequently offer chances to watch major and minor films quickly after or even long before they make their way to Australian cinemas, especially to those outside of major cities. My personal highlights of the last twelve months include early viewings of The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015, USA/UK/Canada/Brazil), Tower (Keith Maitland, 2016, USA), Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, 2016, Ireland/France/Netherlands), Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016, USA), A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2015, Italy/France), Sing Street (John Carney, 2016, Ireland/UK/USA) and The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet, 2015, UK/France/Hungary).

Lav Diaz
One of the more interesting streaming offerings this year has come from the worldwide streaming website Mubi, which has been doling out the films of Filipino director Lav Diaz at the rate of about one per month. After watching several of these, I find that he is not even remotely to my taste. Nevertheless, these incredibly lengthy films have been completely unavailable to home viewers until now, playing the festival circuit and then vanishing into the ether. Their appearance online is a monumental event.

Also impressive in 2016 was the impact still being made by physical media. Boutique labels around the world like Criterion, Arrow and Eureka have put their best foot forward this year, offering not just great films, but great versions of great films, beautifully presented and drowning in supplemental material. Again, the highlights here include several long-unviewable masterpieces, of which I’d particularly like to highlight BFI’s release of Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927, France) and Arrow’s Jacques Rivette Collection which features several rarities, the most exciting of which is the gargantuan Out 1 (Jacques Rivette/Suzanne Schiffman, 1971, France).


Even if I am no longer able to defend cinemas themselves, my cinephilia isn’t going anywhere.


Jean-Pierre Leaud and Bernadette Lafont in Out One:



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