Thursday 18 January 2024

Defending Cinephilia 2023 (4) - Peter Hourigan raises a few questions about the contribution of SIGHT & SOUND

 Reflections on Cinephilia.


                It’s a nice concept to celebrate – a love of all things cinema. But looking  back at 2023, I’ve found my willingness to get involved in this to be wilting somewhat. I still love the films, but some of the trappings have not engaged my enthusiasm. And it’s not just the films but a lot of those trappings – the way of watching, the venues, the writing about films – that are also part of the experience. And they can have a negative impact on your response to a particular film. Think of watching a dupe copy of a film, in a grungy cinema with inadequate light from its projector!

                That’s why I’m going to dedicate my look back at a year’s Cinephilia to Sight & Sound, which has done a great job of evaporating my enthusiasm for a lot of cinephilia. A key factor was their 10 Best Films poll, results of which were released at the start of the year. I’ve generally enjoyed this . It’s a fun event, a bit of diversion each decade to see what’s gone up in general esteem, what’s dropped down the list, what's disappeared.                 

                 But this year, Sight & Sound has wallowed in overkill. I’m not going to check back, but even before the poll results, they were devoting pages to articles, lists and trivia about the poll, presumably to hype us up in anticipation of the results. 

                   It was an interesting set of results – and I even had a personal frisson in one of my comments being quoted in the article about one film. 

                   But Sight & Sound has not let this idea rest before the next poll for 2033. Again, pages of editorial are still being swallowed up by what ultimately is really trivia, at the expense of more relevant, informative pages. And I am more than bored with mention of the poll. 

                     So, I no longer really look forward in anticipation to the next month’s issue.  But that feeling was aggravated by my worst experience in subscribing to any magazine over many, many years. For much of 2023, it was touch and go as to whether I’d even receive my hard copy of the issue. Several times, when I contacted the subscription managing company for my now overdue issue, I was told that issue was now out of print, but they would extend my subscription.  Big deal. When I’ve faithfully maintained my complete archive of S & S going back about sixty years, that was not much compensation.

                   The last few issues have arrived as expected, and they seem to be coming in new wrappers, so perhaps the delivery issue may have been resolved.  But along with my growing dissatisfaction with the magazine’s contents I am now
questioning whether I want to continue subscribing. 

                    It’s no longer comprehensive in its reviews – and they can’t even arrange them in alphabetical order for ease of consultation. And credits are now even less than adequate. The magazine has suffered the fate of other publications placed at the mercy of designers, so sections are colour-coded but with no thought of whether print on pink paper is easily readable for all eyes. 

The greatest film of all time according to the Sight and Sound 2023 poll
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
(Chantal Akerman, 1976)

                    It is also succumbing to the break-outs on articles, lists of trivia with articles or reviews and then overlong pieces on one film, so they don’t have to cover quite as many films. And then the pages devoted to some reprinted from an issue of thirty, forty or more years ago. Again, less material about current cinema, which used to be the reason for reading S & S. 

                    This curmudgeonly attitude I’ve developed has spread. I couldn’t get motivated this year to do Senses of Cinema’ annual World Poll. Somehow, lists and lists and lists have less appeal. (Though I’m sure there is one person whose list will stand out in boredom again this year as he lists about 250 films he’s seen in the year, usually stuffing it with as many obscure films to show he’s seen things others haven’t. And often, can’t. )

                  End of grump. There were good and satisfying experiences from viewing. Lots of good TV/streaming nowadays.  Perhaps the two that I remember as being particularly enjoyable were Cédric Klapisch’s  Greek Salad  (which sent me down a rabbit revisiting earlier Klapisch movies) and The Gilded Age from script writer Julian Fellowes. 

                    Some travel earlier in the year was the inspiration for several other rabbit holes to explore.  Visiting Cuba had me revisiting a number of the wonderful films especially from the 1960s and 1970s. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomas Gutierrez Alea) meant even more to me this time around, added to by tracking down a second-hand copy of the 1965 novel by Edmundo Desnoes. Then there was the thrill of coming across the wonderful poster for another seminal Cuban film, I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatazov 1964) in a chaotic bookshop in Havana.  It’s now framed and on my wall. 

                  As well, a superb visit to Easter Island sent me searching for what is probably the only feature film filmed on the Island, Rapa-Nui  (Kevin Reynolds, 1994).  It’s not an especially good film, but I loved travelling to the island once again. And it is generally fairly faithful to one of the traditional, historical events in the island’s history. 


About Dry Grasses (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) 

And to finish a few stand-out films from MIFF 2023.  About Dry Grasses (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) was a known master director in top form. A surprise from Serbia was Lost Country (Vladimir Perišić
). The Chilean documentary The Eternal Memory  (Maite Alberdi)¸moved me in its portrait of the end of a long relationship through dementia, and its sense of how much our memory is who we are. I also liked Frederic Wiseman’s A Couple.

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