I thoroughly enjoyed Francesco Canetti's talk, "Film (Studies) in the Post-Medium Condition," which closed out the ARTHEMIS proceedings today. The issue of medium specificity is one that I'm always interested by, as my own research exists at the margins and intersection of different media practices and adaptations (specifically of comic books into film). I don't have any sustained critique of Canetti's work to share, but I thought that some brief thought-snapshots might be of interest. As such, this blog entry will be somewhat scattershot by design.
While it's an old aphorism that the cinema is the first (only?) art to be brought into existence because of its technological possibility, such a statement ignores the various ideas about cinema's possibility that existed prior to its invention. Technological developments are produced only out of need, to satisfy some pre-existing desire. Cinema didn't come into being because "Hey, here's this apparatus!" It came into being because we brought the apparatus into being for the purpose.
Film's gaze is not necessarily democratic. Insofar as the viewing of film has been, for the most part, inextricably bound up with the business of selling the experience, film spectatorship has been the privilege of those with the money to get into the theatre. For film to be a truly democratic art, wouldn't it have to be free? (Perhaps I'm thinking of a communist art...)
Casetti posits that film survives the death of the apparatus, whose disappearance defines its post-medium condition. But what apparatus exactly are we talking about? The projector, which arguably disappeared with the advent of VHS (or perhaps even earlier with television)? The screen, which continues to exist (and whose importance is greater, arguably, than ever)? The camera? Some constellation of these?
Casetti is right to make the connection between the phenomenological experience of watching C.S.I. in one's home with watching a movie in one's home: they're essentially identical experiences. If we can make meaningful distinctions between cinema and television today, they won't be ontological, aesthetic or phenomenological (at least for the most part): they'll be about the different production contexts that these texts are made for and the narrative restrictions or formats that they prescribe. As such, I imagine that film scholars will increasingly be drawn to the sophisticated long-form narratives that have become possible in premium-cable series as of late. And when we do, we're likely to bring (at least some of) our existing methodologies with us.
Cinema has never been a static term. We're up in arms over its definition today, but when has it been stable? When cinema began, it was silent, short, colourless, and flat. When sound was introduced, it wasn't the norm: we spoke of cinema against "sound cinema." Now we speak of cinema and "silent cinema." Today we speak of cinema and "3-D cinema." One day soon we may be speaking of cinema and "2-D cinema." Or perhaps cinema and "theatrical cinema." (Perish the thought!)
The importance of our work for Casetti is to recognize what we're doing when we watch a film. He seems preoccupied with being able to put labels on actions, to use their explanatory power to give our actions meaning.
One audience member asked Casetti, If we stop talking about film being post-medium, we can stop talking about the death of cinema. So why don't we? For Arnheim, we were post-medium with the addition of sound. But to satisfy Bazin's myth of total cinema, we've got a ways to go yet. The cinema is not yet invented! It remains as true now as it was when he first wrote it.