The Walsh Lecture - André Gaudreault

de Ville, Donna


I must admit my head was spinning by the end of the Walsh Lecture on Friday evening--partially due to the experience of the simultaneous translation and rapid-fire visuals on the screen at the front of the lecture hall and heightened by the stream of consciousness-like content of the talk. So, if I missed the main point of the presentation, it may have been because it was "lost in translation," and I apologize in advance. 

Gaudreault seems to have been expressing his frustration over two related issues: the transmutation of the cinema, its form, exhibition and consumption; and the misnaming of technology and institutions of cinema (movie theaters, university departments, cinémathéques, etc.). In fact, he even protested the naming of films themselves, suggesting a return to the term "photoplay" used in the early days of cinema and then adopted again by Orson Welles. He also touched upon the term home cinema, which he argued was an oxymoron. Based on the title of the talk, I had thought it would focus on the topic of the home arena as site of consumption, but more emphasis was placed on the agora-télé element or salle du cinema that screens operas and other non-film (hors-film) media. His analysis seemed to be based on individual experience rather than a wider audience reception.

Gaudreault  began his rhetorical diatribe with a quote from Albert Camus--"To misname things is to add to the misery of the world." Without knowing the extended context of the original quote, I understand this to mean that misnaming can be used for ill-intended ideological pursuits that benefit those in power who get to do the naming. Feminist and cultural studies scholars will often discuss this practice in terms of misusing language to keep the oppressed in a subservient position, be they women (a strategy of patriarchy) or poorer, less-developed nations/cultural groups (a strategy of imperialism). If Gaudreault was suggesting that the misnaming of cinema-related phenomena was being deployed in this manner, I failed to understand who was benefitting from this and to what end. One of his examples of misnaming, unrelated to the cinema, was the iPhone or Smartphone, which functions as more than a phone. It is likely the naming of the device has much to do with exhaustive market research performed by Apple Computer, Inc. I am sure there is much to be said about capitalist corporate practices and consumerism here, but he opted not to follow that line of argument or connect those dots for us. Instead his protestations appeared to be more an enumeration of these misnamed entities for us to contemplate. 

Like the Camus quote, he returned to several mantras throughout the lecture. One of the more repetitive ones being: "Le cinéma n'est plus ce qu'il était!" He discussed this evolution or mutation of the cinema planet primarily in terms of media convergence and theatrical exhibition--the fact that non-filmic media forms (opera, television shows and sports events) are screened at movie theaters, so that these spaces should no longer be called movie theaters. Again, I'm unclear on what he believes the detrimental effects of this practice to be. Not only did spectators first view films in conjunction with other forms of entertainment, such as vaudeville acts, expo spectacles and so forth, they have been watching movies on television screens for decades, adapting completely to the juxtaposition of movies with advertising, PSAs, DVD commentary and so on. Yet, people still go to the theaters for various reasons, some sociological some technological. This mixed-used of film exhibition spaces does not seem to threaten the purity of the film text itself but perhaps the purity of the viewing experience. While I, too, long for the movie palaces of old (where they often showed newsreels and cartoons prior to the feature attraction), the viability of the theater as a profitable business within the cultural economy of the city is unfortunately an issue of contemporary economics. This - the political economy of the movie industry - is another subject begging to be addressed in a lamentation of the mutation of the cinematic experience. But more importantly, I would have liked to better understand what he meant by pure cinema or pure cinematic exhibition - of what cinematic frontiers/boundaries does he speak? He asked "What remains of what we thought was cinema?" Who is "we?" Academia?  I'm not sure what I think of as cinema would necessarily coincide with his notion. In what era and place did there exist a moment of pure cinema - a cinema without the distraction of non-filmic elements? It seems utopian.


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