Film After Film / Cinema After Deleuze:
Hoberman, Rushton, Deleuze, and 21st Century Cinema


From the Publisher:

“In this sly and thought-provoking essay, Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman suggests that it’s possible to speak of a distinctive twenty-first century cinema, only a decade into the new millennium. The advent of a new digital technology has led to the displacement of the medium of film — and of the real, as digital image-making ends the necessity of having an actual world, let alone the need for a camera. The future history of motion pictures, Hoberman asserts, will be the history of animation. Meanwhile, the 2000 American presidential election and the trauma of 9/11 have reshaped the movies politically. The two events have combined to create a rupture in film history, perhaps presaging, as Susan Sontag forlornly predicted at the close of the century, the death of cinema, or at least cinephilia….”

The distinction between “cinema” and “film” is, on the surface, an arbitrary one. One term could just as easily be exchanged for the other in our normative modes of speech (“I’m going to watch a film” / “I’m going to the cinema”). Film could be used in the singular individual case, a film or the film, or it could be used — as “cinema” is used — as an encompassing field of mediational events and practices, the whole social and aesthetic realm of film: as artform, medium, and discipline. The term film, more crucially, derives from the chemically sensitive photographic material that has been used since the golden age of industrial motion-picture cinema, i.e. photographic film. It is in this respect that the term film provides a more material basis for the cinematic arts: like still photography, cinematic film records and preserves the “what-has-been” and is vitally grounded in the photo-capture of actual people, places, and things in an authenticated temporal unfolding.

Cinema thus presents itself as a state of mind: it has always, in an imaginative sense, been with us. Film, on the other hand, conveys a historical pressurization that places the medium in a very distinct period that stretches from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Cinema, seemingly the more elegant term, connotes a different order of specificity (or rather a specific order of generality) which isn’t strictly materially based, but is instead conceptually driven: cinema is the art of motion pictures, regardless of the material or mechanism that records this movement. Reduced to its etymological origin, cinema (from Greek kinema “movement” and kinein “to move”) is a photographic image in movement. Yet it is a term that could profitably be employed outside of the realm of film proper and inside the field of literature and poetry for instance — the idea of a “cinematic poem” or a “cinematic novel” is an acceptable construct even when the literary text predates the technological formation of the cinematic medium. Cinema thus presents itself as a state of mind: it has always, in an imaginative sense, been with us. Film, on the other hand, conveys a historical pressurization that places the medium in a very distinct period that stretches from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Yet both terms have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, and there is some pressure to not only distinguish between what “cinema” and “film” do but also what at bottom they are and what has become of them during the 21st century “digital turn.”

J. Hoberman’s latest book, Film After Film (2012), asks precisely this question, which directly suggests the subtitle: “What became of 21st century cinema?” Taking stock of the “technological shift in the basic motion picture apparatus — namely, the shift from the photographic to the digital that began tentatively in the 1980s, and gathered momentum from the mid ‘90s onward,” Hoberman sees in the “digital turn” (a term inspired by Richard Rorty’s theorization of the “linguistic turn,” as well as by W.J.T. Mitchell’s subsequent conceptualization of the “pictorial turn”) a transition to a cinema suddenly freed from photographic realism, unconstrained by the “filmness” of film, and newly opened to a CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery)-heavy, often CGI-dependent, cinema that threatened to replace the vérité of the photographic punctum with the simulacra of green screens, post-production computerization, photoshop aesthetics, and increasingly sophisticated motion-capture animation. As Hoberman makes clear, “with the advent of CGI, the history of motion pictures was now, in effect, the history of animation.”


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