September 27, 2012
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The Wealh of Film

Linda sends a good illustration of the wealth of books: in our own time, we’ve experienced exactly this transition in film.

For the young Pauline Kael’s generation, an avid filmgoer’s world was whatever was showing in town. You’d see one or two double=features every week, and everyone who liked movies saw and talked about the same ones that week.

The Paulettes – Roger Ebert, say – inhabited a world where a really devoted critic could still see just about everything there was to see. But this wasn’t something you would, or could, do casually; you had to work at it all the time. And a serious film viewer – even a professional critic – needed to watch for opportunities: you’d think to yourself that “I really want to look at Battleship Potemkin in light of this new idea,” and then you’d need to look out for an opportunity. True enthusiasts would even buy films; Peter van de Kamp, a Swarthmore astronomer when I was an undergraduate, has a precious private collection of Chaplin.

The video generation, and even more the Netflix generation, inhabit a completely different world. If you need to review a scene from Potemkin, you can probably stream it or order a DVD.

At the Presidency University conference, Sue Thomas spoke of new media literacies. If you’d like to be well-read in film, Netflix and Amazon have wonderful libraries. But there’s a lot of reading you need to do. Just to cover the essentials, the very greatest movies, is a lot of work: Ebert has three volumes of Great Movies so far, and more are coming. That’s three or four years of watching a Great Movie Of The Week. Movies don’t take very long to watch, but they need to be thought about; just covering the essentials is bound to be tough.

And now we have serious serial forms, like Buffy and Babylon 5. Each runs to more than a hundred hours. Imagine teaching Buffy in a course on the coming-of-age story in the 20th century: it’s essential reading, it would fit nicely with Portrait and Mockingbird, Catcher and Portnoy, Nick Adams and Prep. But where are your students going to find a hundred hours in a 14-week semester in which they have three other courses?