What is Cinema?

 

Cinema lies in absorbing electrifying performances by committed actors.  That make audiences feel, that make them think, make them observe themselves and world around them in a more expansive way.  We–radical thinkers that we are, know that cinema has nothing to do with 

  • a Smartphone screen
  • a Television screen
  • nor a 52-foot high IMAX screen

 -Dee Rees, director of Mudbound

“It is a challenge to cinema the same way television in the early 1950s pulled people away from movie theaters and everybody stayed home because it was more fun to stay home and watch a comedy on television than it was to go out to see a movie.  Hollywood’s used to that. We are accustomed to being highly competitive with television.  The television is greater today than it’s ever been in the history of television. There’s better writing, better directing, better performances, better stories are being told. Television is really thriving with quality and heart, but it poses a clear present danger to filmgoers.”

-Steven Spielberg

December 28th, 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumiere delivered cinema to the world. When the curtain lifted their Cinématographe, The Grand Cafe on Paris’ Boulevard became cinema’s cradle.  Their first film was an exhibition of France’s working class titled Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon.

When The Great Train Robbery premiered in New York City, cinema learned to walk.  America’s romance with the Wild West projected out the confines of imagination onto silver canvas’ of liberation; showcasing gun toting, equestrian skilled outlaws stealing loot.

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Though different, these films are more fraternal twins than total strangers.  The Lumieres made work day routines remarkable while The Great Train Robbery pleased crowds and made money.  These films illuminated and defined the radical nature of cinema.

Attention showered cinema like the coolest kid in class.  Like most 20 somethings, cinema is still applauded, accomplished and admired.  However, like most grown ups, cinema has discovered adulting is hard.  Superheroes and rebooting familiar franchises seem like a safe bet;  who doesn’t want to see Stormtroopers finally get dental plans and equal pay in Star Wars: Episode 15.  Yet, despite superhero surges and increased investment in familiar IPs, movie theater attendance continues to decrease.  Cinema’s popularity and prestige recedes in the rear view mirror while driving toward an uncertain future.

Cinema’s first cousin, television, simultaneously embodies new cool.  Dope talents like Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) and Bruce Miller (The Handmaid’s Tale) cook up provocative and potent stories, hooking a new generation of binge watching junkies.  Television is no longer that weird kid flinging boogers and eating clay.  Cultured and matured, television speeds past cinema on the highway of cultural relevance, intensifying cinema’s quarter life crisis.

That said, viewing a movie in a dark exhibition hall with surround sound surrounded by strangers is no more cinematic than considering Captain Planet a superhero because he flies and wears underwear.  The highest compliment a television show can receive is how “cinematic” it feels and looks.  If cinema is still considered the baseline for quality, what is cinema?

Cinema tells short, self contained stories through multi layered audio and visual imagery.  Utilizing a cocktail of different art forms like photography, acting, music, and editing, these expansive stories immerse audiences into different worlds with specific rules while using characters to embody thematic ideas.  It builds a bridge of emotion between story and viewer, no matter how fantastic and perfect for short attention spans!  If this isn’t good enough, movies bless us with Nicholas Cage memes.

No amount of memes distract from cinema’s true clear and present danger:  serialization.  Every two years, a new episode is released into theaters.  Despite events within the film, everything returns to normal at the end while promising another installment.  Upon the next installment, the characters are still in stasis.  Who wants to pay and watch stasis when stasis airs for free?  Planning a lazy weekend around streaming shows in different rooms is easier and less expensive than herding children and surrendering $40 to see The Emoji Movie: Poo 2 (any price to watch The Emoji Movie is too high).

Cinema’s inherit nature makes it ideal for radical change.  The Lumieres used cutting edge technology to innovate their Cinématographe.  Games, television, and even music videos have adapted cinematic experiences to their mediums;  why can’t it work for movies again?  The answer is it never stopped, it’s just a little harder to find.  Cinema has transcended the confines of silver canvas’ and migrated into smartphones and television screens.  Chromosomes from Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon can be traced in streaming exclusive independent films like Mudbound, Cargo and The Light of The Moon.  As more (and hopefully better….cough…Bright…cough) blockbusters go streaming, they will inherit features present in their great grandfather, The Great Train Robbery.

 

 

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