Monday, July 12, 2010

Mediators: The Experience of Internet Cinephilia

Gilles Deleuze's "Mediators," published in 1985, is one of my favorite essays. I feel a deep personal affinity for it because I think it captures the way Internet cinephilia works, even though the piece itself makes no reference to cinema, cinephilia or the Internet. Perhaps I could share some of my thoughts on the piece here with you, and invite you to reflect and respond.

In his essay, Deleuze talks about movement in sports. Traditionally, our conception of movement and motion has been one in which we, as individuals, are the source, the origin of movement. Examples might be running, shot put, javelin, etc. Thus, the individual is the starting point, the source of energy and effort, and creates the leverage and momentum on her/his own.

But more and more, Deleuze notes, we see the popularity of certain recent sports -- like surfing, hang-gliding or wind-surfing -- which make us think of movement in a new and different way. These sports take the form of individuals entering into an existing wave. Thus, we as individuals are no longer the sole source, the origin of all movement. In fact, there’s no longer even a particular starting point that’s of importance. Instead, what we have happening in these sports is a sort of putting into orbit.

The key action now is to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to get into something, join something larger, more powerful than ourselves. These big waves that Deleuze is urging us to join, to ride, to be taken up by, he calls mediators.

Deleuze is saying: It is up to us to enter these waves around us, to place ourselves in the path of these mediators, these waves of thought and creation and reflection that are swirling all around us every day. For him, the more we think, work and live in isolation, the more difficult it is for us to move forward simply of our own accord. But with the help of mediators, we can get caught up in forces much bigger, more powerful than ourselves, and they can help us do and think things we could never have done or thought on our own.

This, to me, is a great model for the way the Internet functions at its best. As a cinephile, the Internet is where I find my big waves -- my mediators -- every single day: on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, magazines, journals, and other sites. Several times a day they carry me from one idea to another, one film to another, one spark of curiosity to another.

It's been my experience that often, Internet cinephilic mediators (a) appear in small, brief encounters and (b) act as stimulants. A discussion on Facebook or a stray tweet on Twitter might spur me to add a film to my DVD queue; a reference in a blog post might impel me to request an article via interlibrary loan; a passing allusion in an email conversation might have me cracking open a book I've long owned to read an essay I didn't know was there; and an observation in a movie review might find me jotting down a fresh and interesting way of looking at a familiar filmmaker.

On any given day, I might experience a dozen or more such encounters that act as little stimulants, opening doors to films or writings or ideas new to me; they keep me learning and growing in tiny ways as a cinephile and critic. The Internet has suddenly made possible a new and large community for mutual teaching and learning, a community that includes both people we might know well (e.g on Facebook) and those we don't know at all (e.g on Youtube). In pre-Internet film culture, there were relatively few critics writing for large numbers of cinephile readers. But the number of readers and writers (fellow teachers and fellow learners) has exploded on the Web. Combine this with the dizzying, accelerated frequency of our encounters with these mediators -- every day, all day -- and we find rich possibilities whose only drawback is their super-plenitude.

I've been speaking in the abstract so far, so let me provide an example by recording here a handful of such "mediator encounters" I've had just in the last 48 hours. Every single one has awoken my curiosity, or brought me an insight, or expanded my consciousness in some way, however small:

(1) Jonathan Rosenbaum's fascinating account of the ups and downs in his interactions with François Truffaut, and their consequent impact on Welles criticism.

(2) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's piece on Tony Stone's Severed Ways (2007), a filmmaker and film I'd never heard of ("[a] cross between Los Muertos, the last reel of Last of the Mohicans, Rossellinian film-teaching, Denisian sensation and Straub's "nature has ten million times the imagination of the most imaginative artists" maxim).

(3) Chris Fujiwara's review of a Nicholas Ray retrospective that recalls Godard's comparison of Bitter Victory to a trick drawing ("One is no longer interested in objects, but in what lies between the objects and becomes an object in its turn"), to which Fujiwara adds: "Each Ray film forms patterns that are hidden in plain sight."

(4) Zach Campbell's coinages of "reversible films" (The Matrix, 300 or V for Vendetta, that all too cleverly accommodate contradictory ideologies in a streamlined fashion) and "diffuse films" (that are political but messily and knowingly so, like Splice or District 9).

(5) Dave Kehr's DVD review of Samuel Fuller's Verboten ("In Fuller’s hands, what can at first seem an error of taste often turns out to be a vision of the world.")

(6) Mubarak Ali's remarkable collage-post on Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani's films, with text by the filmmakers, Jacques Rancière, Laleen Jayamanne, and Geeta Kapur -- and audio clips, besides!

(7) A Sight & Sound review welcoming Glauber Rocha's Antonio Das Mortes to DVD: "For Rocha the mysticism of Brazilian popular religion, a syncretistic fusion of Catholicism and the motifs of African religion transplanted with the slave trade [...] provided him with a model for the syncretism of his own film language, where the exuberant rush of images, the mix of mysticism and legend, cult and ritual, was married to a form of symbolism both political and surrealistic to achieve a visionary force."

(8) A collage of texts on the Berlin School in the new issue of Senses of Cinema: "One could perhaps reconstruct the affinity between the Berlin School directors of the 1990s and the ‘second’ Nouvelle Vague generation (Jean Eustache, Philippe Garrel, Jacques Doillon, Maurice Pialat, Benoît Jacquot) through an implicitly shared post-utopian concept of the political which can conceive of social change only as a retreat into the private realm and the cell formations which take place there."

(9) Finally: the two most valuable pages in the film-blogosphere, David Hudson's Daily MUBI Twitter site; and Catherine Grant's blog Film Studies For Free. And two more regular check-ins: new DVD release news at DVD Beaver and Criterion.

What makes Internet cinephilia distinct and different from pre-Internet cinephilia is not the presence of mediators per se. (Deleuze's own mediators existed in an age before the Internet.) Instead, their exploding number and the large volume of daily encounters we are able to have with them suddenly presents us with new challenges. Perhaps we can talk about this and other issues below.

So, I'm wondering: What do you especially value about Internet cinephilia? How is the experience of being an Internet cinephile distinctly different -- both better and worse -- than being a cinephile in the pre-Internet era? What sorts of "mediator encounters" excite and stimulate your cinephilic enthusiasm from day to day on the Internet? Your thoughts and suggestions are most welcome.

pic: Bruce Brown's classic surf film, The Endless Summer (1964)