Thursday, May 17, 2007

“The World Looks Different”

Konrad Steiner responded to my last post on “The Golem” with a question about how accurate it is to attribute a “universalizing” tendency to cinema. He links to a whoppper of a talk that Peter Sellars gave on the “State of Cinema” for the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival last month. I teared up reading it. I also disagree with huge chunks of it. But Sellars has his finger on that something that's inching us forward from the parochial postmodern to a more eco-y, global-y conception of art that you feel the effects of in all kinds of cultural forms right now, from “Babel” to Once Upon a Neoliberal Rocket Badge to a long syllabus of films made outside the West that none of us see enough of.

Sellars has an especially forceful vision of what art (& not just cinema) should be doing to create a “new possibility of hope” in our 21st-century, globally-warmed, top-2-percent-owned, crowd-controlled mess of a world. (He'll also have you doubling your Netflix queue.) I'll write more about it soon, and I’d be glad for your responses.

Here’s Konrad’s original comment:
Nice analysis.

I stumbled a bit over just what this “universalizing” tendency of cinema is—i mean you see this trailer sometimes that says the Language of Cinema is universal (in umpteen languages). What's that supposed to mean?

The same way music or math is a universal language? Well i guess you pay for universality with a limitation on what you can say, or with forced ambiguity, or with assimilation.

Peter Sellars gave a good “state of cinema” address at SFIFF recently. Here's the whole thing, a great read:

In one paragraph he contrasts the cinema as a PARTICULARLIZING force, in contrast to the video and print media. It's a little overstated/utopic, but i think its ideal is the antidote to the tendency you're describing in your post here.

“One of the most maddening things about our information system is that it's the Western correspondent standing in Tiananmen Square telling you something. But you're still not a Chinese person. You're still not placed deeply and seeing the world through Chinese eyes. And the way our correspondent system works, is you're always seeing the world through Western eyes—wherever that person is standing—and so you're not actually getting a different view of the world. The power of new aboriginal cinema is that you're actually seeing the world through the eyes of a young aboriginal woman. For the first time in human history. And you know what? The world looks different.”

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