FEATURE: Death of Cinema at Cannes

The form of cinema as we know it and love it, it is a thing of the past.” – David Cronenberg

Cinema is Dead. At least, that’s the opinion of some of the world’s most prominent directors speaking within a discussion group at the recent Cannes Film Festival. The directors had gathered as part of the To Each His Own Cinema project for which the thirty-three filmmakers involved had each produced a three-minute short considering  ‘cinema’.

Most outspoken on the demise of the medium were Canadian filmmakers David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan. Cronenberg’s short, At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World at the Last Cinema in the World, in which he also stars, offers a particularly bleak perspective on the future of cinema. For Cronenberg, changes in production and distribution, as well as the content of most mainstream fare had precipitated the death of filmmaking as it existed previously, concluding that, “it really isn’t the cinema anymore.”

However, Cronenberg added that the passing was unlikely to have an adverse affect on the up and coming generation of filmmakers, adding that,

“…for the young people who are developing in this current technological information environment, it’s all still very exciting (just) as the mass cinema was for us, (but) it’s just very different.”

The issue of technological changes in the cinema industry seems of particular interest also to Atom Egoyan, whose short, Artaud Double Bill, focuses on two women watching films on their mobile phones (one of them Carl Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan of Arc) while texting each other. For Egoyan, the ‘death’ of cinema, is attributable to the shift away from the communal space of movie theatres for viewing film, noting, “Our fundamental sense of what cinema is, is that it’s a collective experience.” But like Cronenberg, Egoyan suggests this shift will perhaps go unnoticed, suggesting that,

“…a new generation will not understand that. It’s just a question of convenience, ultimately.”

While Cronenberg and Egoyan’s comments were not unanimously agreed upon – in fact they inspired a brief and fiery exchange between some members of the panel, particularly from Roman Polanski – it’s hard to ignore the growing list of ‘terminal’ symptoms. When people begin watching films on their mobiles, iPods, PSPs, miniaturised portable DVD players, then ‘cinema’, at least as we once knew it, has been indelibly altered by these changes. Decreasing box-office sales at the cinema, the increase in DVD sales and ownership, and of home movie-projectors, and the gradual disappearance of, and changes to the content of art-house cinema in this country provide further evidence of an industry in the midst of fundamental change.

In just over a decade Melbournians have witnessed the closure of the Longford cinema, the Lumiere, the Carlton Moviehouse, the closure and reinvention of the Valhalla, the threatened closure of the Astor, and the downsizing of Cinema Europa (Village’s one-time flagship venue for art-house cinema) at the Jam Factory. It may prove, as Roman Polanski has argued, that the calls of cinema’s death “are nothing new” but it appears to me, particularly on this issue, Cronenberg’s words may yet serve as a prescient vision of the future.

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