Thursday, November 10, 2005

Film and the Archive

When I first saw this article (via Arts & Letters Daily), "Scenes of a Revolution," on the new DVD culture, I thought it was going to be mostly wry observations boiling down to "Isn't it funny that we all have lots of DVDs now?"

But it's actually more thoughtful than that: Norman Lebrecht, its author, meditates on how classic films -- which we used to be able to see (again) in art-house or popular revivals, or chopped or squeezed to bits on regular TV and Cable, if at all -- has become curiously, if "urgently present (perhaps the perfect present)." "The eternally elusive turns up in plastic boxes," Lebrecht writes.

And it's true: I probably could never have become a serious student of film if it weren't for DVD: primarily for its loving resurrection of the history of classic international cinema, but also how, as Lebrecht says, DVD "
both presents film and describes it, content and context together, a bilateralism in tune with post-modern philosophies." Sometimes DVD extras wind up being spectacular (but slightly empty) bells-and-whistles, sometimes more packaged bullshit, sometimes Commentary Tracks of the Damned; but at their very best, they give a glimpse into the making, the meaning, and the relevance of film that can be genuinely revelatory.

"Film," Lebrecht argues,

has become fact on DVD. It has left the cinema and joined us for drinks, an emancipatory moment for the last of the great western art forms. Books and music have always furnished our rooms, but to have film as a point of home reference, like Oxford English Dictionary and the complete works of Shakespeare, signals a revolution in cultural reception and, inevitably, creation.
Lebrecht speculates (in a refreshingly sensible, non-utopian, non-alarmist way) on how DVD technology (and experience) might affect our experience in other media, e.g. television (TV needs to pick it up) and books (that technology's beaten off tougher challenges before). It does seem to be of a piece with the digital turn towards autonomous media: how we want what we want, when we want it, instantly and easily available at our fingertips.

I'm also struck by how this lines up with some of the things on which I've been working with Ezra Pound. Pound, kook that he was, had some really remarkable ideas about archives for texts, and alternate technologies for books, in the teens, twenties, and thirties. (See "How to Read," and especially the ABC of Reading.) The problem of the archive -- how to make sense of all of this information, and its new configurations -- seems to be with us for at least the next century, as it has been with us all along for nearly 100 years already.

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Dammit, you beat me to the article.

Of course, I was going to nitpick a few of the author's more utopian assertions, especially in the context of the long-running "what's going to happen to the book?" conversation I'd had with Mr. Sloan.

All right that's enough. Check Wordwright later for the rest of what I think. (It's a busy day today, so it might not get posted until this evening.)