sontag on the state of cinema, circa 2001

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Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant: You would drink too if you had to look at Poussin’s Midas and Bacchus every minute of your life.


The cinema as he [Jean-Luc Godard] knew it is over. That’s for sure—for a number of reasons, including the breakdown of the distribution system. I had to wait eight years to see Alan Resnais’ Smoking/No Smoking, which I just saw at the Lincoln Center. Resnais made those films in the early ’90s, but then none of his films were distributed here in the past 10 years. We’re getting a much smaller selection here in New York, which is supposed to be a good place to see films. On the other hand, if you can tolerate the small formats—I happen to have a problem with miniaturized images—you can get the whole history of cinema and watch it over and over again. You don’t have to be dependent on the distribution system. The problems with cinema seem to me, more than anything, a cultural failure. Tastes have been corrupted, and it’s so rare to see filmmakers who have the aspiration to take on profound thoughts and feelings. There is a reason that more and more films that I like are coming from the less prosperous parts of the world, where commercial value has not completely taken over. For example, I think people have reacted so positively to Kiarostami is that he shows people who are quite innocent and not cynical, in this increasingly cynical world. In that sense, I don’t think cinema is over yet.


. . . Movies have been the love of my life. There have been many periods of my life when I’ve gone to movies every day, and sometimes I see two films a day. Bresson and Godard, and Syberberg, and more recently Sokurov, have been extremely important to me. I love Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Diehlmann, Bela Tarr’s Satantango, Fassbinder’s In a Year of Thirteen Moons, The American Soldier, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and Berlin Alexanderplatz; Angelopoulos’s Traveling Players, Alan Renais’s Melo, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Goodbye South, Goodbye, Claire Denis’s Beau Travail…. I’ve learned so much from these films. And no, I haven’t said goodbye to filmmaking. I’m not interested in adapting my own books, but in something else. Yes, I want to make more films.


—from “
Against Postmodernism, etcetera: A Conversation with Susan Sontag,” Postmodern Culture, Volume 12, Number 1, September 2001

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