Cinephilia in a Digital Age

I just opened my mailbox to find a package waiting from DVD Planet. For $38.97 ($20.98 below MSRP) I was able to order Criterion’s 5-disc version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander and have it shipped to my door at no additional cost. Along with new transfers of both the theatrical and television versions of the film, I also got a whole host of extra features, including three documentaries, an audio commentary, and new essays from writers like Rick Moody.

My last DVD order came a few weeks ago. It included all four of Claire Denis’s films currently available in Region 1, along with Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn. After entering all five titles into the seach engine at DVD Price Search, I found that Overstock offered the best price: just a penny or two over $70. For five films. Five films that, were it not for DVD, would have been almost impossible for me to see, let alone own.

But there’s even more to the story. When I sit down to watch Fanny & Alexander, I will see it projected at 100″ diagonal in my basement. Granted, I’ve spent more than most would (or could) on my home theater. But, the fact remains that for the cost of a ’99 Ford Taurus, I am able to experience something this close to cinema in my own home. And, armed with a $20/month subscription to GreenCine, I have a nearly bottomless supply of films at my disposal. I just wish that Bazin and Truffaut had lived long enough to see it.

This a blog-length response to a book-length subject, but is it possible to underestimate how radically our relationship to cinema has been changed by technology in the last 8 years? The impact extends well beyond easy access to films. (Although access certainly isn’t insignificant; how many of us have been waiting for years for the opportunity to see the TV cut of Fanny & Alexander?) Technology is rewriting the role of film criticism as well. Do I really need to read my local film reviewer when Rotten Tomatoes can, in a millisecond, determine critical consensus? Why look at the position of one reviewer’s thumb when I can just as easily gather together all of the nation’s reviewers and ask for a roll call? Is there any particular value now in being film history- or trivia-literate when Google and the Internet Movie Database can provide all of the answers to all of our questions by simply feeding them the appropriate keywords? (There’s some value, of course—we’ll always need experts—but certainly that value has been diminished.)

These are great days for cinephiles. The playing field has, to a great extent, been leveled. Those of us in “flyover” country (somewhere between The Walter Reade, The Film Center, and The Film Forum) now get to experience great cinema as it was intended, and the Internet gives us a place to share our thoughts with others, to engage in the types of conversations that gave birth to the New Wave. (How’s that for a nice bit of hyperbole?)

This is all incredibly obvious, I know. But I just can’t get over the excitement of opening that package.