Cinema as a new and dangerous language
January 9, 2019 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a specific essay (I think it may have been the introduction to another book?) or short book about the unrecognised dangers of cinema as a new language, shaping people’s ways of seeing the world and modes of expression. A bit like Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, except I think shorter and related specifically to cinema.
posted by chappell, ambrose to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is a stab in the dark, but I feel like I read such a thing, or read about such a thing, in a book by Sven Birkerts, likely his American Energies but possibly Gutenberg Elegies. It might, now that I am googling a little, be Mark Crispin Miller's "Big Brother is You, Watching" although IIRC that was more about television than about movies. There appears to be a copy of that essay on JSTOR, but my work blocks that site.
posted by gauche at 8:57 AM on January 9, 2019

With a little more digging, you might also find what you are looking for in Miller's Boxed In: The Culture of TV, a review of which is, I now recall, one of the essays in the aforementioned American Energies.

A personal aside: this is a vein of cultural criticism that had loomed large in my teenaged mind but that has been lost in the intervening decades, and I thank you for reminding me of it.
posted by gauche at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2019

gauche, I don’t think it was anything by either Birkerts or Miller, but they look interesting enough to read in their own right - thanks!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:27 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Off the top of my head I'd guess Zizek or McLuhan, but I can't point to anything more specific
posted by Dmenet at 11:05 AM on January 9, 2019

William Gibson has a piece called Up the Line collected in Distrust That Particular Flavor that contains this:
I remember being taken to my first film, either a Disney animation or a Disney nature documentary (I can't recall which I saw first), and being overwhelmed by the steep yet almost instantaneous learning curve: In that hour, I learned to watch film. Was taught, in effect, by the film itself. I was years away from being able to read my first novel, and would need a lot of pedagogy to do that. But film itself taught me, in the dark, to view it. I remember it as a sort of violence done to me, as full of terror as it was of delight. But when I emerged from that theater, I knew how to watch film.
posted by gregr at 11:42 AM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Michael Medved had a popular book that styled itself as being along the same kinds of lines as cultural critiques like those of Postman, but from a conservative perspective. Hollywood vs America. Medved's argument was essentially that Hollywood culture was dangerous, but more to "traditional values" than the more recent changes have shown in Hollywood being more a threat of "traditional values" from a liberal perspective.

If not that, is there any other info you recall about the work? Approximate year you read it or tone or any movies referenced it used that might help narrow down the options.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:51 PM on January 9, 2019

Lots of interesting suggestions and stuff for me to read, although unfortunately I don’t think any are the essay that I’m thinking of.

If not that, is there any other info you recall about the work? Approximate year you read it or tone or any movies referenced it used that might help narrow down the options.

Other than the belief that this was an introduction to a book written by a different author, I don’t have much to go on. I could have sworn that it was something linked in a comment here on MetaFilter, but I’ve tried various search terms and gone back a decade or so without luck. I think that part of the problem is that saying “film is a visual language” is kind of a commonplace. However, the author’s thesis was much more like the Gibson quote above, or this quote (about languages in general) from the FanFare thread for Pontypool - that languages are something external and viral/memetic, that learning to “speak film” somehow changes us cognitively and, taking the next step, that these changes involve risks that we haven’t recognised yet. A lot like more recent complaints about social media, and in fact I was wondering whether it had been written by Lev Manovich, although that doesn’t seem to be the case. I also looked at Deleuze’s books on cinema - no luck there, either. But I remember it as being more on the academic po-mo side of things that the conservative culture war side, with a generous helping of gleeful Ballardian catastrophising.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 1:34 PM on January 9, 2019

Does anything from this list ring a bell? SEMIOLOGY AND FILM THEORY Anything in this previously?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2019

There’s good old Walter Benjamin with The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
posted by threecheesetrees at 5:04 PM on January 12, 2019

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