The cinephile is a unique entity, an individual who has failed to experience the entirety of the malaise that is adulthood. Or perhaps it is too harsh to refer to adulthood in such sickly terms? In that case, let it simply be said that the cinephile has not lost a certain sense of awe that most human beings see dissipate as the passage of time reveals each new moment to be decreasingly dissimilar from the last.
Why is this true? Perhaps this is an obnoxious question considering the lack of effort made to argue in favour of the contention. My claims are entirely based upon my own perceptions, and even as I write them I find myself doubting their veracity.
Perhaps I should start again and simply make this far more clinical statement: “The cinephile possesses an unusual level of sustained passion for the object of their affections – cinema. Such extreme levels of emotional investment in a non-organic object/subject are not the exclusive domain of the cinephile, but they are the domain of a certain breed of human whose interests generate far more enthusiasm than most people might be capable of directing towards a single (non-organic) topic.”
So, why is this true? A psychologist would no doubt provide some kind of explanation based on an innate lack within the individual. They might say – with a more scientific turn of phrase – that the cinephile finds security or comfort within the warm embrace of the moving image, a comfort they are incapable of finding in the real world. They might argue that the characters within a film cannot reject, criticise or attack the individual. They might even argue that the drive to watch endless amounts of cinema is not a passion but a compulsion – a prison of some kind. As for the choice of subject (cinema), the psychologist will probably claim that the object of obsession is solely symptomatic, it has no particular significance. The problem with such a reading is that (whether it contains truth for a given individual or not) obsessions, passions and compulsions have been the driving force behind the human race from its very beginnings. So let us assume that those who are obsessively passionate in their pursuits (from physicists to sculptors to cinephiles) are lacking and that such a lack is a core human strength rather than a weakness.
My question still remains fundamentally unanswered… or perhaps it has been answered and I have discovered that the question was wrong. We shall presume this is the case, and alter the question: “What do cinephiles see in cinema? Or more precisely, what do cinephiles see in cinema that they do not see elsewhere?”
I’ve certainly tried to answer this question before, albeit in a much more systematic mode than I am attempting to do here. But when I wrote I Believe in Cinema I was commenting on the capacity to read beyond the text into the cultural milieu from which it came. This is a huge part of what has drawn me to the medium, but it is not what drew my gaze as a child. Having said that, I’ve also questioned the beginnings of my passion for cinema as a child in an earlier piece, On the Couch, and this has not entirely answered the question.
Beyond the significance of cinema as a cultural artefact and beyond the capacity of the moving image to cross boundaries that had once been impermeable, is the fresh and crisp sense of opportunity afforded by a new and total universe. Each universe functions according to its own laws, and when those laws are perfect and perfectly adhered to, a crisp slice of unfettered expression floats faultlessly within a four dimensional space. This is a new form of space that has been constructed by human minds. Within this space is the opportunity to ask questions, give answers, find escapes and sometimes… return people to reality. This is a space understood by most, but one in which the cinephile becomes hyper-literate.
Unlike theatre, this space is fixed in time upon completion (let’s put aside the contemporary tendency to release endless restructurings of a single film). There is no room for the thespian’s variations and experimentations – the text is set in stone. From the moment a film begins to roll, it is at the mercy of the viewer’s gaze. The viewer will find its truths, perfections, faults and meanings. People will come together and discuss this slice of temporal art and debate its merits. There are millions of these creations where a hundred and fifty years ago there were none.
The cinephile will go further than any other in pursuing a total knowledge of these millions of films, fuelled by a deep passion to have observed all that there is, despite the fact that what there is increases at a rate beyond the mathematical possibility of progress. For each second that the cinephile lives, they will fall two seconds behind. For each second the cinephile falls behind, their need to pursue the totality of the form’s offerings doubles. It is a secret fantasy of the cinephile that the world might end, leaving them alone with the chance to make headway in their goal of total cinematic literacy. A morbid satisfaction will often fill the cinephile when they examine the work of filmmakers long gone – such occasions allow a total knowledge of the artist’s creative output.
Have I answered my own question? Possibly not, although I’m not sure that there is an answer that could possibly provide satisfaction. After all, it is a clumsy truth that there is no experience that can be totally understood through mere description.
And is such a description necessary? The moving image in an intoxicating space in which all things might happen – real or otherwise – and it is quickly becoming apparent that this intoxication is no longer the domain of the self-titled cinephile. The world is filled with gamers, surfers, televisual enthusiasts, movie buffs, academics and smartphone-aholics who will happily defend their brand of choice to the death (or at least until the passing of the CEO). The moving image is well understood by all.