Editor's note: The following excerpts are taken from "FILM AFTER FILM: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?", a new book written by J. Hoberman and published by Verso Books earlier this month. In the book, the former Village Voice film critic and current ARTINFO contributor addresses the shift from film to digital cinema in the first decade of the new millennium. This first page contains an excerpt from the preface; subsequent pages contain brief essays on individual films that reflect the book's subject.
Hoberman has curated a screening series to coincide with the book's release at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The series begins September 15. For more details about the series, go HERE. To order "FILM AFTER FILM," go HERE.
It may seem absurd, barely a decade into the millennium, to speak of a distinctly "twenty-first-century cinema." Despite the universal pre- dilection for organizing trends by decades, it’s obvious that cultural development is neither determined by a timetable nor bound to an arbitrary calendar. And yet, in the case of the cinema there are two—or even two and a half—reasons to consider the possibility that, since 2001, the nature and development of the motion picture medium has become irrevocably altered.
This new situation, which was accompanied by the oft-articulated per- ception that motion pictures, as they had existed in the century following the Lumière brothers’ first demonstration of their cinématographe, had entered a period of irreversible decline, arises from a technological shift in the basic motion picture apparatus—namely, the shift from the photo- graphic to the digital that began tentatively in the 1980s, and gathered momentum from the mid ’90s onward. The digital turn occurred in the midst of and was amplified by pre-millennial jitters, not unlike the fantasy that the world’s computers would crash when the date shifted from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.
The second, more unex- pected and less rational, reason for the new situation occurred barely nine months into the twenty-first century. This was a world-historical happening, namely the events of September 11, 2001. As watched by millions "live" and in heavy rotation on TV—which is to say, as a form of cinema—these events could not help but challenge, mystify, and provoke filmmakers as individuals while, at the same time, dramatizing their medium directly in an impersonal way. No less than "Titanic" or "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy or the saga of "Harry Potter" (and actually, a good deal more so), the events of 9/11 were a show of cinematic might.
This is not to say that twentieth-century cinema no longer exists— even nineteenth-century cinema is with us still. But the digital turn, accompanied by a free-floating anxiety regarding the change in cinema’s essential nature and a cataclysmic jolt out of the clear blue sky that, for the vast majority of the world’s population, was apprehended as a manmade cinematic event, have all combined—perhaps conspired—to create something new. That new thing is the subject of this book.