Man? Or God?
On my way to the opening night of the 2007 New York Underground Film Festival last night I passed by graffito written on a Bleeker Street wall that read, simply, “Film ≠ Cinema.” A puzzling equation (or inequation, as it were), but one that means a great deal after a moment’s thought. Namely: “film” can be defined as a whole bunch of things; “cinema” can only really mean the transcendent potential of the motion picture medium. “Film” is derived from the Old English fell, for “skin” or “hide” — in other words, something that covers or shields. “Cinema” is derived from the Greek kinein, for “to move.” Film keeps us out; cinema takes us places we’ve never been.
All of which is a pompous way of saying that one man’s moving pictures are another man’s protecting images. I couldn’t help feeling that way, and doubtful of my own convictions, when I listened to most of Anna Biller’s Q & A after the screening of her Viva, and after gauging the various reactions to it. My view contrasted dramatically with the many who saw Viva as “superficially superficial” (as one spectator put it by quoting The Earrings of Madame de . . .) — on the surface glib but on a deeper level a critical take on a genre and the politics of sexual experimentation. While I stick by my review, I now see that Billar’s precisely undertaken film is a Rorschach-esque experience good enough to at least generate debates regarding intention, tone, and reception — not just for Viva but cinema in general.
By now you’re probably asking, “What’s this have to do with the greatest fielding major league first baseman of all time and one of the veteran cornerstones and catalysts of the 1986 World Championship New York Metropolitans — the greatest team in the history of the sport — whose picture you attached to your post?” Glad you asked. See, I’m Keith Hernandez, a short film by Rob Perri, screens tonight in the NYUFF’s “Fierce Creatures” shorts program. The film, a fast-paced, irreverent, and very funny rundown of Keith at his best (clutch hitting in the World Series, a legendary Seinfeld appearance, never forsaking his power-enhancing moustache) and his worst (drug use, porn acting, kowtowing to Ronald Reagan), is supposed to “discuss how male identity is shaped by TV/film, sports, advertising, and pornography.” It’s a little too silly to follow through on this weighty thesis, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for featuring that shocking porn footage, noting the hypocrisy of professional athletes’ anti-drug advocacy, bringing up some interesting ideas about how sports distract from political reality (Game 6 diverting attention from Iran-Contra?), and allowing me to relive ’86 for the one billionth time. Why sympathy for this and not Viva? We all have our soft spots, and this critic admits complete bias when it comes to anything involving my Mets. Opening day is three days away, and I’m Keith Hernandez makes a perfect inaugurating film for those who understand the brilliant absurdity of our national pastime, and the absurdly brilliant men who play it.