Imagine getting 15 directors (individually) in the same room — from indie auteurs to Hollywood blockbuster helmers — and asking them each the same question: Cinema, is it a language about to get lost, an art form about to die?
In 1982, while at the Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders (who was debuting “Hammett“) did just that. “Room 666” (which sounds a lot more terrifying than it is) chronicles the interviews Wenders conducted with 15 directors during the festival. To achieve as frank, genuine, and unadulterated answers as possible, he used the same exact camera and room setup for each session. What follows during his 43-minute film is some of the most honest, informed perspectives on the direction of film from over a dozen people entrenched in the industry.
Paul Morrissey (“Forty Deuce”) opens by answering with an unequivocal yes, “it’s obvious [cinema] is on the way out.” He elaborates, “the novel has been dead for a long time; people know that. Poetry was exhausted a hundred years ago. Plays hardly exist…once in a while. And every now and then there’s a movie.” TV is replacing movies, and in fact, Morrissey admits he tends to prefer watching television to movies. The reason the above art forms all died out is because they were dependent upon strong characters to survive. As Morrissey sees it, “movies don’t use characters anymore. They use some horrible thing called directors. And photography.” At least “television uses people. There are no directors in television.” (Can you even imagine what he would think of reality TV these days?) Later, Monte Hellman (who didn’t have a film at Cannes that year) echoes Morrissey, with a claim that he, too, rarely watches movies anymore. Unlike Morrissey, though, he believes there are “good times” for movies and “bad times” for movies, and that it doesn’t really matter whether television is better or not.
Mike De Leon dismisses the question rather quickly. As a Filipino, he claims a question regarding the future of film is as absurd to him as one speculating about the future of the Philippines.
Romain Goupil (“Half A Life”), whose interview is interrupted by a phone call, is much more optimistic. “Television is going to be this amazing tool, with satellites systematically beaming films all over the world, and everybody will be able to watch them together.” How prophetic. Noel Simsolo is, well, not optimistic, per se, but believes film is far from deceased. “It’s not cinema that’s dead, it’s the people who make it that die by making stupid films.”
Werner Herzog (“Fitzcarraldo”) refuses to answer “a question like that” with his shoes on, so he begins by taking them off. He doesn’t “see the situation in the dramatic way the question seems to imply,” and claims that filmmakers and the industry are neither dependent upon or threatened by film.
Steven Spielberg (whose “E.T.” closed the festival) appears about two thirds of the way in. “I’m one of the last of the optimists about the history and the future of the motion picture industry in Hollywood.” He realizes, “I have to be very optimistic that movies are only going to expand, hopefully not at the expense of other films that might contract, due to economic reasons, because we all know that money is short today.” Of course, Spielberg would prove to have much to be optimistic about, and very little in the way of financial restrictions.
Curious to hear what Jean-Luc Godard (“Lettre à Freddy Buache“), R.W. Fassbinder, Robert Kramer (“A toute allure”), Ana Carolina (“Das Tripas Coração”), Maroun Bagdadi (“Les petites guerres”), Yilmaz Güney (“Yol”), and even Michaelangelo Antonioni (“Identification of a Woman”), and Wenders himself have to say on the subject? Watch the entire film below to find out.