Note: This is an extract from a longer piece that I am presently writing.
I have been involved in the area/discipline known as Film/Cinema Studies for over forty years. I began studying film in the mid 1960’s while an undergraduate at McGill University in Montreal. At that time, cinema studies was not considered to be a legitimate discipline and there was considerable argument among a variety of theorists and cultural analysts, as well as traditional academicians about whether film deserved to be studied at the university level and given the status of the traditional disciplines. For the most part, as a consequence of this ambivalence, film was relegated to English departments where it was approached much as one might approach a work of literature or to Art History departments where it was taught as a sub-set of the visual or fine arts.
This lack of interest in the medium haunted those of us excited by the advent of the New Wave in France, for example and by the exciting work being written by authors for Cahiers du Cinema. The work of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut and Italian directors like Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini and Pasolini combined with an explosion of creativity in experimental cinema in the United States by artists like Stan Brakhage, Ed Emshwiller, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas and Maya Deren was so intense that it led many of us to believe that the cinema had finally arrived as a legitimate object of study. Crucially, cinema arrived not as medium (that was a given) so much as cultural event, a window and often a mirror through which individuals could reflect not only on art, but also on their status and identity within western societies. This duality of identity and art was central to the excitement many of us felt about the cinema. In addition, unlike other cultural activities of the time, the cinema’s links to popular culture encouraged new ways of thinking about hitherto dominant notions of high culture. Simultaneously, pop art was transforming the modernist trajectory in the visual arts incorporating everyday objects and sign systems into artistic visualizations and representations. The impact of this convergence along with the scholarly work of McLuhan, Innis and Carpenter in Canada, Christian Metz, Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss in France and the advent of new journals like Screen, Cinéthique, and Take One were part of an intense period of creation and reflection on the status of cultural forms and their impact.
So, it was with great regret and pain that I learned of the death of two masters on the same day. Bergman and Antonioni not only made great films, they influenced the lives of a generation and set the stage for a new approach to film and to film studies. I will explore this in greater detail over the coming weeks.