This book became available in America in December. Of course, it is common for publishers to market new titles around this time of year. But without wishing to sound corny, it also feels somehow appropriate to be putting a book advocating an international consensus around the appreciation of cinema on the racks during this season of goodwill. Movie Mutations is one of the most generous film books to appear in months.
We tend to associate cinephilia with that efflorescence of movie love that took place in the early 60s. Rosenbaum and Martin’s premise is that film distribution, education and technology are prompting a new era of cinephilia. Movie Mutations pivots around a series of letters between professional cinephiles, among them Film Comment’s Kent Smith and French academic and website habitué Nicole Brenez, who neither knew each other nor live in the same country. But, born around 1960 as classical cinephilia got underway, all mysteriously share many of the same tastes and much the same conception of what modernity in cinema can mean.
Rosenbaum wrote Movie Wars, that indignant critique of contemporary film distribution and criticism apathetic before a potpourri of international imagery. That indignation persists in Rosenbaum’s angry account of Iranian director Jafar Panahi, caught up in post-9/11 paranoia and deported from America in chains while en route to film festivals set to honour him. But Rosenbaum also detects "global synchronicities" that offer hope for film culture. Those who saw and liked Panahi’s The Circle (2000) shared not country, language, culture, laws or politics. Yet all experienced emotions in common. In an interview with Japanese critic Shigehiko Hasumi, Rosenbaum marvels at how in the 50s and 60s director Yasuzo Masumura made films with so many preoccupations and styles in common with Hollywood contemporaries Fuller, Ray and Hawks that the connections beg proper investigation. Another of Rosenbaum’s synchronicities finds Bresson speaking to a theme of "souls in hiding" that permeates post-revolutionary Iranian cinema. Throughout this book, individuals find connections and analogies that are ill served by appeals to that trendy broadsheet buzzword, the ‘zeitgeist.’ What is borne in on you is just how straitened and atomized film culture has become since Manny Farber used to hang out with Pauline Kael and avant-gardist Jonas Mekas in the 60s.
In his interview with American academic James Naremore, Australian critic Adrian Martin (Once Upon a Time in America, Bfi, 1998), evokes former Cahiers du cinéma editor Serge Daney’s notion of the "passeur", or smuggler, passing between realms of watching and writing and forging links between them. Nowadays, the reviewer, historian, festival reporter and academic seem to occupy different worlds. Part of the work of the new cinephilia is to bring these people together. It is a project assisted in no small measure by the rise of Internet sites like Senses of Cinema, Audience, Film International and Kamera. Naremore goes a step further by suggesting that, as 60s cinephiles did, the new cinephilia should address the connection between politics and cinema in a world where the political class seems increasingly alienated from the people.
As ever in the annals of film, France informs so much of what goes on here. Academic and curator Nicole Brenez offers a profile of French film culture in which "people easily and collectively became enflamed for or against a film, or for or against an issue." Dedicated to Daney and Raymond Durgnat, critics who intuitively understood the links between cinema and experience, this book recalls a feeling for film and history not felt since the crusading days of Godard and Cinema 16. If these "children of 1960" sometimes discuss directors I have neither heard of nor know well, they bring fresh textures and climates to a world in which only two foreign-language films played UK terrestrial TV this Christmas, one of these being that predictable darling of the "World Cinema" section – Amélie. Everyone who cares about the movies should read this important book.