I love reading short essay books like Vicente Monroy’s CONTRA LA CINEFILIA: HISTORIA DE UN ROMANCE EXAGERADO/ Against Cinephilia: A History of an Exaggerated Romance. If they’re halfway intelligent and informed, and Monroy’s is much better than that, you find yourself arguing with them, sharpening your own thinking and maybe even learning something new.
That said, I found myself arguing with Monroy more than with many others in this genre. There is already quite an extensive literature on cinephelia, one he doesn’t draw on but for a brief mention of a Christian Keathley essay. Here cinephilia is an exaggerated love for cinema that makes those who suffer from it ill, makes them hide from the world under the guise of understanding it; and prevents them from acting in the world. But cinephilia has histories, plural. The accounts I heard from Réal La Rochelle in Quebec, Victor Perkins in the UK or Jorge Iglesias in Cuba, all dealing with the 50s and sixties have different practices, different canons, different outputs. Love of cinema is all they share. Plus that cinephilia was different than that of the 20s or that of the 80s. A sharper definition, an attempt at historicising, a delineation of different effects and outputs (the founding of magazines, cinémathèques, the founding of archives etc.) would have considerably changed the pamphlet’s main argument.
I bought this book because it was in Spanish and because I was interested in cinephilia in Spain or at least from a Spanish perspective. But this books speaks of a larger cultural colonisation. It’s all the same anecdotes (about Bazin, Cahiers du cinema, Goddard & Rohmer, Moullet’s assertion that morality in film was a question of travelling shots, and Jacques Rivette’s denunciation of Pontecorpovo’s KAPO on those grounds) that fanboys world-wide share as a a history and frame of reference but at the expense of the local. Laura Mulvey’s famous essay is trotted out to speak about gender bias. Victore Erice is brought in to question whether cinema is dead, and that’s about it: if there are other Spanish critics or theorists mentioned I missed them. Certainly, one gets no sense of the histories or effects of cinephilia in a specifically Spanish context (even the differences between cinephilia in Barcelona in Madrid in the sixties might have been illuminating).
Monroy is not responsible for the other thing that bothered me in the book, they’re widespread, though he does uncritically reproduce them. The first is what I think of as a kind of self-serving bad faith around cinema as experience. Friends who are devotees of Merleau-Ponty and who are happy to quote Vivien Sobchack on film nonetheless refuse to acknowledge that where and how they watch a movie affects their experience of it (and thus also understanding and evaluation). So here, Monroy talks about going to the Filmoteca in Madrid to see Renoir’s The River and the transformative effect it had on him; then how he tried to repeat it with less and less success as the years went by. He also mentions that during the next 12 years he saw films in his laptop because he could find a better range of films there than was offered on Madrid screens. Yet, he doesn’t make the connection between seeing films on a big screen, in the dark, with others…and that transformative experience. Related to this is a kind of bewilderment that so many cinephiles give so much importance to that moment when one steps outside the cinema Yet, if the experience of watching a film in a cinema is immersive then that moment when one steps out is important because that’s the moment where one stops feeling or absorbing and can start thinking and making sense (this is really why I could never get on with Bordwell’s argument on Making Meaning. Personally I get too involved to make the kind of inferences he thinks viewers make, plus desire, and colour, and other kinds of visual excitement interfere with reason). So, it strikes me that the whole argument suffers from a lack of definition of terms, what is cinema and when; what is film-viewing and when; what are the discourses around all of that and when?
The last thing I want to mention – and perhaps a proof that the Cinefilia Monroy is so much against is not worth the fight – is that this is a book about Cinefilia that doesn’t really bother with films. There’s an international canon of references here, which is really to say mainly French (Bazin, Deleuze, the Cahier Boys, Barthes, Serge Daney, Bellour, Metz, Rancière) but whereas most of them expressed their cinephilia with a discussion of films, Monroy turns to theory to argue against it. Another trend in which films themselves seem to matter less and less even to Film Theorists and Film Historians.