FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Spielberg the Luddite?

by JORDY CUMMINGS

Steven Spielberg says he is a Luddite. (Economist 12-02) Though he shares his stoney beard, this isn’t an indication of any Kacyzinski sympathies. No, Spielberg is actually speaking of an issue that is near and dear to my heart, as a cinephile and analogue-geek. He is speaking, to the (clearly unsympathetic) market fundamentalists of the Economist of the spectre of digital film, digital delivery, digital projection and the like that, with the help of its unsavoury crypto-fascist weirdo spokesperson, George Lucas, will take over the industry. Of course the Economist writes him off, and, Karl himself, predict that nothing can stop the revolutionary forces of digital.

Spielberg, unquestionably a great artist and businessman in the world of cinema, is a romantic. He – and I and most film buffs, prefer the intangible, incongruities that can only be found on 70, 35, 16 or 8 millimetres of film. In this case, he was being faithful to that which the Luddites actually professed. Technology and machinery, the Luddites said, were not in and of themselves dangerous. A Bamboozled (which used the medium spectacularly) here, a Dogma film there, George Lucas acolytes everywhere. But the image of “the movies” being nothing more than a digitally created film downloaded and watched solipsistically as the dominant means of film delivery scares Speilberg. It should scare us, cultural workers and participants, too. As a Journalism school initiate, I was taught both to edit tape, and later, when some right-wing think-tank funding got us digi-equipment, to use what is known as Avid. What was amazing to me was what was once pain-staking effort – in this case in the service of utility – creating a radio broadcast – could now be down within minutes. Of course, the beautiful spontaneity of editing was also undercut by the advent of digital. A hodgepodge of meticulously connected sounds simply lost its meaning when it could be put together on an avid or Pro-Tools or some-such thing. Similarly a hip-hop DJ of the old school once complained about the proclivity of using DATs live while the DJ pantomimes manipulation of the wheels of steel.

The other day I showed my sister some of Eisenstien’s early experimental montages that are collected on a Russian film known as Eisenstien Autobiography. A terribly over-educated private high school student who knows more about Marx, Malthus and Marcuse than I, she immediately assumed it was done on a computer. This then begs the question, can digital be at all be construed as progress, considering that it has been internalized among young filmgoers as inevitable? If after all, today’s equipment renders the hours of work still done by the majority of film technicians as obsolete, will this not make digital attractive both to studios as being non-labor intensive and film-makers as a cheap alternative? Can it be partly yes and partly no?

Pandora’s boxes are great to open as long as what comes out of the box doesn’t threaten us. But the question is far more than aesthetics. Film does look better than digital. Even the crispiest overpriced wall-mounted plasma screen doesn’t look like film. Slavoj Zizek laments that modern film buffs, used to DVD – which masks film’s inconsistencies, often complain that when they see a film that they are used to as a home video, claim that it does not “look right” in a cinema. But film does look better. LPs sound better than CDs. It is not just nostalgia, I would argue it to be subjective, and somewhat even gnostic-ritualistic. Incidentally, industry types who are looking to a digital transition compare it to when music started to sell on vinyl. There is a big difference between the transference of pre-recorded material from vinyl to compact disc with the complete re-routing of the means of production to the non-human, digital sector.

I have to say that I find it particularly admirable that Spielberg has gone out on this limb. For all of his participation in the corporatization of Hollywood, Spielberg has quietly become perhaps the most arcane and speculative of America’s filmmakers. He seems to even display some Red tendencies in his last two films, one of which (AI) shows environmental and capitalist crisis as an inevitable by-product of post-post-modernity, the other – Minority Report (my pick for film of the year of 2002) is a sublimely ethical – and gorgeously shot warning of humanity’s built-in propensity to fail in its subconscious efforts to destroy itself.

While Spielberg seemed sympathetic and even patronising towards authority, technology and (American) power in his earlier films, it seems that he has recently, after making some harrowing, if over-rated World-War 2 films, found his finest calling late in his career. I remember being offended, as a Jew, by Schindler’s List–it was after all, one level a tribute to a capitalist who saved Jews just so he could get by. So what if he was redeemed? 6 million still died right? The genius of Schindler’s List is its ambiguity, and its none too subtle anti-capitalism. Schindler is not a hero at all. The heroes are the unnamed women and men marched off to the gas chambers.

It seems that of all of the late-sixties film-makers who became marketed as the new-wave, the only one who is truly carrying on that duty is also the one who has collaborated quite spectacularly in the capitalism that they all once despised. Francis Ford Coppola added some scenes to Apocalypse Now to pay his rent. Martin Scorsese is still interesting but nothing special. George Lucas is like a L. Ron Hubbard-Howard-Hughes figure. Steven Spielberg is chillin’ out with Fidel, exhibiting his films in Havana and fighting for the artistic integrity of film, “the movies” as an art form. Way to go, Comrade Spielberg. Keep it comin’.

JORDY CUMMINGS can be reached at: yorgos33ca@yahoo.ca

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail