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slow criticism | Cinephilia as S&M

According to Mark Cousins Cinephilia in the digital age is a form of S&M: we can be masters and slaves to the image.

Until the digital age, cinema felt behind bars. Hollywood and Bollywood went to extraordinary creative and marketing efforts to get films inside our heads, yet insisted that ownership of, say, the image of Darth Vader or Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca was 100% theirs. They colonised our subconscious but then said hands off, noli me tangere. Those images and feelings that you have in your heads are ours. Talk about missionary zeal. It didn’t help that, as one of the youngest art forms, a higher proportion of films than – say – music or paintings, were still in copyright. And, of course, pre-digital and videotape, it was almost impossible to get your hands on a film. Even if you wanted to own one, or steal one, you couldn’t.
Scarcity, control, ownership: these things made our consumption desperate. We were supplicants. Submissives. Cinema was something done to us when it wanted to do it, and how.
Now we can be dom as well as sub. Cinephilia in the digital age is S&M. We can carry a film in our pockets, play it when we want, pause it until we are ready to continue watching it, and copy it at will. This caters for more tastes, more desires. Many of us still want to submit, to be tied down for two hours and made to watch. As I’ve made various films using film clips – The Story of Film, A Story of Children and Film, Cinema Iran, etc. – I’ve come to love taking control of the image as well as giving control too it.
Of course the copyright of the full artwork still lies with the producers, but individual scenes and frames can, now, due to various legal precedents, be used to make meanings for which they weren’t necessarily intended. If Hollywood was great at seduction, we can now use fragments of its output (scenes of films) to show how that seduction works. I realise that I enjoy being master as well as servant. I like tying a film down and stripping it bare, as well as it doing the same to me. Karl Marx understood ownership and control well, but so did Sigmund Freud.

Mark Cousins is a writer, occasional film critic and film director. Among his works are The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), A Story of Children and Film (2013), Life May Be (co-director, co-writer, with Mania Akbari, 2014), Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise (2015) and I Am Belfast (2015).