Daily Archives: February 26, 2021

Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia

This essay was comissioned by the French magazine Trafic — founded by the late Serge Daney shortly before his death, and still going strong today — where I’ve served for many years as one of the advisory editors. Their 50th issue, published in the summer of 2004, was devoted to various answers to the Bazinian question, “What is Cinema?” This is also the title essay in my 2010 collection, published by University of Chicago Press.  — J.R.

Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

What is cinema?

Before one can even start to answer this question, it becomes necessary to acknowledge that one can’t formulate precisely the same definition of cinema for France and for other countries. And the reason why one can’t should be obvious: in France, an important part of this definition pertains to film as an art form—-a distinction that is generally perceived elsewhere only as a minority position, and sometimes even as an elitist one. But if, on the other hand, one were to ask the question, “What is cinephilia?”, it starts to become easier to come up with a definition that applies to everywhere. A seeming contradiction, it can perhaps be explained by saying that the “cinema” in “cinephilia” is not quite the same thing as “cinema” seen as a self-sufficient term, without reference to social forms.… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (July 9, 2004). — J.R.

Springtime in a Small Town

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang

Written by Ah Cheng

With Hu Jingfan, Wu Jun, Xin Baiqing, Ye Xiaokeng, and Lu Sisi.

It’s strange and very telling that the film most highly regarded in the Chinese-speaking world –especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan — is hardly known outside China. Fei Mu’s 1948 Spring in a Small City, as it’s usually called in English, is a film I doubt I ever would have seen if a Chinese friend hadn’t sent me a subtitled copy taken from a rare showing on SBS, Australia’s state-funded multicultural TV channel, several years ago.

Once I discovered that Fei Mu’s black-and-white film lives up to its reputation, I mentioned it casually to a local Chinese film buff, who told me it was readily available at the video store he frequents in Chinatown. Why then are English subtitled versions so scarce? After all, the film was a key inspiration for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), which has been savored by non-Asians across the globe. And Tian Zhuangzhuang’s color remake of Fei Mu’s classic, Springtime in a Small Town (2002), showing this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, is no less accessible.… Read more »


From Rouge No. 2 (2004). — J.R.

Snakes and Ladders
(Le Jeu de l’Oie: La Cartographie, short, France, 1980)
Snakes&Ladders In the delightful Snakes and Ladders, ‘a didactic fiction about cartography’ made for French television to promote a map exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris – a Borgesian metaphysical fantasy whose hero progressively discovers that France is a life-size board game (devoted to Snakes and Ladders or ‘The Goose’s Game’) – one has to deal with tatty special effects of Edward D. Wood Jr calibre, along with the brilliant conceits and two separate off-screen narrators, male and female. Snakes&Ladders-mapAt the outset, the troubled hero (Pascal Bonitzer) – who is found to be vomiting out dice on one occasion, and shaken as dice by an enormous hand on another – discovers that ‘he is the victim of the worst kind of nightmare, the didactic nightmare.’ Some form of didacticism seems evident in every Ruiz project but, as with Borges, it is a didacticism that often parodies itself and becomes camp, yielding precisely the kind of nightmare that ensues when, through a delirium of literalism, thought becomes flesh and the universe becomes a brain dreaming of thoughts yet unborn.Snakes&Ladders3
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