My Top Most Important Reads of 2021:
#4 The Mysteries of Cinema: Movies and Imagination by Peter Conrad
Similar to Dave Grohl in his new autobiography (highly recommended as well), where he describes his music as worship, playing shows as his spiritual experience, and the auditoriums as his cathedrals, I often cite the theater as my Church, the space where I am invited to think about and experience the transcendent and the place where I find community. Anyone who knows me knows that this is why I speak as a broken record when it comes to discussion of film and the importance of theater. In many ways theater has gone the way of so many things these days, including popular iterations of church, being more about modern conveniences, big lights, performance based experiences that cater to entertainment rather than forming an expectation of transformation. That isn’t an argument for anything, rather it’s an expression of my own experience. It’s no wonder that many people don’t think it’s important or necessary any more and have detached the experience of film from that sense of place and togetherness, instead appealing to personal preference.
When I speak about the subject what is behind that for me is a deeply felt sense of loss in my own life, even though theaters at this point still remain open. It’s a process of thinking about my own formative experiences growing up and heading out the large, grand palaces that demanded that upward, transcendent gaze simply by being present. It’s a process of trying to reconcile that with the present day and contending with things that feel like they challenge something I consider to be sacred and communal. Similar to my church going experience i suppose, where I left the big church and pursued a more liturgically based practice connected to that sense of history and tangible, physical space, I continually long to locate that in my movie watching practice.
Which is partly what I so appreciate about this book. It tells the story of cinema from the perspective of its religious type experience, using the template and story of religion to help illuminate what this means and why this is in a historical sense. It sees film as primarily an exercise of the imagination that helps to invoke in us a sense of wonder and awareness for truth and life with an eye towards its transformative potential. It sees in film things like the potential for worship, for community, for the sacred experience, appling this in a broader sense beyond just the religious but using religious language in the same way the tradition of cinema always has. It’s a powerful and informing book, and also an immersive one in how it opens the reader up to a greater love for the artform.