The Death of Film

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:25

    TheDeath of Film You are standing of a summer'sday on a lovely beach, and you are doing what millions of others just out ofeyeshot are doing. You are looking at the sand squiggling between your toes.You are perusing the broken shells just beyond your toes and the foamy waveletscurling against the shore nearby. You are sighing contentedly, enjoying thehalo of warmth the sun has planted on your head. You are not looking up. Thisis curious, because if you were looking up you would notice something: there'sa tidal wave the size of the Empire State Building curved directly overhead,about to crash down and change you and the world you live in irrevocably, forever. It's funny that people don'tlook up. Maybe it has to do with the millennium. Maybe people are afraid thatif they look up, or talk about what they think might be about to happen, thenthe next couple of years will turn out to be dauntingly weird and, well, millennial.I haven't read any articles concerning the enormous changes about to occur inour media environment, which is why I'm writing this one. Of course, there'sone reason those articles may be so scarce: at the moment, most media companiesare far less interested in publicizing the impending changes than they are inpositioning themselves to take advantage of them. But then again, maybe it'ssimply that people are skittish about what I'm proposing to do here-look up,to consider the power and effects of that wave's impact. For the space of this article,three terms that we normally use interchangeably are defined separately: Film refersto the traditional technology of motion pictures: the cameras, projectors, celluloid,lights and other gear that have been responsible for every movie you've everseen in a theater. Prognosis: Sudden death. In a very short amount of time,film in theaters will disappear, replaced by digital projection systems and,soon enough, by productions that don't involve celluloid even at the shootingstage. This transformation will effectively mean that a medium that has beenubiquitous in the 20th century basically won't exist beyond the first few yearsof the 21st. Movies hererefers to motion pictures as entertainment. You know-movies. Everyone lovesmovies. Prognosis: Forced mutation. For one thing, movies will no longer bethe dominant attractions at movie theaters; they'll have lots of noisy competition.They'll also be heavily affected by the technologies that succeed film, namelytelevision and computers. Movies are forever, basically, but movies after the20th century will have neither the esthetic singularity nor the cultural centralitythat they presently enjoy. Cinema refersto movies understood (and practiced) as an art. The cream of the medium's expressivehistory has generally equated with the excellence of individual creators, fromChaplin and Keaton to Fassbinder and Kiarostami. Prognosis: Rapid decay. Cinemareached its point of maximal definition a couple of decades back, and has beenslowly dissipating as a cultural force since. The end of film will help hastencinema toward past-tense museum status-where it will "thrive" in theway Renaissance painting now does. The most immediate of thesechanges-the replacement of film in movie theaters-is due to get a lot of mediaattention in the near future, and you can count on much of that to be of thegee-whiz, isn't-technology-amazing variety so beloved of entertainment writers,scoop-hungry editors and, presumably, gadget-loving Americans. I doubt thatmany negative notes or calls for resistance will be heard, or that the overthrowof film by television-which is what this amounts to-will be related to a dissolutionof cinema esthetics and the enforced close of cinema's era in the history oftechnological arts. The latter, which has implications beyond the realm of artsand entertainment, is my ultimate subject here. But let's take one thing ata time. Needless to say, no oneasked if you wanted this to happen. There were no nationwide polls inquiring,"Would you prefer it if film disappeared from movie theaters and was replacedby video projection?" Consumers didn't complain and start to stay awayfrom theaters because of those quaint old celluloid images. On the contrary,movie attendance is at an all-time high, and there are lots of indications thatviewers want movies to retain the particular visual textures associated withfilm. The change is occurring for the usual reasons: the technology is there,and money. In some ways, it's astonishingthe transfer took this long. George Lucas, one of its prime proponents and sponsors,may be the prophet of consummate kiddie banality, but about this he is not wrong:film, like the telegraph and the Gatling gun, is 19th-century machinery. Fromthe time photography got a foothold in the 1850s, inventors were hustling tofind the means to allow images to move. The crucial device was hit upon by ThomasEdison's ingenious assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, in the early 1890s:a strip of perforated celluloid, coated with photographic emulsion and movedthrough the camera by means of sprockets. Once George Eastman was commissionedto provide Edison with film stock in bulk, motion pictures, as an industrialenterprise, were set to roll. The erroneous mythologyof the medium, sent into history books by the tirelessly self-promoting French,has it that film became the movies one day in December of 1895 at the GrandCafe in Paris, when the Lumiere brothers held their first public projections.In fact (as we discussed here at the time of the actual centenary), bythat time movies had been displayed in several American cities. The very firstprojections for the paying public were held on May 20, 1895, at a storefronton lower Broadway in New York City, by a former Confederate officer, WoodvilleLatham, and his sons Gray and Otway. The Lathams benefited from the helpof Dickson, who moonlighted from Edison because the Wizard of Menlo Park didn'tsee the commercial advantage of taking film out of single-payer peepshow devicesand throwing the images onto a screen. He soon changed his mind. Camera, projector, celluloid:the basic technology hasn't changed in over a century. Sure, as a form of expression,film underwent a radical alteration with the addition of sound, but that andother developments-color, widescreen, stereo, etc.-were simply embellishmentsto a technical paradigm that has held true since photographic likenesses beganto move, and that everyone in the world has thought of as "the movies"-untilthis summer. The new digital projectionsystems resemble the old method in that they project images onto the screenfrom a booth behind the audience. But the images aren't produced by light shiningthrough an unfurling series of photographic transparencies on celluloid. Thereis no film, which alone saves distributors the costs of prints (a couple ofthousand each), plus shipping, handling and storage. It also eliminates scratches,jumps and the other physical imperfections of film. When the digital approachfinally takes over at theaters, the "films" being shown at a given'plex will be beamed in by coded satellite signal, which will allow distributorsto supply as many-or as few-theaters as they like, with minimal advance planningand maximal scheduling flexibility. For the time being, mostmovies will still be shot on film, primarily because audiences are used to thelook, but everything else about the process will be, in effect, television-fromthe transmission by satellite to the projection, which for all intents and purposesis simply a glorified version of a home video projection system. The originalpicture is converted to digital information, which reconverts as three colorsthat are beamed through the projector's lenses and recombined on the screen.In late June, 1999-a date to set beside May, 1895, among little-heralded seachanges in the technologies of popular culture-the new system went on displayin Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York, in theaters showing Star Wars: EpisodeI-The Phantom Menace and An Ideal Husband. (Disney's digitalTarzan debuted last Friday, July 23.) What does the brave newworld look like? Well, as a self-confessed videophobe, I must say I was surprised.I went to see An Ideal Husband and thought the projection looked great-certainlyit did compared to my worst fears, which were along the lines of a hazy big-screentv in a sports bar, blown up to unbearable size. In fact, I'd bet that mostordinary moviegoers wouldn't know the difference if you didn't tell them therewas one. I actually preferred it to the same movie on celluloid, which I thoughtwas overlit and had oversaturated colors. (Was Husband shot with digitalprojection in mind, making the film version intentionally a bit inferior? I'msure Miramax will never tell.) The digital image feels slightly softer and gassierthan the more defined textures of film. The colors I saw were a mite cool, withgentle blues predominating. But the overall effect was pleasant, and far lessnoticeable than I had anticipated. In short, I'm now sure thisthing will fly. There'll be no uprising, no mass shrieks of outrage at the change.Digital will sneak into theaters largely unnoticed, perhaps even welcomed. Butshould it? So far, celluloid's onlyHoratio-at-the-bridge is Roger Ebert, who at this year's Cannes Film Festivalstarted sounding the alarm. Ebert is concerned that the technological revolutionis being rushed into place without the industry having done (or made public)any studies about its likely effects, especially on the psychological level.He mentioned data (cited in Jerry Mander's famous polemic Four Argumentsfor the Elimination of Television) indicating that film creates a beta stateof alert reverie in the brain, where tv provokes an alpha state of passive suggestibility.Is it possible, Ebert wonders, that the subliminal catnip that people valuein movies is being thrown out with the celluloid, and that audiences will soonabandon digital movies because they're too much like tv? I admire Ebert for shouting"stop! look!" when nobody else is doing it, and when the giganticcorporate interests behind digital are, as always, so careless of mere mortalsand petty matters like human consciousness. Additionally, I share Ebert's visceralemotional reaction against film-this magical thing that has been with us ourentire lives-being suddenly swept off the cultural table. But I also think hiscampaign and the impetuses behind it are mostly emotional, and I don'tthink they stand a shred of a chance of stemming the digital tide. That doesnot, however, mean that I'm basically sanguine about the impending conversion.Not at all. How long will it take? Theestimates I've read range from two to 10 years, but I would bet that it's onthe lower side and that it will happen very suddenly. The main factors likelyto slow it somewhat are financial. Exhibitors are presently undertaking hugeexpenditures to convert from multiplexes to megaplexes (those "stadiumseating" behemoths beloved of mid-America), and it may be a while before they can assemble the scratch for a new set of mammoth outlays. Then will cometheir pitched battle with distributors over how to share the expenses of convertingto digital, which will be a huge economic boon to the studios. The ultimateoutcome of this struggle, though, is easy to foresee: the costs will be passedalong to the consumer. Get ready for $20 movie tickets and $10 bags of popcorn. Once digital projectioncomes to stay, certain temporary confusions will be inevitable. Consider thenomenclature, for one. There'll be film festivals, film schools, film partnershipsand so on and so forth-none of which will have even the remotest thing to dowith any actual film. Film reviews? Film critics? Don't get me started. And, for a while, peoplewill go on thinking they're looking at films because, for a while, there's asense in which they will be. Movies will be shot on celluloid, for that greatold filmic look that even dramatic shows on television still prize. But I'llbet the preference for that look will begin to fade fairly quickly. A few filmswill come along that, as Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration did lastyear, make low-budget digital video shooting look really cool, and thereafterit will become standard for most features. Shooting on film will be reservedfor certain arty, historical or deliberately archaic productions, and even thosewill gradually dwindle until digital's domain finally encompasses all. How will the shift affectmovies? That's the crucial question, after all. The little I've seen writtenon the subject so far tends to avoid everything but vague assurances that movieswill be much the same, only better-looking, and that the radical economies ofdigital shooting will allow amazingly low-budget productions to jump from someone'sbackyard to the world's screens in a flash. My own prognostications are muchdifferent, and they explain why I'm not jumping with joy at the digital revolution'sapproach. What will people see atthe local megaplex after the revolution? My guess is that the choices will includeattractions such as...Monday Night Football, The Home Shopping NetworkSuper Sale, the NBA playoffs, Seinfeld's last episode, BritneySpears with the Rolling Stones (still touring, thanks to cryogenics) atthe Hollywood Bowl, Jerry Springer's National Town Meeting, TheWestern Hemisphere Championship Wrestling Finals, Prince William's wedding,The Three Tenors Do MTV's Spring Break, etc...and, oh yeah, the movieof the week. Those things are all television,of course, but that shouldn't surprise you. The general attributes of traditionalmovies (fictional stories, shot at distant locations using scripts and directorsand actors) had everything to do with the peculiarities and limitations of filmas a technology. Digital will change all that in radical ways. In fact, it strikesme that, after the revolution, the two most important factors for movieprogrammers will be 1) that digital theaters will have all the capacities oftelevision, including live transmission and 2) the need to give people somethingsufficiently different from the home tv experience to justify the admissioncharge. If those things suggest a new definition of "cross purposes,"I'll wager that their reconciliation will alter what's offered in movie theatersin ways that moviegoers today can scarcely imagine. Pondering digital's effects,most people base their expectations on the outgoing technology. They have ahard time grasping that, after film, the "moviegoing" experience willbe completely reshaped by-and in the image of-television. To illustrate why,ponder this: if you were the executive in charge of exploiting Seinfeld'slast episode and you had the chance to beam it into thousands of theaters andcharge, say, 25 dollars a seat, why in the hell would you not do that?Prior to digital theaters, you wouldn't do it because the technology wouldn'tpermit it. After digital, such transpositions will be inevitable because they'llbe enormously lucrative. And tv isn't the only technologythat will affect the new theatrical paradigm. Here's another possibility, basedon a fairly rudimentary expansion of what's already available technically. Itshouldn't be difficult to install automated cameras and mics in most movie theaters.So let's say you go to see one of the new, theatrical specials like, say, Oprah'sAmerica. Thanks to the new technology, you can punch a button in the consoleon your armrest, and if the host chooses you, you'll be able to talk to Oprahor Dave from your seat, live, as people in theaters around the country watchyou and hope for their own moment in the limelight. That's right-it's that newfangledinteractivity you've heard so much about. All the kids are grooving onit, thanks to computers and the Internet. Think those same kids won't dig-orfor that matter, demand-interactive experience at the movies? Of course theywill, and two-way national talk shows will be the least of it. The door willbe open to feature-length interactive video games, simulated thrill rides, You-Solve-ItMysteries, Meet Your Favorite Supermodel, You in the Pilot's Seat:Gulf War Reenactments, etc. At telethon time, Jerry Lewis will be the happiestman in showbiz. In the early days, of course,the movie experience was much like this. Not only were films slotted into vaudevillebills between braying comics, dancing mules and third-rate acrobats-and youcould talk back to everything on the program: call it pre-electronic interactivity-butalso the people who supplied the movies tried everything they could think of,from scenes of distant countries to fake train trips to in-camera magic tricksto historical re-creations. In the 50s, when the movie business was treatingtv much as America treated the Soviet Menace, a similar anarchy again reignedbriefly, producing 3-D glasses, Cinerama, Smell-O-Vision and William Castle-stylestunts. Immediately after digital's arrival, expect another spell of wide-openexperimentation until the new medium's modalities and audience tastes are sussedand locked in. When the dust settles, I'llbet one thing about our media experience of the last half-century comes closeto reversing itself. Typically, people now watch tv as if in a group, even whenalone, and view movies as individuals, even when accompanied by others. Thatis, they'll talk, hoot, flip the bird at the tube, but sink into mesmerizedsolitude before the movie screen. Digital may well turn that around. Peoplewanting to watch serious movies that require concentration will do so at home,or perhaps in small, specialty theaters. People who want to hoot and holler,flip the bird and otherwise have a fun communal experience-courtesy of Oprahor Scream: Interactive, say-will head down to the local enormoplex. Other technological changeswill figure into that reversal, too. In the time it takes for digital to transformtheaters, home viewing will also be transformed. HDTV and wall-sized screenswill finally become realities, and all manner of movies will arrive in pristinecondition over the phone wires at your beck and call. The other side of thiscoin, meanwhile, is indicated by the sad story of my friend Ricky. Back in theearly 80s when I was living down south, Ricky was the most avid teenage cinephileI knew; he saw and had sharp opinions on everything from the grottiest shlockto the latest Fassbinder. When I ran into him recently-he now lives in Miami-andasked about his latest favorites, I was shocked to hear him sigh, "I quitgoing. All the pagers and beepers and cell phones constantly going off-it breaksthe spell, you know? I didn't enjoy it anymore." The cynical answer to thisdilemma is, I'm afraid, also the most realistic. Ban cell phones from theaters?Of course not. Instead, create a theatrical environment in which talking ona cell phone is as natural and accepted as munching popcorn. Indeed, digitaltheaters and all manner of other electronica are not only related but practicallycompatible. Conceivably, cell phones could be integrated into various sortsof interactive shows. (Your party can't hear you because the audience is laughingtoo loud? Well, yell louder.) Though reduced to minoritystatus, movies too will be a part of the digital theater experience, and theywill be increasingly tailored to the tastes of the theaters' prime audience:an older audience that, thanks to the pervasive influence of tv and its increasingpreoccupation with puerile smuttiness, now has a lot in common with potty-mindedinfants. In recent decades, the people who go to movies mainly to "go out"have been those who are itching to escape their parents' home but haven't yetsettled into their own: 15-to-25-year-olds. As "serious" movies areincreasingly consumed at home, this group's worldview will have more influenceon theatrical production and programming than it already has. For one glimpseof the movie future, imagine a world that regards Adam Sandler as a combinationof Cary Grant, Orson Welles and Bertrand Russell. More sophisticated auteurswill have a difficult time of it unless they're willing to work on the low-budgetmargins or, alternately, they acquire the power of a Spielberg. The controlof studios over individual creators will only increase thanks to the new technology,no matter what the advertisements say. Here's one reason why: Let's say StudioX opens their latest idiotic post-Sandler comedy on a Friday, and people don'tgo batshit over it that night. There can be a newly edited version ready forSaturday's matinees. And if that doesn't work, another version for Sunday. (Thistechnological capacity on many levels will contribute to the rapid destabilizationof the film "text." There can be hundreds of versions of a given film.It will be hell on historians and archivists, of course-assuming anyone wantsto keep this stuff.) Will no serious films exist? Sure they will, but if you'recurious as to what they'll look like, you'll do better to turn on the tv thanto visit current art houses. The conceptual and practicalwalls separating television and movies have been eroding ever since the appearanceof the newer medium. Early on, tv was called "movies over the air"(as well as "radio with pictures"). For years, the movie industryregarded tv as the enemy, but in 1975, when Jaws became the first movieto be given a wide release in tandem with network tv advertising, and went throughthe roof, something crucial changed. Of course, marketing strategy wasn't allthere was to it. In a sense, Jaws-like Star Wars, which stoleits box office crown two years later-was molded to and by the juvenile sensibilitiesfostered by tv. In any case, Jaws and its progeny set the template for"event movies" from Batman to Twister to Armageddon-moviesthat aim for huge opening-weekend grosses, and that succeed not on the basisof their quality (who cares about that anymore?) but thanks to a climateof anticipation mainly created by tv. In the digital age, thatsynergy will increase a hundredfold, but the central interaction will remainthe same: tv will hype movies, movies will hype tv. Granted, lots of what goeson in theaters will be tv pure and simple (concerts, sports, live events, etc.),but the portion still devoted to movies will maintain certain distinctions andpractices that have proved commercially advantageous: the biggest movies willpremiere in theaters (although paid transmissions to home screens will becomeincreasingly common); scale, spectacle and stars will continue to be very important;the stories of most blockbusters will be simple to a fault, as satellite transmissionmeans that films open not just on thousands of screens in the U.S. but on tensor hundreds of thousands around the world. I'd also wager that the main commercialgenres we have today-action-adventure, sci-fi fantasy, romance, crime drama,horror, comedy, animated, etc.-will remain with us, since the future evolutionof movies is likely to occur mainly on the technical level. Speaking of which, won'tthe revolution caused by low-cost digital production mean that we'll see grassrootsFellinis springing up all over the place, conjuring amazing and original visionsat next-to-nothing prices? Pardon my skepticism, but this is never the way itseems to work. The whole experience of the Sundance generation suggests this:If you have 100 people making movies, you'll get maybe three or four great ones.If you have a thousand people making movies, you'll still get three or fourgreat ones. A rising tide of democratized "access" mainly seems toresult in a bilious upswell of mediocrity. In fact, it's far more reasonableto assume that digital technology's greatest impact on the movies will happennot at the least expensive levels of production but at the most expensive. Think Jurassic Park,and then imagine the computer-generated dinosaurs crowding out the flesh-and-bloodhumans. Such a transition will comprise the next epochal change in movies (it'sbeen underway for some time already), one that essentially has nothing to dowith digital projection but will be greatly facilitated by its arrival. Putsimply, more and more movies will be composed of computer-generated imagery(CGI). In some, that imagery takes the form of artificial backdrops or effectssurrounding the human actors; in others, everything about the film will comefrom the computer. Audiences have already indicated that they love to be wowedby such stuff, and since the most awesome technology is controlled by a fewtechnocrats like George Lucas, the main effects of CGI blockbusterdom will hardlybe classifiable as "democratizing." And then there's the minor considerationthat increasingly what we'll be seeing at the movies won't be reflections ofthe real world but artificially conjured fantasy worlds. What will we really losewhen film is abruptly swept from the world? Such questions tend to induce akind of situational amnesia at the moment of transition. Bedazzled and excitedby the new technology, people don't want to ponder the loss of the old, so theyminimize its importance, brush it aside, pooh-pooh the idea that the whole thingcould amount to more than the exchange of one delivery system for another that'sbasically the same, just better. But let's resist that assumptionfor a moment and consider that this change could have profound implications,ones that the corporations pushing the new technology perhaps prefer you notto scrutinize. The critic Andre Bazin believed that photography and its stepchildfilm brought people into a fundamentally new relationship with reality and thenatural world. That's because photographs, unlike every previous means of visualrepresentation, are not subjective interpretations of visible reality but objectiveimpressions of it. Directly caused by light leaving the things they record,they have an essential equivalence and connection to the objects they portray.At its deepest levels, Bazin thought this equivalence had religious ramifications;he likened the photographic image to the Shroud of Turin and the veil of Veronica(the title of Fassbinder's Veronica Voss gives the latter an added dimension,if you read it as invoking cinema as the "true image (and) voice"). More obviously, photographyintroduces an ethical dimension to our view of the world, insisting on the irreducibleintegrity of people and things beyond ourselves, and reminding us constantlyof our relationship to them. By any reckoning, photographic images of war, sufferingand injustice in this century-like the Neorealist films Bazin championed-havechanged minds and opened hearts in ways that make the powers of painting seemfaint and rhetorical by comparison. Thanks to their own physicality as welltheir relation to the things they represent, photographs, including those in motion, are not just idle records. They are objects of contemplation whose fascinationcomes from the way they connect us to the world. Video images look very similar,surely, but I think most people have an accurate hunch that they are not exactlythe same. They are, in fact, something lesser at least in the sense that,lacking the photograph's solidity and existence in space, they don't readilyentice the mind toward contemplation. Flux-filled and immediate, they stressmomentary sensation and pure information over perspective and discrimination.And computer-generated imagery is something else entirely. If video images sacrificethe photograph's contemplative stance toward reality, CGI dispenses with realityaltogether. The thing about those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park is not justthat they look so real, but that they are so wholly imaginary, fantastical,referring to "things" that are purely notional. Where is CGI leading us?Let's just say that it's hardly surprising that recent CGI sci-fi movies likeDark City and The Matrix hinge on the same concept: reality itselfis computer-generated. Nor does this represent any sort of utopian fulfillment.The mood of these movies is full of paranoia, dread and disorientation. Thestory is invariably the same: the hero is trying to escape. But he is like Theseus without a thread, trapped in an imaginary labyrinth. Inevitably, every CGI moviereturns us to one basic conundrum: if the world is unreal, where does that leavethe viewer? Is he not just as empty and spectral-a mirror held up to a flickeringvoid? The speculative visionsof science fiction are indeed suddenly more apropos than ever. Up until a fewyears ago, a child's understanding of the world came from direct physical contactwith it and from interaction with other humans. At age five or so, he wouldaugment those sources of knowledge by learning to read and beginning formaleducation. Currently, however, from earliest infancy children are barraged withelectronic images and information that comprise an amazingly comprehensive andirresistible system of brainwashing, if you'll pardon the term. Here, "knowledge"is based not on experience but on inculcation, and not on the real world buton images that reduce that world to an endless streaming of emotionally chargedand ideologically weighted abstractions. And now-just last week,to be precise-comes the news that scientists have succeeded in constructinga computer circuit the size of a molecule. These developments supposedly willagain increase the power of computers exponentially, and lead us (as one newsreport had it) toward a world where you'll be able to turn to a wall, say "Grandmother,"and the wall will turn into a video monitor cum telephone that will instantlyconnect you with your grandmother. In other words, the amazingly intricate cocoonof electronic reality that we have woven around ourselves, an artificial realitythat steadily displaces nature and natural processes, is about to become thatmuch more complete and inescapable. Funny thing about nature,though: it isn't as easily subdued as a movie monster from outer space. (Itmight even resent being thought of as a "social construct.") In future,you may be able to call up your dear Granny in a trice (if she's dead, dialthe image bank), but you probably won't be able to look at the skies and commandglobal warming to reverse itself; or to order a remedy for the destruction ofthe world's rain forests. Nor is being cocooned by a culture that offers wall-to-wall,cradle-to-grave electronic infotainment likely to dispel these problems evenas it profoundly distracts you from them. On the contrary, it's possible thatsuch distraction will compound the problems by seducing us away from directengagement with the world outside the enormoplex's magic bubble. The myriad possibilitieshere ultimately reduce to two, don't they? Either humankind completely conquersand transcends nature, or makes accommodation with it. If the former, then immersingourselves in artificial environments and surrendering without question to everynew technological development will handily advance us toward our grand speciesdestiny of dominion over the material universe. (This sounds like the openingof a Greek myth with a scorchingly tragic finale, but hey-you never know.) Theother possibility, meanwhile, concedes that the final purpose of technology might be not to obliterate human limits but to help us understand them; sometechnologies, like the atomic bomb, are there to be stepped away from. In thelatter scenario, humanity looks to nature finally not for conquest but for reconciliation,a task that Andre Bazin thought photographic images were uniquely suited to. Whatever else happens, onething now is certain. Film is about to disappear over the historical horizon.It will always be a 20th century phenomenon. But guess what? So will you. Everyoneold enough to be reading these words is a product of a world whose understandingsand self-images were forged in large part by film. When the millennial clockticks over, we will all be strangers in a strange land, one that belongs toothers. It may take a while to realize this, but one day you'll be standingin line at the enormoplex, say, and some kid born in the next century will lookat you, and that look will tell you who you are: a 20-century person. A filmperson. In a world that has left that time and that technology behind. Next Week (part two): The Decay of Cinema. Movieswere touted as an art from early on, but the wishful rhetoric didn't becomea widely accepted reality until the arrival of television. Was tv the double-edgedinstrument that both propelled cinema to its expressive peak and pushed it towardits grave?