A Rearview Mirror Look a Movies


Malcolm Dean has assembled a collection of quotes from various sources that apply Marshall McLuhan’s remarkable metaphor of looking in the rearview mirror, which in the accompanying article is what Hollywood filmmakers have been doing in trying to resurrect a seemingly dying art form. Hamlet held a mirror up to nature “to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” (III, ii, 17-24). McLuhan makes it a rearview mirror, appropriate for a technological age, as such mirrors are attached to our mechanical vehicles which hurtle us ahead into unknown terrain, compelling us to look back from time-to-time, to see where we’ve come from. Everyone who loves movies knows they are in a bad way, with pay TV producing far better fare than anything on the big scream. Hollywood needs to retrieve it’s great past, which to some extent it seems to be trying to do…..AlexK

“Georges, you’ve tried to forget the past for so long, but it has caused you nothing but unhappiness. Maybe it’s time you tried to remember.” – Mama Jean (Helen McCrory), in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo

“McLuhan felt that an understanding of history was essential for understanding the future and the impact of new technologies. He often uses the metaphor of the rearview mirror, a device by which we are able to determine what is about to overtake us from our past. Furthermore, according to McLuhan, history is not to be regarded as a series of events but rather as a dynamic process with a discernible pattern that repeats itself from culture to culture and from technology to technology.”  – Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall Mcluhan, Robert K. Logan (2010:359) ]


“New media do not replace each other, they complicate each other.” A new medium often enhances the subtler proprieties of old ones which one has so far neglected because of a standardized use. McLuhan called this paradox “the rear-view mirror effect.” – Elena Lamberti in: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (2010:xli) 

At jet speed there is no rear-view mirror. What does one see in the rear-view mirror at motor-car speed? In the jet plane at jet speed, there is no rear-view mirror and nothing can be seen. What do you see in the rear-view mirror of a motor car? The foreseeable future. You don’t see what went past, you see what is coming. It is obvious, isn’t it? The phrase “rear-view mirror” tells you that you are looking at something that went past, but, in fact, you never do. All you can look at in the rear-view mirror is literally the foreseeable future.

Now, at the speed of light, there is no foreseeable future. You are there literally. It does not matter what situation you choose to consider. There is literally no possible future. You are already there the moment you name the situation. That is why in our age there are no goals. That is the reason for the streakers’ antics: they are protesting the disappearance of goals. Where are we going? We are all dressed up with no place to go. We think we have taken all the right school courses, studied the right subjects, but now it all seems pointless. Where do we go from here?

Literally, there are no goals at the speed of light, but there are roles. At the speed of light, instead of having a job or an objective, you have to determine for yourself a totally new pattern, a new function in the world. – Marshall McLuhan, Man and Media (1979) in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2004:293)

old movie house
Senses of Cinema, Issue 62, March 2012
The Death of Film and the Hollywood Response
by Andrew Gilbert  
Film, actual celluloid, has been in steep decline for several years now, culminating in the bankruptcy of Eastman Kodak in early 2012. Three of the major brands of motion picture camera, Aaton, Arri, and Panavision, have ceased production of celluloid based cameras over the past year in favour of their digital counterparts. According to Arri’s VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, demand for these cameras on a global scale has “disappeared.” (1) The transition is not to be debated – harsh economic times and the affordability of digital media is successfully pushing film to the side in independent and major motion pictures – but rather lamented. However, it is not my intent here to create an elegy or even perform a close reading of a text that dwells on this issue, only to point out a trend in which Hollywood begins to propose their answer to the crisis of this evolution.
Hollywood is no stranger to major transitions to cinema technology. With the advancement of sound, pro-filmic colour, anamorphic dimensions, and 3D, today’s films are nearly unrecognizable from their early history. Generally, with the exception of film formalists who may see the films of the twenties as the truest form of art, these changes have been widely accepted and once perfected, became prized aesthetics of modern film. However, for all the upheavals through which the film industry has progressed over the course of its life, few are as personal – particularly for filmmakers – as its transition from celluloid to digital formats. It is a rite of passage for many young filmmakers to work with film. We are often trained in stages, from black and white film stock, to colour, and finally sound. But we all have felt the celluloid on our fingertips, heard the clicking of the camera, felt its vibrations that meant you were making film, recording shadow and light for a unique purpose. And when this changes, when film is no longer utilized, and thus the rituals and accommodations afforded it vanish as well, it cuts us deeply. On the other hand, the change is good; digital is cheaper and quicker. Perhaps art may sneak through more abundantly when film does not need to cater to the lowest common denominator in order to make its money back. Read on at http://tinyurl.com/7pzgysr
In War Horse – gruesomeness of war lacks finesse. Joey Albert photo courtesy of Dreamworks

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