Cinephilia Without Medium
by Kal Heck — University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
December 13, 2012 – 00:00
Paul Willemen and Thomas Elsaesser present competing definitions of cinephilia. One, Willemen’s, operates outside history and functions through affective moments; the other, Elsaesser’s, is decidedly historical and is based upon a constant comparison of images. “Pre-Taped Call-In Show,” a just over three minute bit from the sketch show Mr. Show with Bob and David, thematizes just these concepts and serves to force a rethinking of this binary. In this skit, host Ken Doral (David Cross) gradually loses control as a result of his failed attempts to describe the nature of his show. The way that the details of this retroactive disintegration collect and are then compared accounts for the bit’s comedic thrust. But, more importantly, this skit reconfigures the distinction between Willemen and Elsaesser’s dueling definitions by signaling towards their similarities. It in essence argues that for Willemen’s momentary mode to generate its affective response there must be the trace of previous moments, while simultaneously revealing how the associative mode of Elsaesser relies on the affective moment to carry its cinephilic impact.
But what is further striking about this clip in regards to cinephilia is that it is located squarely outside the cinema. This clip is clearly about TV; its joke relies on the confusion between the taped and live modes that have, in the past, been theorized as the crux of the televisual. But this ontic confusion, this inability to locate itself within the supposed ontological status of its medium, inevitably encounters cinema via its coalescing images. For when Doral pulls out his succession of screens this skit not only turns to temporal displacement but to the capacity for this medium to encapsulate within it other media.
Therein lies the key to beginning to think through the status of cinephilia in relation to the digital. In this clip, the two strands of cinephilia outlined by Elsaesser and Willemen combine to serve not as an activity specific to the projected image in the darkened theatre, but as a way of problematizing medium specifics. This clip—itself housed in a show considered the locus of a kind of comedy-philia that eludes any single medium—explores exactly how the constant search for and comparison of affective moments confounds medium specificity by refusing to restrict its charge to a particular context. Here is a cinephilia that relies on affect and the trace that guides it, and one that will only increase as screens further collide.