As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on lives and societies around the world, the likes of which we have never seen (except in a disaster movie or dystopian fiction), we wanted to investigate further the impact that lockdowns are having on film viewing. In these frightening times, what role does cinema play? Do we turn to art for a greater sense of human connection and understanding? Do we seek out films from the past, the present? How is film spectatorship impacted under these unique circumstances? How do we compensate for that lack of community that occurs in a theatre-setting? This issue’s COVID dossier aims to present a mosaic of readers’ journeys and trajectories during this time. A common theme is the role of new technologies and platforms in connecting audiences. Kristy Matheson discusses a fascinating program of experimental film put together by Mark Toscano on Instagram called “Remains to be Streamed,” which screens at specific times and days facilitating a sense of audience and ‘shared’ space. For many readers, streaming services and online video-chat tools have re-energised film viewing, and facilitated an exhilarating ability to self-curate. Djoymi Baker explains how watching a film during a pandemic means so many more ‘home-movie’ or ‘documentary’ moments where we see something in a film connected to our real-life – “a fleeting interruption or a deeply felt resonance.” Such a liminal experience is beautifully outlined in Alexandra Trnka’s piece on Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, a film about isolation watched during isolation. For other readers, film viewing during this period has brought to the fore new perspectives, such as Robert Koehler’s fascinating reflection on Hollywood cinema of the 30s and 40s. It’s hard to say what ramifications the shift created by the pandemic will have on film viewing in the future, but it already seems clear that new doors have been opened.
Our shared global predicament also generates new resonance in old favourites. The central dossier in this issue is an extensive and expansive look at Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, 40 years after its release. Over a dozen leading Kubrick scholars reflect on the aesthetic, cultural, political and cultural magnitude of a film that exists in the liminal zone between genre and auteur cinema. In this day and age of social isolation and pessimism, The Shining is a prescient reminder of the fragility of our human bodies and psyche. Read more about this terrific and terrifying dossier in its introduction.
As it has done for cultural institutions worldwide, the pandemic has interrupted the operation of the Melbourne Cinémathèque, which currently finds itself on forced hiatus. We have elected to publish a full suite of annotations for the Cinémathèque’s programme-in-absence, roughly following the schedule of screenings as they were originally intended to occur. Included in this issue are extensive seasons dedicated to Abbas Kiarostami and Jean Cocteau in addition to films by Barbara Hammer and Juraj Jakubisko.
Headlining the feature articles in Issue 95, we have a pair of articles focusing on a re-discovered work by Jean-Luc Godard: a re-edited version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) he made for the Swiss television show Spécial Cinéma in 1981, unearthed after four decades by the efforts of researcher Michael Witt and former TV executive Raymond Vouillamoz. Senses stalwart Murray Pomerance gives an eye-opening analysis of the performance of actress Judith Anderson in a secondary part in Otto Preminger’s Laura. Salvador Carrasco, the director of La otra conquista, which represented a watershed moment on the representation of the Spanish Conquest in the Americas, reflects on how filmmakers can create a sense of space, time and permanence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Wendy Haslem analyses the cultural role of Leader Ladies, women who were shown in reels to test colour and other technical aspects of film.
Ennio Morricone, perhaps the greatest film composer ever, or at least one of the most innovative, sadly passed away recently. Dan Golding pays homage to the maestro in a reflective obituary. Masha Spholberg does likewise for Sarah Maldoror, a pioneering figure in anti-colonial cinema who was one of the first women to direct a film in Africa. To round out the collection of obituaries, Senses editor Daniel Fairfax gives us his memories of Thomas Elsaesser, a seminal film theorist who unexpectedly died late last year.
In addition to Bérénice Reynaud’s far-reaching report on the Pan African Film Festival from earlier in this year, we feature reports on three online festivals held in recent months: Oberhausen (by Steffanie Ling), Long Distance FF (by Leonardo Goi) and Sheffield Doc/Fest (by Sophie Cato Maas). Our filmmaker interviews this issue are with Arie and Chuko Esiri (by Wilfred Okiche), Denis Côté (by Wheeler Winston Dixon) and Zheng Lu Xinyuan (by Łukasz Mańkowski). And finally, our book reviews section includes reports on, among others, Anxious Cinephilia by Sarah Keller, Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan by J. Hoberman and Masks in Horror Cinema: Eyes without a Face by our former editor Alexandra Heller-Nicholas — a theme which no doubt has an eerie poignancy for our present moment.
Finally, we are so thrilled to welcome back to the editorial team, one of the founders of Senses of Cinema (together with Bill Mousoulis), Fiona Villella. Welcome (back) Fiona!