In 1999, the then 36-year-old Melbourne-based independent filmmaker Bill Mousoulis hatched an idea for an online film journal. The notion of starting a film journal that would purely reside on the Internet was not as self-evident then as it might be now. The world wide web as we now know it had only been in existence for barely half a decade. Mobile phones were still a niche product, and the world was yet to know of smart phones, iPods, streaming platforms and social media. The top grossing film of the year, George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace, made a technologically ground-breaking use of digital filming tools, but it was very much the exception. Films were still, by and large, shot on 35mm film, and screened on celluloid prints when in cinemas. Generous windows safeguarded theatrical releases from VHS rentals and television broadcasts.

In these early years of what was then known as the “information superhighway”, informal film groups had sprouted up on the discussion forums populating cyberspace, but online film appreciation was still a largely disreputable sphere. So-called “serious” film criticism still took place almost exclusively on the printed page: in daily newspapers, cultural weeklies, specialist magazines and academic periodicals. Few models existed for an online film journal whose quality of writing and level of critical acuity would be the equal of its more august printed peers. Founding one before the 20th century had concluded was a risky gamble. There was every chance it would be a short-lived affair.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the endeavour, Bill and Fiona Villella launched Senses of Cinema in December 1999, as the world prepared to greet the new millennium, and fears of disasters wrought by the Y2K bug circled the globe. Their inaugural editorial provided the tone for the role they saw for the journal. Senses of Cinema, they wrote, would be:

devoted to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema. It has been set up to address a gap in local discourse, through facilitating and encouraging such discussion. It is unique in its eclecticism: it encourages articles of all styles (casual, academic, personal, poetic), analytical approaches (thematic, psychoanalytic, etc) and subject matter. The only criteria or values that underlie all articles are that they are passionate, serious, intelligent, insightful or interesting reflections and/or analyses on the topic of cinema.

Senses of Cinema is particularly committed to discussing art, independent, experimental and third world cinemas (everything from Renoir to Antonioni to Oshima to Morrissey to Jost to Friedrich to Snow, feature films as well as short films), theorising new encounters with digital technologies, and promoting writing that increases one’s understanding and appreciation of cinema.

The journal aims to achieve a mix between established writers and emerging writers, theorists, general un-trained cinephiles, film-makers, local and international writers.

Senses of Cinema recognises that an object as ephemeral and ethereal as cinema continues to fascinate, to provoke, to inspire, to turn on, to evolve. And it is in relation to this object that we seek to facilitate and encourage expression and appreciation.

With these lofty principles in mind, the first issue was nonetheless modest in scope, containing a handful of feature articles on Australian and French cinema. Some of the names of the writers would have long associations with Senses: Bill offered “some thoughts” on Greek-Australian filmmakers, Fiona wrote on post-colonialism in Claire Denis’ Chocolat (1988), while future editor Adrian Danks provided a piece on L’Armée des Ombres (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969). Sydney-based video artist John Conomos had the honours of penning Senses’ first ever Top Ten list, which would become a prominent feature of the journal in its early years (incidentally, Buñuel’s El [1952] topped the list).

More than two decades later, Senses is proud to publish its 100th issue, and – if modesty permits us to make this claim – it has become a fixture in international film criticism, contributing to the very legitimacy of publishing writing on the cinema in online platforms, a practice that has since become ubiquitous. In the intervening 20-plus years, we have evolved in numerous ways. The editorial team expanded from its initial duo, and has since gone through several generational changes. Bill left to focus on his filmmaking, while Fiona has recently returned after a long hiatus. Elements of the journal that have since become permanent sections were introduced: the festival reports section, book reviews, CTEQ annotations (the fruits of a long-term association with the Melbourne Cinémathèque), the database of Great Directors profiles, and the annual World Poll. The look of the site has gone through several iterations, from the famous pink background of the early 2000s to its present layout. From the frequent publication pace of the early issues (sometimes up to once a month), we have moved to a regular quarterly rhythm. Most pleasingly, we have been able to publish the writings of a vast number of contributors, printing everything from short-form responses to in-depth theoretical texts, and have now nurtured the fledgling critical talents of multiple generations of film writers, all of whom form part of the Senses family.

Much has changed since issue no. 1 of Senses. The 21st century has seen the near-total digital transformation of film production, while the shift in viewing habits, with a multiplicity of platforms replacing the earlier hegemony of the movie theatre, has been turbocharged by the pandemic conditions of the last two years, with movie-going placed into a historically parlous situation by the series of lockdowns and capacity restrictions that, at least at present, show no signs of abating any time soon. Film criticism has in some ways changed beyond recognition. The professional critic, earning enough from their writing to pay the rent every month, has become an endangered species; conversely, criticism in the broader sense of the term is more widespread than ever, proliferating in online spaces and expanding from the written word to video essays and other multimedia modes of expression. Echoes of political movements have led to concerted efforts to re-draw the cinematic canon and redress historical injustices in the industry, particularly when it comes to issues of race, sexuality and gender, but these bien-pensant campaigns have their own blind spots, and a creeping tendency towards censoriousness and cultural amnesia is just one of their unfortunate side effects.

Throughout all these changes – at Senses, in the cinema, in the world at large – it is nonetheless striking how apt that inaugural editorial still sums up our mission. In 2022, it is still our goal to foster “serious and eclectic discussion of cinema”, and we still seek to fill the gap between the kneejerk evaluations of film reviewing and the dry jargon of much academic scholarship in cinema studies with writing that is “passionate, serious, intelligent, insightful or interesting”. Whereas in 1999 Senses may have been at the forefront of technological change, in 2022 some may see us as part of an old guard. We happily publish long-form pieces that require sustained attention from the reader, and our trimestrial publication cycle means that short-lived viral debates coursing through social media before being quickly forgotten leave little trace in our issues. But this is something we reclaim. Twitter firestorms may excite the passions, but they are not conducive to critical reflection, which requires time to germinate, and demands the patience to let a film work on you well after the initial reaction has subsided. A question mark has also hung over the head of the cinema. Even in the 1990s, talk of the purported “death of cinema” was commonplace. This proved unduly pessimistic: the 21st century saw a global flowering of cinema, with new movements, new auteurs, new styles, much of which has been treated on the e-pages of Senses’ century of issues. The rise of streaming and the effects of Covid may have revived these fears. Netflix and its peers may be pumping out “content” at unheard of volumes, but for the most part – there are some honourable exceptions – this has come at the cost of any attention to form. The algorithmically steered programming of the streaming platforms has resulted in a crushing stylistic homogeneity, with the resulting frictionless viewing experience propitious for the binge watching that has characterised the streaming age, but ill-fated for any formal experimentation.

At Senses, however, we still defend the “Cinema” that doggedly remains in our title, and persists as the centre of our critical attentions. We don’t understand cinema in a dogmatic sense: works that few would think of as films in the traditional sense, like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return or Tacita Dean’s Tate Modern exhibition Film, are nonetheless profoundly cinematic. The cinema is not, should not be, defined by viewing conditions, technologies, platforms, formats or dispositifs. The cinema is rather best defined as moving images (and sounds) which, when they exert a power over the spectator – fascination, enchantment, immersion, splendour, reflection, distance, resistance, even disgust – do so as images (and sounds). It is this notion of cinema that Senses has defended since its inception, and which, even in the face of sweeping technological and social changes, we will continue to espouse.

For our 100th issue, we have decided not to dwell too much on the past of Senses (outside of this editorial), but to give the best sense possible of the present and future of this journal, and having taken a brief pause since no. 99, we have a blockbuster number in store. As has become tradition in the first issue of the year, our World Poll takes the pulse of cinema in the prior twelve months. From Mexico to Mongolia, Finland to the Philippines, people working in the film industry and enthusiastic audiences relay their cinematic highlights of 2021.

Feature articles this issue include analyses of contemporary films like Vitalina Varela, The Souvenir and Promising Young Woman, retrospective looks at East of Eden, Two Weeks in Another Town, The Man I Love, The Journey, The Hired Hand, and Why We Fight, discussions of the work of Jacob Holdt and Hiroshi Shimizu. We are excited to publish interviews with the filmmakers David Cox, Pom Bunsermvicha, Na Jiazuo, Logan Mucha/Kate Darrigan, Hawk Koch and Jean-Gabriel Périot, and to continue our Great Directors project with new entries on Kidlat Tahimik, Michael Curtiz and Lau Kar-leung. We are also launching a new section, Great Actors, with a profile of the multifaceted Nicolas Cage, who over almost four decades has collaborated with some of the most interesting directorial voices in Hollywood while becoming a cult figure. With this section, we will explore the breadth and depth of acting as an art and as a craft. New festival reports from around the world – including Vienna, Busan, Yerevan and Sydney – also shed light on contemporary cinema.

The centrepiece of the issue, however, is the dossier “Forms that Think: The Works of Jean-Luc Godard”. If there is one director whose films epitomise the ethos of Senses, then it is undoubtedly Godard. Now 91, with a 70-year career in the cinema under his belt, Godard’s work has been discussed and debated in Senses since its earliest issues, and continues to be one of our major touchstones. If his earliest films from the Nouvelle Vague era – Breathless, Pierrot le fou, Weekend and the like – still dazzle the viewer with their effervescent brio, his later work from the 1980s-2000s constituted a prolonged engagement with the intertwined history of cinema and politics in the 20th century, culminating in the magisterial opus Histoire(s) du cinéma. Even his more benighted periods – the critically neglected works of the Groupe Dziga Vertov and Sonimage phases – offer a wealth of exegetical sustenance for avid Godardians, while his most recent output, Film socialisme, Adieu au langage, Livre d’image, witnesses the return of a punkish aesthetics enabled by his adoption of digital cinema tools. If Godard has had many cinematic lives, they all, in their different ways, represent the quintessence of the Senses project.

Finally, our 100th issue will also be the last for two of our editors: Michelle Carey and Daniel Fairfax. Michelle is by some distance the longest-serving editor on the Senses team, having been involved since 2002. For most of her time at the journal, she has stewarded the festival reports section, responsible for correspondents sending in missives from far-flung locations on the state of contemporary cinema. Danny joined as editor more recently, in 2014, after several years dutifully writing for Senses, and has looked after the book reviews section, as well as overseeing dossiers on Pasolini, Jerry Lewis, Kiarostami, Sartre, Soviet cinema, cinema and the museum, cinephilia and nostalgia, and Straub/Huillet. The Godard dossier is his latest effort, but we hope it won’t be his last. Both Michelle and Danny have been bedrocks of the Senses team: we thank them profoundly for their time with us and wish them all the best in their new adventures. By the same token, we welcome Tara Judah and Abel Muñoz Hénonin to our team. Together with Fiona Villella, Amanda Barbour and César Albarrán-Torres they will be responsible for ushering in the second century of Senses of Cinema.

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