Film Fatale

The death of the cinephile prompts a resurrection

In some cities -- Seattle, Berkeley, San Diego -- Landmark has revived the repertory format so popular in the bygone days of the cinephile, when film lovers could be recognized for the monthly art-house calendar magneted to the refrigerator. "There still is life there," says Sweet, but it's a tenuous life. Landmark looks at St. Louis' sprawling population, the film series at Webster, the recent Wehrenberg screen closures and the film festival and surmises, according to Sweet, that "the repertory approach is less viable in St. Louis."

The movie theater competes with other types of cinematic experience as well. Sweet mentions cable channels such as Bravo, Independent Film Channel and Encore. Even though St. Louis' two alternative-video shops have closed, the cinephile can find an amazing variety of movies on the Internet, be it on video or DVD. But a cinephile is by nature an aesthete, whose desires can only be fulfilled in the darkened theater. Bernardo Bertolucci, whose 1900 mesmerized audiences at the Tivoli some 15 years ago, has said that cinema provides people the opportunity to experience a communal dream. Or, as Sontag writes, to be "kidnapped" by a film, "you have to have a movie theater, seated in the dark among strangers."

Even if there is more to see than ever before, to the cinephile it seems like less. For all that Woods brings to Webster, she says, "I have so many films to pick from that I can't decide which ones to do." Patricia Brooke and John Hodge brought a series of films dealing with religion to Fontbonne College this fall (including Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Rossellini's Messiah), with plans for a Seijun Suzuki series this spring, but they are surprised that the only serious film series on a St. Louis campus is at Webster.

The St. Louis Art Museum is starting to rebuild its film program, says Stephanie Sigala, who works in education and adult programming. Concurrent with the coming blockbuster Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard, the museum will be open on Friday evenings and will be showing mostly French films, including Round Midnight, Camille Claudel, Celine and Julie Go Boating and Delicatessen. Sigala says the museum is looking to "see what the market for film is here" but thinks "avant-garde would be our niche if we were to start a series."

The museum still has no curator in film, and a series such as the "Celluloid Couch," or running films that somehow relate to a major exhibition (what My Fair Lady is doing in the French series is anybody's guess -- the Pygmalion myth, maybe?) appears more as a novelty act. But that the museum is at least considering film seriously is a hopeful sign. If any local institution has an obligation to preserve the great 20th-century art form and to educate people about it, it's the art museum. Otherwise, in St. Louis and elsewhere, film's legacy could too easily dissolve and fade to black.

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