Cosmopolis and the Specter of Capitalism

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“A specter is haunting the world. The specter of Capitalism” these words are lid in a big screen somewhere in Times Square as the young billionaire Eric Packer drives through an anarchist protests with his limousine. That is one of the haunting scenes from the new David Cronenberg film starring Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer. The film takes place mostly in Packer’s white stretch limo where he embarks on an odyssey across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut. In his journey he encounters several obstructions: various traffic jams caused by a presidential visit to the city, anti-capitalists protesters, and a Muslim rapper’s funeral procession. During his voyage he also encounters several meetings with various women whom he has sexual relations with, his daily check-up doctor and his wife. In his limo, he has computers were he starts loosing millions of dollars by betting against the yen currency. The currency speculation is parallel to his self-destruction.

Cronenberg portrays an image of the 1% that is alien to the reality that surrounds it. A speculator that is so loyal to capital that it will go down with it to the very end. A 1% so bizarre that seems almost non-human (at one point the doctor tells Eric that his prostate is asymmetrical). For Eric, money is an abstraction. Cronenberg creates a world not so different from our own where the idea of capital has become more of an intellectual reality as opposed to a more tangible material. A world where a billionaire like Eric Packer can gain and loose millions of dollars without actually producing anything. Eric Packer embodies the self-destructive tendency of Capitalism. The ruin is inevitable.

The dialogue is cold and surreal. The casting of Robert Pattinson has some consequences; the character comes across convincingly enough to make you realize he is playing another kind of blood-sucking vampire. However, Mr Pattinson fails to deliver the sense of power that his character possesses. The choice for Mr. Pattinson is clearly understood as a charismatic choice and a commercial strategy. Nonetheless, the film does not lack originality and manages to pick your mind and imagination for 109 minutes. It’s definitely worth the watch and worth the time.

Film or Digital?…It Doesn’t Really Matter.

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For the last few years, the ongoing debate within the movie-making industry has revolved around the artistic competition between the photochemical process of film and digital filmmaking. The debate of film versus digital has been shaped in many ways: as an old generation versus a new generation, as the privileged elite versus the independent underground, as an exclusive tool versus a more democratized artform, as a nostalgic view on reality versus a fresh new modern view…etc. The main theme, however, is that our technological field is dramatically changing, thus the industry is also changing. So what kind of space does the new filmmaker occupy in today’s cultural context? The answer is ambiguous. There are too many factors and too many problems that are yet too be solved. We can’t even solve the problem of digital preservation when we haven’t even experienced it on a large scale. The discussion -like the art-form itself- is still young and still in the early stages of the developing process. Yes, we are developing new and more convenient cameras and operating gear but the films are not getting better. There are more films, more submissions to festivals, more screenplays and more technology but the films remain in the same artistic quality or perhaps worse. We as filmmakers have an unbelievable opportunity to make films. A few years ago, we could say that we had great ideas for films but we couldn’t make them because “the big studios wouldn’t let us”. Now we have a camera, a laptop and Vimeo or whatever. Yet we -and of course, I include myself- don’t make better films. We have finally reached a point where our technologies have surpassed our own creative capability. Online social networks like Twitter or Facebook are amazing platforms for organizing and communicating yet we use 90% of it for the most idiotic things. The same phenomenon happens in filmmaking. The responsibility is now focused on creativity and originality. It all comes down to a good story. We all have a pen and a paper but we don’t all write the best stories. There is still work to be done. We should undoubtedly embrace the opportunities new advancements in lenses and camera science have given us but we have a larger responsibility not to forget what we fundamentally are: storytellers.

Unlike others, I don’t believe the photochemical process will disappear, I still think we will have people shooting in 16 or 35 ten or twenty years from now. But the production of mainstream film prints will inevitably shrink sooner than expected. In the 1980s when VHS first hit the public market, futurist predicted the end of the movie theater yet here we are almost twenty years later waiting in lines to see new movies. The photochemical process is in decline, but that is certainly not correlative -or at least shouldn’t be- with the decline of cinema. It all depends on the filmmaker, not the camera. So if the question is still “film or video?” the answer should still be “it doesn’t really matter”.