The screen is the new personal religion, always with you, omnipresent, omniscient; it is the reflection of our own psyches, a collective delirium. The screen is also the revelation: it is the mind, the collective mind, a mutual hallucination. The screen swallows us up. The screen world encroaches into our own, just as formerly Shakespeare’s characters and their subtle philosophies crept into our common imagination. The real and the cine-real follow endless inversions of each other. Life imitates art. Art imitates life. The screen shapes our cognitive processes and thus influences our perceptional tendencies: increasingly, we make sense of the world through a cinematic lens. Our thought processes employ the language of cinema in imposing order on life’s chaos. The filmic cosmos fills our world, filmic beings hovering in the middle distance between thought and experience, migrating from the screen to our collective subconscious, and contaminating our minds with nonsense. The twenty-first century psyche is peopled with Hollywood phantoms, its history, its sensibility, its capacity to feel, such as it is. These phantoms lay dormant in your head where they quietly evolve. Being born in the Matrix, our only notion of change is within the Matrix. We can rearrange the furniture, but the building remains the same. The dominant form of this this intellectual infestation is Hollywood cinema.
People complain frequently that Hollywood is running out of ideas but this is far from true. The notion that there is a lack of originality, that the well of creativity has run dry, would require that the supply of creative people had been exhausted or that such people did not want to work in Hollywood anymore. Both suggestions are untrue. The reason for the lack of originality is, firstly, Hollywood is all about making money, factory-line economics. Mass-production demands homogenisation for its own sustenance. This is because economies of scale embed the biggest rewards in factory-line output, supplying one identical product in huge volumes. If you have one cookie cutter and one type of dough and one kind of icing then it is not at all in your interest if consumers at large start asking for a different kind of cookie, let alone another foodstuff entirely. The second issue is that, on one level, people don’t really want originality. Francois Truffaut once suggested that what we love about Hollywood cinema is that we know exactly what is going to happen. There is always something comforting in revisiting familiar ground. Those films in which you know what is going to happen are not failing their intention, they are fulfilling it. You are supposed to know what is going to happen. (Don’t we all have favourite “bits” of films we like to revisit, over and over?) The only slight proviso but not exception to this rule is the exact ambulation from “A” to “B” is rejigged; but we know that it is “B” to which we are headed. Films that confound this entrenched convention are aggravating and in most cases incomprehensible to most viewers, who have been versed in one peculiar cinematic language from birth. The language of Hollywood cinema is so familiar to us that it evokes a kind of liturgical dynamic between the viewer and the viewed. As an example, the Rocky Horror Picture Show takes this dynamic to its logical extreme, allowing for embodiment of the characters, all the robes and vestigial accoutrements of the rite, with the liturgy, communion, well-wishing, and tribal affinity; all celebrated in a large building where people of a common ideological sway come to celebrate that mutuality.
The cinema gathers two hundred souls together and for ninety minutes they feel, together, as though in common. They laugh together, perhaps even cry. The most favoured parts of a film are usually the quotable chunks which distil the abstract elements, the tropes, of the film in a simple way, “I’ll be back”, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”, and so on. These phrases become like incantations for the figures they represent, they channel the spirit. Watching these films, citing them, we channel the spirit of these characters, who represent more than their narrative accomplishment; rather, the idea of the character expands as if to fill your consciousness. Many an athlete cites Rocky as a motivational staple. In so doing, we are summoning cinema’s phantoms in the same way our forebears invoked saints and deities. They quoted scripture, we quote Arnie.