An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema

An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema

An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema

An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema


In 1895, Louis Lumière supposedly said that cinema is "an invention without a future." James Naremore uses this legendary remark as a starting point for a meditation on the so-called death of cinema in the digital age, and as a way of introducing a wide-ranging series of his essays on movies past and present. These essays include discussions of authorship, adaptation, and acting; commentaries on Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, and Stanley Kubrick; and reviews of more recent work by non-Hollywood directors Pedro Costa, Abbas Kiarostami, Raul Ruiz, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Important themes recur: the relations between modernity, modernism, and postmodernism; the changing mediascape and death of older technologies; and the need for robust critical writing in an era when print journalism is waning and the humanities are devalued. The book concludes with essays on four major American film critics: James Agee, Manny Farber, Andrew Sarris, and Jonathan Rosenbaum.


The cinema is an invention without a future.

Attributed to louis LUMIÈRE, 1895

In twenty-five years there will be very few scoffers at the movies;
in fifty years the most cultivated men will be reading movie litera
ture; in a hundred years such men as von Stroheim and Murnau
will be spoken of as reverently as Mozart or Dickens are today, and
The Last Laugh will be as enduring a work of Art as Vanity Fair.

James agee, “The Moving Picture,” Bulletin of the
Phillips Exeter Academy
, 1926

Until such time as there is a past of some sort … a past which has
been examined, has been subjected to a critical, a theoretical analy
sis, there can be no future…. This body of material, whatever it is,
then imposes upon us the responsibility of inventing it.

Hollis frampton, “The Invention without a Future,” 1979

In the past seventy-five years we have seen the end of Hollywood’s classic studio system, the rise and decline of network television, the development of tent-pole exhibitions and huge marketing campaigns, the emergence of digital cinema, and a variety of ups and downs in the world of independent and international art films. As the millennium arrived, the U.S. film industry found new ways of controlling production and exhibition, digital technology altered the look and even the physical basis of cinema, most people watched movies at home, and the Internet was on the verge of supplanting all delivery systems for words, sound, and images. Film study in the academy had grown significantly, but universities were replacing aesthetics with sociology or anthropology and had become preoccupied with “new media.” the deaths of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman in 2007 seemed to put a full stop to what had been a period of intense cinephilia, and there was widespread discussion of “postcinema” or the death of cinema, as if feature-length movies were going the way of God and the novel (whose obituaries were premature).

The titles of several recent essay collections—David Denby’s Do the Movies Have a Future?, J. Hoberman’s Film after Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?, Dave Kehr’s When Movies Mattered, and Jonathan . . .

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