Martin Scorsese has just published an article about Fellini at Harper’s magazine, but which also discusses a bit the current sad state of cinema. Today, he says, everything has become merely indistinct “content”, and the magic of cinema and its artistic auteurs has been lost.


I tend to agree. When I was a teenager, I used to go to the now defunct street cinemas, or to specialized art cinemas, to watch films by Fellini, Truffaut, Renoir. Granted, in the 80s and 90s this was already a culture in extinction, much farther from the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s that Scorsese mentions, but there were still a few remains of that era.
Then the local cinemas were replaced by the multiplexes, which would show mostly super-hero movies or other blockbusters. Auteur or art cinema became an even smaller niche. And then cinema was replaced by television and streaming.

Going to the cinema is a social experience, closer to going to the theatre or to church; watching a film on television or VCR reduced this experience to a smaller screen and the familiar unit. People no longer paid so much attention to what was on the screen, it became a sort of mere background for other activities. Fellini was already very critical of television; he mentioned it in several interviews, and his “Ginger and Fred”, one of his last works, from the 80s, is a satirical view of the medium.

Today, of course, it’s even worse in some ways. Television was replaced by streaming, and the familiar unit was further reduced to an individual, watching it most likely on a cell phone screen. The reduction of the screen size and of the viewing public reflects the growing social atomization that took place in the last decades, culminating in the current “corona” lockdown where people are “social distancing” and locked in their own homes.

It was the final nail in the coffin of cinema as a social spectacle, and who knows if it will return? Even if the lockdown is lifted and people start going again to the cinemas, it is unlikely that the auteur era will return. This doesn’t mean that cinema as an art is dead, but its golden age seems long past.

When you get to a certain age, which can vary according to the person’s temperament, you start to live more in the past than in the present, if only because you have more years of “past” behind you that you will likely have a “future” in front of you. Of course, being mostly a melancholic (see previous post about the temperaments), I tended even in my youth to focus more on the past than in the future (Pascal observed that humans rarely focus in the present, but either in the past or in the future).

But one thing that happens, I think to everyone, independently of their temperament, is the cementing of their musical taste, at least in what refers to pop music, and the preference for the music of the past, or more exactly of their youth.

For instance, nowadays I tend to listen mostly to classical music, but, if not, to rock/pop from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I know very little about, and have even less interest, in current pop music. The little I’ve heard of it seems awful, vulgar and stupid, but of course, I am not the target audience.

I hate rap and hip hop, which seems to be the most popular genre today, and I am not the greatest fan of electronic music either, with a few exceptions. Rock, for all practical purposes, seems to be basically dead. I mean, the era of the great rock bands finished in the 90s, really. If I think of the country where I grew up, Brazil, there were many great rock bands in the 80s and 90s (Legião Urbana, Ira!, Capital Inicial, Camisa de Vênus). A few of them, following the example of the geriatric Rolling Stones, are still active, but there are basically no new rock bands that are very popular. Most of what is popular are variants of synth pop or hip hop, usually extremely vulgar (i.e. what’s called “funk” in Rio).

Of course, even if there were great rock bands today, I probably wouldn’t listen to them, since Youtube and similar services basically allow anyone to find any song that they used to listen in their youth.

One of those songs, which I listened recently for the first time after decades, was a song by the Brazilian band Camisa de Vênus (which is a poetic name for condom – “Venus’s shirt” – but of course I didn’t know that when I was 13 and the song came out). It was popular in the 80s, and had a chorus like this: “Lena veja o que o tempo faz / com as pessoas que não querem perder o gás”, which could be translated literally as “Lena, see what time does / to those who don’t want to lose their gas”, but meaning really people who don’t want to lose their youth, but end up looking like pathetic middle-agers pretending to be still young and thinking that the things they enjoy and know are still cool, etc.

I don’t think I had this problem, because I wasn’t cool even when I was young… Nor did I care to, very much. Youth is fickle and superficial. Nelson Rodrigues, a famous Brazilian journalist and writer, once was asked what was the best advice he could give to the young, and he said: “Get old .” And that’s what they all did.

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The photographs below (the photographs of photographs) were taken at a shop window in Altenburg, Germany, a few weeks ago. I don’t now what’s the context of the pictures, but I found interesting the juxtaposition of the images of the group of ladies dressed all the same way with aprons (workers in a factory?) with the vintage erotic photograph. The pictures seem to be from the beginning of the 20th century and of course all those people are long dead now.

It was said that certain primitive tribes of the Pacific didn’t like their photographs taken because they believed that “photographs can capture your soul”. Maybe they were right about that… There is something eery about mirror-like images that freeze your aspect in time and can last even beyond your earthly life. But of course, in those initial times of photography (early 20th century), taking a picture was a special event, you didn’t take one every day or every hour to post online as we do now. But what to think of the thousands of images that each of us now will leave for posterity, or at least to the limbo of the digital realm in the “Cloud”…?