1 Cineliteracy: Movie Culture, Cinematic Knowledge

Research in Progress?

May 1, 2022

My new project deals with the complex but intriguing issue of cineliteracy. How to define it? How to promote and transmit it, from generation to generation?

What is the optimal age at which we should begin installing basic knowledge of movies as an art form and mass popular entertainment?

What is the optimal age of instructing young viewers about the various ways to appreciate, evaluate, and enjoy pictures.

What is the best way of taking advantage of the unique properties of movies, such as the fluency, the ease, and the free-flowing pleasures of experiencing movies?

I am concerned with the ways and methods of using the educational system, at its various levels and grades, to disseminate cinematic knowledge and appreciation of film in a more widely democratic and more efficient and effective way.

An argument can be made that, in terms of pleasure, meaning, and relevance, mass culture as reflected in popular movies, is more significant to more people than high culture as reflected in art films.

I am intrigued by the peculiar distillation of cultural history in old movies, the universality of movies as touchstones of time and place.

In writing this, I am reminded of what the great critic Robert Warshow wrote in 1955: “The impulse which leads me to a Humphrey Bogart movie has little in common with the impulse which leads me to the novels of Henry James or the poetry of T. S. Eliot.”

In other words, our affectionate regard and deep loves for popular (even trashy) movies is no less interesting and no less significant than our more profound or cerebral response to high culture.

Movie, from the most expendable to the most durable, are still our richest and most engaging source of popular mythology. I deliberately include movies that flashed across our culture in a matter of weeks or months, exploiting along the way whatever was current.  Perceived at the time as ephemeral, some of those movies went on to become crucial elements of more durable movie cycles, which survived rather longer and in more subtle and complex ways than given credit to.

Various scholars have studied the literacy by using notion of the Great Tradition. They have typically constructed a list of canonical works (classic and modern books) that inform and instruct individuals about what they need to know.

What should an educated person know by way of movies as art works, and cinema as a global institution?

What should be the balance (0r rather imbalance) between artistically significant films in the broader history of cinema and more fugitive, ephemeral, and disposable movies of a particular era.  Where should movie knowledge and movie culture begin and end?

To put it bluntly, for those interested in female movie stars as sex goddesses or sex symbols in the sound era, should we begin with Jean Harlow, a star of the 1930a, and end with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, stars of the 1950s.  Or should we also go down the line of blonde bombshells and also include B and C level actresses, such as Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren?

Among several goals, I wish to give some popular and commercial movies the same attention, consideration,  evaluation, and status which thus far have been reserved for classic features, such as art films (American and foreign) independents, and documentaries.