Picture: Edward Hopper’s Intermission
Cinema Year Zero is volunteer run. Our goal is to pay writers a fair fee for their work. Many mainstream publications pay around £20 for an online article. To commission another 6 pieces for the next issue at that rate would cost £120, which we see as achievable. So if you like what you find at Cinema Year Zero, please consider subscribing to our Patreon for extra content, including podcasts, essays, and more!
Hello and welcome to the first-ever crossover episode between Ultra Dogme and Cinema Year Zero. We have collected for your reading pleasure 8 film articles (4 on each site) about ‘the cinematic experience’ in 2020. We begin with editorial correspondence, followed by links to the 8 articles.
Ben Flanagan (Cinema Year Zero): What a year it’s been! Ignoring the whole ‘scorched earth’ thing that’s going on (you don’t need us to recap it), this has been, as it always is, an exceptional year for cinema. Turns out we didn’t need the Cannes Film Festival after all. There was a film with a cute cow. Christopher Nolan did his time-splitting spectacle thing again. Frederick Wiseman took us to sit in some long meetings. Spike Lee dropped two movies, Abel Ferrara dropped three. The Chad Steve McQueen dropped five! But 2020 wasn’t just a numbers game. As theatres temporarily closed and we were confined to the in-flight version of guzzling cinema, the year provided real opportunity to rethink how and why we watch.
MLP (Ultra Dogme): Not attending in-person festivals after February meant a constant and intense self-curation, often to the detriment of my own enjoyment. Whereas at festivals I often sit through ‘extra’ titles I might otherwise never be compelled to watch merely because they fit in my schedule and ‘hey, I’m here at a big festival, might as well take a few risks’, at home, most of such titles don’t even register on my radar. I try as much as I can not to keep up with the ‘latest and greatest’, but alas, as a Twitter-addict with a carefully curated feed, not only are such titles unavoidable, but so too are their respective ‘discourses’. I curse myself every time I take the bait and actually tweet about dumb things like the latest from Mr. David F., a film I vow never to waste my precious hours watching. If I’m going to waste my own time, it will be through careless enjoyment — and therefore not a waste. As such, three of my most memorable ‘first-time’ lockdown watches were short internet videos; “Fart Love” (Thank you Nick for bringing this one out of the vault), “Jonathan Frakes asks you things”, this cat composing music, “Nicht so tief Rüdiger” and countless other memes. But yes, I had my Robert Todd, Teo Hernandez and Joseph Bernard marathons too. I remain amazed at some of the new works I managed to see so instantly and easily via streaming this year. Among contemporary works, IWOW and The Giverny Document come to mind. It’s been an insane year for the flow of far too much information.
Kirsty Asher (CYZ): In a time where we’re all shut inside unable to ignore the pull of social media we can always rely on The Discourse to keep us yelling into the void. A particular highlight has to be Alisha Grauso’s spectacular take on superhero movies being the new collective American mythology. I would also like to express my thanks to the YouTube algorithm this year for dotingly curating several outlandish and curious archival news stories from ‘70s and ‘80s America, thanks to which I bore witness to The Doomed Cleveland Balloonfest of ’86, the people of Florence, Oregon blowing up a dead beached whale with dynamite, and Bernie Sanders interviewing punks in a supermarket. Archival documentation of the highest order.
UD: What a treasure trove indeed. The only one of those I had already seen was Bernie interviewing punks. An early explanation in the whale video speaks volumes in its simplicity, “It couldn’t be cut up and then buried, because nobody wanted to cut it up.” So, let’s cut it up, Cinema Year Zero: why are we doing this crossover episode?
Tom Atkinson (CYZ): To begin with, we’ve admired Ultra Dogme’s work for ages, and were very happy to host an article from you, Max, in our volume on documentaries in the streaming age, as well as from a UD regular Patrick Preziosi in our last volume. A collaboration seemed practically inevitable! But to the specifics of this volume’s contents, there was no shortage of gloomy ruminations on The Future of Cinema in the year of our lord 2020, so why offer up something more to that end? Well, for one thing, few of these Socratic dialogues seemed to come from a place of genuine experience, and instead featured lofty abstractions in the case of hand-wringing intellectual musings, and inhuman statistical jargon in the case of industry-centric Hear Ye’s. Worse still, a great deal of mainstream criticism continued on its downward slope, repeatedly learning all the wrong lessons from J. Hoberman’s brilliant, politically-focused film criticism. Instead of genuine, thoughtful ideological discussions about new cinema, critics have often fallen back on useless The Movie We Need Right Now aphorisms since Trump’s election (if I hear one more ‘I miss house parties’ line about Lovers Rock…), and it’s only been worse in a year when nearly anything that hints at themes of isolation or communal experience (meaning practically everything!) can make for a catchy logline. In keeping with the mission of both CYZ and Ultra Dogme, putting together essays that took real stock of this past year felt like a necessary corrective, at least from where I was sitting. What were your aims for this crossover episode, Max?
UD: Well you’ve pretty much summed it up, haven’t you, Tom? But yes, I too have admired Cinema Year Zero — a project which suddenly emerged fully formed overnight! And only earlier this year, no less. It’s true that in the midst of living our lives terminally online for coming up on a full calendar year, it cannot be overstated that the only things we actually ‘need right now’ are solidarity, community, basic human empathy (and of course the occasional burst of fresh air). I find that in our virtual lives, despite the barrage of tech slogans reminding us we are ‘now, more than ever’ constantly connected, the reality is of course that we are generally communicating less. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that when I constantly have something at my every beck and call (i.e. a significant chunk of moving image history or the ability to text message my friends), I am less pressed to actually engage with it. And as thoughts have been traded in for content, the same holds true on a larger scale; outlets seek ‘content’ which generates clicks without engaging in the most basic idea of communication. In the face of so much e-waste, I am proud of what we’ve been able to put together here; a modest collection of personal essays communicating with the moving image and the ways we witness it. It took me too long to learn the value of community in my personal life, and it is my hope that this small gesture of ‘togetherness’ we’ve compiled will inspire others.
The Blue Hour by Patrick Preziosi
Goodbye to Language by Tom Atkinson
Tenet by Kirsty Asher
Topographies of Adolescence by Luise Mörke
Uppercase Print by Ben Flanagan
The Filmmaker’s Co-op by paul a.
#mydreampalace by Cathy Brennan
Microphones in 2020 by Ruairí McCann
Ultra Dogme and Cinema Year Zero both run entirely on enthusiasm and patronage from readers like you! If you’d like to support us in our efforts to speak up about great art, please consider a pledge on either of our Patreon Pages: ULTRA DOGME / CINEMA YEAR ZERO.