In the suspicious, anxiety-riddled world of cinephilia, there may be no phrase that captures the zeitgeist more aptly than Late Style. It is the new Vulgar Auteurism: a catchphrase for the cinematically dispossessed. Its prevalence as a turn of phrase in reviews and essays is no great breakthrough, but a symptom of a film culture that venerates the old, while the Young Turks suffer and fail.
Late Style is a crutch for those who wish to describe a certain fluency in form, an ability in the old masters to do away with the BS and cut-to-the-quick. This should be a Cinema of Dread then, but in the tossed-off cinematic aphorisms becomes a Cinema of Acceptance. Cry Macho, Crimes of the Future, The Master Gardner, Parallel Mothers. All critical behemoths, all given the tag, films of resurrection to signal the last gasp of a declining empire. In his posthumous On Late Style, itself an example of the form, Edward Said stresses proximity to death as a quirk of this category. He quotes Adorno, ‘Touched by death, the hand of the master sets free the masses of material that he used to form’ From Clint’s sweet face to the mass grave Penelope Cruz uncovers, these aren’t just films made by old people, but are works preoccupied with mortality. Their sprightliness masks emotional frailty.
We don’t see film as dead (outside of the British sphere), but it’s always approaching a breaking point. If this sounds like making up a guy to be mad at, remember that in late style Cinema Year Zero we don’t get mad, we get back. After months of something approaching death, we are pleased to announce that Cinema Year Zero has been resurrected.
Since our last issue, the British film culture has been in a particularly bilious state. Cineworld bit off more than it could chew and has now filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Massive Cinema, a sinister puppet site for a PR agency, polled critics on the 100 best British films of the 21st century, setting the parameters so wide that now films like Cold War and Inside Llewyn Davis are to be considered British classics. Bemused cinephiles were left puzzled by the absence of lads hit each other with chair. Of course, that didn’t stop the campaign from being nominated for a national industry award. Considerably less laughable is the sudden collapse of the Edinburgh International Film Festival along with the closure of several independent cinemas in Scotland. The cruelty of making over a hundred workers so suddenly redundant was compounded by the concurrent excess of the London Film Festival. In keeping with the current trajectory of British life: the tale of the country’s film culture is told through smiley marketing and stomach-turning balance sheets.
Across the channel, the passing of Godard prompted worldwide reflection on the future of the medium. Godard’s life work was a broadly enjoyed but singular language, which paradoxically defied language. With him gone, the medium feels all that closer to extinction. Film has been in its late style since Avatar and 2009’s major shift from film to digital projection. It’s been in late style since the television. It’s been in late style since we abandoned the kinetoscope. As features are for the large part shot not onto film but captured by a digital camera to reside on a hard drive or server, and are never experienced projected on a physical format, the medium that cinephiles concern themselves with may be an entirely different one to that which Godard fancied. Criticism is always trying to convince the reader that there is meaning in language. That’s why Godard the critic was such an effective and exploratory filmmaker.
On Twitter, Letterboxd, the places where film conversation really swims and where film culture turns on a dime, memories are short, replaced by an archive of screenshots. In shirking the quick-take culture that motors film publications, our mission is not simply to venerate cinema’s past, but to resurrect the snarling quality of the contemporary.
In Cinema Year Zero’s own brush with mortality – a 6 month hiatus, a change in personnel – we declare this issue the first in the publication’s own late style. And yet we’ve never felt so alive.
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