It’s the most breath-taking thing you’ve ever seen.
You’re hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds, whizzing past planets you could have only dreamed about. Slowing, you enter our solar system. The rings of Saturn look more beautiful than ever before, the individual asteroids that form its iconic rings sparkle and glisten clearer than even the most luxuriously liquid HD LED screen could capture. Passing the moon, you gaze below to see Armstrong's footprints. You hear the eerie yet extreme sound of space; you can almost taste it. And yet, you haven’t even left your seat.
We live in a world where this is now possible. In the realm of film, this entire introduction is not one of mad fantasy but rather is entirely possible given time, money, or both. Such imagination-bending imagery stands in stark contrast to the first images created upon the birth of cinema 125 years ago, where films no more than a minute long showcased a single soundless scene.
The ensuing technological advancements – from early pinhole cameras to projection and animation – happening at the height of exploration and empire, gave people (well, the privileged ones) the means to film anything and everything. Motion film was seized upon with enthusiasm and creativity, with different groups using it to capture different things. Some used it to capture the world around them, encasing countless moments of history over the next century and a quarter. Others used it to create the fantastical worlds previously found within stories and books.
But cut to 2016, and the amount of life we have captured on film, video and now digital, has caused us to become desensitised. A far cry from the nation’s glee upon watching the two-dimensional black ‘Horse in Motion’ produced by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878 – one of the first moving pictures to be photographed in real-time – today we greedily lament that there are 'no new stories' left to tell. Add in the rise of computer generated technology and we could go even further by claiming there is nothing new to even see – we’ve seen it all before.
For many, the blockbusters of today are no better than the ones created 25 years ago. Despite the vast advances in technology seen since the humble origins of ‘cinema’, many feel that the modern cinema experience leaves us feeling empty - both financially and emotionally. But aren’t we missing the point?
Whether casting our eye back to the very origin of motion picture or the beginnings of what we recognise as cinema today, one aspect unites film’s many and varying forms: film brings people together. What’s more, the wonderful power of film to unite an audience was no collateral afterthought. Nearing the end of the nineteenth century, fairground crowds of family, friends – both old and new – would gather together to glimpse mere seconds of motion.
Today, we can share not only the moment, but the video itself, sending cute clips and funny films viral on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And yet, beneath such activity, film’s founding and unrivalled ability to build community remains unchanged.
From talking over lunch with a workmate about last night's 'Game of Thrones' to showing a video on your phone to your grandmother, to getting to know someone a bit better with an evening of 'Netflix and chill', watching things with other people and sharing experiences remains a cornerstone of how we relate to each other in the modern world - a world we are told has people becoming more and more isolated from community, spirituality and even from each other.
Contrary to this belief, I believe it is how we create, use, disseminate and share the ‘moving image’ that keeps us tethered to each other in community. Film, television, online, Netflix, viral videos, vines, all of these are no different to what our ancestors did, which was sit around the fire and tell each other stories to help us learn, grow, put things into perspective, and perhaps most importantly, make us happy.
Audiences may become desensitised to special effects, they may remain unimpressed by the latest blockbuster; but you can bet your last handful of popcorn that they will talk about it, sharing their thoughts and feelings with one another. In today’s cinema-saturated age, we may have seen it all before. And yet, analysing, dissecting and laughing about films with friends – the chances are, we will want to see it all over again.
Words: Chris Matic