Tuesday, 11 October 2011

It's Cinema, but not as we know it...

Recently I attended a screening of Troll Hunter at my local Picturehouse cinema – The Cameo in Edinburgh. During the pre-feature attractions, my attention was particularly drawn to the a trailer for the latest live broadcast cinema event, which was not, as has become usual, promoting a National Theatre production, but instead something that could be considered to further blur the lines that once separated our established modes of spectatorship. Coming soon to a cinema near you … Leonardo Live.

The press release from May this year promised viewers; Leonardo Live will provide a unique opportunity for art lovers to share in the excitement of viewing 'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan' the night before it opens to the general public.’ Several things bother me about this statement. Who are these art lovers who would accept an evening in their local Picturehouse above seeing the paintings in the gallery? What kind of ‘view’ will one get, witnessing the projection of a satellite broadcast, of paintings that are potentially hundreds of miles away?

In principle, I like the idea of making art accessible to more people, certainly not everyone will be able to travel to London to see these works, but surely this kind of event just presents a falsehood, that anyone in the audience won’t be able to say that they actually ‘saw’ the show? Simply a mediation of it, not art, not cinema, not even theatre, so what is it?

Leonardo Live continues a trend that was sparked by the success of the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcasts, which in turn inspired the National Theatre to broaden its horizons, starting with Phèdre starring Helen Mirren in 2009. The difference was, that NT Live promised a solution to the problem of static camera placement that initially conveyed staleness in the Met’s shows. For Phèdre and subsequent NT Live productions, a separate team of director, camera operators, lighting director etc, were hired to create a show that would convey the drama to a cinema audience. That means camera movement, hidden mics and different lighting cues. A review by Michael Billington (The Guardian) of Phèdre Live described the adaptation; ‘Robin Lough, using five multi-video cameras, also directed Hytner's production impeccably for the screen: the cameras took us inside the action, allowed us to see faces in close-up and framed characters against the blue cyclorama, investing them with an epic quality.’ Despite the positive critique, these comments seem only to confirm that perhaps broadcast theatre is still most successful when it resembles cinema, giving the spectator what traditionally, theatre could not offer – the close-up. We are thereby brought back to the question, what is it?

The time of clear distinctions between the arts and media is long gone. Where once film theorist and godfather of the nouvelle vague, Andre Bazin discussed the notion of presence with regard to the difference between theatre and cinema, we now have art forms that merge indiscernibly with one another, backed by clever brand awareness and marketing. Leonardo Live’s promotion is clear in its message of the collaboration between The National Gallery, Sky Arts HD, Picturehouse Cinemas and Seventh Art Productions. This is a production where media converge, (in accordance with the theory of Henry Jenkins); when perhaps it is not important to discern what it is we are seeing, at least in terms of coverage for those funding the project. Still, I wonder how Leonardo Live will leave the association of art history television behind to become ‘cinema’.

Press release here