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Books v. Movies

Writing so much about Google Book Search recently reminds me of the irony that one of the most contentious legal issues surrounding the Internet right now concerns what to do about what many have viewed as a legacy technology — books.

Writing and thinking so much about books distracts me from what I keep wanting to write and think about more — which is film. Unlike books, which are (relatively) ancient, film is a thoroughly modern technology. And film captures public and popular attention like little else.

Still, my interest in film tends to be backward-looking; I was delighted to read this story today about the filmmaking career of Elaine May. I learned early on to appreciate some things that have faded into the deep recesses of popular culture, and the comedy team of [Mike] Nichols and May is one of them. Others were the standup comedy of Bob Newhart; Tom Lehrer; early George Carlin; and Cheech & Chong.

Though Nichols and May were the consummate improvisational team, Elaine May was by far the funnier of the two. Brilliant lines, impeccable timing, deadpan delivery. Ishtar is still one of the best train wrecks of a movie that I have ever seen. It’s nice to see her still recognized for her work.

5 thoughts on “Books v. Movies”

  1. I know “film” sounds cooler than “movie,” but it’s only movies that are long for this World Wide Web. So I suggest we all talk and write accordingly. “Film,” as in photographic emulsion, is outtahere, hard on the heels of the LP.

  2. “Film” is a medium and a method of making art, even if the word itself is becoming a metaphor as digital takes over for emulsion. A “movie” is a thing. There’s room enough to talk about both.

  3. Cinematography is a method of making art. Playwrights and composers often work _in the movie business_. I know John Williams’ music only from _the movies_, for example. There’s room for both words, but were we to bump one off it might not be missed.

  4. Actually, if one is looking for gravitas, at the cost of a few syllables one can always talk about “cinema.” Like calling your talk “a history of the nude in cinema” when you plan to show videos of naked women. Beats the pants off “film.”

  5. Film is more than cinematography, of course. “The movie business” isn’t the same thing as “film” (or “cinema”), and “the movies” always struck me as a term about popular culture, not about creativity. Not that those two things are perfectly distinct.

    There’s room for all of the words, but they connote (and denote) different things.

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