An Invention with a Future: Collective Viewing, Joint Deep Attention and the Ongoing Value of the Cinema.

In Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, edited von Kyle Stevens, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.

Since it is first and foremost the cinema that enables—or at least facilitates—concentrated and focused film experiences, this article makes a strong plea for the ongoing importance of the movie theater as a vital cultural practice and social institution. Although we better engage some films privately and alone at home, we do better to watch other films in the public space of the cinema and in the company of others. The latter is especially the case for challenging modernist art films, slow cinema, avant-garde films, and the like. Among the phenomena that make me think so is “joint deep attention.” Due to its spatial and technological features, the cinema allows us to follow more challenging films with deep attention, in part because of the co-presence of other viewers: Their deep attention can contagiously rub off on ours and help us keep focused. Tentative evidence for the contagious joint-deep-attention effect of the cinema exists in empirical studies dealing with analogous experiences: studying in a library and collectively meditating in a meditation retreat. But apart from the social aspect of the movie theater, three further characteristics of the cinema dispositive contribute, at least implicitly, to the joint-deep-attention effect, characteristics hardly available when we watch a DVD or stream a film at home: its nonmundane space, the impossibility of manipulating the film, and the silence of the auditorium. The chapter revisits—and positively reevaluates—these features as forms of freedom: from the everyday, from having to act, and from noise.

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