In an age when Big Brother has completed the transition from sinister Orwellian concept to wildly popular television show, the role of the cinema audience as voyeur is a hotter topic than ever. With ‘Panoptismes’, a retrospective of films that explore the various modes of observation permitted by the camera, the Cinémathèque Française joins the debate.
The narrative begins in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when filmmakers fell in love with the notion of the camera as hidden witness: see Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ or Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’, two defining pictures of the period. In Michael Powell’s hugely controversial ‘Peeping Tom’, the camera acquires a more menacing presence, becoming the predatory tool of a murderous pervert. And in Jacques Tati’s prescient ‘Playtime’, the narrow viewpoint of the individual is replaced by the dispassionate collective gaze of the authorities, CCTV-style.
Fast-forward to recent decades, and the theme of social oppression through media is more vital than ever, thanks to the rise of television and the internet. Films such as Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’ (based on a Philip K. Dick story) and Peter Weir’s ‘The Truman Show’ channel a zeitgeist of paranoia and awe over technological progress. As films about media in competition with cinema, they also raise a host of questions about representation and the future of narrative storytelling. But if all this sounds like heavy going, one look at the programme should make it clear that these films offer bucketloads of entertainment value as well. We’re getting ready for some serious viewing pleasure.
Runs at the Cinémathèque Française until January 19.