Cameraperson is available to stream on the Criterion Channel and to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.
For a lot of us, going to the movies is a great way to escape reality for a while. But movie theaters are shuttering across the country, and though we can watch movies at home, it’s often where we’re the most distracted and disconnected from one another. We watch in different rooms. We get up to get a snack. We whip out our phones and fiddle with our “second screens” instead of paying close attention.
And attention is what cinema is all about. In the 2017 film Lady Bird, Sister Sarah Joan tells her teenaged student Lady Bird that love and attention are the same thing -- that through attending to something carefully, we learn to love it. In the film, she’s talking about attention to a place (in Lady Bird’s case, her hometown of Sacramento). But that rule applies far beyond just places.
Learning to pay attention to things is a spiritual discipline in and of itself. Scripture exhorts us repeatedly to attend to wisdom, to attend to what is good, to dwell on truth and beauty. One thing movies can do, if we let them, is pause, quiet ourselves, and live for a while in the presence of a story that’s not about us. We’re asked to pay attention to what an artist wants us to hear. We’re asked to attend to the world presented to us, the stories of others, the places and images and characters and words the filmmaker has brought to screen. In so doing, we’re taken into their point of view, and given an opportunity to observe the world through their eyes -- to be their guest and to be hospitable to them, all at once.
In his book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis put it this way about literature (and could certainly have done so with film):
The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
Right now we’re thrown into a moment of pause, one that few of us asked for. But perhaps we can take the time to re-learn the art of attention, and to do it in community -- even if we can’t gather together in a cinema.