We always survey the future from the present: this is the fleeting instant,
trapped between yesterday and tomorrow, in which we think or rather dream
of the cinema to come. If we can analyse the pattern today, glimpsing its
potential and its probable course, we cannot, however, find the same balance
and look equally dispassionately at the future. Inevitably,
the future does not appear to us as neutral, never measured and "correct",
but charged with desire, passion, states of mind from which it is hard
to take a proper remove.
So what will the cinema be like in the next century? The audiences and the shape of cinemas to come? These are fascinating questions, and although a prediction in any detail is probably beyond us, we may allow ourselves a dream of the seventh art as it will be, imagine some of its qualities at least. "We seemed to be hopelessly closed in" wrote Walter Benjamin, "by the scruffy bars and streets of our cities, our offices and furnished rooms, our stations and factories. Then along came the cinema and its split-second dynamite blew away this prison-like world, and now we can calmly set out on voyages of adventure amid its scattered ruins".
The passage brilliantly sums up the principal quality of tomorrow's cinema: the potential to remap, by imaged journeys, the space in which we live and our history, functioning as an interactive threshold between the real world and the dream of the moving picture, and through this effective syncretism to rewrite the geography of the existing, making it more welcoming, more liveable, prefiguring different geometries.
This would seem to be one of the most radical vocations of the cinema and its history; we need only think of the artistic career of the pioneering cineaste George Méliès. The city of his imagerie could not be produced by the calculations of any engineer, but only by a magic and secret formula working the mechanisms which preside over the construction of a world "apart". Doors and trapdoors, windows, mirrors, floors are just so many places of transformation penetrated by the household gods and skies from the remotest distances. Méliès' devices were thus a new world, but one steeped in and confused with contemporary reality, with the cinema-machine of the early years of this century: it was travelling showmen, armed with boxes like nickelodeons or peep-shows, who amazed the bumpkins and provincials with games of shadows and mirrors, offering them a kind of "travelling township" in which fragments of the real and objects of desire were intertwined.
Today, a hundred years later, this short circuit is turning up again, not only in the screenplays of the most perspicacious directors - the Berlin or Lisbon of Wim Wenders, for instance, or Ridley Scott's Los Angeles - but in the drawings and designs of one or two perspicacious architects as well. A significant instance in Italy is the multiplex at Melzo near Milan, designed by Giancarlo Marzorati. The preparatory drawings and computer simulations (a Mélèsian device if ever there was one) show us the multiplex as a place of transition: the type pattern here becomes a collage, a provocatively post-modern combination of a number of event-environments conjugating cinema, amphitheatre, arcade, shopping mall, station, definitely more a place for travel than a place to remain. Even the computer games radicalize this tendency, not without irony, showing the cinema as spaceship (perhaps a descendant of the missile in George Méliès' 1902 Le Voyage dans la Lune), as floating in the sky, the empyrean realm of desire, or as sited at Stonehenge, among the obscure totemic archetypes of lost civilizations. The play of identities is at work again: the present and past mingle, metaphysics and irony are entwined, the real and the imaginary in joining construct the cinema and the cinemas of tomorrow and perhaps, if it's not only a dream, tomorrow itself.