Monday, April 21, 2014

A Translation of "Verfolgungswahn?," a Poem by Thomas Bernhard

Paranoia? [1]

When I suddenly became peckish
in Hamburg
I went into a tavern
and ordered myself,
having just arrived from Krakow,
some roast pork with dumplings
and a half-liter of beer.
En route through Slovakia
my stomach had grown empty.
I had a chat with the owner;
he said the Polish Jews
should all have been killed
without exception.
He was a Nazi.

In Vienna I went into the Ambassador Hotel
and ordered myself a cognac
a French one, of course, I said,
preferably a Martell
and had a chat with a painter
who incessantly kept maintaining
that he was an artist
and that he knew what art was,
the entire rest of the world had no clue
what art was
it soon became evident
he was a Nazi.

In Linz I went for a demitasse
at the Café Draxelmeyer
and chatted with the headwaiter
about the Rapid-LASK football match
and the headwaiter said
that the Rapid side all deserved to be gassed
that Hitler would have more to do today
than during his lifetime,
and it had soon become evident
he was a Nazi.

In Salzburg I ran into my old religion teacher
who said to my face
that my books
and pretty much everything I had so far written
was crap,
but today one could publish the worst crap,
he said, in an age such as ours
that was nothing if not crappy;
during the Third Reich none of my books
could have been published, he said,
and he expressly averred that I was a swine
and a disloyal dog
and he bit into his sausage sandwich
and with both hands hiked up the skirts of his soutane
and stood up and left.
He is a Nazi.

Yesterday I received from Innsbruck a postcard
that bore a picture of the Goldenes Dachl,
and on which was written minus any citation of evidence:
“People like you deserve to be gassed!  Just you wait!”
I read the postcard several times
and grew frightened.

[1] First published in Die Zeit, Hamburg, January 1, 1982.
The editors of the newspaper commissioned five authors to write a poem commemorating the end of the year.  The headline above all five poems reads: “Mourning, Which Now Speaks in the Cold.  Five German Poems in Commemoration of the End of the Year.”


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

A Translation of Two Very Short Texts by Thomas Bernhard

Bombast [1]

Your third volume from December oozes with stupidity and sanctimoniousness and in it stupidity and sanctimoniousness are equipoised in a classically Austrian fashion.
In his frivolous and slipshod [piece] “Journeys of Discovery in Our Fatherland,” Mr. David Axmann quotes and mentions Franz Stelzhamer, whom I esteem very highly, and on two occasions perfidiously spells the name of the Upper-Austrian poet identically and incorrectly.  Stelzhamer’s name is Stelzhamer and not Stelzhammer; I have known this since I was a child.  That is the difference!

For the collection of rotten bombast you have compiled in this volume there is unfortunately no remedy.

Thomas Bernhard, Ohlsdorf


Thomas Bernhard's Contribution to Mein(e) Feind(e) [2]

My work and I have as many enemies as Austria has citizens, including the administration in the Ballhausplatz and the parliament in the Ring.  Apart from a couple of exceptions.  Off of these exceptions I feed and exist.  Now I have answered your blunt, timely, delicate question no less honestly than exhaustively. 

[1] Editors' note: First published in Wiener Journal, Vol. 5, February 1981, p. 28.
Bernhard’s letter to the editors was followed by this note: “Stelzhamer’s name is of course Stelzhamer and not Stelzhammer.  For this (perfidious?) error we beg our readers’ pardon.  Nonetheless, we reject the charge of promulgating ‘rotten bombast’: to be unable (or unwilling) to impart as subtly dialectical a turn to one’s patriotism as Mr. Bernhard is not automatically to place oneself under suspicion of stupidity and sanctimoniousness.  And we assuredly did not in Vol. 3.”

[2] Editors' noteFirst published in Mein(e) Feind(e) [≈My/Our Enemies].  Literary Almanac 1982, Salzburg: Residenz, 1982, p. 28.


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

A Translation of Two Texts on Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky by Thomas Bernhard

The Pensioned Salon Socialist [1]

The petit-bourgeois fellow sitting on a folding chair in his hand-knitted petit-bourgeois [sweater-]vest, and twiddling his toes within donning distance of his wear-mellowed therapeutic slippers (wooden ones!) in the late afternoon, has lately been more often eliciting the sympathy rather than provoking the cold-blooded contempt of the [disinterested] observer, despite the fact that he, the person depicted in this book, is named Bruno Kreisky.  Millions of such petits-bourgeois move us to sympathize with them in the twilight hour, when we are well-disposed to such sympathizing, and we do not begrudge any of them their sunset against the backdrop of their own home, no matter which cash-source is funding it; they [will] savor their expiring destiny in Austria or in Mallorca; most often with their SPOUSE by their side; we see her squinting against the sun and in the most literal sense lugging to the grave that socialist government-spoiled paunch of hers.

Mr. Kreisky, to whom this book is dedicated on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, is already portrayed in its pages as a pensioner, despite the fact that, as everybody knows, he is MOST CURIOUSLY and QUITE APPALLINGLY still in office.  Despite his incumbency, in these pictures he unfailingly makes quite a sympathy-eliciting impression as a pampered pensioner, although one would find oneself overcome by an access of the aforementioned cold-blooded contempt if one were not well-disposed to this sort of thing.  As seen in this book, Mr. Kreisky is just one of those millions of Austrian pensioners, but annoyingly [enough], he is the only one of them who also [happens] still to be the chancellor of the republic.

This book shows Kreisky “On the Terrace of his House,” “Out Taking a Walk,” “At the Seaside,” “With His Wife,” “In His Cactus Garden,” etc., etc., etc. as though it were documenting the latter days of a typical pensioner or even [a typical] annuitant, and when it shows [him] in the now-celebrated [snapshot] “At the Belvedere Palace,” the observer thinks of him even here merely as some average Joe of a ploddingly loyal civil servant being commended at the end of his career by the invisible hand of the State.

As seen in this book, Kreisky the pensioner has the same passions and cravings as his millions of frustrated colleagues who don’t live in the Armbrustergasse and who are never seen doing the duties, so to speak, of the master of the house at the Ballhautzplatz, even if he has kept these hankerings [well] hidden under his pinstripe business suit.  Whether he likes it or not, the living-room cactus, the top-of-the-line garden gnome, the hankering for chartered flights, are pitilessly etched into his very countenance.  Here is something else the book reveals about him: from time to time he mumbles something about Musil and Hundertwasser, and everybody present gapes with admiration.  He’s forever dropping the names of great artists and thinkers, but he’s only ever shaking the hands of minor artists and minor thinkers.

At no point in the book does the gentleman say anything significant or even in any way noteworthy, even though we recall that his mouth used to brim over with countless amusing witticisms; in actual fact Kreisky has never written a single so-called significant statement, even if he is often quoted—especially in other countries, which are always well-disposed to the sturdy pleasantries of Austrians—on account of his cabaret-ish sentence-scapes.  One has only to think of the numerous carnival medals the Germans have awarded him.  In all seriousness: he has yet to bequeath to us a single book of serious interest; nor has this statesmanlike attitudinizing of his yielded anything of substance.

When he fancied he was philosophizing, he was only ever engaging in the incompetent wicker-weaving of the sedulous schoolboy.  Perhaps he realizes this, and it probably nettles him—in pretty much all of these photographs he gives the impression that something is nettling him; in the majority of them positively everything is nettling him, and nothing could be more characteristic of an authentic Austrian pensioner’s last days than that.

Most likely I am not the ideal reviewer of this curious book, which by all rights should be sold only in the shops of the most select vendors of devotional aids.

The half-silk socialist, the pink avuncular patron of appeasement and globetrotting psychic reader of palms from Tehran to New York, from Palma to Unterkleinwerzdorf, is for once—and this is both the most terrifying and the most irritating thing—depicted here as he actually is, left to his own resources, and the question “What AM I?,” which is posed on each and every one of these factory-fresh pages, receives on each and every one of these pages the selfsame horrifying answer: “The picayune workaday political piffle-knackered chancellor of Austria!”

As seen in this book, Bruno Kreisky, the Sun King, is really just a Sunlamp King, and as very recent history has taught us, when the sun has by and large ceased to shine, its work will be taken over by a sunlamp—and hence in this case by a Sunlamp King with the looks of a pensioner.

But this book is also flamboyantly, incessantly self-contradictory, because with every word and every image it surprisingly conjures up, as if from some Alpine magician’s box of tricks, the petit-bourgeois that Kreisky is but on no account wishes to be, and likewise with every word and every image it spirits away into this Alpine box of tricks the statesman that Kreisky wishes to be and is not and absolutely cannot be.  It really is just that wretchedly written and wretchedly photographed and fantastically authentic!

It’s just too bad, as I said earlier, that this man conjured out of a magician’s box of tricks [happens] to be the chancellor of our republic.

In vain one peruses this book from cover to cover in search of a mind of any stature; one discovers in it not even the mind of a proper full-sized demon, but merely that of a pathetic little hobgoblin.

On the other hand, everything in this book is true; it is entirely cut from the cloth our chancellor is made of.  From the heights of megalomania it descends to the dales of platitudinousness and thence, by a completely logical progression, to the depths of household spiritual kitsch.  Nothing is omitted, nothing [at any rate] that stirs his petit-bourgeois heart and has essentially kept it beating his entire life.

We are the witnesses of a world pervaded by mawkishness and phoniness, a world whose hub is our birthday boy.

It is not only the gait of the prose style of this totally provincial pompous yes man-ized book that is stubbornly stiff, but that of the chancellor as well.  And when he’s not strutting stiffly, he’s straddling or stretching his head into infinity as he ambles along.  Next he comes across once again as a man fatigued and jaded by the travails of the world’s cursus, as all the great movers and shakers of history simply must do—and the next minute he is once again as affable as the attendant of a merry-go-round.

The book does have one genuine highlight: it shows Harold Macmillan, the former British prime minister and foreign minister, [sitting] in a railway passenger car at Schwechat Airport.  On page 24, Macmillan the giant (one of the greatest publishers and intellects in England!) overwhelms Kreisky the pygmy.  Mercilessly.

Kreisky the pensioner with the heart of a chancellor versus Kreisky the chancellor with the heart of a pensioner. An authentically Austrian embarrassment of catastrophic proportions, an embarrassment that we’re stuck with.

He is by no means a GREAT Jew; he is, as we know full well, by no means a GOOD Jew.  He is (and long has been) simply a lousy Chancellor of our Republic.

We are basically dealing here with a tax-strained, anciently ridicule-ridden, old socialist satrap retching on a diet of his own moronic mumblings; a toothless and formerly rubicund robber baron who decades ago was already washed white to the point of unrecognizability; a figure who deserves, be it ever so gingerly then nevertheless without any scrupulous regard for his pseudo-sacrifices, to be wiped off his throne.

They say that death can’t make an idiot into a genius, and a seventieth birthday can’t make a bit player into a statesman.  And such transformations are obviously also completely beyond the power of this ridiculous book, which nevertheless, albeit inadvertently, attests to two overwhelmingly devastating facts: first, that by now Kreisky has become nothing but an annuity-fed petit-bourgeois conformist; and second, that the young opportunistic Austrian authors of our time are largely feeble-minded and lacking in character.

We ought not to mistake this episode (this Kreiskyan episode) for an [historical] epoch.


A Letter from Thomas Bernhard to the Editors of profil [2]

Some time ago, the membership of the Socialist Party of Austria, who know me by name, were sent unsolicited copies of a book that I had reviewed, Bruno Kreisky (Berlin: Nikolaisch, 1981); these copies were unsolicited, but accompanied by a certificate of death by assassination.  Whether or not the recipients of the book will ever actually buy it is not at issue; it is, however, certain that all these recipients were subjected to a party-wide leafleting campaign of no mean ambitiousness.  Although I do not wish to believe in it, I can well imagine the sort of honorable arrangement the United Church of Austrian Socialism is making or has already made with the publishing firm that has brought out the book entitled Bruno Kreisky in honor of its eponym’s seventieth birthday, when I picture to myself the hundred thousand members of the Austrian Socialist Party, every single one of whom has conceivably received an unsolicited (but death certificate-accompanied) copy of this stupid concoction and had it served up to him at dinnertime.

In any case, at current prices this penny dreadful of a graphic novel retails at 400 schillings.  It is only natural that I should be interested in learning what Mr. Kreisky himself—the chancellor of the Republic of Austria, the man celebrated in this book and hence its hero, whose photographic image has, it seems, been very much foisted with main force upon the Socialist households of every single one of our regions—has to say about this recent exercise in tastelessness, which is tantamount to a criminal assault of unprecedented proportions.

Thomas Bernhard,

[1] Editors' note: First published in profil, Vienna, January 26, 1981.
Above the title the editors remarked, “Thomas Bernhard, who will soon turn fifty, reflects on Bruno Kreisky, who has just turned seventy, via Roth and Turrini’s book in honor of the chancellor’s birthday.”

Bernhard’s review was followed by this postscript: “It is an inflexible policy of profil to publish any ‘guest commentary,’ we have commissioned even if the opinion expressed therein is at odds with that of the editors.  Such is the case in this contribution by Thomas Bernhard.  H.V. [=Velmut Voska]”

The “guest commentary” elicited a number of letters to the editor, which profil printed in the following two weeks.  The weekly newspaper itself reported that “Austria” was “in Uproar” (profil, February 16, 1981).  Wolf in der Maur, at that time the director of ORF 1, publicly considered canceling the broadcast of Krista Fleischmann’s cinematic portrait of Bernhard (Monologues at Mallorca), which was set to air in commemoration of Bernhard’s fiftieth birthday.

[2] Editors' noteFirst published in profil, Vienna, March 23, 1981.
This letter to the editor was introduced by the following note: “In profil 4/81 Thomas Bernhard wrote about Turrini and Roth’s book about Bruno Kreisky.  His critique of the book turned into a critique of the chancellor and released a torrent of letters from profil readers.


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

On the Golden Age of Videotape and 16mm Film (a Nostalgiograph in the Manner of Thomas De Quincey)

If there is one thing the finger or two who know me well out of the handful of people who know me at all know about me, it is that I take a rather dim view of the most ballyhooed technological innovations of our time.  This is not to say (and indeed the just-mentioned finger or two would not say) that I am by any stretch of the imagination a Luddite even in the bastardized, hyper-stultified sense in which that word is now understood—viz., a person who categorically refuses intercourse with all electronically dependent phenomena of less than, say, ten years’ antiquity.  No: I simply maintain that scarcely any electronically dependent phenomenon of less than, say, sixty years’ antiquity has changed our lives to an extent that merits a fraction of the paper, printer-toner, electricity, breath, or (let us not mince words) semen and vaginal ejaculate expended in celebration or lamentation of it.  There have been, I would argue, several great falls (although there is only one Great Falls) since the dawn of the so-called industrial age: the first was probably precipitated by the development of the railroad networks and steamships, when it first became impossible for a would-be civilized person to get away with living out the full duration of his natural without undertaking some pointless trip to some faraway place; and the most recent by the proliferation of television, when it first became impossible for the would-be civilized person to get away with segregating himself from the importunities of visible and corporeally non-present humans, when ghosts became a species of vermin as quotidian and ineradicable as rats and cockroaches.  (The movies were bad enough, but one could escape from them at home; and the radio, while domestically inescapable, was mercifully apictorial [one has only to do the arithmetic: if a picture says a thousand words and a motion-picture moves at 24 frames per second, then a moving image of a person imploring you to buy Colgate toothpaste is about 16,000 times as eloquent as the naked voice of a person delivering the same message]).  Compared with the televisual plunge, the descent collectively catalyzed by the WISYWIG operating-systemed personal computer, the internet, and the mobile telephone has, according to my lights, been a mere physiologically untraumatic down-jump, like the one one has to perform in alighting from a bus or train.  My gorge rises with especial rapidity in response to any sort of tirade decrying the impersonality and brusqueness of email, texting, and tweeting, as against the hyperpersonal warmth and languorous, mint julep-sippin’ attitude to time of the old-fashioned handwritten letter.  I am heartily offended by such polemics because I remember quite vividly what a sorrily moribund horse the practice of letter-writing was in the later pre-email days.  To be sure, I myself then corresponded regularly and not-unlengthily with several friends (indeed, almost a full handful of them!), but the habit had a rather pungent whiff of campy anachronism about it, as if my correspondents and I were collaboratively penning an epistolary novel: we wrote letters to each other for the pleasure of writing letters, and of following in the footsteps of the great letter-writing friends of old.  The idea of exchanging letters with people to whom I was bound by ties that I did not aestheticize–for example, my parents or my younger brother—never crossed my mind.  If I needed or wanted to say anything to them, I gave them a phone call.  And as near as I could tell, it was solely by telephone that the vast majority of my peers and elders transacted the entirety of their non face-to-face business with all other people, from total strangers to those supposedly nearest and dearest to them.  “But surely it was highly impractical to be on the telephone 24/7, 7/52 in those station-to-station, pre flat rate long-distance, landline-only days.”  Indeed it was, and people dealt with that impracticality by generally not being on the phone, which was easy to do, given that they generally had little interest in and often a positive aversion to the people whom they knew to be immediately accessible via that engine.  Perhaps even in the most intellectually fertile and socially integrated ages, the default attitude of one human being to another—whether friend, stranger, or foe—is mild to severe hostility.  When other people are present, the most efficient medium of expression of this hostility is verbal abuse; when they are absent it is silence.  When paper letters were the only affordable means of communication, most people did not write or send them, because not writing to your awful cousin in Poughkeepsie was a much easier and more eloquent way of saying “Fuck you!” to her than actually sending her a letter reading “Fuck you!” would have been.  The new or pseudo-new media of communication, by effectively bringing us into one another’s presence, encourage us to adopt the present-specific mode of expressing our hostility.  Thus the so-called social media would be more properly termed the anti-social media, and the rudeness the historically purblind decry in these fora is merely humanity’s native tone.  Thankfully, Moore’s so-called Law assures us that the days of such ubiquitously smellable shit-talking and typing are numbered; for on the day when the latest mobilephonetablet is no faster or smarter (except perhaps in a stylistic sense) than the latest but one, the thrill of using such an engine will summarily and permanently evaporate, the mobilephonetablet will take its place alongside the post-it note and disposable razor in the class of commodities we take utterly unsentimentally for granted, and humanity without the walls of the domestic dwelling unit will mercifully revert to being a race of close-mouthed hermits.  In the meantime, the mobilephonetablet and the various proprietarily named fripperies it has engendered and facilitated will join company with Justin Bieber and global warming as mild but constant vexations visited upon the would-be civilized person via the mouths (a.k.a. north anuses) of other people decrying his freakishness in not taking them seriously enough in some fashion.  But the would-be civilized person cannot take these ephemera seriously in any fashion, and least of all a polemical one.  That the world has for quite a long time been getting ever shittier he vehemently asserts, that it is measurably shittier now than ten or twenty or thirty years ago he willingly acknowledges, but that it is significantly shittier now than then is a notion that he will never deign to grace with the soupcon of a smile, for in doing so he would effectively be hanging out his card and setting up shop as a mere laudator of the already long-since barbarous auld lang syne of living memory, as a mountebank trading on the fraudulent notion of the 1970s as a prelapsarian epoch, when he regards his true vocation as that of an Entferntervergangenheitsreinheitsseher, a communicant with the purity of the distant past of pre-living memory.   

That said-stroke-having said that (the that in both cases effectively being the very first sentence of the preceding paragraph, to which the remaining sentences merely add much needful if tedious illustrative evidence), there is at least one technologically dependent transformation of recent years that has caught me completely off-guard and left me utterly gobsmacked  (I am no fan of this g word, but it seems by now to stand in much the same relation to surprised or overwhelmed  as “bullshit” has long stood in relation to humbug or balderdash, namely as the only word forceful enough to convey the meaning nominally contained in the more genteel terms).  The change I am referring to is the by now more or less fully accomplished digitization of all new or newly reproduced mechanically reproducible images, and in particular moving images, the transformation of movies and TV shows from phenomena originating directly from the chemical, electrical, or magnetic excitation of corporeal matter into phenomena originating only mediatedly from such excitation, and directly from the immaterial empatternment of entities purported to be ones and zeros.  It was a change that took me completely aback (or, rather, genuinely aback, the distinction between afrontness and abackness being a binary or digital-esque one that does not admit of gradations) and has left me finding the world not merely a more depressing place (that progression is par for the temporal course) but also a stranger one.  And as vis-à-vis probably all such changes, in hindsight one feels remarkably obtuse in not having seen it coming.  One had after all known for decades that the mimetic sector of the phenomenal world was becoming ever- more digitized.  When was it that one heard one’s first demonstration of the hyperphonographic properties of the compact disc, via that J. C. Penny’s (or Sears) floor model player, and its ostentatiously ffr-spanning rendition of some unnamable orchestral warhorse?  (While I do not remember the identity of the piece, I somehow recall that the disc—which could be viewed spinning all those seemingly impossibly numerous hundreds of revolutions per minute through the player’s transparent lid—was at least partially robin’s-egg blue in color [but surely the record labels weren’t yet bothering with painted upper surfaces, trusting the public to be seduced and dazzled by the naked prismatizing silver].)  1983?  At the very latest, 1984, when one was twelve, presumably still young enough to take such a transformation in one’s stride.  And even one’s first acquaintance with digital moving pictures scarcely postdates one’s attainment of one’s majority: how vividly (albeit dimly) one remembers that postage stamp-sized Q*******e realization of the video for Radiohead’s “Creep” that came bundled with the system software for certain M*******h computers in the autumn of 1993.  Whence I can only conclude that quasi-paradoxically it was the early saturation of so many subsectors of the mimetic sector of the phenomenal world with digitized things that left me unprepared for the digitization of that final (or is it perchance only the penultimate or even the antepenultimate?) one.  Because the digital LP replacement and the digital nickelodeon flick or flipbook were not immediately followed by the digital full-fledged studio-produced motion picture or television program, it was easy enough to assume that there would never be digital FFSPMPs or TV programs, that producing audiovisual records of such gloss and sheen and depth and range and sheer, ineluctable bewitchingness was one of those “things that computers can’t do,” that it involved some arcane artisanal mystery akin to that entailed by the manufacture of authentic Delft china or Stradivarius violins, as if every frame of the master of a Hollywood blockbuster had to be individually prepared by people in surgical caps and masks laying on layer upon parti-colored layer of powdered chlorides and nitrates with apparatuses resembling pepper-grinders, or every micrometer of videotape for the latest episode of Home Improvement had to be inscribed with its corresponding micrometer of pseudo-sine-wavage by people in radiation hoods and gowns waving their arms about in front of the to-all-appearances completely motionless capstans like virtuosos of that early electronic musical instrument known as the Theremin.  Obviously, (in hindsight) though, movies and TV programs have always been manufactured by means of industrial processes relying on lightning-fast image-registrations with which the producer (by which I term I mean not only or mainly the person bearing that job title, but also the director, cinematographer, script-writer, et al.) needed to have no conscious involvement, and therefore the delay in the emergence of the digifilm motion picture or TV program could only have been owing to the temporary inferiority of the digital moving image, which could only have been owing to the (temporarily) inadequate processing speeds of existing computers and storage capacities of existing storage systems (CD ROMs, Bernoulli drives, or whatever else happened to be state of the art at any given year).  Once the digitally produced moving image was technically not only equivalent but superior to the best-generatable analogue one, the supersedence became a foregone conclusion.  And on the score of this superiority I am under no illusions.  The reader may rest assured that the balance of the present essay is not going to be one of those willfully ill-informed or disingenuous tributes to the rich, lanolin slathered Corinthian leather-like, life-bearing organicity of the older medium, of the sort that one associates with, say, the lovers of gramophone records.  In the case of a televisual image, the digitization-worthiness has always been intuitively obvious even to the naked eye.  One had only to come within a foot of the television screen to see that its picture was composed of a finite and in principle countable number of indivisible squares of light (specifically red, green, or blue light), such that any computer-generated televisual image, however egregious its limitations, would never be falling short of a standard that one believed to be perfect.  Of the wartsandall-ishness of movies, on the other and more prominent hand, one was blissfully ignorant: one fancied that every filmed image was made up of wholly analog-ic lines and splashes of color (or grayscale), and that no matter how closely one drew to that image, or many times one enlarged it, one would always end up seeing some thing or collection of things that lacked a border along at least one geometrical axis; that at no point would a film image resolve itself into a mosaic of mutually tangent but isolated squares (or hexagons, or octagons, or what have you).  Of course, one was familiar with the notion of a “grainy” film image, of a film image that was at least partially made up of visibly discrete units, and one was familiar with specific movies—mostly older ones—that were prevailingly composed of such images.  But one assumed that these were aberrations, no different in kind from out-of-focus shots or wear-and-tear induced scratches on the celluloid, neither of which impugned the mimetic prowess of the medium itself.  Little did one know that the intrinsically, infinitely analogic properties of film were likewise an illusion.  I have not investigated the chemistry or physics behind this phenomenon at any length or in any detail—or at all as a matter of fact—but I have been told or led to believe by people in the habit of crediting only creditable sources that these analogic properties break down at a dispiritingly coarse resolution, that conventional celluloid film stock, be it of even the most recent laboratory standard (i.e., the latest-day equivalents of Technicolor and Eastmancolor), can register only a dozen or so hues of color or grayscale that will cease to appear to blend into each other when viewed if not by the naked eye at front-row viewing distance, then at any rate by the eye aided by a magnifying glass placed a few inches from the projection screen.  Needless to say, by the early years of the previous decade digital moving images that did not break down into their constituent pixels when subjected to such scrutiny were rolling off the assembly lines of Palo Alto, and that by then the celluloid film’s days were numbered in a more than technically fanciful sense. 

This is of course not to say that even now a majority of the digital moving images one comes across in the daily round of commerce with electronic media are of Alpine–standard (that’s the antithesis of b*g-standard) 1990s’ Hollywood cinefilmic quality.  The minuscule frame size of the standard Y** T**e video, for example, is imposed not by the visual scope of its typical displaying medium—say, the fourteen-inch screen of a largish laptop—but by the incredibly low resolution of the video itself, which is such that it is only when its images are viewed as if from across the width of a football stadium that they can trick us into mistaking them for faithful copies of real-world entities–an illusion that even an old nineteen-inch low-definition TV set displaying over-the-air analogue reruns of Gilligan’s Island managed to pull off by seeming to keep its images only as far away as the length of a ping-pong table of perfectly ordinary, garage-friendly dimensions.  There is no inherent or invariable superiority of fidelity in a digital image, any more than there has ever been any inherent or invariable superiority of fidelity in a digital audio recording, although the history of the reception of both digital sense-registrations leads one to believe that this superiority has been and continues to be generally taken for granted.  One recalls that way back in that millennium-closing year 2000, when the first, pre-castrated version of Napster went viral as one would say nowadays, that much of the hysteria about the platform on the part of the so-called music industry and its millions of disinterested partisans (one must never underestimate the culturally industrialized other-directed human being’s proclivity for identifying with the oppressor [although I think some nicer word than “oppressor” should be come up with to designate people who merely want you to give them your money and are using much less coercive means of trying to get you to part with it than a whip or gun]) emanated from the notion that the recordings disseminated gratis by it (Napster), were perfect copies of the CD, LP, or audio cassette tracks from which they had been derived.  These recordings were so conceived because in those days, when cassettes remained the only medium of home recording that was both reliable and affordable, the only sort of imperfection of audio fidelity that anybody had any notion of was analogue and contingent in character---surface noise, tape hiss, wow and flutter—all of them were successful realizations of the contingent corporeal world’s effort to contribute its own unruly two cents’ worth to the would-be necessity-driven message of spirit.  Little did anybody then seem to realize that digital recordings were subject to their own sui generis form of imperfection, an imperfection imposed not by chance and the medium itself but deliberately by the curators of digital archives both amateur and professional; that the degree of this imperfection, visited on the recording by a process known as compression, depended on how much –or, rather how little—storage space the curator was willing to allocate to a given chunk of music; that even the audio standard of the original compact disc, with its pathetic 16-bit sampling rate, had been a data-capacity-per-square-unit of space-imposed compromise that fell well below the threshold of apparent perfection of fidelity (presumably the fact that CDs were so much smaller than LPs was owing entirely to problems of torque and whatnot imposed by their rotation speed, as caeteris paribus a 12-inch laser disc would have yielded appreciably higher fidelity than a four-inch one); that what with the average Napster user’s hard drive’s possessing the storage capacity of roughly two CDs, and the library stored thereon of several thousands of minutes of music, in point of median sound quality the average Napster download was barely a match for the likewise telephonic “Operaphone” broadcasts that Marcel Proust had reveled in during the previous fin de siecle. On the evidence of our collective experience of similar switchovers in more remote times, one would have every reason to suppose that by now, fourteen years into the millennium, we would have all grown savvy to the limitations on aural experience imposed by compression, and moved on to a standard of audio reproduction undreamt of in the original Napster days, such that CD-quality sound would have long since been demoted to  the status of a pathetic pis-aller suitable for only the most prosaically quotidian communications—occupying a niche of the prestige level of AM radio (which, by the way, despite having been deprived of its crown as the predominant purveyor of live audio content nearly forty years ago, has not yet disappeared and is unlikely to do so until analog radio en bloc is phased out [but who knows how far off that day is, given that by all rational rights analog radio, being the bearer of a less complex signal, should have been forced to give up the ghost long before analog TV, and yet analog TV has been dead a full five years now]).  Instead, the MP3, an avowedly sub-CD quality medium, is both the industry standard and consumers’ format of choice for downloaded music.  What gives?  Whence comes this voluntary regression?  Or is it even voluntary?  Is it possible that the very idea of a distinction between superior and inferior sound-images is indissolubly tied to the old analogue recording media—or, to be more precise, a phenomenology of listening attuned to the potential shortcomings of such media—such that only those old enough to remember when LPs and cassettes were the state-of-the-available sound-reproducing art are still capable (supposing it to be a capability and not a disability) of caring about or noticing deficiencies in sound reproduction, and that when shove is reached by push, anybody under the age of say, 35, will reflexively, unthinkingly go for the maximum time-span and number of tracks even if  the sound quality delivered therein is of sub Edison wax-cylindrical poverty?

“Who knows?  But in any case, this is supposed to be an essay on visual media, from which everything you have been saying about all these entities and phenomena pertaining to sonic media, cannot but constitute a pure digression.”  Actually, I’m not sure that it is a pure digression.  For whether we are talking about the reproduction of sight or the reproduction of sound, it would seem that the past quarter-century has witnessed some sort of radical reorientation of the viewer’s or listener’s horizon of expectations.  Formerly, from that hot or cold, rainy or bone-dry, blustery or sultry day in 1830-something when Louis Daguerre legged it down to the patent office with his big glass plate tucked under one arm, right up until that hot or cold &c. 2000-something day when the last pop album was released not only in CD but also in cassette format, everyone seemed to be under and revel in the impression that mankind’s means of representing to itself the world around it(self) were constantly improving and asymptotically approaching the moment of indistinguishability from the real McCoy.  From black-and-white still photography we moved on to color still photography; from black-and-white 16 mm motion picture film we moved on to color 35 mm motion picture film and thence to color 70 mm motion picture film and thence (in selected cinemas) to that three digit-millimeter’d monstrosity known as Imax; from acoustically recorded records we moved on to electrically recorded records and thence to CDs; from mono sound we moved on to stereo sound and thence (eventually, a decade or two after the false start known as quadraphonia) to surround sound.  Every day and in every way we expected ourselves to be more fully, richly, and accurately in touch with the world accessible by the senses than we had been the day before.  Now—and I say this while candidly acknowledging the legitimacy of the interjection of a Mixalotian-dimensioned but occasioned by the recent and for the moment still-current recrudescence of pandemic hope in the possibility of universal 3-D cinema and television–all that seems to have changed.  Now[adays], we (or should I say “they” or “you all” [or “you guys” or “yins”]) seem to care only about the accessibility and fluency of the mimeme, and no longer to give a fig about its fidelity to the mimed phenomenon.   If, when streaming (how I pine for an equivalent of so-called for grammatical entities other than count nouns!) a movie, we (or “they” et al.) are forced to wait so long as two seconds for the picture to refresh—in other words, to endure the briefest spell of still imagery or blank screenage–we stamp our feet and shake our fists with all the apoplectic fury of a mid-twentieth century paterfamilias protesting a meteorologically induced interruption of The Wide World of Sports by a simultaneous catch-as-catch-can assault on the horizontal and vertical holds of his rooftop aerial-attuned living room hog of a 24-inch console set.  But provided the transmission elapses without a single hitch of this kind, we spectate upon its fruits as fully satisfied customers, devoting not a micrometer of our so-called attention span to the matter of whether they are every bit as verisimilitudinous, as still life in motion-like, as their counterparts on DVD or Blu-Ray.

The whole of the preceding two paragraphs, I blush to admit, is intended to function as one big, walloping, waddling disclaimer of sorts, one that in hindsight I now see would perhaps have been more seasonably sited before the essay proper rather than within it—but fudge it, what’s done is dun, &c.  You see, when I alluded or referred some pages ago to cinema projection-screen images “that do not break down into their constituent pixels” when viewed with a magnifying glass, I was alluding or referring to a phenomenon that I had not as yet experienced at first eye, and that indeed I have not as yet experienced as of this writing.  When I hear from those who have been to screenings of digital films in chain multiplex cinemas that during such screenings “you can see the pores on the actors’ faces,” I must assume that the state-of-the-art technical standard of cinematographic mimesis has surpassed anything obtainable in the most upmarket and recent-vintaged pre-digital cinematic setting.  But I myself have not been to a screening of any movie at a multiplex cinema since, at the latest, 2003, when, if I am not mistaken (though I may very well be) old-fashioned analog cimefilm was still the universal standard at the consumer end.  The virtual entirety of my acquaintance with the post-analogue cinemascape has in fact been mediated by, at the quasi-immediate or gateway level, my 14-inch 2010 laptop screen with allegedly high-definition capabilities and my 2008 19-inch low-definition non-flat ordinary television screen; and at the unabashedly mediate level by the reproductive limitations of the original DVD format and the nearly equally ancient DSL interweb connection system-cum-protocol, together with whatever such limitations are imposed by N*****x et al./&c. on the so-called server end of the inline delivery service(s).  Accordingly any animadversions I may subsequently formulate (and I plan to formulate scads of them) on the unsatisfactory character of the new digifilm standard by comparison with certain standards of yore may for all I know be vitiated by the impurities imposed by the intervening media just mentioned.  The reader may very well believe that it is incumbent upon me, before I go off half-c***edly shooting my mouth (or, rather, fingers) off about digital movies, to take the trouble to see one in all its blackhead-infested pore-exposing glory; if so, I no less abjectly than warmly entreat him or her to remit to me the ninety dollars I conservatively estimate would be required to convey me by taxi to and from the nearest digitally equipped multiplex, which local lore informs me is sited somewhere in the remote hinterland of central Anne Arundel County, well past the airport.  Failing such an offer, this essay will at least have as its standard of reference for digital motion photography a composite version thereof that I fancy is not radically dissimilar to that carried in the heads of the majority of present-day Americans, who, even if they do make it to the proper digicinema  a couple of times a month, still do the bulk of their moving image watching at home, on their televisions, or at work, on their computer-screens; a standard, that, moreover, will perhaps be ideally apposite in that its historical foil (i.e., the standard with which it will be unfavorably compared in the aforementioned animadversions) was one with which I was likewise most familiar through the domestic media. 


Now begins the essay proper, and with it our embarkation on the journey back to its eponymous golden age, the (I repeat the title to spare you the admittedly more than negligible effort of scrolling back up to it) “golden age of videotape and 16mm film.”  In introducing a reader to an age it is customary—and indeed held to be but the barest degree of civility—to supply him or her at the very start with a pair of book-ending years, the year marking the beginning of the age in question, and the year marking the end thereof, respectively.  And that I might not be thought to be breaking with this custom out of sheer frowardness or wantonness I shall supply such a pair—viz., 1970 and 1986—right here and now (or by now there and then), well before the full stop terminating the present sentence.  But before I employ either of these years in its civilly mandated bookenderly function, I must in all candor and frankness confess that there is more than a whiff of if not arbitrariness then certainly factitiousness about putting them to such a use.  You see, DGR, as this is a subjectively-grounded chronology-cum-analysis (I point this out explicitly just in case you’ve only barely figuratively been sleeping so far), in tentatively situating the left or earlier bookend at 1970, I am bound by default to mislead you into supposing that I was watching videotaped or 16 mm-filmed moving images in that year, which is not true, as I was not even born until 1972.  “So then this year marks an uncharacteristically objective watershed.”  That’s not quite true either, for by 1970 both videotape and 16mm film had been widely used in television for many years.  Vis-à-vis videotape, at least, one has only to think of the funeral of President Kennedy in 1963.  But I did not see a second of the footage (if footage is a word that may be as aptly applied to videotape as to film) of that funeral until its twenty-fifth anniversary, in 1988—in other words, a full two years after the right bookended year of 1986.  Which brings me to the significance of that year—a mite prematurely, though, as I have not yet fully elucidated the significance of the left bookend year, 1970.  And so in full the significance of this year is that no television program originally filmed or recorded before that year has ever been surrounded by the aura or imbued by the perfume of romance that surrounds and imbues virtually every 16mm or videotaped (or 16mm-cum-videotaped) program made from that year onwards.  But this significance has in turn some apparent objective basis, in that it very probably was in 1970 that videotaped television really took off as the industry standard—or, at any rate, took its place as a co-standard alongside 16mm film—owing very probably to its new encoloration.  To be sure, color videotape was not actually invented in 1970, but to my young (ca. 8 to 14-year-old) eyes it might as well have been, in that as soon as I acquired the habit of looking out for copyright dates on television programs, that was the earliest year I ever espied, and indeed, I can remember the very program in whose credits I espied it, namely Let’s All Sing a Song, a musical-educational series that was hosted by the redoubtable banjoist-cum-folksinger Tony Saletan, and that I along with thirty or so other eight-or-nine year olds was regularly (or at any rate not infrequently) compelled to watch by my second grade teacher, Mrs. Foster.  Let’s All Sing a Song was for me a watershed or milestone or whichever other clichéd metaphoric vehicle is most appropriate for designating something separating two (of only two) historical eras (yes, yes, yes: cf. the B.C. / A.D. divide if you must): in being in color and on videotape it was a segment of the modern world, yes, but it was also the oldest segment thereof; any more ancient soundtracked moving image segment, in being on film (as I then assumed all pre-1970 moving image segments were), might as well have been generated in the same month as the first Laurel and Hardy talkie or The Wizard of Oz (which one of course depended on whether it was in black and white or color), even if its last frames had still been being exposed at 11:59 p.m. PST on December 31st, 1969.  By the time I became acquainted with a single item from the slender corpus of pre-1970 color videotaped television—I suppose it must have been a Laugh In rerun—I was well to the right of the right bookend year (1986, in case you’ve already forgotten) and so the watershed or milestone could no longer be budged back a single inch.  So anyway, what happened in 1986 that made it epoch-breaking?  (I write epoch-breaking and not era-breaking because just as in a sense or arguably we are still living in the iron age [or era], in that all subsequent eras [space, nuclear, information, &c.] are in a sense or arguably but pseudo-ages, so I [if only I] am in a sense or arguably still living in the modern, color-videotape post-Saletanian era, to which, as I have already hinted, all other eras [chief among them the digifilm one] are in a sense &c.)  Certainly it was not the supersedence of videotape by some other medium, for television shows continued to be recorded on videotape in the thousands for at least another decade and a half, and indeed for certain genres of television program—talk shows, news magazines, and every sort of show centering on a public performance, were it of the Rolling Stones at NFL Football Stadium X or the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center—there was no practical alternative to it. (To be sure, during this period such spectacles were occasionally filmed, but most often for release in cinemas [consider, e.g., The Last Waltz and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl]—doubtlessly because the typical television production budget was not large enough to recoup the costs of all the hundreds of hours of chronographically redundant film [to say nothing of the parts and labor involved in running all those multiply-stationed cameras simultaneously], most of it ultimately unused, that were requisite to adequate realizations of the busy-ness and spontaneity of these events.) Nor did 16mm film disappear from the televisual scene before the advent of the millennium; for although by the mid-1970s videotape had usurped many of its old offices, it remained the most-favored medium for the more expensive situation comedies and the less expensive drama series and made-for-TV movies; not to mention its impressive career in the service of that most quintessentially fin du vigntieme siecle televisual genres, the pop music video.  (Indeed, throughout the 80s and 90s, there was no surer sign of a band’s accession to the big time than its switching from video-making on videotape to videomaking on 16mm film.)  What happened in the mid-eighties, rather, was that the symbiotic marriage of video and 16mm film appeared to end, that television programs that made mutually complementary use of both media ceased to appear to be made; such that when I try to recall dual Vid-16mm shows that I have become smitten with since then, I inevitably alight on some pre-1986 production I first saw as a rerun—The Sandbaggers, for example, or Van der Valk, both of which were aired on my home media market’s second public television station in the early nineties.  From 1970 to 1986 it seemed that on switching on the telly one had a good chance of spectating on a recently produced dual Vid-16mm mixed media program; from 1986 onwards it seemed that one could not reasonably expect to come upon anything new or newish that was not either all video or all 16mm in medial provenance.  “But why, given that the title of this essay alone proves that you held both media in high regard, should you have been disappointed in a transition that seems to have left you liberally supplied with fresh instantiations of both of them?”  Ah, to answer that question, “I must,” in the words of a writer whom I dare not name, lest I mislead you into thinking I know much more of his oeuvre than the sentence I am now in the middle of quoting, “trouble you with a bit of history,” the history of my early (some of it very early—i.e., pre second grade) reception of television, which will in turn require me to trouble you with a bit of history of television itself (or, rather, television as it was for the world at large, for I would not hypostatize that television as a Ding an sich at the expense of my television.) (I hope you realize that throughout the preceding sentence, including its concluding parenthesis, I was talking about a viewing-phenomenology-cum-productive apparatus and not about a cluster of individual television sets, although what with television being an OED-accredited count noun, you are certainly well within your rights to misconstrue me along those second lines).  This history-fragment must begin (or, at any rate, is most conveniently begun) with the introduction or undraping of a certain elephant, the elephant in the room (i.e., the room that is this essay) that is 35 mm-and-upwards film.  Of course, in a certain sense, the reader has already met this elephant, which in a certain sense has never been concealed, for I have indeed already both explicitly mentioned and implicitly alluded to several 16mm+ gauges of film. (The mentions may be tracked down by a verbatim search query; the allusions are to be found in the droppings [ugh!] of names fairly tightly associated with 35mm and up [e.g. Eastmancolor].)  But heretofore I have either explicitly or implicitly ascribed to them an exclusively non-televisual and narrowly cinematic bailiwick; in other words, I have treated them as though they were media one only ever encountered (or, perhaps more appositely, had ever encountered) at official Milk-Dud and popcorn-purveying movie theaters.  The truth about 35mm+ media’s presence on television is in fact rather more complex—or, to put it less gently, completely different.  In the first place, in deference to the antiquity of these interlopers’ residence in the headquarters or palace (albeit also in defiance of the modernity of one’s discovery thereof)—one must acknowledge that beginning at least as far back the early 1960s, 16+ mm films were especially commissioned for broadcast on television.  Ten or perhaps even five years ago, I would have been not merely loath but positively defiantly unwilling to make such an acknowledgment.  Until ten or perhaps even five years ago, I assumed that all film destined for televisual broadcast had been of 16mm gauge.  But then, one sultry or bone-dry night between 2004 and 2009, I was watching my Russico DVD of Grigory Kozinstev’s masterly (and some would say definitive) cinematic realization of Hamlet, or perhaps his equally masterly (and equally said to be definitive by some) cinematic realization of King Lear—in either case, a black-and-white movie presented under the aesthetically equivocal offices of the letterbox (remember that my TV set is an old-school square model, via which all gains in authenticity of aspect ratio come at the cost of a reduction in size of the image)—and I was struck by the indoor (or studio-set) scenes’ cinematographic dead-ringerly resemblance to the black-and-white episodes of the early 1960s’ American television series The Wild, Wild West, which in turn had mutato mutando always struck me as cinematographic dead ringers for the full color run of the original Shatner-centered Star Trek series.  But how could this be, given that the Kozintstev Shakespeare movies, being letterboxed, had certainly been shot on 16mm+ film?  The seeming contradiction could only be resolved by the supposition that The Wild, Wild West and Star Trek had been shot on 16mm+ film—presumably on 35mm film.  Of course, that supposition immediately elicited (N.B., DGR: elicited, not begged) the question “What did the producers of The Wild, Wild, West and Star Trek do with those extra 19 mm of film?”—i.e., with the 9.5 inches on each side of the frame that, falling beyond the blinders of those old-school square TV sets, would have been exposed in vain?  To this day, that question remains as unanswered as the one musically posed by Chuck Ives probably roughly and possibly exactly a century ago.  But this unansweredness need not concern you or me right now (or, indeed, perhaps even ever); for our present purposes it suffices to hone the above presumption into an assertion, and from that assertion move back into anecdotal mode as a propaedeutic to a mildly modified reiteration of a slightly f(a/u)rther-above generalization, as follows: Star Trek and the Wild, Wild, West had been filmed on 35mm stock, and the moment I realized this I began performing a kind of comparative mental split-screen screening of ST and TWWW alongside as many other filmed TV shows as I could remember, towards the end of ascertaining which of them had likewise been given the full (or any rate a fullish) Hollywood treatment between the sprockets (“The Columbo so-called mystery movies?  Almost certainly.  The Partridge Family?  Possibly.  But Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, and Eight Is Enough?  Almost certainly not.  Indeed, that troika of programs practically defined the look of stateside commercial 16mm television, aFaIWC.  But what about those big-budget weekend second-tier-celebrity-cowcatchers and weekday evening soap operas, the likes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and Knot’s Landing and Dynasty, respectively?  Possibly but by no means almost certainly.”  And so [albeit not much f(a/u)rther] on.).  So, as I said, a great deal of expressly televisual television in our period (remember: 1970-1986)—and more specifically, as we have just seen in the preceding parenthesis, prime-time television—was evidently 35-mm in provenance.  But in addition to this swath of properly televisual 35-mm offerings, during our period prime time, together with its late-night schedule follower, was perennial host to movies originally and relatively recently produced for and released via the cinema—in other words, very nearly axiomatically, movies shot on film gauges of 35 mm and upwards.  Now, because, as mentioned before, in those days television sets were not shaped in such a way as to accommodate the geometrical proportions of a widescreen film image, and because, as not mentioned before, letterboxing had either not yet been thought up or (as is more likely) thought up and immediately dismissed as a piece of poncey arthouse cinema-fannish wankery, the preparers of cinemagenetic movies for television broadcast (or perhaps even the broadcasters themselves, at the moment of transmission; I suppose either would have been capable of it) would simply zoom in on the film-frame in order to make its complete vertical aspect commensurate with that of the television screen, thus cropping the aforementioned 9.5 inches of horizontal aspect on each side; then, through a repertoire of camera maneuvers known as pan-and-scan, they would every now and then shunt bits of the frame aside, to the left or to the right, in order to make room for other bits that they supposed the viewer would take more interest in.  Thus, the televisual preparer effectively served as a second director, subdividing each shot (actually, perhaps only most shots, as presumably there were plenty of shots in which from beginning to end nothing interesting was deemed to be happening in the margins) into a series of sub-shots.  Most of the time one didn’t notice these interventions, but occasionally one did and was unsettled by them (without at all knowing why, as the incommensurability of aspect-ratios was a discovery one made only long after 1986): for instance, in a scene of a profile tête-à-tête across, say, a broad table, each of the interlocutors would be seen only while he was speaking, such that one was repeatedly and bemusingly denied the pleasure and intelligence afforded by a so-called reaction shot.  Surely, one reasoned, it would have made much more sense to film the chinwag as a static shot, with both waggers in view from beginning to end.  Little did one know that it had in fact been filmed in just such a manner.  But probably more disruptive of one’s so-called viewing experience in the case of these retrofitted movies was the palpable impoverishment of resolution effected by the aforementioned in-zooming.  Even mutato mutando—that is to say, with all due regard for the inferiority of resolution of pre high-definition television screens—as seen on television, and even when hosted by the primest bits of real estate in the reigning network’s prime time schedule, cinemagenetic movies looked much less sharp, much less crisp, much less properly cinematic, than in the cinema.  And the f(a/u)rther the hosting was sited from these A-listed sites, the more egregious the pan and scan-induced shortcomings, limitations, and distortions tended to be, and the more often were they augmented and compounded by other, non pan and scan-induced shortcomings &c. that were equally or even more egregious.  Take, as something approaching a limit case of viewerly awfulness, the example of a movie shown on a local, independent, non network-affiliated station at 2:00 on a weekday morning [not that it was at all common in the most usual present-day sense for a station to be on the air at such an hour during our period; and for this very reason any station that was so was to be regarded as common in the most usual pre-ca. 1920 sense].  In the first place, the movie was likely not to be anywhere near new.  This is not to say that it was anywhere near likely to being a classic from the so-called golden age of Hollywood—an early Marx Brothers vehicle, say, or a Bogart-centered noir picture, or a Powell and Loy-powered screwball comedy—no: in those pre-TCM days such films—which, being black-and-white and 16 mm-gauged, were largely immune to the depravations now in point (albeit also subject to their own, more aristocratic, strains of corruption)—tended to be aired on Sunday afternoons, either on one of these independent stations or on one of the two quasi network (i.e., PBS)-affiliated public stations.  (The independent channels’ Sunday morning schedules, on the other hand, were the preserve of golden-age shorts—The Little Rascals (a.k.a. Our Gang), newsreels, the original Lone Ranger series, Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges one-reelers, and the like. [Among the many praiseworthy reasons that I have never been able to bring myself to jump on to the seemingly backless bandwagon of microgenerational solidarity—the peremptory fiat that as a nominal adult one should tog oneself out cap-a-pie in the cultural bric-a-bric that were explicitly fabricated by the culture industry of old for the consumption of children within two or at most three years of one’s own age (such that I, being born in 1972, am required to collect memorabilia of the live-action Incredible Hulk show but prohibited from dropping references to H. R. Puffenstuff [target birth year-swathe: 1965-1969 or He-Man: TBY-S: 1974-1978]), not the least compelling (or praiseworthy) has been my awareness that courtesy of the sheer dumb luck of the draw a significant proportion of my childhood and teenage television viewing was devoted to movies and programs that had been produced years or even decades before I was born—that, indeed, I actually found it harder to avoid The Little Rascals &c./et al. than most of the official kiddie-targeted programming of that time; an awareness that is naturally consubstantial with the surmise that most of my exact and near-exact contemporaries were likewise all too familiar with many of the cinematic and televisual mainstays of (in the words of the voiceover lead-in to one of the newsreel-rebroadcast series) “those thrilling days of yesteryear,” and that their garish display of enthusiasm for their own microgenerational niche is made not entirely in good faith.]  The late-night offerings of the independent stations tended to be drawn indiscriminately from the vast but finite pool of non Oscar-awarded R-rated movies released between five and fifteen years earlier.  By this I mean not they were necessarily bad movies or even good movies that required any Golden Gate Bridge-dimensioned suspension of disbelief to appreciate—I am not talking here of, for example, the stereotypical late-night B-grade horror movie (e.g., Night of the Living Dead), the likes of which in our market tended to be shown only on or around Halloween [in contrast to the stereotypical daytime B-grade horror movie (your Peter Cushing ‘60s Hammer anvils, Stateside ’50s Werewolf operas, &c.) which were regularly seen on the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature slot presided over by the imitable yet irreplaceable Dr. Paul Bearer])—but merely that, having generally not been graced with the most lavish budgets, they tended not to sport the flashiest cinematography, being prevailingly composed of mid-focus interiors rather than deep-focus outdoor panoramas.  Moreover, they tended to be presented with a minimum of broadcasterly second-directorly intervention: only the predictable recurrence of the usual commercial breaks dissuaded one from believing that  the entire screening was being superintended by a single feckless dogsbody of a station graveyard-shifter who had simply pointed a camera at a projection screen and stepped out for a two-hour cigarette break.  But beyond and probably above this, the relative age of the films imparted a peculiar aura of insalubriousness to them.  I am not talking here in the main about the films qua medium-alienable documents of a particular historical microepoch—although that quaness certainly did come into play—but about the age of the physical print, the three or four canisters of celluloid that served as the material basis of the broadcast.  You see, over time—and even a fairly brief time at that—old-school color film has a tendency if not exactly to fade then at least to apply to itself a treatment of spectroscopic selection, as a consequence of which greens and blues soon find themselves being crowded out by reds, yellows, browns, and oranges.  Even in the all analogue days this process could be sharply retarded if not quite arrested by scrupulous storage within certain humidity and temperature thresholds, but only a small fraction of the total volume of cinema-ready film-stock was ever vouchsafed such storage, and the fraction of that fraction that ever made it on to the late-night non network-bolstered airwaves must have been infinitesimal.  One assumes that in 1977 George Lucas took whatever pains preservationists assured him would be necessary to keep the master prints of Star Wars in pristine condition for the six(!) years that remained until its first television broadcast, such that throughout that broadcast I felt more or less as though I were reprising my only previous viewing of the film, in some north Tampa cinema, half a lifetime (as far as an eleven-year-old was concerned [the phenomenon is beautifully encapsulated by Dean Stockwell in Paris, Texas]) earlier.  One likewise assumes that in 1980, Michael Ritchie, the director of The Island, a minor thriller starring Michael Cane, took no such pains over that film’s televisual destiny, such that throughout my first and only viewing of that film, at 11 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. or thenabouts on Channel 28 or 44 on a ca. 1985 Friday or Saturday night-cum-Saturday or Sunday morning, the tropical mugginess that was its genius loci seemed to emanate principally not from its eponymous setting, but rather from the material tissue of its celluloid base, which looked as if it had been liberally smeared with a preparation of Red Dye No. 5-infused Vaseline.  And generally speaking, if one were pressed to choose one adjective to describe the look of televised 35-mm cinema during our period, one would unhesitatingly opt for hot—provided, of course, that that word were purged beforehand of every last dram of extra-thermometric connotation (i.e., of all its associations with sex, pre-bop jazz, &c.).  Supersaturated as these moving images were with the aforementioned reds, browns, and oranges, they could not fail to give the impression that the world they depicted was one of oppressive, and indeed life-extinguishing, warmth.  “But are not red, brown, and orange the signature hues of autumn—of the season of ever-crescent coolness?”  Indeed they are, but in order to impart to the viewer a sense of this E-CC these hues must participate in an image of superlative crispness, an image in which each and every fallen leaf and newly bared tree branch (or pumpkin or turkey wattle) is sharply and cleanly set apart from its neighbor, as if these items have just been freeze-dried out of all tendency to fraternize with one another.  When the constituents of an autumnal-paletted image are allowed to bleed into each other, the effect is one of ever-crescent hotness abetted by an equally ever-crescent humidity; as if the entire composition is about to implode into a single undifferentiated glutinous mass of infernally superheated goo.  And owing to the axiomatically blurrier resolution of panned-and-scanned 35-mm film (and possibly also to the remoteness of the print used from the master print [I remember reading somewhere long ago that the films shown by local TV stations were copies of copies of copies of &c.]), it was this second genre of autumnal-paletted image that the typical late-night independent station-screened movie habitually presented.  Watching one of these movies from beginning to end was like sitting for two hours in a sort of sauna with a Victorian dress code, but frequented exclusively by people hailing from the 1970s and early 1980s.  I suppose the spiritual nadir of my late-night indie-station movie-watching career came at the very end of our period, or perhaps even slightly after that end, during my spectation of Hardcore, a relentlessly grim 1979 release in which George C. Scott plays some sort of ultra-conservative Bible-thumper (a member of the Dutch Utterly Unregenerately Unreformed Protestant Church of Christ the Unregenerate Underwear-Nonchanger, as I recall) trying to retrieve his runaway teenage daughter from the sub-demimonde of illegal pornographic movie production.  Perhaps not quite needless to say [for I understand that nowadays on most channels almost anything goes after a certain hour of the night], the film had been edited to such an extent as was intended to forestall its bringing the blush to the cheek or shudder to the spine of a person even younger than myself, such that what survived of the sex and violence could not on its own have been enough to traumatize me.  But combined with the saunified and infernalized autumnal palette, it proved quite unbearable.  In scene after scene, the heroine was forced to submit to some unspeakably terrifying or degrading act while cooped up under lock and key in a “King-of-the-Road”-ishly small closet of a room carpeted in a fiery ochre shag fabric whose every shageme seemed to be straining to lick one’s eyeballs; a room whose hazily white windowless walls deprived one of even the hope of escaping to cooler, freer, safer, kinder, or otherwise more wholesome environs.

But all the afore-described visual deformations, for all their oppressiveness, by no means exhausted the reservoir or mine of misery supplied to me by the televisual screening of 35-and-up-mm cinemagenetic movies, for there was also an auditory (or audiogenetic) component to this misery. (Incidentally, the present paragraph even less arguably constitutes a digression than the earlier audiocentric passage does or did, although—and here the reader will simply have to take my word for it—the arguing to that effect is best postponed to a later, if it-is-to-be-hoped not too distant, paragraph.)  Even in the pre-Dolby all mono days of ca. 1950-1980, movies produced for the widescreen cinema were soundtracked with a three or four digit-watted sound reproduction system in mind, a sound reproduction system capable of re-delivering the timbres of steam whistle and howitzer blasts, quadruple-fortissimo orchestral tutti, and Niagara Falls at their original volumes and then some, and (what was even more important) with a faithfully uneven distribution of those volumes among the panoply of frequencies each of these timbres idiosyncratically participated in (such that, for example, the steam whistle would be expected to have a very loud high or treble end, and the howitzer blast a very loud low or bass one); such movies were also, it should also be mentioned, soundtracked with a large and happily wide-awake audience in mind, an audience that was positively aching to have its eardrums pummeled with such larger-than-life mimeses of such louder-than (everyday)-life phenomena.  The audio-reproductive powers of the average and indeed even the highest above-average television set, on the other hand, were confined to a single two to four inch-diameter’d loud (or rather soft) speaker cone powered by a one or at most two-digit watted amplifier.  It was a setup roughly consubstantial in strength with a largish but still eminently portable transistor radio, and ideally suited to conveying ordinary conversational speech at the volume it would be heard in an ordinary actual chinwag, and hopelessly un-cut out for conveying any sound even slightly louder or bassier or treblier than that.  One assumes that shortly before or after the introduction of stereo TV at the very end of our period television sets with more forceful and capacious pipes began to be manufactured, but none of these made it into our house until long after I had moved away—indeed, possibly not even until the present millennium.  For the entire duration of our period, the vanguard or upper threshold of my domestic television-programming consumption was marked by a nineteen-inch set with a sound-reproducing apparatus that one could efficiently muffle with the palm of one’s hand (yes, even one’s not-yet-full-sized child’s hand).  Only once, twice, or at most thrice a year was this pauperly audio regimen enlivened by louder and higher fidelity fare: these were the occasions of the so-called stereo simulcasts, when, in the laudable aim of giving the best possible presentation to some (usually live) broadcast event of nationwide significance or historical importance—e.g., the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Day concerts, or an operatic or orchestral performance commemorating some milestone in the career of some eminent singer, composer, or conductor—one of the public television stations would team up, as they say, with their shared so-called sister station on radio; such that the radio station would double the soundtrack of the broadcast in its usual high-quality FM stereo sound.  On these occasions, and these occasions only, one got a televisual earful that one was more inclined to invite in than to block out, and that was indeed not markedly inferior to the best sort of televisual earful I am now capable of wresting from the 1990s-spanning sound-reproduction system to which my television and laptop are both connected; or, indeed, I suspect, to the best sort of televisual earful the average present-day American household is capable of wresting from whatever combination of gadgets it employs for the conveyance of the sonic part of its motion-picturely genres of choice.  You see, my family’s living room high fidelity system, although hardly exorbitantly high-budget, was of borderline audiophile quality, in carrying and emitting, as I recall, a full hundred watts per channel, and as near as I can tell the amplifying and emitting side of audio reproduction has not improved much or perhaps even a jot in the intervening three decades, except perhaps at the bottom end, such that while in 1987 I would have preferred silence to an audition of, for example, a Mahler symphony over a portable monophonic cassette recorder, I will now grudgingly if not quite cheerfully in a pinch (i.e., essentially, the pinch imposed by travel) stoop to listening to a conductor’s complete discography of Mahler over my laptop’s invisible built-in speakers—this because amazingly enough the engineers have somehow contrived to impart to the laptop the sound-reproductive capabilities of a mid-1980s ten-watt stereo so-called boom-box.  And as for analogue FM sound—why, to this day, when weather cooperates, I will always record the Saturday matinee Metropolitan Opera broadcasts from the FM analogue over-the-air signal provided by my local so-called classical music station (WBJC) in preference to BBC Radio 3’s simultaneous digital online feed.  But here I really am on the verge of beginning to digress, because any further speculation on the merits of an analog versus a digital audio signal will inevitably bring us back to the vexed (if not necessarily  Ivesianly unanswerable) question of the weightiness of the detractions introduced by digital compression.  Let it suffice for us to take away from this mini-excursus on the stereo-simulcasts the inference that if such simulcasts had been the norm rather than the very rare exception, and more specifically, if they had by some economically incomprehensible logic been extended to broadcasts of 35mm+ movies, my infantile and early-youthful disposition to such movies might very well have been very different, which is to say much more favorable.  As it was and so happened, the audio segment of each and every inch of 35mm+ film footage I became acquainted with outside the cinema before the age of 14 at the very earliest was conveyed to me via the impossibly small medium of the aforementioned child’s hand-sized single television speaker.  If I had only ever taken in such audio segments in a state of bright eyed-cum-bushy tailed wide-awakeness, while seated bolt upright on the living room sofa and bathed in the Kellogg’s raisin bran-worthy light of the matutinal sun streaming through the living room curtains (for our living room faced and indeed still faces east), I might (again) have been much more favorably disposed to them.  But owing to the typically nocturnal scheduling of 35mm+ offerings, I was perforce obliged most of the time to hear these segments at night, and owing to the double-digit hour sleeping schedule imposed on me by nature and nurture working in tandem, I was perforce obliged to hear them in a state of sub-alertness usually verging on or decaying into somnolence.  Naturally, my mandatory retirement hour was not static throughout our period: at this period’s beginning (or rather the portion of its beginning that begins with my earliest memories—i.e., ca. 1976) I suppose I was made on so-called school nights (i.e., Sundays through Thursdays) to go to bed by seven, while by its end I am pretty sure I was allowed to stay up until ten.  And on each of these school nights, I was required to sleep in my bedroom, which did not have a television.  (Whether or not I have any right at this point to thumb the underside of my suspenders [i.e., the things that hold your pants—or, rather, trousers—up, not the things that hold your stockings up] and nod with the unsmilingly smug equanimity of a bow tie and boater-sporting nonagenarian male member [!] of the minor New England gentry naturally depends on whether the reader has reacted to the preceding sentence with a look of appallment of the sort the most polite Anglo-Saxon does not blush from obtruding upon a fellow Anglo-Saxon who confesses to having grown to a full and healthy adulthood without having seen, let alone used, so much as a square of toilet paper [I understand the Continentals have their own apparatus for cleaning up en bas] ; which of course in turn depends on whether or not a television is now something children are universally expected to have as readily to hand as toilet paper, a disjunction that, being a childless singleman who for the past twenty years has made a so-called beeline for the nearest open or force-openable exit the moment anybody has mentioned his or her child or children, I am naturally incapable of resolving.  But I think I should at least mention the look and the counterlook, lest, in case the television-owning child is now indeed the norm, the reader should suspect I grew up without toilet paper as well.) On Friday and Saturday nights, a more relaxed dormitory dispensation tended to prevail: while I was invariably still required to turn in at an hour that was early by adult standards (albeit perhaps a good two hours later than the school-night hour), I was often allowed to take my rest in a sleeping bag laid out on the floor of the living room.  And because at least until midnight on each and every one of these Friday and Saturday nights—or, rather Friday nights-cum-Saturday mornings and Saturday nights-cum-Sunday mornings—the television was both on and turned up to full (or at softest half) volume, my sleep was then frequently interrupted (or, during dreams, pervaded) by the din of Howitzer blasts, Niagara Falls, quadruple forte orchestral tutti, and the like, as filtered through the distortion-ridden medium of a single digit-watt soft-speaker cone being violently shaken almost to the shredding point.  On the whole, it was awful.  Mind you, I do not wish to blame my parents for this awfulness, for the author of my misery was without a doubt myself, as I regarded sleeping in the living room with the television on (and with the lino-shelled concrete living room floor for a mattress!) as an unalloyed treat, and would have been inconsolably disappointed (as indeed I very probably was on more than one occasion) if I had ever been deprived of that treat (as indeed I very probably was OMTOC).  But what phenomenon in life is more common than the treat that is really a trick?  The living room weekend sleepover of my late single and early double digits now strikes me as a sort of practical-aesthetic forebear of the weekend bar-hopping of my late twenties and early thirties (or, to record the chronology more frankly, mid-twenties through mid-thirties): a genre of situation one sought out over and over again even though it seldom if ever yielded any moments of pleasure.  I suppose the compulsion in each case was catalyzed principally not by the expectation of pleasure but rather by the dread of pain at not finding oneself where the action was—which essentially meant finding oneself not behaving in conformity with the species-being of one’s then-current Shakespearean age of man, of being cooped up indoors (whether the door was that of one’s childhood bedroom of or of one’s adulthood apartment) when one was simply supposed as a red-blooded nine-year-old to be staying up as late and catching as much late-night television as one could; or as a red-blooded twenty-nine-year-old to be staying up late and downing as many 400 percent-upmarked beers as one could; such that it is probably unjust to upbraid one’s former self for being unduly perverse in his choice of recreations, inasmuch as one’s present self’s aversion to such recreations most likely springs in the main not from any subsequently acquired insight into their essential pointlessness and pleasurelessness, but rather one’s sense of their unseemliness in a register that in virtue of one’s place on the amusement park-ride conveyor belt of life one simply cannot not avoid feeling.  Another way of putting this is to say that were I now suddenly presented with some document attesting with indefeasible officialdom to my being nine or twenty-nine years of age, I would very probably immediately (or, rather, at the next Friday or Saturday night) betake myself to the nearest living room floor or drinking establishment, respectively, in flagrant contradiction of my forty one-year-old’s flagrant lack of interest in frequenting such a locale.

Speaking of flagrancy, the past dozen or so sentences have indeed amounted to a flagrant digression from our topic; and yet despite their flagrancy, I make no apology for them, although I will tender the following apologia for them: that they amount to something that I would very much like to say in some setting, and the present setting seems better than any other that I can imagine.  “But why not,” you ask, “simply write a separate essay on the factitiousness and experiential imperviousness of age-designated recreations?”  Because, I retort, such an essay would perforce have to include an exposition of my childhood self’s late-night weekend routine, an exposition that would perforce bore the pants (or trousers) off anybody who had already read the present essay; and, moreover, make me look like a right besonnenheitslos git for banging on verbatim or nearly verbatim about something I had banged on about some weeks, months, or years earlier.

But anyway, by this point both the digression and meta-digression have spent themselves, and so let us return to the topic digressed and meta-digressed from, namely the late-night audiophenomenology  of my childhood, via an exemplum, an aural analogue to the above-described George C. Scott movie, namely the lead-ins and lead-outs of the network Given-Night Movies.  Whether any particular network or night is more to blame than any of the others for these lead-ins is beyond my ken, or, rather, will, to find out.  All I know is that throughout our period it seemed as though no cinemagenetic movie could be shown at night on a network in the absence of a veritable battalion of heralds seemingly equipped with the full panoply of orchestral or wind-bandial brass instruments (trumpets, cornets, trombones, French horns, sousaphones, etc.); a battalion that thrice or four times an hour would usher the movie into or out of a commercial break with a raucous and extensive quintuple (sic) fortissimo tucket, sennet, or fanfare; a tucket, sennet, or fanfare of such loudness and length that no matter how drowsy I had been before I laid me down to sleep, I could count on being roused every ten or fifteen minutes from that sleep as thoroughly as if by the last trump.  How could I fail to develop an animus against such an interlude, or to the medium to which it served as a wrapper, namely telecast 35+ film?

Whence (i.e., from this animus), at long last, to my itemization of the virtues of the first of my two eponyms, and simultaneously to a very probably gratuitous resolution of what should be a glaringly apparent contradiction in my argument, although TBT/TTTT, I strongly doubt any empirical reader of this essay will yet have noticed it.  (Such is the helotophilic myopia of empirical readers nowadays [i.e., roughly since the last turn of the century but one]: refer to a historical microepoch ever so passingly without appending the full statute book of rights that were then denied to so-called underprivileged groups {for my unabridged assault on this bugbear, please see my essay “Gluttony and Panpsychism”} and they will call the police on you, but maintain that orange is puce in one sentence and puce orange in the next and they will scan the two sentences in succession as unperturbedly as a steamroller gliding over two adjacent squares {or whatever they’re called} of sidewalk.)  The apparent contradiction becomes nascently apparent as early as the second sentence of my second paragraph, when after having described the advent of television as the most recent “great fall” “since the dawn of the industrial age,” I complain of having been “gobsmacked” by the digitization of, inter alia, the moving images shown on television.  “Why,” the attentive and empirically very probably nonexistent reader will query at this point, “should you be ‘gobsmacked’ by any change impinging on television when you have effectively denounced television as a barbarous medium?”  The answer to this question may smack of willful frowardness in its virtue of its cursed circuitousness, but as it happens to be the truth--or, at any rate, as near as I can get thereto—it deserves a full airing, as follows: “Like any person born in the developed world (and, indeed the developed world plus perhaps the better part of the undeveloped world) in the past half-century, I was at least diurnally bombarded by televisuogenetic sounds in the womb, and by televisuogenetic sounds combined with televisuogenetic images from the earliest moments of my egress from that chamber and thence for many years, certainly long past my attainment of the age of discretion.  From this fact it follows that I could never have started out by regarding television as barbaric and that any sense of the barbarity of the medium I have since acquired has arisen via some sort of process of subtraction, of a sudden or gradual (and in either case sustained or recurring) withdrawal from the regimen of glare and din that I was initially perforce compelled to regard as altogether natural and civilized.  And the initial and as it turned out definitive moment of such subtraction was provided by videotape.