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The past future of cinema in long shot
A UK region 2 DVD review of ROOM 666 / CHAMBRE 666 from Anchor Bay's The Wim Wenders Collection
by Slarek
 

While attending the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, celebrated German director Wim Wenders set up a small experiment that he persuaded a number of eminent attending filmmakers to participate in. Supplying them with a small number of prepared questions on the present state and possible future of cinema, he left each of them alone in a room to deliver their responses to an unattended camera.

Room 666 is the sort of film that could probably only get made and shown (and put on DVD) because a well respected and connected filmmaker was behind the project. Cinematically there's little to talk about here, as apart from a couple of cutaways and the final interview, the camera position never changes and most of the participants sit in wide shot some distance from the camera. There is probably a small essay to be written about the television that plays in the background as the interviews progress – one participant pauses to watch it, another immediately switches it off, and it occasionally seems to oddly echo the views being expressed.

It's all about what the filmmakers have to say, of course, and herein lies the film's appeal for cineastes. I'd even be willing to wager that Room 666 is actually more intriguing in retrospect than it was back in 1982, as we are able to reflect on how the views and predictions expressed here have been both validated and contradicted by subsequent events. There's certainly an overriding pessimism that captures well a widespread feeling at the time, when the arrival of the home video recorder was seen by many as ringing a death knell for cinema, but despite a definite dip in audience figures and the closing of a considerable number of cinemas, the communal film experience continues to thrive. Where many of the filmmakers do have a point is their views on the slow strangulation of creativity in mainstream cinema, what Steven Spielberg identifies as (and admits to having contributed to) an obsession with the fast return, that all–important opening weekend that for Hollywood has increasingly become the deciding factor in whether or not a project gets greenlighted. It's no doubt this that prompts Noël Simsolo to suggest that cinema is not dead but being killed by stupid movies, and that it is not necessarily the fault of those making the films. Monte Hellman seems to agree and believes that good movies are largely a thing of the past, although he admits to watching very few of those he tapes.

The contributions vary in outlook and length, with Jean-Luc Godard stretching out the full ten minutes his reel of film lasts, while Filipino director Mike de Leon gets to make one quick but pertinent point and is gone. Susan Seidelman expresses the belief that movies are driven by passion and will become lifeless without it, while Mahroun Bagdadi suggests that this passion has perhaps disconnected some filmmakers from the real world experience, wondering if his generation is putting true life on screen or a version they've absorbed solely from the movies of others. This is seconded by Spielberg, who claims that he and his generation of filmmakers know only how to make films and nothing else, and that if the end of the world came they wouldn't even know how to dig a hole to hide in.

Most intriguing of all are the future predictions, with Ana Carolina loftily stating that no true artist would be interested in working with the electronic image, something Michaelangelo Antonioni is already doing at this point and that a large number of great filmmakers and artists have openly embraced since. It's Antonioni who provides the most unnervingly accurate future vision, foreseeing a time when films are watched in the home on large screens from a high definition source such magnetic tape or some yet to be developed technology, perhaps involving lasers. Mind you, the always perceptive Werner Herzog gives him a run for his money with his prediction that we will one day be able to browse for goods and order them through a TV or home computer. And remember, this was recorded ten years before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web.

There are also some sobering moments, including what was very likely the last appearance on film of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who committed suicide just three weeks after being recorded here, and Wenders leaves us with a taped contribution from Turkish director Yilmaz Güney, who at the time was facing extradition and was unable to leave his place of refuge. Güney summarises the view of many of the contributors when he states that that independence and the artist's vision is steadily being crushed by the monetary factor and warns that in Turkey, progressive, 'blooming' cinema "is constantly being suppressed, banned, punished, silenced, by some dominant forces."

It would actually be hard to recommend a film as cinematically static as Room 666 as a must-buy to anyone but the most dedicated cineaste were it a stand-alone disc, at least in its UK region 2 incarnation – the version in Anchor Bay's US box set includes a commentary that provides additional information on the participants that is sorely missed here. But as a component of an already fine box set it's a most worthwhile inclusion, and though it may not provide much to look at, it does make for often fascinating listening.

sound and vision

Framed 4:3 (this was clearly a television piece), the transfer is very good given the limitations of lighting and location. Sharpness, colour and contrast are all fine.

Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks are again offered as options – both are essentially the same, with the dialogue centrally located on 5.1, which is also slightly quieter than the 2.0. The interviews are all clear, and those not in English have fixed subtitles.

extra features

None. Where's the commentary?

summary

Definitely one for the dedicated film fans, and even some of those may balk a little at the basic presentation. The commentary is really missed here, as some additional information on the interviewees would be welcome. As part of The Wim Wenders Collection it's an interesting one-off, and an intriguing snapshot of opinions from a specific moment in film history.

Room 666
Chambre 666
The Wim Wenders Collection
France / West Germany 1985
44 mins
director
Wim Wenders
cast
Jean-Luc Godard
Paul Morrissey
Mike de Leon
Paul Morrissey
Monte Hellman
Romain Goupil
Susan Seidelman
Noël Simsolo
R.W. Fassbinder
Wener Herzog
Robert Kramer
Ana Carolina
Mahroun Bagdadi
Steven Spielberg
Michaelangelo Antonioni
Wim Wenders
Yilmaz Güney

DVD details
region 2
video
1.33:1 OAR
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English / French / German / Portuguese / Italian / Turkish
subtitles
English
extras
none
distributor
Anchor Bay
release date
26 March 2007
review posted
6 April 2007

The Wim Wenders Collection
The Scarlet Letter
The Wrong Move
The American Friend
Lightning Over Water
Room 666
Paris, Texas
Tokyo-Ga
Notebook on Cities and Clothes
A Trick of the Light

See all of Slarek's reviews