Johannes Binotto: Practices of Viewing – Description

In his essay of the same name, Raymond Bellour famously called film an „unattainable text“ – a claim made that made sense in 1975 when film critics could refer to films only by writing about them and use screenshots as illustrations. Descriptions had to stand in for the actual thing.

Video essays pride themselves of having made the formerly unattainable text quotable. Where in the past we had to imagine a film scene just on the basis of blurry still images and scene descriptions the videographic critics simply show us the film moments they are interested in.

This shift makes me wonder what role the description of a film could play today. Why go to the extra trouble of describing a film scene, when it can be found with just a few clicks online? The clumsy and inevitably unsatisfactory attempt to convey moving images in rigid language seems to have become obsolete. The description of a film, this practice which once used to be the norm, is becoming a rarity.

And so it seems that it is now no longer film but the description which has become an „unattainable text“. And I ask myself, what is lost to us, when we can easily watch, what in the past we only could read about. What is lost when we no longer have to translate film into text?