Adrian Martin’s Mysteries of Cinema is, above all, an impassioned love letter to film, a written record of a life defined and driven by the pleasures, ambiguities, and indeed mysteries inherent in what André Bazin, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinéma, called the ‘seventh art’. In the author’s own words, the book ‘covers 34 years of a writing life’. It charts both his ephemeral and enduring fixations and obsessions, many of which converge on cinema, film form, the role of the critic, pockets of film culture, and the psychological, emotional, and intellectual responses that cinema elicits. Mirroring much of Martin’s oeuvre, Mysteries of Cinema is not easily classifiable; it cuts across different strands of film theory and thought by employing ‘a mode of synthetic film analysis attuned to … the mysteries of cinema’. Martin’s devotees will devour Mysteries of Cinema, savouring its details, imagery, and linguistic flourishes. At more than 430 pages in length, it might prove a formidable undertaking for the more casual reader.
Near the end of a candid 1966 documentary portrait of Pier Paolo Pasolini shot in 1966 (and shown last year on SBS), the French critic Jean-André Fieschi casually asks the Italian director whether art is for his a ‘matter of life and death’. Pasolini – who up to this point has been discoursing urbanely on class, culture, cinema and language like a true public intellectual – is floored by the question. ‘This changes the whole basis of our discussion,’ he declares, and goes on to confess that everything he has previously said is a mere mask hiding his actual, primal, angst-ridden feelings about life, death and survival. Unmasked as a trembling existentialist, Pasolini announces that the interview is over. And there Fieschi’s film abruptly ends.