Cinephilia set itself aside from mere film-buffery by becoming the hunt for small moments and small films, things that appeared to exist outside the realm of obvious gesture. Criticism sought to explain the tracking shot; cinephilia looked for the meanings of drifting cigarette smoke, stray glances and apparent accidents, and to divine the patterns of hats, cars and donkeys.
Over the decades, the practice of filmmaking has changed. Though it's still rare for directors to act as their own cinematographers, it's common for them to operate the camera when they feel like it, especially during handheld shots.
It could be argued that the ongoing switch to working digitally has been more revolutionary in how it has changed the editing of films than in how it's affected the aesthetics of the image. Though most directors still use a professional for the job, director / editors are increasingly common and a director is more likely to take an active role in editing instead of just writing memos and putting together plans. In her recollection of working with the late Eric Rohmer for a recent issue of Senses of Cinema, Jackie Raynal writes that the director hired her as an editor because she was good with her hands; physical editing takes dexterity and skill. On the other hand, most people (and this includes directors) can learn the basics of Final Cut Pro in an afternoon. Editing has moved from the solitary, poorly-lit editing room to the Steenbeck and into comfortable multi-screen editing suites. Nonlinear editing gives decisions fluidity; it's no longer a question of cutting and splicing, but of composing and arranging. It enables more intuitive approaches. In big-budget productions, the approach to editing has increasingly shifted from the fulfillment of plans to the construction of scenes out of moments. The director, who was once defined by an iron will, must now also have a hunter's instinct.
Combined with the increased input directors have into the mixing of the sound in their films (which itself has gone from mono to stereo to surround), the control afforded by color correction and digital processing of the image and the fact that even productions shot on film stock use video replays to judge takes instead of waiting for the daillies, on the increasing prevalence of improvisation (which nowadays pretty much dominates American comedy, which was once the set domain of the screenwriter), multiple-camera set-ups and dozens of takes, it can be said that filmmaking operates on a more minute level now than ever before. The reign of the art director has ended, and the reign of color grader has begun. Though much of the way film is defined and judged is still based on grand gestures—on obvious stylistic propertie—the people making films have a greater than ever awareness and control of the small moments that had previously been the obsession of the cinephiles. In essence, filmmaking has caught up with cinephilia while outpacing commonly-accepted theory and criticism.
Part of the reason the Tony Scott movies of the 2000s are disliked by many—and intensely loved by others—is the total lack of "big" gestures in his current approach to directing. These movies consist entirely of small moments, off-the-cuff images, strung together into something massive yet lacking an "obvious" grand design. No big plans, just hidden smiles. This makes Scott a harder sell than similarly-concerned directors like Michael Mann, who anchors his intuitive moments to grand ones, or Claire Denis, who presents them as the directorial gestures that they are. The party line on Scott is that he's an "empty stylist," a man who makes "technically accomplished" and therefore insubstantial films with too much editing. On the one hand, I probably wouldn't be here defending Scott if his movies consisted of shots that ran for minutes instead of seconds; on the other hand, I wouldn't think they were worth defending if that were true.
You've probably figured this one out: I don't intend to brush off Scott's style, nor am I going to defend it as candy, as sugary, calorie-free style, as "pure color" or "style-for-the-sake-of-style-get-over-it-and-have-some-fun-why-don't-you." Scott's recent films are beautiful, but beauty is not a question of surfaces (contrary to the old saying, it's "prettiness" that's merely skin-deep). I am here to defend the substance and morality of Scott's recent films, and a defense of the recent Scott is, at its core, a defense of his editing: the jitters, the saccades, the 250 BPM intercutting, crashing and burning that are integral to the hidden-in-plain-view heart of Scott.
Scott's three great movies of the 2000s—Spy Game, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3—are metaphysical romances, though only Deja Vu is a romance in conventional terms. Spy Game and Pelham can be summed up in the words in which Howard Hawks once described A Girl in Every Port: "'a love story between two men," an unerotic fraternity that borders on courtship, and which, described in terms of conventional romances, whether straight or gay, would make Spy Game a melancholy story of break-up and reconciliation and Pelham a sort of mutant screwball comedy, where two men start the film as strangers set against each other and develop mutual admiration by prying open one another's faults. This is fairly traditional Hawks Territory, but what's integral to Hawks is presence, which isn't just a question of two or more people occupying the same constructed (i.e. classically delineated) space, but the same frame, whereas the relationships between Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game, Denzel Washington and Paula Patton in Deja Vu and Washington and John Travolta in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 all exist across canyons of physical space, narrative time and, most importantly, editing.So here we leave Hawks Territory and enter the historical domain of Frank Borzage—yet Borzage's criss-crossing of space and time sprouts forth from classical ideas about both, and the love story in a movie like I've Always Loved You (the most Borzagean of titles: a sentence that includes the personal aspect of love while simultaneously painting it as something beyond time) is impossible without a firm grounding; love can't transcend nothing—to break through, you have to make a wall first. Borzage's reputation as a "transcendent romantic" is misleading—not only because it fails to encompass his varied work, but because it denies the tactile, fingertips-and-nostrils physicality of those films of his that are romances. Scott, however, is genuinely uninterested in both concrete reality and linear time—in the fabled "clear delineation of space" or the defined boundaries between scenes that are supposedly the mark of, respectively, good directors and dramatic construction.