The ‘mysteries’ alluded to in the title of Peter Conrad’s new book might almost be taken in a religious sense. Cinema itself, as seen through the eyes of some of the enthusiasts he quotes, begins to resemble a mystery in the manner of a sacrament, a revelation of the transcendental. The commentators include the poet Vachel Lindsay, who hailed cinema’s power of transubstantiation, Antonin Artaud, who believed that film ‘exalts matter’, and André Levinson, who in 1929 said that cinema was responsible for the greatest ‘philosophical surprise’ since Kant.
However, Conrad also gives space to a conception of the art form that has all but become default in our own blockbuster era: cinema as what we would now call a theme park experience, movies as roller-coasters. Dynamism, excitement and the kinetic are all part of the grand mystery, integral