Writing my In Focus essay on cult cinemas in Latin America film culture, I relied on the availability of many cult films (El Barón del terror/The Braniac, [Chano Urueta, 1961] El vampiro/The Vampire [Fernando Méndez, 1957], El Topo, [Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970] La casa muda,[Gustavo Hernández 2010], Cronos [Guillermo del Toro, 1993]) on the internet, specifically on YouTube. Although I had originally experienced many of them on hard to find DVD and VHS or in an actual cinema or cinematheque (Filmoteca de la UNAM), this time, dipping back into them via the internet was a first for me. The experience of writing the essay this way made me feel self-conscious about the practice of using YouTube as a research tool. Why did it feel a little bit like cheating to work this way? What was wrong with using a few clicks of the keyboard to solve research questions like whether the special effects were really that bad in El Barón del terror?
After all, free access sites like YouTube and other legal (and illegal) viewing platforms are the only way my, time-tabled-screening-averse undergraduates, consume films. Additionally, YouTube is the site to go to if you are looking for the kind of material of low cultural capital that cult cinema embodies. Films like The Mansion of Madness/La mansion de la locura (Juan López Moctezuma, 1973] or La Llorona [Ramón Peón 1933]) can exist freely on YouTube because, in their case, there are no MPPA studios or content owners scouring the internet to take down what is pirated material. Indeed, many recent Latin American films that are not cult texts (La hamaca paraguaya [Paz Encina 2006]), are also on the internet for this very reason as are others (fleetingly) that do have MPPA financial involvement (Nosotros los nobles [Gary Alzaraki, 2013]).
Additionally, in my own work, I’m committed to open access, digital scholarship (Mediático). And yet, what concerns me is that YouTube scholarship might replace the kind of in situ research I used to do. A month in Mexico City watching the wrestling/adventure/horror hybrid lucha libre films at the Filmoteca was substantially informed by attending real lucha libre matches at the Arena Mexico. What happens to social context and any understanding of films’ position within cultural hierarchies when we (have to) do our research online?