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Cinema and Society - Counter Cinema

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jack keenan

on 4 March 2013

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Transcript of Cinema and Society - Counter Cinema

Brechtian techniques Peter Wollen, “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d’Est,” Feminist Cinema Claire Johnston

In the 1979 essay 'Women's cinema as counter-cinema' Johnston argues that a feminist cinema should be a counter cinema and has the potential to posit an alternative to Hollywood films both in rejecting its content and means of production.

Following from Mulveys view that film catered for a a male viewer she argued not just for a different focus of content but in form and technique.

Others have argued that in embracing the strategies of the avant garde the films actually lose some of their political impact rather than posing an alternative they lose there audience. This is also a critisim made of Haneke, to what extent would you agree with this? Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey argued in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema that the gaze that hollywood cinema catered for was a male gaze.

She argued that mainstream cinema generally places a male character at the centre of the narrative which the audience is assumed to relate to whilst woman are positioned for visual impact and erotic pleasure.

Furthermore she argued that female characters who did not adhere to the female stereotype were punished as a threat to both the characters on screen and the male spectator Towards a 'counter cinema' Dominant Cinema Counter-cinema 1. Genres: formulaic approach to representation / narrative like gangster films, westerns, musicals, adventure films, etc.

2. Stars: figures with a high recognition value who lend a set of characteristics to a film.

3. Producers/Studios: mass production / industrial filmmaking

4. Directors: The contradiction of Auteur as brand - a creative voice who is also limited by the financial / industrial framework of dominant film production.

5. Mass audiences: film producers and studios seek to maximise profit by catering to the mass market.

http://filmtheoryandcriticism.wordpress.com/research-topics-source-materials/new-wave/dominant-vs-counter-cinema/ When talking of counter cinema it is important to define the model that it is 'counter' to. Dominant cinema is generally understood to follow a normative system of representation and is the model which defines hollywood productions and the studios around the world which mimic this system of representation and production. Central to this system are the following characteristics. Art cinema offers a different mode of representation from normative filmmaking techniques and Europe can be seen to have a history of challenging the film as commodity.

Their is no one counter cinema, many different groups, individuals and countries have offered a counter, oppositional or parallel cinema.

These different forms of counter cinema have sought to challenge what Barthes described as mythologies, oft repeated tales which present culturally specific viewpoints as natural, they do so not only by challenging the storys that are told but the sytems of representation employed. Narrative transitivity Narrative intransitivity
Identification Estrangement
Transparency Foregrounding
Single diegesis Multiple diegesis
Closure Aperture
Pleasure Un-pleasure
Fiction Reality Brecht's Epic Theatre proposed that the aim of a play should not be to cause the spectator to identify with the characters but to encourage self reflection and a critical view of the action they are spectating.

Brecht argued that the audience should not be left complacent but should adopt a critical perspective of the spectacle.

He highlighted the production of theater to encourage the audience to recognise the manner in which society and their own lives are equally constructed.

"stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them"

Brecht's theories can be seen to have influenced a range of directors including Godard, Haneke and Von Trier. What films can you think of that either illustrate Mulveys stance or act as alternatives to hollywoods depiction of women? Seven deadly sins of hollywood v's the seven cardinal virtues of counter cinema
1. Narrative straightforwardness (transitivity): one thing follows another, the construction is clear, one event builds upon the one before it. A causal chain: exposition, complication, resolution.

As opposed to: narrative intransitivity (gaps digressions, disjuncture, excess) - Wollen compares Godards break from straightforward storytelling to the works and theorys of Brecht, citing a suspicion of the power of the arts to captivate an audience without making them think.


2. Identification: an emotional involvement with characters/stars in which the viewer finds psychological and emotional points of alignment in the onscreen action.


As opposed to estrangement/distanciation/alienation (direct address to the spectator, multiple and contradictory characters, commentary). The question shifts from “What happened?” to “What is this film for?”

Wollen argues that counter cinema then aims to break our 'normal' acceptance of the characters and narrative before us and question why the decisions in the story are being made, what is the film actually trying to say?

3. Transparency: a seamless flow of images conceals the fact that the film is a construction, a fictional product, someone else’s fantasy.


As opposed to: foregrounding of meaning production (making the work that goes into the production of a film apparent).

- Where have you seen examples of this? Does this break in continuity reposition you as a viewer or do you view this as 'bad' filmmaking?

4. A homogeneous world (=single diegesis): everything that the audience sees belongs to the same world; even movements in time and space (such as flashbacks or changes of setting) are carefully signalled and located.


As opposed to: multiple diegesis (heterogeneous worlds; the worlds we see on the screen are not coherent and integrated; different characters seem to be acting in different films).

5. Closure: dominant cinema largely produces self-contained works of art.

As opposed to: aperture (intertextuality, allusion, quotation, pastiche, parody, self- consciousness, self-reflexity).

The text/film resembles an arena, a marketplace of competing discourses. The juxtaposition and recontextualization of discourses leads to a confrontation (not a unifying) of meanings.

6. Pleasure: the dominant cinema entertains and provides escape.

As opposed to: displeasure, boredom, dead or empty time, provocation, irritation.

Questions whether film is there to allow escape through fantasy or to contemplate our reality.

7. Fiction: actors wear make-up & act out a scripted story. They play roles and embody fictional characters; they are not themselves.

As opposed to: reality and the breakdown of representation, the attempt to show the true face of the world.

Wollen cites Godards position as "Fiction = mystification = bougeois ideology" Consider the following clips from Godard films in relation to Wollens analysis of his model / view of Counter Cinema. The manifesto considers 'First Cinema' to be Hollywood which they saw as supporting bourgeois values to a passive audience, Man is treated as passive consumer.

Second Cinema' is the European art film, which rejects Hollywood conventions but is centred on the individual expression of the auteur director (a critisism also held by the Dogme95 filmmakers), 2nd cinema essentially replaced 'the system' with another 'system' still based on the same model.

Third Cinema saw film as a weapon and sought to overturn not just the way film was made, but who made it and how it was shown.

Ultimately the Third Cinema movement aimed to democratise cinema and was predominantly focused on issues of colonialism in its content. Many filmakers, much like vertov, saw film as a political weapon. Throughout the 60's and 70's a growing interest in how film could be used politically both in documentary's and in a politicized narrative film. Political uprisings in the middle east, revolution in Cuba, a growing student left wing movement across Europe and America created the backdrop for a filmmaking movement focused on revolution and action. Filmmakers increasingly focused on injustices and used film to critique society and express political views. Whilst social media has recently played a role in the Arab Spring Film in the 60's was being used to encourage revolution across the world with active movements in Palestine, Morocco, Egypt, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and many other countries.

In Latin America the Third Cinema movement embodied this belief, La Hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, from 1968), directed by Octavio Getino is a prime example of this movement. Different approaches to 'third cinema' can be seen in different countries Third Cinema was a Latin American film movement of the 1960s-70s which criticized neocolonialism, Capitalism, and the Hollywood system of Film production.

The term was born out of the manifesto Towards a Third Cinema, by Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino and members of the Grupo Cine Liberación.

"The 35mm camera, 24 frames per second, arc lights, and a commercial place of exhibition for audiences were conceived not to gratuitously transmit any ideology, but to satisfy, in the first place, the cultural and surplus value needs of a specific ideology, of a specific world-view: that of US finance capital." http://documentaryisneverneutral.com/words/camasgun.html Third Cinema
Whilst the boundaries, division and distinctions between European and Hollywood films has blurred over time there has historically been a view of opposition between the two. This may not be the case but certainly helps us look at views of what many counter cinema movements have developed against.

In 'On Michael Haneke' Rosalind Galt quotes Haneke as stating,

"As a European filmmaker you can not make a genre film seriously . . . because the genre film is by definition a lie"

Galt then goes on to talk of the stereotyped differences between European and American film as being a division between -

Europe America
Authorship Genre
Seriousness Superficiality
Truth Lies
Meaning Profit
Art Commodity Defining the 'art film'

Bordwell - "The art cinema motivates its narratives by two principles: realism and authorial expressivity"

Neale - "Realism, humanism, lack of spectacle, lack of excess in style"

How do these definitions fit with last weeks screening. Brecht Brecht's view on the role of art and the means he proposed engaging the viewer in a critical manner are central to many counter cinema techniques.

With Haneke's films we see a series of Brechtian techniques.
Reminder of the medium - Most (all?) of Hanekes films feature film itself - Bennys Video, Funny Games, Cache, Code unknown all feature the characters making film.

Alienation effect - Breaches and disruptions of the film world / narrative structure - Characters addressing the audience directly in Funny Games.

Lack of catharsis - Many of Hanekes films remain open, we are left to question what has happened and why, the focus is on reflection rather than satisfaction.

Hanekes films are essentially a reflection on the power of film itself, it questions our relationship with film on a moral level, it asks us to question why we are enjoying the violence and hurt before us and asks us to consider our own ability for violence and hurt. Von Trier Pivotal to the dogme95 movement Von Triers work can be seen to perfectly embody Bordwells view of art cinema of combining realism with authorial expression.

Films within the dogme95 movement set out to challenge Hollywood norms focusing on an extreme realist aesthetic and often harrowing stories.

In terms of Brechtian technique we can see films such as Dancer in the Dark breaching genre conventions and mixing a stark realist portrayal with the effects of the musical whilst dogville strips its set back to chalk outlines to represent a village focusing our attention on the actors and plot whilst also highlighting the construction of the film. Haneke also features gaps and digressions, why things are happen are not always clear, cache make use of this extensively with the viewer forced to consider what is happening and who people are Mepris - other voices
Through to Palindromes Wollen discusses the idea that language wants to be overlooked - This is a debate in various artforms - remember helvetica, should the process be visible or not. He uses the example of mepris which is a a film about a filmmaker and the destruction of his artistic vision. As I said earlier for me Hanke is a perfect example of this with a focus on filmmaking itself. In Wollens example he focuses on Weekend where characters seem to be from different eras or films - Highlights the the fact that truth is subjective that their are multiple ways to read things, focus on different levels of understanding. Wollen discusses the intertextual nature of godards work with different films refering to each other, Wollen Describes Godards work of becoming a cacophony of different voices so that Godard as author can no longer be heard, how does this relate to the work of Foucault or Brecht that we discussed last week. What is godard or other filmmakers that use this technique trying to say? Moving focus from individual to collective? Attack of entertainment is an attack on consumer culture, haneke or von trier can also be seen in this way, this film is here for you to consider an issue not to make you laugh, their are terrible things in the world, godard, haneke, bergman and von trier ask us to confront them. Wollen describes godards work as questioning acting, superficiality and the lies told in fiction. The same could be said of Bergmans focus on masks and mirrors or at the extreme end with the dogme 95 movement. A continued divide. Von Trier

Dogme 95 can be seen as a movement against hollywood rejecting what it means to make a film.

In part a rejection of globalisation.
A celebration of content over form.
A strategy to allow small nations to compete against hollywood by questioning what a film should be.

According to Mette Hjort in 'Purity and Provocation' the Dogme95 movement came about -
"When the competition is spending US $40 million on marketing a film . . . the time, it would appear, has come radically to change the rules of the game of cinema"

Consider this quote, Mette is describing Dogme as a counter hegemony, a symptom and resistance against globalization. Are all forms of smaller national cinema forms of counter cinema?
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