Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A-G and the Culture Industry


"At the moment Dialectic of Enlightenment was written, there was no mistake in claiming that film is not an art, for it was not. Far from having gone through the process of autonomisation necessary for it to be constituted as such, until 1940 cinema – in Adorno and Horkheimer's brilliant formulation – was only disguised as art. Initial theories and criticisms of cinema were either apologias or works of prescriptive poetics with the aim of winning social legitimation for their object: arrogating for cinema the status of art by the mere act of speech, while the medium's specificity remained undefined. On the other hand, except in a few cases, production remained within an industrial modus operandi. In fact, even most of the avant-garde cinema of this period was industrial – for instance, German expressionism and the Soviet cinema, the latter in addition directly bound to the political power of government (as happened in the other arts before autonomy and democracy). The sole apparent exception, the cinema produced by the avant-garde artists who settled in Paris in the '20s (what Nöel Burch calls the “first avant-garde”), cannot be considered a full moment of autonomy, insofar as autonomy appears in it (and in its critical apologetics) not as a historical process but as principle and essence, an assertion that falls into a moment of ideological falsehood similar to the one described by Peter Bürger in pondering l'art pour l'art. Moreover, in this moment cinema is not an autonomous art, but acquires the status of art just because it is considered an extension of other arts.

"What Adorno and Horkheimer couldn't anticipate was the impact that the Second World War would have upon cinema and its relationship with society. This ethical break was related not only to the misery and horror endured by the countries where the war was staged, but also to the role played by cinema itself during the conflict, both as an instrument of Nazi-Fascist propaganda (where its brutality exposed what was latent in the “good revolutionary intentions” of the Soviet production system – the dark relations between cinema and State) and as an insensible recording instrument of the concentration-camp horrors. It could be thought that these two issues do not relate to cinema's aesthetic specificity (and therefore, autonomy) but to its social and ideological function. Nevertheless, cinema's 'enrolment' in fascism and its ability to record a human body as a mere alienated exteriority – as no more than another material – were the two faces of the heartless gesture with which cinema indicated to humanity its splitting apart. If Eisenstein had somehow speculated that man might be no more than a line or a point in the plan (and that's one of the reasons why his essays always seem to be about to make an interesting proposal about sense in film), these cruel images didn't even discuss it; they implied it, they assumed the question was covered.

"Hence it is possible for us to understand the importance of Italian neo-realism beyond its immediate social significance. As Gilles Deleuze observes, by introducing a different character, le flâneur this cinema shifts its focus from representation of action to representation of the perceptual experience. And since it could think about any optical-sonic space of experience, cinema, being itself one such space among others, could then become self-conscious (perhaps in more than one sense)."

(source - Hugo Salas, "Material Film")


"yin and yang

You guys in narrative cinema can be the yang, okay! You be the sun, and experimental cinema will be the moon! We are two sides of the same coin. Experimental cinema is NOT the other cinema. We are the other half of cinema! When some of the writers in the media ask, "Where are all the art films? Where are the audiences for art cinema? Where are the next "Antonioni"s? Where are all the women who make films?" We can answer, "Over here! In the yin! Experimental cinema!!!""

(source - Jennifer MacMillan, "Experimental cinema/Narrative cinema 2008!"

... thinking about both of these, and other things.


jmac said...

Hey! This yin/yang realization was intuitive and experiential, and I think that this model is truthful! :) I spent all of 2007 in confusion regarding experimental cinema vs. narrative cinema, and when I arrived at the yin/yang model, I saw visions! Seriously! Visions of a gymnast landing perfectly on the floor, visions of a diver floating down into the water seamlessly, and visions of a swimmer breaking the water's surface. (Huh? What?!) I'd love to see you break this topic/question down your way with proof and with your intuition! :)

Time to go back to work now.

Zach Campbell said...

Jen, I'm indeed trying to break down in my own plodding, circuitous, half-assed way. Collectively those of us who are into experimental cinema will cobble together a better understanding.