spectatorship an race of cinema

Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks addresses the process of the identity-formation of a member of the African-American race in a hostile environment.  The ontological position of the subject, Fanon argues, is compromised in the social realm.  While this can be said of any subject (Fanon gives the example of Sartre’s Jew), it can be said even more so of the Black subject because his identity constantly refers back to the era of slavery; that is to say, his identity is predicated on the privation of identity.  This fact mars every social interaction: ‘’When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color.  When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color.  Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle’’ (Fanon).  The figure of entrapment by the contingencies of one’s social reality is repeated throughout Fanon’s essay.  I agree with Fanon’s thesis because it emphasizes the fact that the individual is not a self-determined unit but is rather given to the dialectical shifts that are determined by the power structure of society.

Richard Dyer’s article, White, is an examination of the way that ‘white power’ ‘hides’.  The ideology of power is such that it denies that it has an ideology.  It appeals to truth, reality and the way that things are without acknowledging that those constructs owe their legitimizing authority to the fact that it has the power to do so.  Dyer applies this formula to the concept of whiteness, which, because it is presented normatively, is permitted to hold sway over other interpretations of subjectivity: ‘’This property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power’’ (Dyer).  The strength of Dyer’s argument lies in its ability to expose and undermine traditional and repressive modes of thinking.

Bell Hooks’ article, The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators, examines the political nature of the ‘gaze’.  She contends that the way women are looked at in film is through a phallocentric lens; that is to say, women are subject to oppressive male gaze which finds sees ‘’womanhood as object, replacing her body as a text on which to write male desire with the black female body’’ (Hooks).  In film, women are denied a proper and full subjectivity; this violent procedure is reproduced in the viewers who watch films so that men and women ‘learn’ how to interact with one another.  Hooks’ article has an element of truth in it, as anybody who watches films can confirm–there is a definite way that films organize our responses to them.  We expect certain things of characters in certain situations–these expectations are determined by normative cultural narratives.

death of cinema

As time passes, media is being forced to redefine itself in new and unique ways: newspapers and magazines are forced to turn online as opposed to print and television is becoming more viewer-selected and streaming in nature. Film is equally faced with an uncertain future: few are able to predict the manner in which film presentation will take place in coming years. Some contend that film is already dead, replaced with “new media” such as mobile technologies and digitization of images and sounds. However, the argument stands that film has not been removed from society nor has it been labeled as extinct; instead, it has simply redefined itself to meet the changing needs of society, a common historical trend in countless aspects of Americans’ lives (Rodowick).

This is, however, the first time changes of this nature have had to be addressed in terms of media: for generations, analog formats, such as film, had been relied upon. The debate rages regarding whether the alteration in the presentation of film constitutes the eradication of the item itself, or if the concept of “film” is able to redefine itself, regardless of whether or not it relies upon the physical item known today as “film” (Friedberg). Forward progress would push society away from the use of traditional film: smaller, more portable technologies are readily accessible and easy to use, making the transition to these alternative formats seem significantly more appealing to the average user (Rosen).

hidden in cinema

One of the unique gifts of the cinema is its ability to simultaneously entertain and affect viewers, prompting a host of feelings and actions through the combination of visuals and music. Research has been done to gauge the effectiveness film has in this regard, with numerous academics concluding that films can prompt individuals to take action against a social injustice, feel a range of emotions never experienced, or expose themselves to an entirely new perspective. One of the added benefits is the growth of discussion from these feelings; individuals are more likely to discuss complex subject matter when they have been exposed to an entertaining presentation of its principles in a visual format. While this is largely positive, the use of sex, violence, and objectification in film can result in a host of negative results (Williams).

Film also allows the voyeuristic element of human nature, a component of our personalities that is traditionally shunned by modern society, to participate in daily life: from the presentation of love stories one can vicariously participate in to the observation of the lives of individuals on reality television, visual presentations allows individuals to become voyeurs, glimpsing an aspect of one’s personal life that is traditionally hidden. The viewer is distanced greatly from the action of these stories, creating a sensation of secrecy and detachment that cannot be obtained from the intricacies of reality (Gunning).

third of cinema

The attempts of Third Cinema directors offer audiences and other filmmakers an insight into aesthetic values that contradict or transform those that have been made popular by Hollywood. The individual aesthetic and storytelling achievements of these filmmakers, though, do not carry a unique weight of activism that encourages distinct national styles and genres. Even though many film theorists who write in favor of Third Cinema as a way to combat cultural imperialism and create unique identities outside of the influence of American and European culture, it is the ideals of these supposedly oppressive cultures that have made it possible for colonized or underdeveloped countries to create films. Furthermore, the theorists often give too much credence to the idea of intentional oppression. Third Cinema offers new choices for audiences, but regardless of its intentions or struggles, it does not set them free or forge national identities for them.

Film theorists writing about the cultural importance of Third Cinema as a way of resisting oppression often approach the subject from an emotional perspective. Those who have lived in impoverished countries undoubtedly know that the living conditions do not compare to those enjoyed by people in developed countries. Writers who have made films in these countries are also undoubtedly aware of how difficult it is for them to secure funding for expensive projects (which would include nearly all films). The problem with approaching these subjects from an angered emotional position, though, is that one can see enemies where they do not exist. Espinosa is an excellent example of this cultural paranoia.

Espinosa writes about an imperfect cinema as a cultural action striking against imperial norms. What he fails to recognize, though, is that American and European countries have little need to force imperialism on most underdeveloped areas of the world. American film production studios will certainly try to find audiences anywhere that they exist, but they take their films to these places because the people there come to see them. Take away the audience (the people), and the cultural influence of film quickly disappears.

The position of cultural protectionism also assumes that American and European cultures have a specifically vested interest in selling films to colonized areas. American and European businesspersons, however, could not care less about what types of products and services that they sell around the world. In fact, one looking closely at laissez faire economic systems will see contradictory forces fighting against each other all the time. Hollywood movie producers might want to sell their films to people in “colonized” nations, but American manufacturers also want to sell affordably priced film equipment to people in these same areas. As manufacturers have pushed forward in their efforts, the prices of cameras, lenses, computers, microphones, and editing software have plummeted. The tools needed to make excellent films are much more affordable for individuals outside of the major production studios than they have ever been. Solanas and Getino do not seem to completely believe that revolutionary films cannot exist before the Revolution, but they have misunderstood the reason that such statements are not true. In truth their misstep is only understood because we currently stand at a different point in history and can see that the free market, instead of homogenizing culture and political opinions, has made it cheaper and easier for individuals to express their thoughts to anyone who will listen.

As a whole, Third Cinema theorists seem overly concerned with repression and censorship. If they experience excessive censorship in their own countries, then this only hints that not all forms of cultural imperialism are negative. Some types of censorship exist throughout the world, but America and Europe are two of the most sought after bastions of free expression in the world. Filmmakers struggling against an oppressive government in Latin America should only be so lucky that their culture will reach democratic levels that allow them to speak freely. In the U.S. and Europe, artists are free to say anything that comes to their minds. True, not all of the artists or their statements will receive popular support, but that does not block them from expressing themselves. It simply means that the general population has chosen not to pay attention to them.

Another thing that Third Cinema theorists could not have recognized when writing in the 1960s and 70s is that small films would eventually make a significant impact on the popular film industry. One cannot expect a small film to gross as much money as Avatar, but there are enough people interested in watching so-called indie films that they make up a sizable market that can support the efforts of filmmakers who choose to focus on subjects and aesthetics that lie outside of the Hollywood milieu.

Documentary filmmakers have been especially eager to use today’s affordably priced filming equipment to delve into their topics of interest. This has led to an independent market strong enough to compete against projects funded by major Hollywood production companies. Many of these projects cost little money, and their biggest hurdle to reaching a popular audience is the outpouring of films made by other independent documentarians.

Looking at the varied independent documentaries released in the United States and Europe over the last decade, one has to wonder what form of culture the Third Cinema supporters fear. In the independent documentary film world, it is almost easier to find a film that chastises America’s imperialistic attitude than one supporting it. This shows that the new marketplace for films hardly conforms to a unified culture of oppression. It is open, interested, and intrigued by the works of otherwise ordinary people who have found a voice within this genre.

Distribution has even become less important since writers like Rocha, Espinosa, Solansa, and Getino expressed their support for Third Cinema. While it is still difficult for small filmmakers with tiny budgets to distribute physical copies of their movies, it is incredibly easy and inexpensive for anyone who can afford a camera to post a video online. It might not make much money this way, but it certainly makes an eager audience easier to find.

It is certainly important for filmmakers to develop their own aesthetic identities. Despite anything that Espinosa might write, filmmakers have to work incredibly hard to create movies that come close to satisfying their artistic visions. Some of the film theorists writing about Third Cinema, though, seem to think that these artistic pursuits can form a national identity that separates them from the rest of the world. While it is true that some regions tend to produce films that maintain a certain aesthetic cohesion and eventually form what one might call a “school” of film, the focus is on the individual filmmaker rather than the group.

Schools almost invariably come from the influence of a particularly talented, hardworking artist. This is true in all forms of art, not just film. Any region- or nation-oriented aesthetic, therefore, will probably stem from the influence of one or two major artists working to inspire likeminded filmmakers. The thematic vision might express a zeitgeist that the filmmaker’s believe in, but the vision itself comes from the work of the individual, and it must, therefore, remain the vision of that individual no matter how much it influences those who watch the film.

Instead of focusing on Third Cinema as a school that resists Hollywood aesthetics, subject matter, and project management styles, it would seem more helpful for those who support independent filmmaker and their supports to put more effort towards the usefulness of current technology that allows them to reach a new audience without having to compete with big production studios. It is hardly fair to compare small, independent movies made on a shoestring budget to movies like Avatar. The only thing that they have in common is that they are both categorized as movies. Directors working on aesthetics and subject matters explored in small movies around the world do not even need to concern themselves with Hollywood. They have two separate audiences. If an audience consistently chooses to see Hollywood movies over locally made, smaller films, then it is more likely that the independent filmmakers have not made a strong attempt to connect with potential audiences. A failure despite all effort does not disprove this position. After all, major film projects flop all the time. Some times directors just make films that no one wants to watch.

mother of cinema

The discussion of auteur theory in these readings offers a number of important ideas about the way that film itself is understood. The very notion of auteur theory, in fact, prompts deep reflection on the notion of film as art, and, if this is accepted, who is to be seen as the artist. While this is the central question of auteur theory, it is difficult to assign the entire artistic “personality” of a film to its director, which is the conclusion of this approach, which Pauline Kael argues quite convincingly; because he or she interacts with the work of the screenwriter, actors, musical directors, and other individuals with their own unique perspective, it seems impossible that the interior meaning that auteur advocates describe can truly be the vision of the director alone. Further, often when a director has a greater amount of control, the work can actually be less aesthetically pleasing than when he or she is working with the studio, writers and other entities, as Bazin concedes in his discussion of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and Confidential Report. All of this suggests that the interior meaning of the film, which is the primary criteria on which comparison through auteur theory rests, cannot be clearly attributed to the director.

Despite this central problem with the theory, at least in my opinion, auteur concepts do help to create a deeper understanding and means of critical appraisal form film. Foe example, both of Wollen’s perspective from 1969 about what auteur theory can do when applied to the work of a specific director, as he did with John Ford is quite insightful; the fact that he can show the way that Ford plays with specific ideas, themes and antinomies suggests that the auteur approach can yield fruitful analysis of a director’s work (Wollen, 1969). Further, this kind of approach in many ways seems preferable to other kinds of criticism; the critique of the chronological approach to film theory, which Sarris refers to as a “pyramid” perspective is also limited, for the very reasons that he asserts, since it creates a need to accept certain films as critically important even if aesthetic tastes or technical debates change how it is perceived. This kind of imposition has not been placed on other artistic mediums, like literature (Sarris, 1963), nor would it work for film, as evidenced by the fact that the AFI list of the greatest American movies has changed dramatically in the last decade, to cite but one example.

Despite the fact that the director-centric approach advocated by auteur theory is important for overall criticism, there are too many flaws otherwise to accept it as the most valid form of analyzing film. One of the central ideas of the theory is that it is a pattern theory (Sarris, 1962), which means that certain motifs, techniques and other things recur in the work of one director. However, because of the often disparate stories and settings given treatment by film, saying that certain ideas recur in the work of one person is a highly subjective process; although it may readily apparent to a critic James Cameron uses specific techniques in both Terminator II and Titanic, finding antinomies that show either a consistency in his work or some kind of aesthetic progress is a far more speculative undertaking, and it is one that cannot be catalogued as easily as auteur theory suggests. Further, this theory also hinges on the idea that artistic vision never declines, meaning that the later work of directors will necessarily exceed earlier work. Bazin (1957) argues that this is true of all different artistic genres and mediums, but this seems incorrect on both counts; Kael (1963) highlights some of the directors for whom this assertion does not apply, and I personally can think of several writers and poets, ranging from William Wordsworth to a more contemporary and mainstream figure like Stephen King, who most critics feel saw a decline in their work as they grew old. Thus, while auteur theory offers some important ways of looking at film, on the whole I feel that the theory is not successful as a formula for formal criticism. As Kael (1963) points out, all critics in every genre seek to locate recurring themes and devices and analyze them, so to reduce film theory to the mere cataloguing of these according to directors seems to negate the importance of the film itself in favor of the vision of the auteur, which is something that Bazin (1957) himself feared despite his advocacy of the theory itself.

essences of cinema

Kracauer’s emphasis on camera movement and the use of technical properties to illustrate the difference between film and still photography in my opinion can easily be rejected.

The pronounced misgivings in the period of transition to sound can be traced to the rising awareness that films with sound live up to the spirit of the medium only if the visuals take the lead in them.

For sound films to be true to the basic aesthetic principle, their significant communications must originate with their pictures. (p 103 theory of film- Siegfried Kracauer)

The use of movement in film can easily be considered unnecessary after the introduction of sound. But movement, still being more aesthetically pleasing than sound during a film. Consider the two images above; if these scenes were played for you during a film and all the subjects were in relatively minimal movement. But during both scenes the sound of police sirens overlaps. Most would have a tendency, that the couple is being chased. In the other sense you would just have a simple tendency that the men fell asleep with the television on. Even during a montage still images are easily used to provoke emotional response. But the slow panning over the image during the montage does add a more cinematic technique.

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