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Excellent packaging. New titles added daily. Drop ships. Friendly and knowledgable staff. Conversely, many Co-op film-makers are well aware of political issues and see themselves in some sense as militant. Not that political militancy in itself is any guarantee of being avant-garde. The position is complicated too by the fact that in North America there is only one avant-garde, centred on the various Co-ops. Moreover, American critics and theorists of the avant-garde have long tended to overlook their European counterparts or see them as derivative.
The Europeans — and perhaps particularly the English — then tend to react by stressing their own credentials, making claims to have occupied the same ground as the Americans earlier or independently. From outside, the quarrel often looks of secondary importance. After all, no-one denies that the capital of narrative fiction 35mm filmmaking is Hollywood, however innovative European directors, such as Antonioni or Fellini or Truffaut may be.
In the same way, New York is clearly the capital of the Co-op movement. Consequently, from New York, Godard looks much more distinctively European than Kren or Le Grice, a fact which simply reflects the realities of power in the art world, to which the Co-op movement is closely tied. Indeed, there is a sense in which avant-garde Co-op film-making in Europe is closer to New York than Californian film-making is, and the leading New York critics and tastemakers — Sitney, Michelson — are not appreciated in San Francisco any more than they are in London.
It seems to me much more important to try and understand what unites and separates Godard and Straub-Huillet on the one hand, and, say, Gidal and Wyborny on the other hand, than what unites and separates Europe and North America within the Co-op ambit. Moreover, I think the absence of any avant-garde of the Godard type in North America could ultimately prove a severe limitation on the development of the New American Cinema itself, narrowing its horizons and tying it unnecessarily closely to the future of the other visual arts, condemning it to a secondary status within the art world.
Close relationship with "art" — painting, post-painting — is both a strength and a weakness. To understand further the split which has developed within the avant-garde it is necessary to go back into history. A similar split can be seen in the twenties. On the other hand, there were the Russian directors, whose films were clearly avant-garde but in a different sense: Eisenstein's Strike , Dovzhenko's Zvenigora , Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera.
As today, part of the difference lies in the backgrounds of the people involved.
But if the whole regime, even your non-violent ideas, are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity serves only to place you in the ranks of the oppressors. This was a clear example of the fusion of large segments of Chinese intelligentsia with the masses, an intelligentsia who were traditionally elitist, prided themselves on not performing manual labor, and disdained the peasantry since entering communist-held territory meant risking imprisonment and death. BFI Reuben Library. The nimble movements and multi-angled perspectives of the essay film are founded on this negotiation between active choice and passive possession; on the recognition that even the keenest insight pales in the face of an ultimate unknowability. Once the Algerian war ended, this experience shaped a new generation of leftists including future Maoists in understanding the connection between anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. Griffith and Alfred Hitchcock; and also an admiration for the American genre films based on carefully prepared plots, and precise and economical narrative structures.
One group came from painting. The other from theatre Eisenstein , and futurist sound-poetry Vertov — Dovzhenko, in fact, had trained as a painter but deliberately gave it up, leaving all his painting materials behind him in Kharkov when he set off for Odessa and the film studios, seeking a complete break with his past.
The spectator will no longer observe the film, like a theatrical presentation, but will participate in it optically and acoustically.
Painting, I think it can be argued, played the leading role in the development of modernism in the other arts. It is not hard to show how painting affected the other arts, how early Cubism had a decisive impact on Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, for example, in literature, and later on William Carlos Williams, Apollinaire, Marinetti, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov — all were influenced at a crucial point by their encounter with Cubism. The innovations of Picasso, and Braque, were seen as having an implication beyond the history of painting itself.
They were intuitively felt, I think, very early on, to represent a critical semiotic shift, a changed concept and practice of sign and signification, which we can now see to have been the opening-up of a space, a disjunction between signifier and signified and a change of emphasis from the problem of signified and reference, the classic problem of realism, to that of signifier and signified within the sign itself.
When we look at the development of painting after the Cubist breakthrough, however, we see a constant trend towards an apparently even more radical development: the suppression of the signified altogether, an art of pure signifiers detached from meaning as much as from reference, from Sinn as much as from Bedeutung.
This tendency towards abstraction could be justified in various ways — a transcendental signified could be postulated, in symbolist or spiritualist terms, a meaning located in the Uberwelt of pure ideas; a theory of formalism, of art as pure design, could be proposed; the work of art could be defended in terms of objecthood, pure presence; it could be explained as a solution to a problem, often set by the relationship between a signifier — a form of expression, in Hjelmslev's phrase — and its physical, material support the matter or substance of expression.
Literature, on the other hand, tended to fall back into forms of writing in which the signified clearly remained dominant. Modernism could be interpreted in terms of the expansion of subject-matter, new narrative techniques stream of consciousness or play on the paradoxes of meaning and reference Pirandellism.
It is significant, for instance, that so many of the most radical experiments, such as attempts at sound poetry, were the work of artists or writers working closely with painters: Arp, Schwitters, Van Doesburg among them. In theatre the most radical developments were invariably associated with changes in set design and costume, including the use of masks: Meyerhold's Constructivist theatre in the Soviet Union, Schlemmer's Bauhaus theatre, Artaud.
In this context, it should be added, Brecht appears as little more than a moderate. Cinema is, of course, a form of art employing more than one channel, more than one sensory medium, and uses a multiplicity of different types of code. It has affinities with almost all the other arts. Music and verbal language, as well as natural or artificial noise, can form elements of the sound-track.
Theatre and dance can be elements of the pro-filmic event, placed in front of the camera to be photographed. Film itself can be painted or paintings can be animated. Light can be used as a medium, and through projection a third dimension can be introduced, to produce a kind of mobile light sculpture. As a result of this variety and multiplicity, ideas have fed into film-making from a variety of sources in the other arts. One powerful influence has come from painting, bringing with it a tendency to abstraction — pure light or colour; and non-figurative design—or deformation of conventional photographic imagery, involving prismatic fragmentation and splintering, the use of filters or stippled glass, mirror-shots, extreme and microscopic close-ups, bizarre angles, negative images, all of which are to be found in twenties films.
Editing tended to follow principles of association related to poetry or dream or analogies with musicshots of fixed length, repetition and variation, attempts at synesthetic effects, theories of counterpoint. But this influence, and the films associated with it, are marked as much by what they excluded as what they included. Primarily of course verbal language was missing and also narrative. During the silent period, the absence of language was not foregrounded; it seemed a natural quality of film, but in retrospect its significance can be seen.
Language is still excluded from an enormous number of avant-garde films, which are shown either silent or with electronic or other musical tracks. This is part of the legacy of the Renaissance that has survived the modernist break almost unchallenged, except in isolated instances — Lissitzky, Duchamp, Picabia and, extremely important, recent conceptualist work. There is one further important point that must be made about the development of film in relation to art history.
Structural film-making over the last decade has thus represented a displacement of concerns from the art world to the film world rather than an extension. This way of thinking about art has remained one that film-makers have in common with painters and other visual artists, but an effort has been made to insist on the ontological autonomy of film.
We now have, so to speak, both an extroverted and an introverted ontology of film, one seeking the soul of cinema in the nature of the pro-filmic event, the other in the nature of the cinematic process, the cone of light or the grain of silver. Where does the other avant-garde stand? The police parted the crowd, creating a narrow path for ticket-holders to enter the theater, albeit through a gauntlet of jeering protesters.
Anger and unrest blends remarkably well with the often tragically emotional undercurrent of the film—suicide, genocide and personal acceptance via the world's view of specific religions are some topics discussed—and it, too, was not without controversy.
Nonetheless, there is a sadness to the film that is quite palpable and moving, no moment more so than when Godard, playing himself and speaking to a class on the relationship between sound and image, uses pointed photographs to describe shot-reverse shot. The Palestinians walked in the water to drown. Shot and reverse shot.
As Godard's appreciation of the cinema is so wide, it's necessary that the cinema mutually shares the adoration. Today I still think of myself as a critic, and in a sense I am, more than ever before. Instead of writing criticism, I make a film, but the critical dimension is subsumed. I think of myself as an essayist, producing essays in novel form or novels in essay form: only instead of writing, I film them.