Monday, January 22, 2007

Has Cinema Lost Its Soul?

How Cinema Lost Its Soul

It should be remembered that the birth and growth of cinema was almost immediately parallel to the birth and growth of modernism in the other arts. Film is generally at its best when it recognises its roots in modernism, ie when it rejects conventional notions of realism, disengages from bourgeois values, and questions the primacy of narration.

From the beginning of cinema, film artists working in the new medium understood that its strength was not in straight narrative, something literature or the theatre could do better. While commercial cinema, especially Hollywood, continued with the conventions of 19th-century literature and theatre by producing illustrated novels and "opened out" plays, modernists looked towards non-narrative film form, or considered narrative as secondary to style. They disturbed the accepted continuity of chronological development and attempted new ways of tracing the flow of characters' thoughts, replaced logical exposition with collages of fragmentary images, complex allusions and multiple points of view. They resisted the commercial film in favour of "art cinema", to equal the other arts in seriousness and depth.

This article from the Independent is an interesting read. It outlines the rise of avant-garde/experimental cinema (if we can call it that - I think 'non-linear' or 'non-hollywood' cinema would be more accurate in terms of what the author is discussing) and characterizes the synthesis between formal artists (ie. painters, poets, sculpurists, etc.) and filmmakers. The article describes a fertile collaborative ground in which art blended with cinema - a state which, the author claims, is retroverting, as we more often see the avant-garde heading to galleries and theaters being filled by standard Hollywood schlock.

What remains of experimentation in film today?... Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are increasingly seeing the avant-garde abandon the cinema for the gallery - a shift made possible by the digital revolution. It is becoming necessary to redefine film without reference to its previous conditions of existence, by reference, not to the narrow context of the history of cinema, but to the wider field of art history.

Film is going under a huge change these days. With new forms of distrubtion and the DIY aesthetic of YouTube, it is going to be crucial that we redefine the cinema and its functions. The article doesn't mention the internet and it's capabilities as a distribution medium, perhaps because it is too early to gauge where the whole YouTube phenomenom is going. However, it's undeniable that film is changing, fast. I do like the idea of encompassing cinema under an art history context. Film is too often sectioned off from the rest of arts - perhaps because of the scope of its business - with video art and experimental cinema in their own little bubble. The academic interest in film often discusses intertexts and source texts, but I haven't had an experience where an art movement and a film movement were presented side by side, in depth. While I don't think that will fix the "avant-garde abandonment", it will certainly help us find a more accurate definition for modern cinema and pint us closer towards the direction in which the Internet phenom will eventually take us.

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