08 septembre 2012

Forgotten Obsolete English Word #8 : Tradition

Origin : Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition. First Known Use: 14th century
  1. an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) 
  2. a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
  3. the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
  4. cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
  5. characteristic manner, method, or style
  • custom; culture, values; heritage, legacy
  • convention, rule, norm, principles, standards; form, mode; prescription
Source : Merriam Webster 

What is traditional is something fully structured, corresponding to an expected form, purposefully produced to fit in this identified norm.

The Avant Garde is against anything tradition represents! (contrary to what Matthew Flanagan was arguing with me during the Unspoken Journal preparation) There is no such a thing as an "Avant Garde tradition", it is obviously a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. No artist from the experimental margin is trying to FIT IN any pre-established pattern, or repeat what their elders have established before them, nor do they want their work or body of work to be described as a conventional tradition. And they certainly don't want to see spawning a bunch of disciples turning their unique proposition into a serial assembly line production. What is experimental is meant to remain outside of the norm, and fail to become a tradition.

Surrealism is NOT a tradition, even if there might be a lot of wannabes who imitate the outer quircky look without understanding the particular unconscious process. 
Soviet Montage is NOT a tradition, even if it had a very structured teaching but a short-lived following. There is no apparent continuity perpetuating the tenets of Soviet Montage in today's cinema or any period following the disappearance of the few Soviet Montage filmmakers. If whatever gimmicks passed on to the MTV fast editing, it's a watered down, simplified version, one that doesn't deserve to bear the name of a legacy. A distant formal influence on the mainstream formula is far from being a tradition. When Nolan or Greengrass will edit their films like Eisenstein we'll call that a tradition... 
There is no tradition before or after Brakhage, or Kubelka, or Warhol, or Maya Deren... apart from the little affinity they develop around them, in a very limited circle of like-minded artists. There is a huge step between mere affinities and an established tradition.

This should be self-explanatory enough for anyone familiar with art history (even outside cinema).
There is one main branch in the history of all arts with trans-generational continuity and conventional tradition, where the mainstream develops, evolves and perpetuates. It's not necessarily the branch that innovates, invents, reforms the succession of fads and styles, on the contrary a tradition is rather conservative and protectionist with its own rules. Eg. : the tradition of classical narrative from antic tragedy to today's cinema.

Classical Theatre Tragedy => Classical Literature => Primitive cinema genre codes => Classical Silent Cinema => Classical Early Sound Cinema => Classical Hollywood Golden Age => Classical Genres =>  Classical TV dramas => Classical Blockbusters => Classical Franchises => Today's Classical Mainstream. THAT IS WHAT IS CALLED A TRADITION!!!

In the margin of the comformist mainstream, there are many sub-branches of various free-form explorations, without rules, without standards, without conventions, without imitation, without respect for the past... this is the frontline of formal invention. The links from one generation to the next, or from one precursor to successors is NOT one of a traditional transmission, but if we want to be more precise and nuanced, one of partial stylistic influence or bifurcation or secession or antagonism or revolution or tabula rasa that characterises the NON-TRADITIONAL evolution of marginal art-cinema (umbrella term for all the various shapes and forms of non-mainstream cinema).

What is the direct traditional ancestry leading to David Lynch? Harmony Korine? Charlie Kaufmann? Miranda July? Matthew Barney? Todd Solondz? Eugene Green? James Benning? Charles Burnett? John Cassavetes? They are not completely sui generis of course, some of them largely borrow from the basics of narrative cinema, even most of the film grammar issued from Classical Cinema... but this is the most elementary technical substrate common to almost anything shot on film, due to the specific constraints of the medium and how the best intuitive solutions have been implemented to communicate with an audio-visual audience. This is what makes cinema cinema. These basics do not define the classical nature of mainstream cinema.
The classical norms (5 acts structure, shots-countershots, formated screenplays, standardized shots, reaction shots, symphonic scores, star system, contrasted stereotypes, family-friendly themes, heroic triumph, lyrical escapism, taylored dialogue...) are what unite all films made under the classical tradition, and sets apart films not made to honor and perpetuate this tradition (and clearly the names cited above do not rely on these traditional cues, nor do they repeat models from other traditions so blatantly).
A traditional filmmaker makes sure to be identified as belonging to the codes of a certain tradition. When a filmmaker doesn't follow cues, hit the conventional marks, respect the genre, then (s)he doesn't try to abid to the tradition, doesn't want to fit in, doesn't seek for his or her body of work to be filed under a pre-existing tradition!

How do you demonstrate any kind of tradition before or after Robert Bresson? Jean-Luc Godard? Luis Buñuel? Jacques Tati? Chris Marker? Chantal Akerman? Marguerite Duras? Straub-Huillet? Leos Carax? Roy Andersson? Michel Gondry? or even between eachother? How could there be ONE SINGLE TRADITION, the so-called "art cinema tradition" represent and define the stylistic identity of each one of them, of all of them as a whole? These figureheads obviously represent their own stylistic branches of cinema, and few of them formed disciples who faithfully carried on the exact values of their master in order to build up and maintain its identity in a traditional transmission. Yet they end up scooped up in the same bag, one indifferentiated bag called "art cinema" (like what David Bordwell purports). Why?

What differences can you make in cinema history if you disregard probably the most obvious one separating the TRADITIONAL evolution of film form within the classical mainstream establishment, and the NON-TRADTIONAL evolution of MULTIPLE (sometimes incompatible) film forms developed in the margin of the dominant film grammar.

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1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

"The more a film is edited, the more it ex ploits montage, the more clearly we see that space and time are conditions on the screen more than in a real world. Famously , this was the dy namic of much Sov iet cinema, notably Battleship Potemkin, which managed to be furiously fabricated and emotionally dev astating. But that sty le did not hav e much influence. In Sov iet Russia it was determined to be formalistic, and in the rest of the world it y ielded to long takes, a mov ing camera, spatial perspectiv e, and a feeling for real time."
American Movies are Not Dead: They are Dying (David Thomson; The New Republic; 14 Sept 2012)