01 mai 2009

Film Theory Branding

When did the last major movement arose in world cinema? Maybe we go through an epoch of individualism, maybe the time of ensemble momentum is over... Always more of the same, with slight variations in synopsis, star names and special FX budget. Even the names of all new pseudo-trends lack personality !

There are film critics who think they are writers, you know, wordsmith artists, poets ! (AO Scott is one of them, see also my previous post).
Well, I don't. In my humble opinion. I've said it many times before, literature is a minor aspect of criticism... What kind of theory branding would we get if these guys were bad at writing...? Our critics need to bribe their muse if they want to claim the divine inspiration of literary artists. It just proves that theoreticians are either unimaginative or that the trends in question are not original enough to deserved a complete name change. New movements always have to be compared to something that existed before, as if it was just a diluted/mutated continuation of the same old. Historians are conservative, always falling back on something known and afraid to call the future by its name.

When you look back at history, you need every period to stand out for itself, to be clearly identifiable, to have iconic names easily distinguishable among the endless list of artists throughout evolution of Art. We don't need distinct arts to share a similar name, soundalike, or even ambiguous.
There are various common blunders in theory branding : empty, generic, self-referencial, obsolete, ambiguous, relative or tautological terms. New-something or Post-something or Adjective-cinema... let's take a moment to free bash a bit the branding of film movements.


What is the name AO Scott branded the new emerging American trend? "Neo-Neo Realism" ! When a label is that unoriginal, it doesn't need a name of its own. At least "Mumblecore" shows an ounce of creativity (even if its descriptor is derogatory instead of appreciative; an aesthetic defined by its detractors?).
I know it was just the title of an article, not an official taxonomy, with as much authority as is expected from the "institutional weight" of the New York Time. Not only the direct reference to Italian Neorealism was far-fetched, but stacking neo's in front of existing labels is just laziness.
What is "new-new"? Is it better than "new"? What is a new version of an old trend that wasn't new anymore? Is it Realism 3.0 ? (Realism = 1.0; Neo Realism = 2.0) are we really at a place in History when we can affirm we've reached the 3rd era of whatever is "realism"? The new and improved reality... while everyone else around speaks of virtual reality. Forget about all your old overrated realism... only now do we get the real deal, the latest upgrade brought to you by the NYT.


Whether it's Neo/Nouveau/Nuevo/Novo/New... it says it's new, that's all. Nothing more.
This is a relative adjective. The effect of novelty is destined to wear off and get outdated. A couple years/decades down the line, after its extinction, the movement is not longer "new" and this word loses entirely its significance. So it's generally a bad idea to use "new" in a title for posterity, a self-centred, short term perspective consideration.
It is also a tautological adjective, meaning that it's only new because it says it's new. If you'd invent a new label, you wouldn't need to add "new" to make sure everyone understands it's unlike what we had before.
Examples : Neorealism, New Cinema, New Hollywood, New American Cinema, New Indian Cinema, New German Cinema, Nuevo Cine, Nuevo Cine, Cinema Novo, Novo Cinema, Neue Sachlichkeit/New Objectivity, Neo-Noir...

NB : Avant-Garde
This is a military term (one sufficient reason not to use it in Art history!), the vanguard, the troops moving at the head of an army. Again it's a relative term. It refers to artists ahead of their time, preceding the aesthetic changes of the conservative, mainstream establishment. But one is only ahead for so long, before getting caught up by the crowd, appropriated, digested and standardised. Besides it's an historical category defining a zone of production outside of the norm, and varies along with the progress of history. But it's not defined by its production, or by artists themselves. You're no longer part of the AG when you're not anymore innovator. The AG of today is not the same content/concern/conceptual reflection/modus operandi than what the AG used to be in the 20ies... obviously. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a group of people, or a cohesive movement. You can't say I want to be in the AG, like you could say you want to make a film Noir or a Soviet Montage film, which are clearly defined stylistically. You're part of the AG if your work deserves it, in regard to the artistic production (mainstream and marginal) in the world. There is absolutely no inner (stylistic, formal, content-driven) coherence among AG filmmakers.


What is Realism ? Or conversely, what isn't "realism" in cinema ? The concept of realism in the realm of staged production is absurd in the first place. Would anything else than documentaries tend to some form of realism ? Even most documentaries keep editing their way away from actual realism, allegedly for narrative improvement.
I know what is fiction. But to establish a scale of realism among rather-realist films is very subjective and tricky.
Why appropriate this word of the common language to redefine it with a narrow interpretation, highly connoted with specific stylistic traits that have little to do with off-camera reality? Why make everyone else refer to this appropriation ever after ? This is generally a bad idea to use a common word to brand a singular style.
Examples : Poetic Realism, Psychological Realism, Socialist Realism, Surrealism, Neorealism, Neo-Neo Realism...


What is Modernism? The problem is this word has already been overused in other disciplines, referring to eras that don't match. For historians, the Modern Era is between the XVth and XIXth century in France (and ending later for English historians in 1920); for Painting art it's between 1907 and 1960, for Musical art it's also the first half of the XXth century; Modernity in Literature is essentially the XIXth century and ends at the beginning of the XXth century. It's usually an opposition to the preceding establishment of Classicism.
In cinema, Modernity appeared in the mid-60ies and found its prime in the 70ies. Even French theory of La Modernité and American theory of Modernism don't quite agree on the scope and time frame of this aesthetic movement. To Jacques Aumont ["MODERNE ? Comment le cinéma est devenu le plus singulier des arts", 2007], cinema has never been "modern" yet. To Adrian Martin ["Que es el cinema moderno ?", 2008], modernist films are still being made today.
The adjective "modern" is a relative temporality, literally it means "contemporary". Since every period we live is "modern", the term loses any meaning as an identifiable time marker. It's confusing and it's NOT specific.
What is Post-Modernism? the post-present! building up on an already dubious term. Very informative indeed. Thanks nomenclaturists.


Everything and anything nowadays is called a "New Wave"... La Nouvelle Vague was one major movement indeed, but not to the extent of a normalised namesake franchise for every new generation, on and on, ad infinitum. It's a non-specific descriptor. It's a vague paraphrase for "new movement", thus completely interchangeable. It's a wave, OK, it's new, OK... but it could be anything, as long as it's a new trend of something, good or bad, short-lived or long-lasting. So when you call something a "new wave" it doesn't say anything about it. A name without purpose, without intention, without intrinsic self-explanatory definition.
Repeating "new wave" for every new generation in every country makes no sense. Please stop it with the "new waves"! Get to work guys, come up with your own unique name, so we can get a rich and colorful overview of cinema history.
Examples: Nouvelle Vague/French New Wave, Japanese New Wave/Nuberu Bagu, Argentinian New Wave, Romanian New Wave, Australian New Wave, German New Wave, Taiwan New Wave, Thai New Wave, Persian/Iranian New Wave, Czech New Wave, Brazilian New Wave, Hong Kong New Wave, British New Wave...


There are a lot of movements only defined by an adjective too. Obviously it's less empty than the above categories of brands. The adjective is there to qualify this movement, and eventually set it apart from the rest, if the word is specific enough. Again, a generic adjective, too often used in other types of films, will make this exclusive appropriation of a common term seem overreaching and confusing.
Examples : Free Cinema, Direct Cinema, Jeune Cinema; Impressionism, Expressionism, Realism, Situationism, Divism...


3 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Gavin Smith : "But "formulaic art cinema" isn't just a matter of genre; it's a matter of style. In this limited space, it might be useful to take a stab at listing what, after 9 days at Rotterdam, appear to be the half dozen dominant stylistic categories that currently pervade the art-film sector, and their originators, best practitioners, and biggest popularizers.

By far the most popular is Neo-neorealism. The current masters of this aesthetic are of course, Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne. Then there's Neo-modernism : Michael Haneke and Pedro Almodovar, step forward. Neo-impressionism : nobody does it better than Claire Denis, but plenty try. For pious purists, there's Neo-minimalism : Pedro Costa, Eugene Green. Meditative Realism : Hou Hsiao-hsien. And last but not least, Neo-maximalism, the realm of enfants terribles such as Lars von Trier, Léos Carax and Gaspard Noé." Film Comment, Mar-Apr 2010.

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Chacun sent bien que le cinéma est pris depuis longtemps dans une évolution en forme de virage interminable. Cette histoire du « cinéma moderne » dont beaucoup d’entre nous ont subi le choc est néanmoins derrière nous et il nous appartient au moins de décrire ce qui vient, fût-ce l’effacement relatif du cinéma."

Serge Daney : "Trafic, revue de cinéma."; hiver 1991 [PDF]

HarryTuttle a dit…

"C'est bien à une autre modernité que celle de l'après-guerre à laquelle nous avons affaire, nouvelle posture esthétique dans un contexte actuel où, à la rupture du lien communautaire dont il était encore en partie question dans le néoréalisme italien [..]

Il est aussi le deuil d'une certaine idée de la modernité comme fin, aboutissement et antagonisme réactif à la forme classique, au profit d'une autre modernité dont le cinéma d'Abbas Kiarostami, entrelaçant l'ancien et le moderne, porte aussi en lui la subtile articulation. Cette modernité cinématographique d'un genre nouveau renoue avec les formes primitives, celles, notamment, issues du cinéma des premiers plans Lumière, mais celles aussi issues des récits mythiques [..]"

"Le cinéma a minima"; Frédéric Sabouraud; Trafic n°72-75; 2009-2010