Without a doubt the most prevalent type of film manifesto comes from the cinematic avant-garde. This makes a great deal of sense, as manifestos-whether political, aesthetic, or both-can be seen in the first instance as a form of avant-garde writing, calling into being a new future. From the early twentieth century onward, film manifestos played a formative role in the way in which the avant-garde was understood. This chapter begins with the "The Futurist Cinema Manifesto" from 1916, a key early film manifesto made all the more relevant because of the disappearance of most futurist cinema films through loss and neglect. The various Russian formalist and surrealist statements all point to the way in which avant-garde practices allowed for filmmakers to conceptualize the cinema as a tool to release the unconscious, or allow for revolutionary transformation, moving away from the realist principles that the cinema embodies so well.
László Moholy-Nagy's "Open Letter" calls for a cinema determined not by capital but by artistic vision. This is a refrain that filmmakers will return to again and again throughout this book. Cinema determined by artistic vision is also the theme of Mary Ellen Bute's "Light*Form*Movement*Sound" and Jim Davis's "The Only Dynamic Art." Both artists, working in "Absolute Film," experiment with the cinema's capacity to capture light, and in their manifestos they argue that the cinema ought to be used to enhance and explore new ways of seeing.
In a different vein the French Situationist Guy Debord argues that the image had replaced the more traditional commodity at the heart of capitalism. In his 1968 manifesto and film Society of the Spectacle he states: "The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images." In the three manifestos Debord authored or coauthored contained herein, we see the development of his notion of situations; indeed, it is present in his first film manifesto, and his first published work, "Prolegomena for All Future Cinema." Debord's thought is picked up by a new generation of American avant-garde and experimental filmmakers in the 1990s. Far more concerned with the image "detritus" that surrounds and at times bombards contemporary culture, filmmakers like Peggy A[h]wesh, Craig Baldwin, and Keith Sanborn produced works that recycled the detritus images of contemporary culture into found footage films. Sanborn himself wrote one of the key avant-garde film manifestos of the time, "Modern, All Too Modern," modeled on the writings of Debord.
Other movements were far more polysemic than the surrealists, the Lettristes, and the Situationists. A key example is the New American Cinema movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The differences among George Kuchar's "8mm Film Manifesto," Stan Brakhage's Metaphors on Vision, Hollis Frampton's manifesto on metahistory, and the far more structural writings of Keewatin Dewdney on the "flicker film" speak to the heterogeneity of the American underground. Yet what united these filmmakers and their manifestos was a profound concern with alternative ways of seeing. And underlying this concern, despite the subsequent claims that some of these manifestos were apolitical and ahistorical, was the conviction that different ways of seeing the cinema meant different ways for spectators to see the world, perhaps even the world as it was and not how they, through indoctrination and ideology, thought they saw it. Indeed, the opening lines of Metaphors on Vision point to this in a dramatic formulation: "Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of 'Green'? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye?" Here Brakhage is not speaking of the cinema but of perception itself; cinema, therefore, is just a medium through which to rediscover the process of seeing.
Nick Zedd's "Cinema of Transgression" manifesto points toward the third wave of avant-garde and experimental filmmaking in the United States and demonstrates the profound influence of the punk aesthetic on experimental film in New York during the 1980s. If punk is a rebellion against older, corporatized forms of music and art, the "Let's Set the Record Straight" manifesto, issued at the International Film Congress in Toronto in 1989, points to the large schism that had developed between the old guard of the avant-garde and the new generation of American and Canadian experimental filmmakers. In contrast, Jonas Mekas's "Anti-100 Years of Cinema" manifesto derides the celebrations of the cinema's first century that nevertheless neglect the avant-garde, old and new.
The final manifesto comes from Canada and points to the ways in which the avant-garde and experimental cinema is being reimagined through the development of alternative forms of pedagogy and the development of local ateliers. Philip Hoffman's Independent Imaging Retreat in Mount Forest, Ontario, foregrounds the artisanal aspect of experimental filmmaking and supports not only the screening of new avant-garde works but their production as well. Avant-garde cinema can only be truly understood through an understanding of the manifestos produced by artists, and these documents point to the controversial, visionary, and deeply political nature of the avant-garde.
The Futurist Cinema (Italy, 1916)
F. T. Marinetti, Bruno Corra, Emilio Settimelli, Arnaldo Ginna, Giacomo Balla, Remo Chiti
[First published in Italian in L'italia futurista, 15 November 1916. First published in English in R. W. Flint, Marinetti: Selected Writings (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972).]
"The Futurist Cinema" manifesto argues for a total cinema, decrying the cinema of newsreels and documentaries as a shoddy subsection of the dramatic tradition. Thus, the writers call for a cinema of "polyexpressive symphony" that, through poetry and analogy, creates a cinema capable of a vast range of expression, while standing on its own as a distinctive art form. The futurists' critique of film's reliance on drama and its celebration of technology and the speed it brings to contemporary artistic practice foreshadows a line of attack present in many of the avant-garde manifestos to come.
The book, a wholly passéist means of preserving and communicating thought, has for a long time been fated to disappear like cathedrals, towers, crenellated walls, museums, and the pacifist ideal. The book, static companion of the sedentary, the nostalgic, the neutralist, cannot entertain or exalt the new Futurist generations intoxicated with revolutionary and bellicose dynamism.
The conflagration is steadily enlivening the European sensibility. Our great hygienic war, which should satisfy all our national aspirations, centuples the renewing power of the Italian race. The Futurist cinema, which we are preparing, a joyful deformation of the universe, an alogical, fleeting synthesis of life in the world, will become the best school for boys: a school of joy, of speed, of force, of courage, and heroism. The Futurist cinema will sharpen, develop the sensibility, will quicken the creative imagination, will give the intelligence a prodigious sense of simultaneity and omnipresence. The Futurist cinema will thus cooperate in the general renewal, taking the place of the literary review (always pedantic) and the drama (always predictable), and killing the book (always tedious and oppressive). The necessities of propaganda will force us to publish a book once in a while. But we prefer to express ourselves through the cinema, through great tables of words-in-freedom and mobile illuminated signs.
With our manifesto "The Futurist Synthetic Theatre," with the victorious tours of the theatre companies of Gualtiero Tumiati, Ettore Berti, Annibale Ninchi, Luigi Zoncada, with the two volumes of Futurist Synthetic Theatre containing eighty theatrical syntheses, we have begun the revolution in the Italian prose theatre. An earlier Futurist manifesto had rehabilitated, glorified, and perfected the Variety Theatre. It is logical therefore for us to carry our vivifying energies into a new theatrical zone: the cinema.
At first look the cinema, born only a few years ago, may seem to be Futurist already, lacking a past and free from traditions. Actually, by appearing in the guise of theatre without words, it has inherited all the most traditional sweepings of the literary theatre. Consequently, everything we have said and done about the stage applies to the cinema. Our action is legitimate and necessary in so far as the cinema up to now has been and tends to remain profoundly passéist, whereas we see in it the possibility of an eminently Futurist art and the expressive medium most adapted to the complex sensibility of a Futurist artist.
Except for interesting films of travel, hunting, wars, and so on, the film-makers have done no more than inflict on us the most backward looking dramas, great and small. The same scenario whose brevity and variety may make it seem advanced is, in most cases, nothing but the most trite and pious analysis. Therefore all the immense artistic possibilities of the cinema still rest entirely in the future. The cinema is an autonomous art. The cinema must therefore never copy the stage. The cinema, being essentially visual, must above all fulfill the evolution of painting, detach itself from reality, from photography, from the graceful and solemn. It must become antigraceful, deforming, impressionistic, synthetic, dynamic, free-wording.
One must free the cinema as an expressive medium in order to make it the ideal instrument of a new art, immensely vaster and lighter than all the existing arts. We are convinced that only in this way can one reach that polyexpressiveness towards which all the most modern artistic researches are moving. Today the Futurist cinema creates precisely the polyexpressive symphony that just a year ago we announced in our manifesto "Weights, Measures, and Prices of Artistic Genius." The most varied elements will enter into the Futurist film as expressive means: from the slice of life to the streak of color, from the conventional line to words-in-freedom, from chromatic and plastic music to the music of objects. In other words it will be painting, architecture, sculpture, words-in-freedom, music of colors, lines, and forms, a jumble of objects and reality thrown together at random. We shall offer new inspirations for the researchers of painters, which will tend to break out of the limits of the frame. We shall set in motion the words-in-freedom that smash the boundaries of literature as they march towards painting, music, noise-art, and throw a marvelous bridge between the word and the real object. Our films will be:
1. Cinematic analogies that use reality directly as one of the two elements of the analogy. Example: If we should want to express the anguished state of one of our protagonists, instead of describing it in its various phases of suffering, we would give an equivalent impression with the sight of a jagged and cavernous mountain.
The mountains, seas, woods, cities, crowds, armies, squadrons, aeroplanes will often be our formidable expressive words: the universe will be our vocabulary. Example: We want to give a sensation of strange cheerfulness: we show a chair cover flying comically around an enormous coat stand until they decide to join. We want to give the sensation of anger: we fracture the angry man into a whirlwind of little yellow balls. We want to give the anguish of a hero who has lost his faith and lapsed into a dead neutral skepticism: we show the hero in the act of making an inspired speech to a great crowd; suddenly we bring on Giovanni Giolitti who treasonably stuffs a thick forkful of macaroni into the hero's mouth, drowning his winged words in tomato sauce.
We shall add color to the dialogue by swiftly, simultaneously showing every image that passes through the actors' brains. Example: representing a man who will say to his woman: "You're as lovely as a gazelle," we shall show the gazelle. Example: if a character says, "I contemplate your fresh and luminous smile as a traveler after a long rough trip contemplates the sea from high on a mountain," we shall show traveler, sea, mountain.
This is how we shall make our characters as understandable as if they talked.
2. Cinematic poems, speeches, and poetry. We shall make all of their component images pass across the screen.
Example: "Canto dell'amore" [Song of Love] by Giosuè Carducci:
In their German strongholds perched
Like falcons meditating the hunt
We shall show the strongholds, the falcons in ambush.
From the churches that raise long marble
arms to heaven, in prayer to God
From the convents between villages and towns
crouching darkly to the sound of bells
like cuckoos among far-spaced trees
singing boredoms and unexpected joys . . .
We shall show churches that little by little are changed into imploring women, God beaming down from on high, the convents, the cuckoos, and so on.
Example: "Sogno d'Estate" [Summer's Dream] by Giosuè Carducci:
Among your ever-sounding strains of battle, Homer, I am conquered by
the warm hour: I bow my head in sleep on Scamander's bank, but
heart flees to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
We shall show Carducci wandering amid the tumult of the Achaians, deftly avoiding the galloping horses, paying his respects to Homer, going for a drink with Ajax to the inn, The Red Scamander, and at the third glass of wine his heart, whose palpitations we ought to see, pops out of his jacket like a huge red balloon and flies over the Gulf Of Rapallo. This is how we make films out of the most secret movements of genius.
Thus we shall ridicule the works of the passéist poets, transforming to the great benefit of the public the most nostalgically monotonous weepy poetry into violent, exciting, and highly exhilarating spectacles.
3. Cinematic simultaneity and interpenetration of different times and places. We shall project two or three different visual episodes at the same time, one next to the other.
4. Cinematic musical researches (dissonances, harmonies, symphonies of gestures, events, colors, lines, etc.).
5. Dramatized states of mind on film.
6. Daily exercises in freeing ourselves from mere photographed logic.
7. Filmed dramas of objects. (Objects animated, humanized, baffled, dressed up, impassioned, civilized, dancing-objects removed from their normal surroundings and put into an abnormal state that, by contrast, throws into relief their amazing construction and nonhuman life.)
8. Show windows of filmed ideas, events, types, objects, etc.
9. Congresses, flirts, fights and marriages of funny faces, mimicry, etc. Example: a big nose that silences a thousand congressional fingers by ringing an ear, while two policemen's moustaches arrest a tooth.
10. Filmed unreal reconstructions of the human body.
11. Filmed dramas of disproportion (a thirsty man who pulls out a tiny drinking straw that lengthens umbilically as far as a lake and dries it up instantly).
12. Potential dramas and strategic plans of filmed feelings.
13. Linear, plastic, chromatic equivalences, etc., of men, women, events, thoughts, music, feelings, weights, smells, noises (with white lines on black we shall show the inner, physical rhythm of a husband who discovers his wife in adultery and chases the lover-rhythm of soul and rhythm of legs).
14. Filmed words-in-freedom in movement (synoptic tables of lyric values-dramas of humanized or animated letters-orthographic dramas-typographical dramas-geometric dramas-numeric sensibility, etc.).
Painting + sculpture + plastic dynamism + words-in-freedom + composed noises [intonarumori] + architecture + synthetic theatre = Futurist cinema.
This is how we decompose and recompose the universe according to our marvelous whims, to centuple the powers of the Italian creative genius and its absolute preeminence in the world.
Lenin Decree (USSR, 1919)
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
[First published as a decree by the Kremlin, 27 August 1919. First appeared in English in the Art Council of Great Britain's Art in Revolution: Soviet Art and Design Since 1917 (London: Hayward Gallery, 1971), 97.]
Lenin's most famous statement on the cinema, which could be construed as a manifesto itself, comes from an interview he did with Anatoli Lunacharsky in 1922, where he stated: "Among the people you are reported to be a patron of art so you must remember that of all the arts for us the cinema is most important." This importance is reflected in the nationalizing of the film and photo industries, which is outlined here as the primary role of the cinema in the nascent USSR.
On the transfer of the Photographic and Cinematographic Trade and Industry to the Peoples Commissariat of Education.
1. The entire photographic and cinematographic trade and industry, their organisation as well as the supply and distribution of technical means and materials appertaining to them, throughout the territory of the RSFSR, shall be placed within the province of the People's Commissariat of Education.
2. To this end the People's Commissariat of Education is herewith empowered:
a. to nationalise, by agreement with the Supreme Council of National Economy, particular photo and cinema enterprises, as well as the entire photo and cinema industry;
b. to requisition enterprises as well as photo and cinema goods, materials and equipment;
c. to fix stable and maximum prices for photo and cinema raw materials and manufactured products;
d. to exercise supervision and control over the photo and cinema trade and industry and
e. to regulate the entire photo and cinema trade and industry by issuing decisions which shall be binding on enterprises and private persons, as well as on Soviet Institutions, insofar as they relate to photo and cinema matters.
Chairman of the Council of the Peoples Commissars: V Ulyanov (Lenin)
Executive Officer of the Council of People's Commissars: Vlad Bonch-Bruyevich
The ABCs of Cinema (France, 1917-1921)
[Written between 1917 and 1922. First published in French as L'ABC du cinéma (Paris: Aux Sans Pareil, 1926). First published in English in Blaise Cendrars, Modernities and Other Writings (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 25-29. Trans. Esther Allen and Monique Chefdor.]
Swiss-born modernist poet Blaise Cendrars was fascinated by the cinema throughout his artistic life in Paris. Cendrars worked with Abel Gance on J'accuse! (France, 1919), which led to his writing the manifesto on the cinema contained herein. Cendrars's ideas then went on to influence Gance in the making of La roue (France, 1922). Cendrars's vision of the cinema foregrounds fragmentation, which leads to a heightened sense of the real on the part of what he saw as the cinema's global audience. For Cendrars film is the culmination of a series of revolutions stretching from ancient times to the present.
Cinema. Whirlwind of movement in space. Everything falls. The sun falls. We fall in its wake. Like a chameleon, the human mind camouflages itself, camouflaging the universe. The world. The globe. The two hemispheres. Leibniz' monads and Schopenhauer's representation. My will. The cardinal hypotheses of science end in a sharp point and the four calculators cumulate. Fusion. Everything opens up, tumbles down, blends in today, caves in, rises up, blossoms. Honor and money. Everything changes. Change. Morality and political economy. New civilization. New humanity. The digits have created an abstract, mathematical organism, useful gadgets, intended to serve the senses' most vulgar needs, and that are the brain's most beautiful projection. Automatism. Psychism. New commodities. Machines. And it is the machine which recreates and displaces the sense of direction, and which finally discovers the sources of sensibility like the explorers Livingston, Burton, Speke, Grant, Baker, and Stanley, who located the sources of the Nile. But it is an anonymous discovery to which no name can be attached. What a lesson! And what do the celebrities and the stars matter to us! A hundred worlds, a thousand movements, a million dramas simultaneously enter the range of the eye with which cinema has endowed man. And, though arbitrary, this eye is more marvelous than the multi-faceted eye of a fly. The brain is overwhelmed by it. An uproar of images. Tragic unity is displaced. We learn. We drink. Intoxication. Reality no longer makes any sense. It has no significance. Everything is rhythm, word, life. No more need to demonstrate. We are in communion. Focus the lens on the hand, the corner of the mouth, the ear, and drama emerges, expands on a background of luminous mystery. Already there is no need for dialogue, soon characters will be judged useless. At high speed the life of flowers is Shakespearean; all of classicism is present in the slow motion flexing of biceps. On screen the slightest effort becomes painful, musical, and insects and microbes look like our most illustrious contemporaries. Eternity in the ephemeral. Gigantism. It is granted an aesthetic value which it has never had before. Utilitarianism. Theatrical drama, its situation, its devices, becomes useless. Attention is focussed on the sinister lowering of the eyebrows. On the hand covered with criminal callouses [sic]. On a bit of fabric which bleeds continually. On a watch-fob which stretches and swells like the veins at the temples. Millions of hearts stop beating at the same instant in all the capitals of the world and gales of laughter rack the countryside in far-flung villages. What is going to happen? And why is the material world impregnated with humanity? To such a point! What potential! Is it an explosion or a Hindu poem? Chemistries blend and dissolve. The least pulsation germinates and bears fruit. Crystallizations come to life. Ecstasy. Animals, plants and minerals are ideas, emotions, digits. A number. As in the Middle Ages, the rhinoceros is Christ; the bear, the devil; jasper, vivacity; chrysoprase, pure humility. 6 and 9. We see our brother the wind and the ocean is an abyss of men. And this is not abstract, obscure and complicated symbolism, it is part of a living organism that we startle, flush out, pursue, and which had never before been seen. Barbaric evidence. Sensitive depths in an Alexandre Dumas drama, a detective novel or a banal Hollywood film. Over the audience's heads, the luminous cone quivers like a cetacean. Characters, beings and things, subjects and objects stretch out from the screen in the hearth of the magic lantern. They plunge, turn, chase each other, encounter each other with fatal, astronomical precision. A beam. Rays. The prodigious thread of a screw from which everything is whirled in a spiral. Projection of the fall of the sky. Space. Captured life. Life of the depths. Alphabet. Letter. ABC. Sequence and close-up. What is ever seen is never seen. What an interview! "When I began to take an interest in cinematography, film was a commercial and industrial novelty. I've put all my energies into expanding it and raising it to the level of a human language. My only merit consists in having been able to find the first two letters of this new alphabet which is still far from complete: the cut-back and the close-up," David Wark Griffith, the world's foremost director declares to me. "Art at the movies? Great Art?" responds Abel Gance, France's foremost director, to a journalist who came to watch him at work in Nice. "Perhaps we could have made it that from the beginning. But first we had to learn the visual alphabet ourselves, before speaking and believing in our power; then we had to teach this elementary language." Carlyle wanted to trace the origin of the modern world back to the legendary founder of the city of Thebes, to Cadmus. As he imported the Phoenician alphabet into Greece, Cadmus invented writing and the book. Before him, writing, mnemonic, ideographic or phonetic, was always pictorial-from prehistoric man to the Egyptians, from the drawings which grace the walls of stone-age caves to hieroglyphics, the hieratic, traced on stone tablets, or the demotic, painted on ceramics, by way of the pictographs used by Eskimos and Australian aborigines, the Red Skins' colorful tattoos and the embroidery on Canadian wampum, the ancient Mayans' decorative quipus and the burls of the forest tribes of central Africa, the Tibetan, Chinese and Korean calligrammes-writing, even cuneiform writing, was above all else an aid to memory, a memorial to a sacred initiation: autocratic, individual. Then comes the black marketeer Cadmus, the magus, the magician, and immediately writing becomes an active, living thing, the ideal democratic nourishment, and the common language of the spirit FIRST WORLD REVOLUTION. Human activity redoubles, intensifies. Greek civilization spreads. It embraces the Mediterranean. Commercial conquest and the literary life go hand in hand. The Romans engrave their history on copper or pewter plates. There's a library in Alexandria. The Apostles and the Holy Fathers write on parchment Propaganda. Finally, painting interpenetrates the Christian world and, during the 14th century, Jan van Eyck of Bruges invents oil painting. Adam and Eve, naked. SECOND WORLD REVOLUTION. In 1438, Koester prints with wood blocks in Harlem. Six years later, Jean Gensfleisch, known as Gutenberg, invents the mobile letter, and thirteen years later Schaeffer casts that letter in metal. With Caxton, printing intensifies. There is a deluge of books. Everything is reprinted and translated, the monastic missals and the writings of the ancients. Sculpture, drama and architecture are reborn. Universities and libraries proliferate. Christopher Columbus discovers a new world. Religion splits in two. There is much general progress in commerce. Industry constructs boats. Fleets open up faraway markets. The antipodes exist. Nations are formed. People emigrate. New governments are founded on new principles of liberty and equality. Education becomes democratic and culture refined. Newspapers appear. The whole globe is caught in a network of tracks, of cables, of lines-overland lines, maritime lines, air lines. All the world's peoples are in contact. The wireless sings. Work becomes specialized, above and below. THIRD WORLD REVOLUTION. And here's Daguerre, a Frenchman, who invents photography. Fifty years later, cinema was born. Renewal! Renewal! Eternal Revolution. The latest advancements of the precise sciences, world war, the concept of relativity, political convulsions, everything foretells that we are on our way toward a new synthesis of the human spirit, toward a new humanity and that a race of new men is going to appear. Their language will be the cinema. Look! The pyrotechnists of Silence are ready. The image is at the primitive sources of emotion. Attempts have been made to capture it behind outmoded artistic formulas. Finally the good fight of white and black is going to begin on all the screens in the world. The floodgates of the new language are open. The letters of the new primer jostle each other, innumerable. Everything becomes possible! The Gospel of Tomorrow, the Spirit of Future Laws, the Scientific Epic, the Anticipatory Legend, the Vision of the Fourth Dimension of Existence, all the Interferences. Look! The revolution.
The camera which moves, which is no longer immobile, which records all levels simultaneously, which reverberates, which sets itself in motion.
In the theatres.
The spectator who is no longer immobile in his chair, who is wrenched out, assaulted, who participates in the action, who recognizes himself on the screen among the convulsions of the crowd, who shouts and cries out, protests and struggles.
At the same time, in all the cities of the world, the crowd which leaves the theatres, which runs out into the streets like black blood, which like a powerful animal extends its thousand tentacles and with a tiny effort crushes the palaces, the prisons.
Deep In the heart.
Watch the new generations growing up suddenly like flowers. Revolution. Youth of the world. Today.
WE: Variant of a Manifesto (USSR, 1922)
[First published in Russian as "My. Variant manifesta," in the program for the kino-documentarist group in 1919. First appeared in print in the journal Kino-Fot 1 (1922): 11-12. First appeared in English in the Art Council of Great Britain's Art in Revolution: Soviet Art and Design Since 1917 (London: Hayward Gallery, 1971), 94-96.]
Vertov's manifesto charts a different path from those of his Soviet contemporaries, focusing on the documentary. Like the futurists before him, Vertov argued for a pure cinema, a break away from the "cinematographers" who drew on theater traditions and told stories, and for the creation instead of a scientific cinema, so that humanity could become as finely tuned as what Hollis Frampton would later call the "cinema machine" itself. Like many who follow, Vertov calls for the death of cinema, so that it can be reborn anew.
We call ourselves kinoks-as opposed to "cinematographers," a herd of junkmen doing rather well peddling their rags.
We see no connection between true kinochestvo and the cunning and calculation of the profiteers.
We consider the psychological Russo-German film drama-weighed down with apparitions and childhood memories-an absurdity.
To the American adventure film with its showy dynamism and to the dramatizations of the American Pinkertons the kinoks say thanks for the rapid shot changes and the close-ups. Good . . . but disorderly, not based on a precise study of movement. A cut above the psychological drama, but still lacking in foundation. A cliché. A copy of a copy.
WE proclaim the old films, based on the romance, theatrical films and the like, to be leprous.
-Keep away from them!
-Keep your eyes off them!
-They're mortally dangerous!
WE affirm the future of cinema art by denying its present.
"Cinematography" must die so that the art of cinema may live. WE call for its death to be hastened.
We protest against that mixing of the arts which many call synthesis. The mixture of bad colors, even those ideally selected from the spectrum, produces not white, but mud.
Synthesis should come at the summit of each art's achievement and not before.
WE are cleansing kinochestvo of foreign matter-of music, literature, and theater; we seek our own rhythm, one lifted from nowhere else, and we find it in the movements of things.
WE invite you:
the sweet embraces of the romance,
the poison of the psychological novel,
the clutches of the theater of adultery;
to turn your back on music,
out into the open, into four dimensions (three + time), in search of our own material, our meter and rhythm.
The "psychological" prevents man from being as precise as a stopwatch; it interferes with his desire for kinship with the machine.
In an art of movement we have no reason to devote our particular attention to contemporary man.
The machine makes us ashamed of man's inability to control himself, but what are we to do if electricity's unerring ways are more exciting to us than the disorderly haste of active men and the corrupting inertia of passive ones?
Saws dancing at a sawmill convey to us a joy more intimate and intelligible than that on human dance floors.
For his inability to control his movements, WE temporarily exclude man as a subject for film.
Our path leads through the poetry of machines, from the bungling citizen to the perfect electric man.
In revealing the machine's soul, in causing the worker to love his workbench, the peasant his tractor, the engineer his engine-
we introduce creative joy into all mechanical labor,
we bring people into closer kinship with machines,
we foster new people.
The new man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will have the light, precise movements of machines, and he will be the gratifying subject of our films.
Openly recognizing the rhythm of machines, the delight of mechanical labor, the perception of the beauty of chemical processes, WE sing of earthquakes, we compose film epics of electric power plants and flame, we delight in the movements of comets and meteors and the gestures of searchlights that dazzle the stars.
Everyone who cares for his art seeks the essence of his own technique.
Cinema's unstrung nerves need a rigorous system of precise movement.
The meter, tempo, and type of movement, as well as its precise location with respect to the axes of a shot's coordinates and perhaps to the axes of universal coordinates (the three dimensions + the fourth-time), should be studied and taken into account by each creator in the field of cinema.
Radical necessity, precision, and speed are the three components of movement worth filming and screening.
The geometrical extract of movement through an exciting succession of images is what's required of montage.
Kinochestvo is the art of organizing the necessary movements of objects in space as a rhythmical artistic whole, in harmony with the properties of the material and the internal rhythm of each object.
Intervals (the transitions from one movement to another) are the material, the elements of the art of movement, and by no means the movements themselves. R is they (the intervals) which draw the movement to a kinetic resolution.
The organization of movement is the organization of its elements, or its intervals, into phrases.
In each phrase there is a rise, a high point, and a falling off (expressed in varying degrees) of movement.
A composition is made of phrases, just as a phrase is made of intervals of movement.
A kinok who has conceived a film epic or fragment should be able to jot it down with precision so as to give it life on the screen, should favorable technical conditions be present.
The most complete scenario cannot, of course, replace these notes, just as a libretto does not replace pantomime, just as literary accounts of Scriabin's compositions do not convey any notion of his music.
To represent a dynamic study on a sheet of paper, we need graphic symbols of movement.
WE are in search of the film scale.
WE fall, we rise . . . together with the rhythm of movements slowed and accelerated,
running from us. past us. toward us.
in a circle, or straight line, or ellipse,
to the right and left, with plus and minus signs;
movements bend, straighten, divide, break apart,
multiply, shooting noiselessly through space.
Cinema is, as well, the art of inventing movements of things in space in response to the demands of science; it embodies the inventor's dream-be he scholar, artist, engineer, or carpenter; it is the realization by kinochestvo of that which cannot be realized in life.
Drawings in motion. Blueprints in motion. Plans for the future. The theory of relativity on the screen.
WE greet the ordered fantasy of movement.
Our eyes, spinning like propellers, take off into the future on the wings of hypothesis.
WE believe that the time is at hand when we shall be able to hurl into space the hurricanes of movement, reined in by our tactical lassoes.
Hurrah for dynamic geometry, the race of points, lines, planes, volumes.
Hurrah for the poetry of machines, propelled and driving; the poetry of levers, wheels, and wings of steel; the iron cry of movements; the blinding grimaces of red-hot streams.
The Method of Making Workers' Films (USSR, 1925)
[First published in Russian in Kino, 11 August 1925. First published in English in Sergei Eisenstein, Film Essays, with a Lecture, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (London: Dennis Dobson, 1968), 17-19.]
In this statement from 1925 Eisenstein outlines the importance of the "montage of attractions" in the making of films for workers, drawing on his first feature, Strike (USSR, 1924) as an exemplar. He also warns that the "montage of attractions" can be used for neutral, revolutionary, or counterrevolutionary ends, foregrounding the fact that formalism alone is not a revolutionary practice.
There is one method for making any film: montage of attractions. To know what this is and way, see the book, Cinema Today, where, rather dishevelled and illegible, my approach to the construction of film works is described.
Our class approach introduces:
1. A specific purpose for the work-a socially useful emotional and psychological affect on the audience; this is to be composed of a chain of suitably directed stimulants. This socially useful affect I call the content of the work.
It is thus possible, for example, to define the content of a production. Do You Hear, Moscow?: the maximum tension of aggressive reflexes in social protest. Strike: an accumulation of reflexes without intervals (satisfaction), that is, a focussing of reflexes on struggle (and a lifting of potential class tone).
2. A choice of stimulants. In making a correct appraisal of the class inevitability of their nature, certain stimulants are capable of evoking a certain reaction (affect) only among spectators of a certain class. For a more precise effect the audience must be even more unified, if possible along professional lines: any director of "living newspaper" performances in clubs know [sic] how different audiences, say metal workers or textile workers, react completely differently and at different places in the same work.
Such class "inevitability" in matters of action can be easily illustrated by the amusing failure of one attraction that was strongly affected by the circumstances of one audience: I refer to the slaughter-house sequence of Strike. Its concentratedly associative affect of bloodiness among certain strata of the public is well known. The Crimean censor even cut it, along with the latrine scene. (That certain sharp affects are inadmissible was indicated by an American after seeing Strike: he declared that this scene would surely have been removed before the film was sent abroad.) It was the same kind of simple reason that prevented the usual "bloody" affect of the slaughter-house sequence from shocking certain worker-audiences: among these workers the blood of oxen is first of all associated with the by-product factories near the slaughter-house! And for peasants who are accustomed to the slaughter of cattle this affect would also be cancelled out.
The other direction in the choice of stimulants appears to be the class accessibility of this or that stimulant.
Negative examples: the variety of sexual attractions that are fundamental to the majority of bourgeois works placed on the market: methods that lead one away from concrete reality, such as the sort of expressionism used in Caligari; or the sweet middle-class poison of Mary Pickford, the exploited and systematically trained stimulation of all middle class inclinations, even in our healthy and advanced audiences.
The bourgeois cinema is no less aware than we are of class taboos. In New York City's censorship regulations we find a list of thematic attractions undesirable for film use: "relations between labour and capital" appears alongside "sexual perversion," "excessive brutality," "physical deformity" . . .
The study of stimulants and their montage for a particular purpose provides us with exhaustive materials on the question of form. As I understand it, content is the summary of all that is subjected to the series of shocks to which in a particular order the audience is to be exposed. (Or more crudely: so much per cent of material to fix the attention, so much to rouse the bitterness, etc.) But this material must be organised in accordance with a principle that leads to the desired affect.
Form is the realisation of these intentions in a particular material, as precisely those stimulants which are able to summon this indispensable per cent are created and assembled in the concrete expression of the factual side of the work.
One should, moreover, keep in mind the "attractions of the moment," that is, those reactions that flame forth temporarily in connection with certain courses or events of social life.
In contrast to these there are a series of "eternal" attractions, phenomena and methods.
Some of these have a class usefulness. For example, a healthy and integrated audience always reacts to an epic of class struggle.
Equal with these are the "neutrally" affective attractions, such as death-defying stunts, double entendres, and the like.
To use these independently leads to l'art pour l'art so as to reveal their counter-revolutionary essence.
As with the attraction moments, one ought to remember that neutral or accidental attractions cannot, ideologically, be taken for granted, but should be used only as a method of exciting those unconditioned reflexes that we wish to combine with certain objectives of our social aims.
Constructivism in the Cinema (USSR, 1928)
[First published in SA 3 (1928). First published in English in Stephen Bann, ed., The Tradition of Constructivism (New York: Viking, 1974), 129-132. Trans. John Bowlt.]
Written for the constructivist architecture magazine SA (Contemporary Architecture), Gan's manifesto shares many similarities with the constructivist film writings and manifestos published in the better-known LEF. Here Gan celebrates Esther Shub's The Great Road (USSR, 1928) as a key example of revealing the truth of the Revolution by constructing a cine document through the creation of an actorless cinema; Shub does so through her pioneering use of found footage.
The constructivists have also entered the cinema with their materialistic program. The cinema is the aggregate of an optical and mechanical apparatus. The cinema shows on the screen a sequence of photographic stills, i.e. movement. This provides us with the opportunity to capture immediately and dynamically the processes of all kinds of work and activity of society.
The cinema must become a cultural and active weapon of society. It is essential to master the scientific and technical methods of cinema in order to learn how to display reality as it really is, and not as the philistine imagines it. It is essential to find the right devices and to develop a working method of demonstration. This is not a dry logic of objects; it is not a formal definition. This is the class content of the new cinema industry in a country with a dictatorship of labor and socialist construction.
How does the Soviet state differ from other forms of social order?
First and foremost, it actively, by its own conduct, fights the old world. All class forces participate in this fight. The economic system, industrial relations, and the trifles of everyday life are being revolutionized, reorganized, and shifted from the positions they have occupied so long. Everyday reality is passing into a state of restive fermentation. The countless millions are encountering the unexpected and the unfamiliar. It is up to the avant-garde of our society to breach the strong walls of prejudice and superstition. And this is put into practice not through long roads of systematic education; it is fostered within the conditions of everyday reality, by the vital acts of revolutionary actuality. A mass method of education is impelled to search for faster, more mobile, and truer means of information and communication.
The printed word, the telegraph, the telephone, even radio broadcasts narrating events cannot replace the real demonstration and illustration of events. Only cinema, wrested from the tenacious paws of businessmen and art makers, is able to fulfill this national and international service. Only the cinema can, by visual apprehension, join society together and show the active struggle and construction of the evolving proletarian class.
Film that demonstrates real life documentarily, and not a theatrical film show playing at life-that's what our cine production should become. It is essential to find a new cine film. It is not enough to link, by means of montage, individual moments of episodic phenomena of life, united under a more or less successful title. The most unexpected accidents, occurrences, and events are always linked organically with the fundamental root of social reality. While apprehending them within the shell of their outer manifestation, one should be able to expose their inner essence by a series of other scenes. Only on such a basis can one build a vivid film of concrete, active reality-gradually departing from the newsreel, from whose material this new cine form is developing.
This platform was promoted as a school at a time (1922) when the Soviet cine industry was just emerging and when the restoration of the old, prerevolutionary cinema was proceeding more energetically.
At first the school's platform was ridiculed and our pamphlet, Long Live the Demonstration of Life, was characterized by the cine press as "the demonstration of stupidity." Following this, the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Party Central Committee declared at one of its conferences (1925) that "carefully selected films, both Soviet and foreign, can serve asagitational material on questions of politics and construction."
The newsreel and the film magazine [its resolution says] should be considered as particularly useful films. The production of films of this type should be put on the right lines, and in essential cases a purposeful character should be imparted to separate strips.
Films of this type should be acknowledged as more useful material for the needs of agitation and propaganda than the so-called topical films on everyday questions.
This resolution underlines the vitality of the cine platform of constructivism. The actorless cinema is becoming a "legitimate phenomenon" in the Soviet cinema industry and a serious rival to the idealistic concoctions of the theatrical cinema art. This was particularly clear during the tenth October anniversary. At this time several jubilee films were shown: on the one hand, Esther Shub's The Great Road, on the other, Pudovkin's End of St. Petersburg, Barnet's Moscow in October, and the Alexandrov-Eisenstein October. In the first, the historical truth of the Revolution was demonstrated, its victory and construction, as genuine cine documents. In the others, art makers attempted by various ways and means to re-create historical events by mobilizing all the magic forces of idealistic art. And despite the unequal conditions in production and the disparity in material resources, The Great Road proved to be the victor in this unfair competition.
Constructivism in architecture has been quite fully expressed in the magazine SA. Our opponents openly confess that it is precisely in this field that our school has achieved its firm and stable position, and they remark somewhat despondently that "for the time being architectural thought cannot counter constructivism with anything and thereby evidently recognizes its ideological superiority."
Preface: Un chien Andalou (France, 1928)
[First published in French as a preface to the script of Un chien andalou in La révolution surréaliste 12 (1929). Published in English in Luis Buñuel, An Unspeakable Betrayal: Selected Writings of Luis Buñuel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 162. Trans. Garrett White.]
One of the shortest manifestos in the book, and one of the most infamous. Here, Buñuel decries the polite, bourgeois, aesthete response to his film, which he nevertheless sees as a violent call to insurrection.
The publication of this screenplay in La Révolution surréaliste is the only one I have authorized. It expresses, without any reservations, my complete adherence to surrealist thought and activity. Un Chien andalou would not exist if surrealism did not exist.
A box-office success, that's what most people think who have seen the film. But what can I do about those who seek every novelty, even if that novelty outrages their most profoundly held convictions, about a sold-out or insincere press, about which this imbecilic crowd that has found beautiful or poetic that which, at heart, is nothing but a desperate, impassioned call for murder?
Manifesto of the Surrealists Concerning L'Age d'or (France, 1930)
The Surrealist Group (Maxime Alexandre, Louis Aragon, André Breton, René Char, René Crevel, Salvador Dalí, Paul Eluard, Benjamin Péret, Georges Sadoul, André Thirion, Tristan Tzara, Pierre Unik, Albert Valentin)
[First published in French by Studio 28 Cinema (Paris) for the launch of L'âge d'or on 29 November 1930. First published in English in Paul Hammond, The Shadow and Its Shadow: Writings on Surrealist Cinema (London: BFI, 1977), 115-122.]
One of the most extensive surrealist manifestos on the cinema, this text lays out the goals of Buñuel's L'âge d'or, which was quickly banned upon its release. The Surrealist Group argues that the film is psychoanalytic and explicitly explores the link Freud claims there is between sexuality and death. The manifesto also echoes the ideas raised in the Surrealist Group's "Hands Off Love," on the divorce of Charlie Chaplin from Lita Grey in 1927 (see "Hands Off Love" in chap. 5 of this volume).
On Wednesday 12 November 1930 and on subsequent days several hundred people, obliged to take their seats daily in a theatre, drawn to this spot by very different not to say contradictory aspirations covering the widest spectrum, from the best to the worst, these people generally unfamiliar with each other and even, from a social point of view, avoiding each other as much as they can, yet nevertheless conspiring, whether they like it or not, by virtue of the darkness, insensitive alignment and the hour, which is the same for all, to bring to a successful conclusion or to wreck, in Buñuel's L'Age d'or, one of the maximum lists of demands proposed to human consciousness to this day, it is fitting perhaps, rather than giving in to the pleasure of at last seeing transgressed to the nth degree the prohibitive laws passed to render inoffensive any work of art over which there is an outcry and faced with which we endeavour, with hypocrisy's help, to recognise in the name of beauty nothing but a muzzle, it is certainly fitting to measure with some rigour the wing span of this bird of prey so utterly unexpected today in the darkening sky, in the darkening western sky: L'Age d'or.
The Sexual Instinct and the Death Instinct
Perhaps it would be asking too little of today's artists that they confine themselves to establishing the brilliant fact that the sublimated energy smouldering within them will continue to deliver them up, bound hand and foot, to the existing order of things and will not make victims, through them, of anybody but themselves. It is, we believe, their most elementary duty to submit the activity which results from this sublimation of mysterious origin to intense criticism and not to shrink before any apparent excess, since above all else it is a question of loosening the muzzle we were speaking of. To give in, with all the cynicism this enterprise entails, to the tracking down within oneself and the affirmation of all the hidden tendencies of which the artistic end product is merely an extremely frivolous aspect, must not only be permitted but demanded of them. Beyond this sublimation of which they are the object and which could not be held without mysticism to be a natural aim, it only remains for them to propose to scientific opinion another term, once account has been taken by them of this sublimation. Today one expects of the artist that he know to what fundamental machination he owes his being an artist, and one can only give him title to this denomination as long as one is sure he is perfectly aware of this machination.
Now, disinterested examination of the conditions in which the problem is, or tends to be, resolved, reveals to us that the artist, Buñuel for example, merely succeeds in being the immediate location of a series of conflicts that two none the less associated human instincts distantly engage in: the sexual instinct and the death instinct.
Given that the universally hostile attitude involving the second of these instincts differs in each man only in its application, that purely economic reasons oppose themselves within present-day bourgeois society to whatever this attitude profits by in the way of other than extremely incomplete gratifications, these same reasons being themselves an unfailing source of conflict derived from what they might have been, and which it would be permissible then to examine, one knows that the amorous attitude, with all the egoism it implies and the much more appreciable chance of realisation it has, is the one which, of the two, succeeds in best sustaining the spirit's light. Whence the miserable taste for refuge of which much has been made in art for centuries, whence the great tolerance displayed to all that, in exchange for a good many tears and much gnashing of teeth, still helps place this amorous attitude above all else.
It is no less true, dialectically, that either one of these attitudes is only humanly possible as a function of the other, that these two instincts for preservation, tending, it has been pointed out, to re-establish a state troubled by the appearance of life, creates a perfect balance in every man, that social cowardliness which anti-Eros allows, at the expense of Eros, to be born. It is no less true that in the violence we see in an individual's spirited amorous passion we can assess his capacity for refusal, we can, from a revolutionary viewpoint, making light of the fleeting inhibition in which his education may or may not sustain him, give him more than a symptomatic role.
Once, and this is always the case, this amorous passion shows itself to be so clear about its own determination, once it bristles the disgusting spines of the blood of what one wants to love and what, occasionally, one loves, once the much maligned frenzy has taken over, outside of which we, Surrealists, refuse to hold up any expression of art as valid, and we know the new and dramatic limit of compromise through which every man passes and through which, in proposing to write or paint, we are the first and the last to have, without more ample information-this more ample information being L'Age d'or-consented to pass.
It's the Mythology That Changes
At the present, undoubtedly most propitious time for a psychoanalytic investigation which aims to determine the origin and formation of moral myths, we believe it possible, by simple induction, marginal to all scientific accuracy, to conclude in the possible existence of a criterion that would free itself in a precise way from everything that can be synthesised in the general aspirations of Surrealist thought and which would result, from the biological point of view, in an attitude contrary to that which permits the admission of the various moral myths as the residue of primitive taboos. Completely opposed to this residue we believe (paradoxical as it may seem) that it is within the domain of what one is in the habit of reducing to the limitations (!) of the congenital, that a depreciative hypothesis of these myths would be possible according to which the divination and mythification of certain fetishistic representations of moral meaning (such as those of maternity, old age, etc.) would be a product which, by its relation to the affective world, at the same time as its mechanism of objectification and projection to the external, could be considered as an obviously complicated case of collective transference in which the demoralising role would be played by a powerful and profound sense of ambivalence.
The often complete individual psychological possibilities of destruction of a vast mythic system coexist with the well-known and no less frequent possibility of rediscovering in earlier times, by a process of regression, already existing archaic myths. On the one hand that signifies the affirmation of certain symbolic constants in unconscious thought, and on the other, the fact that this thought is independent of every mythic system. So everything comes back to a question of language: through unconscious language we can rediscover a myth, but we are very much aware that mythologies change and that on every occasion a new psychological hunger of paranoiac tendency overtakes our often miserable feelings.
One must not trust in the illusion that may result from the lack of comparison, an illusion similar to the illusion of the moving off of a stationary train when another train passes by the carriage window and, in the instance of ethics, similar to the tendency of facts towards evil: everything happens as if, contrary to reality, what is changing was not events exactly but, more seriously, mythology itself.
Sculptural reproductions of various allegories will take their place in a perfectly normal way in the moral mythologies of the future, among which the most exemplary will prove to be the one of a couple of blind people eating each other and that of an adolescent "spitting with pure delight on his mother's portrait," a nostalgic look on his face.
The Gift of Violence
Waging the most desperate struggle against all artifice, subtle or vulgar, the violence in this film divests solitude of all it decks itself out in. In isolation each object, each being, each habit, each convention, even each image, intends to revert to its reality, without materialising, intends to have no more secrets, to be defined calmly, uselessly, by the atmosphere it creates, the illusion being lost. But here is a mind that does not accept remaining alone and which wants to revenge itself on everything it seizes on in the world imposed on it.
In his hands sand, fire, water, feathers, in his hands arid joy of privation, in his eyes anger, in his hands violence. After having been for so long the victim of confusion man replies to the calm that's going to cover him in ashes.
He smashes, he sets to, he terrifies, he ransacks. The doors of love and hatred are open, letting violence in. Inhuman, it sets man on his feet, snatches from him the possibility of putting an end to his stay on earth.
Man breaks cover and, face to face with the vain arrangement of charm and disenchantment, is intoxicated with the strength of his delirium. What does the weakness of his arms matter when the head itself is so subjected to the rage that shakes it?
Love and Disorientation
We are not far from the day when it will be seen that, despite the wear and tear that bites into us like acid, and at the foundation of that liberating or sombre activity which is the seeking after a cleaner life in the very bosom of the machinery with which ignominy industrialises the city,
alone remains without perceptible limits and dominates the deepness of the wind, the diamond mine, the constructions of the mind and the logic of the flesh.
The problem of the bankruptcy of feelings intimately linked with the problem of capitalism, has not yet been resolved. One sees everywhere a search for new conventions that would help in living up to the moment of an as yet illusory liberation. Psychoanalysis can be accused of having created the greatest confusion in this area, since the very problem of love has remained outside the signs that accompany it. It is the merit of L'Age d'or to have shown the unreality and insufficiency of such a conception. Buñuel has formulated a theory of revolution and love that goes to the very core of human nature, by the most moving of debates, and determined by an excess of well-meaning cruelty, that unique moment when you obey the wholly distant, present, slow, most pressing voice that yells through pursed lips so loudly it can hardly be heard:
LOVE . . . LOVE . . . Love . . . love . . .
It is useless to add that one of the culminating points of this film's purity seems to us crystallised by the image of the heroine in her room, when the power of the mind succeeds in sublimating a particularly baroque situation into a poetic element of the purest nobility and solitariness.
Situation in Time
Nothing is more useless today than that a very pure, unassailable thing be the expression of what is most pure, most unassailable in man, when whatever he does, whatever we do, to insure his labours against injury, against misunderstanding-by which we mean merely to point out the worst that consists in the turning of that thought to the profit of another not on a par with it-whatever he does, we say, is done in vain. At present everything seems indifferently usable towards ends we have denounced and reproved too often to be able to disregard every time we come up against them, for instance when we read in Les annales a statement in which the last clown to have done so indulged in some delirious commentary on Un Chien andalou and felt qualified by his admiration to discover a link between the film's inspiration and his own poetry. There can, however, be no mistake. But whatever fence we put around a seemingly well-protected estate we can be sure it will immediately be covered in shit. Although the means of aggression capable of discouraging swindling can hardly be contained within a book, painting or film, despite everything we continue to think that provocation is a precaution like any other and, on this plane, that nothing prevents L'Age d'or deceiving whoever hopes conveniently to find in it grist for his mill. The taste for scandal which Buñuel displayed, not from deliberate whimsy, but for reasons on the one hand personal to him that invoke, on the other, the desire to alienate forever the curious, the devotees, jokers and disciples who were looking for an opportunity to exercise their more or less large capacity for airing their views, if such a mind has succeeded this time in the scheme it undertook, we could think he had no other ambition. It's up to the critical profession to look for more, and concerning this film, to put questions about the scenario, technique, use of dialogue. As long as nobody expects us to furnish them with arguments meant to fuel their debate on the expediency of silence or sound, for we maintain that this is a quarrel as vain, as resolved as the one between classical and free verse. We are too sympathetic to what, in a work or in an individual, is left to be desired to be very interested in perfection, wherever that idea of perfection comes from, in some progress it seems to initiate. That is not the problem Buñuel sets out to solve. And can one even speak of a problem in reference to a film in which nothing that moves us is evaded or remains in doubt? What do we retain of the interminable reel of film put before our eyes till today and now dispersed, certain fragments of which were just the recreation of an evening to be killed, certain others the subject of despondency or unbelievable cretinisation, others the cause of a brief and incomprehensible exaltation, if not the voice of the arbitrary perceived in some of Mack Sennett's comedies, of defiance in Entr'acte, of a savage love in White Shadows, the voice of equally unlimited love and despair in Chaplin's films? Apart from these, nothing outside of The Battleship Potemkin's indomitable call to revolution. Nothing outside of Un Chien andalou and L'Age d'or, both situated beyond anything that exists.
Let's give way, therefore, to that man who, from one end of the film to the other, passes through it, traces of dust and mud on his clothes, indifferent to all that does not uniquely concern the love occupying him, driving him on, around which the world is organised and rotates, this world he is not on terms with and to which, once again, we belong only to the degree we protest against it.
Social Aspect-Subversive Elements
One would have to go back a long way to find a cataclysm comparable to the age we live in. One would probably have to go right back to the collapse of the ancient world. The curiosity attracting us to those troubled times, times similar, with certain reservations, to our own, would love to rediscover in that time something more than history. A Christian heaven, alas, has completely obliterated everything else, and there is nothing in it that one has not already seen on the ceilings of the Ministry of the Interior or on the rocks by the seaside. This is why the genuine traces left on the human retina by the needle of a great mental seismographer will always be, unless they disappear along with everything else when capitalist society is annihilated, of utmost importance to those whose chief concern is to define the critical point at which reality is replaced by "simulacra." Whether the sun sets once and for all depends on the will of mankind. Projected at a time when banks are being blown up, rebellions breaking out and artillery rumbling out of arsenals, L'Age d'or should be seen by all those who are not yet disturbed by the news which the censors still let the papers print. It is an indispensable moral complement to the stock-market scare, and its effect will be direct precisely because of its Surrealist nature. For there is no fictionalisation of reality. The first stones are laid, conventions become a matter of dogma, the cops push people around just as they have always done, and, as always too, various accidents occur within bourgeois society that are received with total indifference. These accidents which, it will be noticed, are presented in Buñuel's film as philosophically pure, weaken the powers of endurance of a rotting society which is trying to survive by using the clergy and the police as its only buttresses. The ultimate pessimism issuing from the very bosom of the ruling class as its optimism disintegrates becomes in turn a powerful force in the decomposition of that class, takes on the value of negation immediately translated into anticlerical, therefore revolutionary, action since the struggle against religion is also the struggle against the world.
The transition from pessimism to the stage of action is brought about by Love, the root, according to bourgeois demonology, of all evil, that Love which demands the sacrifice of everything: status, family, honour, the failure of which within the social framework leads to revolt. A similar process can be seen in the life and work of the Marquis de Sade, a contemporary of that golden age of absolute monarchy interrupted by the implacable physical and moral repression of the triumphant bourgeoisie. It is not by chance that Buñuel's sacrilegious film is an echo of the blasphemies screamed by the Divine Marquis through the bars of his prison cells. Obviously the final outcome of this pessimism in the struggle and triumph of the proletariat, which will mean the decomposition of class society, remains to be seen. In a period of "prosperity" the social value of L'Age d'or must be established by the degree to which it satisfies the destructive needs of the oppressed, and perhaps also by the way in which it flatters the masochistic tendencies of the oppressors. Despite all threat of suppression this film will, we feel, serve the very useful purpose of bursting through skies always less beautiful than those it shows us in a mirror.
Manifesto on "Que Viva Mexico" (USA, 1933)
The Editors of Experimental Film
[First published in Experimental Film 2, no. 5 (1934): 14.]
The following manifesto emerged from the controversy surrounding the tumultuous end of filming of Eisenstein's Que viva Mexico, which he made at the end of his Hollywood sojourn after the debacle of trying to work for Jesse L. Lasky at Paramount studios in the early 1930s. Many on the filmmaking left believed that Eisenstein was betrayed by writer and political activist Upton Sinclair, allowing Eisenstein's work to be edited by someone else in order to try and recoup the expenditures on the film. The closest to an integral version of the film that follows Eisenstein's notes for the film's montage is Grigori Alexandrov's cut of the film, released in 1979.
The notion of anyone doing the montage of Eisenstein's film except Eisenstein himself is outrageous to all the canons of Art. No economic situation justifies such an aesthetic crime.
Of the grandeur of the undamaged original (The Last Supper) we can only guess. . . . Dreadful restorations were made by heavy-handed meddlers; some imbecile Dominican monks cut a door through the lower central part; Napoleon's dragoons stabled their horses in the refectory and threw their boots at Judas Iscariot; more restorations and more disfigurements.
-Thomas Craven, Men and Art
To Our Readers
Last year, a great deal of space was devoted to a film entitled Que Viva Mexico!, which S. M. Eisenstein, the renowned Soviet director was making at that time. There were two articles on the film, one of them an authorized interpretation by Augustin Aragon Leiva, Eisenstein's special assistant throughout the production. In addition, there were ten pages of still reproductions, which, to quote Laurence Stallings, gave a "foretaste" of the film. The editors of Experimental Cinema were more than merely enthusiastic about it: they had been given a copy of the scenario by Eisenstein himself and they were convinced that Que Viva Mexico! would materialize, as no film had ever done, the highest principles of the cinema as a fine art.
There is now being released on the world market a movie called Thunder Over Mexico, which is what it is: a fragmentary and entirely conventional version of Eisenstein's original majestic conception. The story behind this commercialized version is without doubt the greatest tragedy in the history of films and one of the saddest in the history of art. It represents the latest instance of a film director, in this case a genius of the first rank, forfeiting a masterpiece in a hopeless struggle against sordid commercial interests.
We decry this illegitimate version of "QUE VIVA MEXICO!" and denounce it for what it is-a mere vulgarization of Eisenstein's original conception put forth in his name in order to capitalise on his renown as a creative artist. We denounce the cutting of "QUE VIVA MEXICO!" by professional Hollywood cutters as an unmitigated mockery of Eisenstein's intention. We denounce "THUNDER OVER MEXICO" as a cheap debasement of "QUE VIVA MEXICO!"
Asall students of the cinema are aware, Eisenstein edits ("mounts") his own films. Contrary to the methods generally employed by professional directors in Hollywood, Eisenstein gives final form to the film in the cutting-room. The very essence of his creative genius, and of his oft-quoted theory of the cinema, consists in the editing of the separate shots after all the scenes have been photographed. Virtually every film director of note has testified, time and again, to the revolutionary consequences of Eisenstein's montage technique on the modern cinema, and every student of the cinema knows how impossible it is for anyone except Eisenstein to edit his pictures. "THUNDER OVER MEXICO" has not been edited by Eisenstein and yet is being exploited into [sic] as his achievement. The editing of "THUNDER OVER MEXICO" is not Eisenstein montage.
Out of approximately 200,000 feet of film shot by Eisenstein in Mexico, a picture of some 7,000 feet cut according to conventional Hollywood standards, has been produced,-an emasculated fragment of Eisenstein's original scenario which provided for six interrelated episodes, in which were included a dramatic prologue depicting the life of ancient Yucatan and an epilogue foreshadowing the destinies of the Mexican people. What has happened to this material?
Eisenstein's original prologue, which was intended to trace the sources and primitive manifestations of Mexican culture, thus projecting the most vital cultural forms among the Aztecs, Toltecs and the Mayans, has been converted into a pseudo-travelogue.
Worse than this is the fate of Eisenstein's original epilogue, which was intended to establish the timeless continuity of types from ancient Yucatan to modern Mexico, and which was meant to anticipate the revolutionary urge dormant in the descendants of those ancient races. Under the guidance of Eisenstein's backers, who have never from the start shown a due consciousness of what the film is all about, the epilogue has now been converted into a cheerful ballyhoo about "a new Mexico," with definite fascist implications.
The remaining mass of material, consisting of more than 180,000 feet, is in danger of being sold piecemeal to commercial film concerns.
Thus, Eisenstein's great vision of the Mexican ethos, which he had intended to present in the form of a "film symphony," has been destroyed. Of the original conception, as revealed in the scenario and in Eisenstein's correspondence with the editors of Experimental Cinema, nothing remains in the commercialized version except the photography, which no amount of mediocre cutting could destroy. As feared by Eisenstein's friends and admirers, the scenario, written in the form of a prose poem, merely confused the professional Hollywood cutters. The original meaning of the film has been perverted by reduction of the whole to a single unconnected romantic story which the backers of the picture are offering to please popular taste. The result is "Thunder Over Mexico": a "Best-Picture-of-the-Year," Hollywood special, but in the annals of true art, the saddest miscarriage on record of a high and glorious enterprise.
For more than a year Eisenstein's friends and admirers in the United States have been appealing to his backers, represented by Upton Sinclair, to save the picture and to preserve it so that eventually Eisenstein might edit it. A campaign was even launched to raise $100,000 to purchase the material for Eisenstein. Finally, a Committee for Eisenstein's Mexican Film was formed, consisting of the editors of Experimental Cinema and including Waldo Frank, Lincoln Kirstein, Augustin Aragon Leiva and J. M. Valdes-Rodriguez. All these efforts however, were unsuccessful. It is now too late to stop the release of "Thunder Over Mexico."
But there is one alternative left to those who wish to save the original negative of "QUE VIVA MEXICO!": the pressure of world-wide appeal to the conscience of the backers may induce them to realize the gravity of the situation and give the film to Eisenstein.
The purpose of this manifesto, therefore, istwo-fold: (1) to orient and forewarn public taste on the eve of the arrival of a much misrepresented product, "Thunder Over Mexico"; and (2) to incite public opinion to bring pressure to bear upon the backers in a last effort to save the complete negative, both cut and uncut, for Eisenstein.
Lovers of film art! Students of Eisenstein! Friends of Mexico! Support this campaign to save the negative of "QUE VIVA MEXICO!" Do not be satisfied with any substitutes for Eisenstein's original vision! Make this campaign an unforgettable precedent that will echo throughout film history, a warning to all future enemies of the cinema as a fine art!!!
Send letters of protest and appeal to Upton Sinclair, 614 North Arden Drive, Beverly Hills, California, and communicate immediately with the Committee for Eisenstein's Mexican Film, c/o Experimental Cinema, International Film Quarterly, 1625 North Vine Street, Hollywood, California.
EDITORS OF EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA.
Foreign Film Journals: Please copy! Immediate Propaganda essential! Film Societies: Duplicate this manifesto! Distribute to your members!
Write for extra copies.
Do not allow this cowardly assassination of Eisenstein's Mexican film!
Spirit of Truth (France, 1933)
[First published in French as "Esprit de vérité," Mouvement (France) 1 (1933): 10-13. First published in English in Richard Abel, ed., French Film Theory and Criticism, vol. 2, 1929-1939 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 111-113. Trans. Richard Abel.]
Like many of the early avant-garde manifestos in this book, Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier's manifesto considers the way in which mechanization, and in particular the mechanization brought about by the camera lens, changes the viewer's relationship to the real, revealing in the process a heretofore unseen scientific reality. Like the constructivists, Le Corbusier sees mechanization as the twentieth century's defining principle, but he also considers the role played by vision in a way that foreshadows Stan Brakhage's infamous manifesto on vision (see the excerpt from Brakhage's Metaphors on Vision later in this chapter).
Sprit of Truth!
Here, too, and fundamentally. In the cinema: spirit of truth.
I have claimed it insistently for architecture; and, in 1924, at the time of the preparations for the International Exposition of Decorative Arts, I intimated clearly by that insistence that decorative art had no right to exist-at least as the distressingly encumbered, bloated facade that it had become.
The splendor and drama of life emerges from the truth; and 90 percent of the cinema's production is delusion. It simply exploits a remarkable technical advantage: the elimination of transitions, the easy possibility of suppressing "dead spaces." Thus, it soothes us with images, sometimes engaging ones. And we wait patiently, we wait.
We await the truth.
Assuredly, everything is architecture, that is, ordered or arranged according to proportions and the selection of proportions: intensity. But intensity is possible only if the objects considered are precise, exact, sharply angled (a fog bank can not very well be considered as a precise event).
Therefore, it's necessary to conceive and then to see. It's necessary to have the notion of vision. For, to seek out men who see is to test the experiment of Diogenes.
The theater and theater people who tell stories have led the cinema into perdition. These people who are so full of bombast and grandiloquence have interposed themselves between us and the true voyeur: the lens.
Since we have fallen so low, it would be useful, for a time, to put our trust once again in technique itself, in order to return to essential things. To the basic elements. To culminate, consequently, in a recovery of the consciousness of the possibilities of the cinema. And thus to be able to discover life, in what there is that's true, in what it contains that's so prodigiously intense, varied, multiple.
The base is the apparatus of physics, the lens of the camera-as eye.
An eye which is impassive, insensitive, implacable, pitiless, insusceptible to emotion. This eye sees differently from our own, and here's why:
The recording instrument of our human vision is perhaps the most wonderful and perfect optical machine. But what it sees is only perceived by means of our understanding, the keyboard of the totality of human sensation, which is theoretically infinite in its range. Here we are limited in the recording of our vision, however, by the simultaneous presence of other perceptions intervening at the same moment, encumbering our keyboard, overwhelming it, deluging it. If everything, for us, is symphonic, synthetic, synchronic, everything also exists only according to an ordinary measure, to human scale: a kind of central zone which circumscribes our understanding. And we know how much it is limited. And what efforts those whom we call scientists or geniuses must make in order to extend some path farther, whether to the left or the right.
But if, through a fortunate conjunction, some discovery is made, we can appreciate the beacon of light it projects beyond the things we accept as given. Science and its still youthful daughter, the Machine, have extended certain of our means of perception and have thrown out bridges beyond the impassable zones of our senses and our skills.
Thus, the various calculating machines, created in the last few years, have allowed us to undertake series of calculations previously considered inaccessible and suddenly have propelled certain investigations far ahead. Without the machine, such calculations had been chimerical. The scientist who previously attempted such an adventure had to suffer weeks of wear and tear in order to come up with just one of the terms of a still indecisive equation. So fatiguing was the effort that the imagination, the spiritual impulse, which had launched the enterprise, dissipated, drained away, and disappeared; reasoning was exhausted in the steady march of days, weeks, and months, engulfed in weighty calculations.
A mechanical creation: the impassive, indefatigable machine . . . and it liberates thinking. In several days, the scientist clinches the parabolic coordinates of his hypothesis; he concludes, sets forth an opinion, then a formula. A law emerges. And infinite consequences can result from that for men's lives.
The lens of the camera is one of these machines which dispel fatigue.
While you suffer the effect of contingencies, you're hot or cold, you're fatigued or distracted, your own consciousness is weighted down by internal events, you're overwhelmed by the tumult or silence, etc., etc. . . . a single lens and a sensitive filmstock go on working brilliantly.
A god's eye, demiurge, while you yourself are only a poor good-natured fellow assailed by life.
Documentary, especially the scientific kind (Painlevé, or the miraculous films on the growth of seeds and plants), has revealed mysteries of the universe which previously have been beyond our perception.
But I want the lens now to disclose the intensity of human consciousness to us through the intermediary of visual phenomena which are so subtle and so rapid in nature that we have no means ourselves to discover and record them: we are unable to observe them, we simply feel their radiance.
Yet, when some pleasure arises in us, within us, when restlessness oppresses us, when anxiety fills all the planes of our sensibility, whether on the street or at home, we seem to encompass so many diverse, almost immaterial events-faces, gestures, attitudes-as if we were a mold or a vessel. And the friend we meet says to us: "Do you feel this way? Do you feel that way?" He has known it from perceptible signs: the nuance, the infinite nuances of the game of life, within us. This unexpected meeting with a friend represents precisely the distance needed to establish a sense of proportion.
I say, therefore, that the nerveless, soulless lens is a prodigious voyeur, a discoverer, a revealer, a proclaimer.
And through it, we can enter into the truth of human consciousness. The human drama is wide open to us.
That's what interests me.
On the one hand, the spectacle of the world (where the airplane, the microphone, slow motion, the electric light, etc. . . . bring their immense resources to the cinema), the spectacle of the world can be accessible to us. On the other hand, the truth of our consciousness can be shown, more than that, it can be revealed by means of our very own selves.
Nature and human consciousness are the two terms of the equation, which interests us. Nothing else is needed, everything is there.
Let us construct [the cinema] on these realities, on these truths: composition, balance, rhythm! Let lyricism infuse it in order that this quest be carried out on the terrain of creative work!
I believe I've shown that from now on the cinema is positioning itself on its own terrain. That it is becoming a form of art in and of itself, a kind of genre, just as painting, sculpture, literature, music, and theater are genres. And that everything is open to its investigation.
It's no longer appropriate to dream of magnificent mise-en-scenes in the studios, of expensive paraphernalia, of superfilms and superproductions.
Great art employs limited means.
Great art, in truth, is only a matter of proportions.
The cinema appeals "to the eyes that see." To the men sensitive to truths. Diogenes has found a light for his lantern: no need for him to embark for Los Angeles.
An Open Letter to the Film Industry and to All Who Are Interested in the Evolution of the Good Film (Hungary, 1934)
[First published in Sight and Sound 3, no. 10 (1934): 56-57.]
Former Bauhaus faculty member László Moholy-Nagy wrote this for the UK publication Sight and Sound shortly before his immigration to London in 1935. He had a long-standing interest in the cinema, publishing Malerei, Fotografie, Film (Material, Photography, Film) in 1925. This manifesto decries the commercialization of the cinema and calls for state and educational support in the nurturing of a new generation of filmmakers. It is worth noting that a mere thirty-nine years after the arrival of the cinema, many in the avant-garde were already fulminating against its decline, if not calling for its death outright, as did Vertov some years before.
SHALL we look on while the film, this wonderful instrument, is being destroyed before our eyes by stupidity and a dull-witted amateurism? The unbiased observer cannot fail to see, to his great distress, that the film production of the world is growing more and more trivial every year. To the trained eye and mind the present-day film can give no pleasure. This criticism is not confined to the artistic side of film-making. The whole film industry is in danger. This is shown by its increasing incapacity to produce a financial return. Gigantic sums are swallowed up by desperate experiments, extravagance in superficial matters not strictly proper to the film; monster decorations, piling up of stars, paying huge salaries to secure performers who turn out unsuitable for filming. This expenditure will never bring in its return, so that the film is slipping back. With increasing certainty into the hands of the adventurers, from whom it had been rescued after its initial period of being a purely speculative business.
The root of all evil is the exclusion of the experimental film creator, of the free independent producer.
Yesterday there were still crowds of pioneers in all countries; to-day the whole field is made a desert, mown bare. But art can know no further development without the artist, and art requires full sovereignty over the means to be employed. Every work of art attains its achievement only through the responsible activity of the artist, driven to his objective by his vision of the whole. This is true of architecture, of painting, of drama. It is equally true of the film, and cannot be otherwise.
From the nature of the film arises the difficulty of experimentation, the nursery-garden of good film work; for to the film there is attached a machinery of production and distribution, the organisation of which stretches from the scenario through acting, photography, sound recording, direction, and film-cutting up to press propaganda, leasing and cinema halls. Only thus could what was once a side-show at a fair be converted into a world-wide business. Amongst the economic complications of this enormous machine the artistic aspect is treated so incidentally, judged so entirely from the mercantile standpoint, that the significance of the creative artist of the film is completely eliminated. One might almost say the director is forced through fear of penalisation to do without the cinematograph art. By becoming part of the prevailing system of production, even the best pioneers have, to the bitter disappointment of all those interested in films, sunk to the level of the average director. The independent producers were an embarrassment to the industry. The existence of the pioneers implied a destructive criticism of official production. The vitality of the small works, their faith in the cinematographic art, while hardly removing mountains, did box the ears of the industry soundly. They swung out for a counter-blow without realizing the soundness of these pioneer movements, their effort to press forward on the artistic side. So the industry carefully stamped out anything which was even suggestive of pioneer effort. Their crowning victory was found in the necessity of specially constructed buildings for sound-film production and showing, and consequently the final business monopolisation of the "art of the film."
The way was freed once more for mechanized business. The industry was victorious all along the line.
Everything contributed to help them; legislation regulations concerning quotas and import restrictions, censorship, leasing, cinema owners and short-sighted critics. But the victory of the industry has been a costly one. Art was to be destroyed in the interests of business, but the boomerang has whizzed back and struck the business side. People do not go to boring films, in spite of the calculation of returns made by the film magnate on the theory that every adult must visit the cinema twice weekly at an average price of so many cents, pennies, pfennigs or sous, per ticket.
Shall the artist now, after all the kicks he has received, turn round and help the business side to think? Shall he take a hand again, and beg with economic arguments for the weapons of the spirit that were struck from his hands?
Good, we will do so.
Now we start estimating profits.
The culture of the film grew with the onlooker. History records no similar process of general passive participation, extending to all nations and continents, in an applied art and its development to that relating to the cinema. By the numerically enormous part played in human life generally by attendance at cinemas, even the most primitive member of an audience is in a position to exercise criticism of the film and register any slackening of creative interest. This means the necessity of straining every nerve in creative work. But where is that work to come from, if the artist is to he excluded from the creative process?
A pioneer group is thus not only an artistic but an economic necessity.
All barriers against pioneer effort must therefore be removed. Encouragement, private, industrial and official, must therefore be extended to the independent cinematograph artist.
This means that we demand for him:
(1) From the State
(a) Removal of censorship restrictions.
(b) No taxation on his creations.
(c) Payment of allowances.
(2) From the industry, in accordance with output.
(d) Obligatory performances by leasing agents and theatres.
(3) Education in artistic film work must be begun long before the practical side. The antiquated art school curriculum must be replaced by the establishment of
(a) Studios for lighting (artificial light)
(b) Photo and film studios (camera technique)
(c) Dramatic classes
(d) Theoretical, physical and experimental departments.
To formulate and fight for these demands is terribly necessary at the present time, for our generation is beginning to exploit without initiative or talent the magnificent technical heritage of the previous century. It remains to be hoped that these statements of opinion will remind a few, at least, of the intellectual problems which the conscience of the thinking man bids him solve.
Light*Form*Movement*Sound (USA, 1935)
Mary Ellen Bute
[First published in Design Magazine (New York), 1956.]
Experimental animator Mary Ellen Bute's manifesto outlines some of the key elements of Absolute Film-a cinema that relies primarily on visual and aural abstraction. Like her contemporary abstract animators Norman McLaren, Len Lye, and Oskar Fischinger, Bute argues for a synesthetic cinema that disavows realism and instead explores the nature of the visual and aural fields.
The Absolute Film is not a new subject. It is concerned with an art which has had as logical a development as other arts, perhaps slowly but naturally.
This art is the interrelation of light, form, movement, and sound-combined and projected to stimulate an aesthetic idea. It is unassociated with ideas of religion, literature, ethics or decoration. Here light, form, and sound are in dynamic balance with kinetic space relations.
The Absolute Film addresses the eye and the ear. Other motion pictures, although making use of sensations of sight and sound, address not the eye and the ear but the intellect. For example, in realistic films, the medium is subordinate to story, symbol or representation. We view an Absolute Film as a stimulant by its own inherent powers of sensation, without the encumbrance of literary meaning, photographic imitation, or symbolism. Our enjoyment of an Absolute Film depends solely on the effect it produces: whereas, in viewing a realistic film, the resultant sensation is based on the mental image evoked.
Cinematographers, painters and musicians find a common enthusiasm in the absolute film. Through using the motion picture camera creatively, cameramen find a seemingly endless source of new possibilities and means of expression undreamed of while the camera was confined to use merely as a recording device. But we must turn back to painters and musicians to find the ideas which probably motivated the Absolute Film into a state of being.
Work in the field of the Absolute Film is accelerating both here and abroad. The foundations for it were laid years ago, and it was more recently anticipated by Cézanne and his followers with whom we have an abstract art of painting taking form. Cézanne used the relationships between color and form, discarding the former mixture of localized light and shade by stressing relationship, he lifted color from imitating objective nature to producing a visual sensation in itself. His paintings of still lifes: apples and tablecloth, are not conceived in a spirit of objective representation; they are organized groups of forms having relationships, balanced proportions and visual associations. His use of color on a static surface reaches a point where the next step demanded an introduction of time sequence and a richer textural range.
The Cubists tried to produce on a static surface a sensation to the eye, analogous to the sensation of sound to the ear. That is, by the device of presenting simultaneously within the same visual field the combined aspects of the same object views from many different angles or at different intervals. They tried to organize forms distantly related to familiar objects to convey subjective emotions aroused by the contemplation of an objective world.
The element of music appears in the paintings of Kandinsky. He painted abstract compositions based on an arbitrary chromatic scale of the senses.
The word color appears often in the writing of Wagner. In the "Reminis of Amber" (1871) he writes: "Amber made his music reproduce each contrast, every blend in contours and color-we might almost fancy we had actual music paintings."
There is simply no end to the examples which we might cite. Some musicians have gone on record as having color associations with specific instruments.
These experiments by both musicians and painters, men of wide experience with their primary art material, have pushed this means of combining the two mediums up into our consciousness. This new medium of expression is the Absolute Film. Here the artist creates a world of color, form, movement, and sound in which the elements are in a state of controllable flux, the two materials (visual and aural) being subject to any conceivable interrelation and modification.
Prolegomena for All Future Cinema (France, 1952)
[First published in French as "Prolégomènes à tout cinéma futur," Ion (France) 1, 1952. Trans. Scott MacKenzie.]
This manifesto is Guy Debord's first published work, from the one-shot journal Ion, dedicated to Lettriste cinema. Debord deploys the Lettriste concepts of the "chiseling" and "amplic" phases of art in this manifesto, but one can see he is already moving away from Isidore Isou's brand of Lettrism as he postulates his theory of "situations" in the concluding line of the manifesto. Published slightly before the release of his first film, Hurlements en faveur de Sade (France, 1952), this issue of Ion also includes the preliminary script to the film, which contained found footage elements and is quite different from the final version, which is made up of alternating clear film and black leader with voice-overs on the clear leader. The last twenty-four minutes of the film consist only of black leader and are silent.
Love is only valid in a revolutionary period.
I made this film while there is still time to talk.
One must rise with the most violence possible against an ethical order that will later be obsolete.
As I do not like writing, I lack the leisure to create a work that will be less than eternal: my film will remain among the most important in the history of the reproductive hypostasis of cinema by means of a terrorist disorganization of the discrepant.
Chiseling of the photograph and lettrism (found elements) are envisioned as the expression of such a revolt.
Chiseling bars certain moments of the film which closes the eyes in the face of the excess of the disaster. Lettriste poetry howls for a broken universe.
The commentary is thrown into question by:
The censored phrase, or the suppression of words (cf. Appel pour la destruction de la prose théorique) denounces repressive forces.
Spelled words, sketch an even more total dislocation.
The destruction will follow an overlap of image and sound with:
The torn visual-sound phrase, or the photo invading verbal expression.
Spoken-written dialogue, when phrases are written on the screen, continue on the soundtrack, and respond to each other.
Finally, I come to the death of discrepant cinema by the relation of two non-senses (images and words perfectly insignificant), a relation that will be overtaken by a scream.
But all of this belongs to an epoch that is finishing, and that no longer interests me.
The values of creation are shifting toward the conditioning of the spectator, with what I have called three-dimensional psychology, and the nuclear cinema of Marc'O that begins another amplic stage
The arts of the future will be radical transformations of situations or nothing at all.
No More Flat Feet! (France, 1952)
Lettriste International (Serge Berna, Jean-Louis Brau, Guy Debord, and Gil J. Wolman)
[First distributed at Charlie Chaplin's press conference for Limelight in Paris on 29 October 1952. First published in Internationale Lettriste 1 (1952). First published in English in Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 340-341. Trans. Sophie Rosenberg.]
The Lettriste International's (an offshoot group founded by Debord) protest of Charlie Chaplin-a figure usually revered by the European avant-garde, and indeed celebrated by Debord earlier in the year in his first film, Hurlements en faveur de Sade-is not noted in either Chaplin's autobiography or any of the standard accounts of his life and work. Perhaps this is because of the political situation that overshadowed Chaplin's arrival in Europe: on his way to the European premieres of Limelight (US, 1952), the American attorney general withdrew Chaplin's reentry visa, under pressure from HUAC and allegations he was a communist. The protest where the LI tract was distributed took place at the Ritz Hotel, where Chaplin was thanking the French government for awarding him the Légion d'honneur. While trying to get through to where Chaplin was speaking, Debord and Serge Berna were stopped by the police in the kitchen of the hotel (ironically, they were thwarted because the police thought they were overexuberant fans of Charlot).
Sub Mack Sennett director, sub-Max Linder actor, Stavisky of the tears of unwed mothers and the little orphans of Auteuil, you are Chaplin, emotional blackmailer, master-singer of misfortune.
The cameraman needed his Delly. It's only to him that you've given your works, and your good works: your charities.
Because you've identified yourself with the weak and the oppressed, to attack you has been to attack the weak and oppressed-but in the shadow of your rattan cane some could already see the nightstick of a cop.
You are "he-who-turns-the-other-cheek"-the other cheek of the buttock-but for us, the young and beautiful, the only answer to suffering is revolution.
We don't buy the "absurd persecutions" that make you out as the victim, you flat-footed Max de Veuzit. In France the Immigration Service calls itself the Advertising Agency. The sort of press conference you gave at Cherbourg could offer no more than a piece of tripe. You have nothing to fear from the success of Limelight.
Go to sleep, you fascist insect. Rake in the dough. Make it with high society (we loved it when you crawled on your stomach in front of little Elizabeth). Have a quick death: we promise you a first-class funeral.
We pray that your latest film will truly be your last.
The fires of the kleig lights have melted the makeup of the so-called brilliant mime-and exposed the sinister and compromised old man.
Go home, Mister Chaplin.
The Lettristes Disavow the Insulters of Chaplin (France, 1952)
Jean-Isidore Isou, Maurice Lemaître, and Gabriel Pomerand
[First published in French as "Les lettristes désavouent les insulteurs de Chaplin," Combat (France), 1 November 1952. Trans. NOT BORED!]
Isou and the Lettristes responded to the new Lettriste International with a defense of Chaplin. The fact that the LI went after this icon underscores the fact that they wanted to instantiate a radical break not only with capitalist cultures but also with the previous avant-gardes.
The members of the Lettriste movement are united on the basis of new principles of knowledge and each keeps his independence as far as the details of the application of these principles. We all know that [Charles] Chaplin was been "a great creator in the history of the cinema" but "the total (and baroque) hysteria" that has surrounded his arrival in France has embarrassed us, as does the expression of all mental instability. We are ashamed that the world today lacks more profound values than these, which are secondary and "idolatrous" of the "artist." Only the Lettristes who signed the tract against Chaplin are responsible for the extreme and confused content of their manifesto. As nothing has been resolved in this world, "Charlot" receives, along with applause, the splashes [éclaboussures] of this non-resolution.
We, the Lettristes who were opposed to this tract of our comrades from the beginning, smile at the maladroit expression of the bitterness of their youth.
If "Charlot" must receive mud, it won't be us who throw it at him. There are others, who paid to do it (the Attorney General, for example).
We thus revoke our solidarity from the tract of our friends and we associate ourselves with the homage rendered to Chaplin by the entire populace.
In their turn, the other Lettristes can explain themselves, in their own journals or in the press.
But "Charlot" and all this only constitutes a simple nuance.
The Only Dynamic Art (USA, 1953)
[First published in Films in Review 4, no. 10 (1953): 511-515.]
Jim Davis's manifesto describes his realization that the cinema was the only media that could properly encapsulate the demands of the twentieth century. Like Mary Ellen Bute before him, Davis-the director of such abstract films as Light Reflections (USA, 1952), Energies (USA, 1957), and Impulses (USA, 1959)-uses abstract cinema as a means to create a dynamic experience that expands in visual field and allows for the temporal, and not solely the static, to be the subject of visual art. While somewhat forgotten today, Davis's visually stunning work greatly influenced Stan Brakhage, among many others.
After thirty years as a painter and sculptor I have come to the conclusion that the only recording medium with which a visual artist can express the ideas of our time adequately is motion picture film.
My own experience and observation of the work of contemporary painters and sculptors have convinced me that the traditional media of painting and sculpture are too limited for the full, or even satisfactory, depiction of the complexities of the twentieth century. I believe the artist who clings to these old tools dooms himself to repetition of ideas better expressed in previous cultures, or to regression into the primitive, or to being so subjective he ceases to communicate with anyone but himself.
I have therefore abandoned painting and sculpture and adopted the film medium.
In the motion picture camera the artist has a tool that enables him to communicate to his fellow men all that is new and progressive in contemporary existence and thought. The motion picture camera opens up a vast new subject matter-the unexplored world of visual movement. Now, for the first time in history, an artist can express reality dynamically instead of statically. In the artist's increasing perception of the role of motion in nature and the universe (and man's life) future historians will discern our day's major contribution to the development of the visual arts.
Because motion picture film is a dynamic medium, the artist, by means of it, can depict and deploy concepts of modern science that have hitherto defied representation. Current scientific dogma describes reality statistically not statically, as a never ending flux, a continuous process of becoming. Even the man on the street now speaks of time as the fourth dimension, however ignorant he may be of what physicists imply by a space-time continuum. As our minds become accustomed to the notion of time as the fourth dimension, to the relativism implicit in the space-time concept, and to electronically revealed glimpses of the microscopic and the macroscopic, our thoughts, and our dreams, alter. With what, if not with these alterations, should the genuine artist be concerned? And with what but the motion picture camera can the artist express these new perceptions and intuitions?
When the artists of the Renaissance abandoned the flat, two-dimensional painting of the primitives for the then revolutionary three-dimensional kind, they also abandoned tempera, mosaic, stained glass, etc., for the newly invented medium of oil painting. Similarly, the artist who has abandoned the static concepts of the nineteenth century for the more inclusive space-time ones of today, must abandon oil painting for something more dynamic. What else is there but motion picture film?
So-called modern art is static and is a regression to the two-dimensional perceptions of the primitive, or the child, or to three-dimensional concepts of the last five centuries. I agree with that large section of the public, which says: "If this is art, give me the movies." For implicit in the public's preference is an instinctive sense of the universal fact that nothingis static and that the only changeless thing we know is change (i.e., motion).
In the past artists have used forms of color to represent-or imitate-the forms of familiar objects in nature. Whenever the artist did not imitate nature, and used non-representational, or invented, forms, he did so merely for decorative purposes. Not so the architect. To solve his problems he has evolved shapes and forms that have no counterparts in nature. So must the artist who is aware of the miracles that occur in our body's cells and in the all-pervasive ramifications of light, and in those workings of the atom that are so prescient of the future.
Invented forms are abstractions and the serious artist uses them to suggest the causative processes of nature, not the concrete objects which are their results. These processes or nature are dynamic, and to be expressed adequately must be shown in motion. Abstract painting and sculpture, of course, are static, and thereby invalid. Without motion abstract forms and patterns are meaningless. At best, they are mere decoration. At worst, they are esthetic and psychological obfuscation.
The artist who uses film adds, to the problem of how to organize space, the element of time. Other arts have been concerned with time, most notably music, and the abstract film is more closely related to music than to traditional painting, which has predominantly been concerned with the literary, and only recently with the abstract.
Just as the musician organizes rhythms of sound in order to stimulate imagination and produce an emotional response, so I organize visual rhythms of moving forms of color. Also like the musician, who doesn't use the sounds of nature but invented sounds, produced by various instruments, I use invented forms of color, which I produce artificially with brightly colored transparent plastics. I set them in motion, play light upon them, and film what happens. Obviously, I am not trying to present facts or to tell a story. I am trying to stir the creative imagination of my fellow men.
When watching my films it is a mistake to search for hidden meanings or to try to identify shapes with familiar concrete objects. I do not know what these invented forms signify, or adumbrate. Nor does anyone else-yet. I only know they have the power to elicit emotional, imaginative, and intellectual, responses, which vary with each individual. Their meaning is of the future, and may lie in the realm of kinetics, or in that of optics. Their meaning may ultimately be nuclear. But my purpose is to stimulate interest in hitherto unperceived aspects of the physical universe, in hitherto unrecognized potentialities in the human imagination, and not to explain them.
But I do not deal in fantasy. My invented forms should not be confused with distortions of natural objects irrationally produced. I work rationally toward nature, not away from it into psychological unreality. Let us remember that though mathematical symbols are abstractions, they elucidate the workings of nature, and that although when Reimann invented his tensors he did not know of any application for them, Einstein supplied one.
Although I am interested in suggesting analogies to science, I am more interested in the analogies in my films to music. I deem music the most abstract, as well as the most human, of all the arts, and the art that comes closest to expressing the truth.
I also consciously suggest relations to the dance, for the art of gesture is a basic ingredient of moving pictures. Film also has the power to express subjective ideas, and it is with these that the artist is temperamentally most concerned. I personally prefer fact to fiction, for Ibelieve there to be more poetry in the former, and that human beings ought, as W. D. Howells said, to have "due regard for the poetry which exists in facts and which resides nowhere else." It is, of course, as all artists know, possible to organize facts in a manner more related to poetry than to fiction. In the films I have photographed from nature I have preferred not to use visual forms for documentation, but for the creation of subjective moods and the suggestion of ideas. This is a personal predilection.
In photographing nature I have concentrated upon aspects of it, which are so obvious, and commonplace they are usually unnoticed. As, for example, the reflection and refraction of light from and in moving objects. The artist who concerns himself with nature's unperceived natural phenomena need not travel to faraway places. All he needs is an open eye and certain serenity, a freedom from his own concerns, and, above all, release from the anthropomorphic compulsion. He also needs light, and a motion picture camera.
So incredible are the forms and movements of nature that when they are shown on the screen, they are often confused with the inventions of the abstract artist. Needless to say, they should not be.
In addition to recording unnoticed aspects of uncontrolled nature, I also make abstract films. But these derive from my nature films. For I am at some pains to study the principles underlying those phenomena of nature, which visually can be so astonishing, and after I have mastered these scientific principles, I try to apply them when I create wholly invented forms and movements.
For example: I recently made a motion picture of the astonishing images produced by the reflections of houses, trees, clouds, etc. on the surface of moving water. Later, I made a film of equally surprising images produced by the reflections of invented objects on the moving surfaces of sheets of highly polished plastics. It may be asked: what do these photographed reflections of invented objects connote? Do they appertain to the nature of light, or are they psycho-physiological phenomena? I think much about these things, and believe the philosophic concept of "becoming" has relevance here.
Abstract films do refer to reality, be it chemical, electrical, physical, or psycho-physiological, be the reference ever so remote. But films of fantasy do not. They refer to unreality-the unreality of the dream, or of the subconscious mind. Fantasy arises not from objective fact, or from invention. But from distortion of fact. Now when distortions of fact are set in motion the effect is surprisingly powerful. Need I say that it is film, not painting or sculpture, which makes even the unreal world of fantasy seem more "real"?
I recently made a film that is pure fantasy. In it I did not record nature accurately, nor present new, invented forms and movements. Instead, I distorted nature's forms. Specifically, I distorted the forms of the human body to such a degree that they are almost unrecognizable. The effect is quite nightmarish. In making this film I did exactly what the surrealist and other modern painters do-i.e. I irrationally distorted nature's forms in accordance with the dictates of the whims, obsessions, rationalizations, delusions and compulsions of my subconscious mind.
Unfortunately, the subjective fantasies and distortions of reality in present day painting and sculpture are accepted as reality by a great many people who ought to know better (most of whom profess a disdain for the movies). Even Picasso's absurd "I detest nature" is taken seriously. Because it is taken seriously it is a far graver threat to culture than Grade B movies. For they, at least, do not lead to a rejection of nature and of the life of our period as well. Modern art is not revolutionary, and presents nothing that isnew. It merely distorts the old and the familiar.
Today, the artist who prefers reality to fantasy, and his own period in history to that of the past, will find there are few things the old tools of painting and sculpture can do that film can not do better, and many things film can do the older media cannot do at all. Clinging to the old tools obliges the artist to reject the new ideas of today simply because they cannot be expressed in the old media. Thus, by clinging to painting and sculpture the artist impedes the development of a new culture.
William James said that history "is nothing but the record of man's struggle to find the ever more inclusive order." Today we live in a dynamic, scientific, industrial and democratic order, not in a static, religious, agricultural and socially exclusive order. The old hand tools are as inadequate in the arts as they are in the crafts. It has been said "everyone sides with the priests or the prophets." As an artist I side with the prophets rather than with the high priests of art.
Therefore I have no choice, I mustadopt this new medium of the motion picture film.
A Statement of Principles (USA, 1961)
[First distributed by Deren at private screenings of her films. First published in Film Culture 22/23 (1961): 161-162.]
Unlike many of the manifestos in this book, Maya Deren's was written after the fact, as an overall statement on her work. A pioneering avant-garde filmmaker, her first film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), was also highly influential for avant-garde feminist film theorists and filmmakers in the 1970s. In "A Statement of Principles" Deren offers a complex, universal tapestry of the psyche and argues that her films capture and reflect these internal contradictions.
My films are for everyone.
I include myself, for I believe that I am a part of, not apart from humanity; that nothing I may feel, think, perceive, experience, despise, desire, or despair of is really unknowable to any other man.
I speak of man as a principle, not in the singular nor in the plural.
I reject the accountant mentality which could dismember such a complete miracle in order to apply to it the simple arithmetic of statistics-which would reduce this principle to parts, to power pluralities and status singularities, as if man were an animal or a machine whose meaning was either a function of his size and number-or as if he were a collector's item prized for its singular rarity.
I reject also that inversion of democracy which is detachment, that detachment which is expressed in the formula of equal but separate opinions-the vicious snobbery which tolerates and even welcomes the distinctions and divisions of differences, the superficial equality which stalemates and arrests the discovery and development of unity.
I believe that, in every man, there is an area which speaks and hears in the poetic idiom . . . something in him which can still sing in the desert when the throat is almost too dry for speaking.
To insist on this capacity in all men, to address my films to this-that, to me, is the true democracy . . .
I feel that no man has a right to deny this in himself; nor any other man to accept such self debasement in another, under this guise of democratic privilege.
My films might be called metaphysical, referring to their thematic content. It has required millenniums of torturous evolution for nature to produce the intricate miracle which is man's mind. It is this which distinguishes him from all other living creatures, for he not only reacts to matter but can mediate upon its meaning. This metaphysical action of the mind has as much reality and importance as the material and physical activities of his body. My films are concerned with meanings-ideas and concepts-not with matter.
My films might be called poetic, referring to the attitude towards these meanings. If philosophy is concerned with understanding the meaning of reality, then poetry-and art in general-is a celebration, a singing of values and meanings. I refer also to the structure of the films-a logic of ideas and qualities, rather than causes and events.
My films might be called choreographic, referring to the design and stylization of movement which confers ritual dimension upon functional motion-just as simple speech is made into song when affirmation of intensification on a higher level is intended.
My films might be called experimental, referring to the use of the medium itself. In these films, the camera is not an observant, recording eye in the customary fashion. The full dynamics and expressive potentials of the total medium are ardently dedicated to creating the most accurate metaphor for the meaning.
In setting out to communicate principles, rather than to relay particulars, and in creating a metaphor which is true to the idea rather than to the history of experience of any one of several individuals, I am addressing myself not to any particular group but to a special area and definite faculty in every or any man-to that part of him which creates myths, invents divinities, and ponders, for no practical purpose whatsoever, on the nature of things.
But man has many aspects-he is a many-faceted being-not a monotonous one-dimensional creature. He has many possibilities, many truths. The question is not, or should not be, whether he is tough or tender, and the question is only which truth is important at any given time.
This afternoon, in the supermarket, the important truth was the practical one; in the subway the important truth was, perhaps, toughness; while later, with the children, it was tenderness.
Tonight the important truth is the poetic one.
This is an area in which few men spend much time and in which no man can spend all his time. But it is this, which is the area of art, which makes us human and without which we are, at best, intelligent beasts.
I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days.
I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films.
And what more could I possibly ask, as an artist, than that your most precious visions, however rare, assume, sometimes, the forms of my images.
The First Statement of the New American Cinema Group (USA, 1961)
New American Cinema Group
[First published in Film Culture 22-23 (1961): 131-133.]
This manifesto for the New American Cinema outlines many of the precepts to be followed by what was variously called experimental, underground, and avant-garde film in New York in the 1960s, becoming the backbone to what P. Adams Sitney would later canonize in Visionary Film (1974). This manifesto, concerned more with production than aesthetics, nevertheless delineates the co-operative, communal, and artisanal practices that would dominate New American Cinema in its early years. The corruption addressed in this manifesto was a recurring theme in the writings of the New York avant-garde and in those of Jonas Mekas in particular.
In the course of the past three years we have been witnessing the spontaneous growth of a new generation of film makers-the Free Cinema in England, the Nouvelle Vague in France, the young movements in Poland, Italy, and Russia, and, in this country, the work of Lionel Rogosin, John Cassavetes, Alfred Leslie, Robert Frank, Edward Bland, Bert Stern and the Sanders brothers.
The official cinema all over the world is running out of breath. It is morally corrupt, esthetically obsolete, thematically superficial, temperamentally boring. Even the seemingly worthwhile films, those that lay claim to high moral and esthetic standards and have been accepted as such by critics and the public alike, reveal the decay of the Product Film. The very slickness of their execution has become a perversion covering the falsity of their themes, their lack of sensibility, their lack of style.
If the New American Cinema has until now been an unconscious and sporadic manifestation, we feel the time has come to join together. There are many of us-the movement is reaching significant proportions-and we know what needs to be destroyed and what we stand for.
As in the other arts in America today-painting, poetry, sculpture, theatre, where fresh winds have been blowing for the last few years-our rebellion against the old, official, corrupt and pretentious is primarily an ethical one. We are concerned with Man. We are concerned with what is happening to Man. We are not an esthetic school that constricts the filmmaker within a set of dead principles. We feel we cannot trust any classical principles either in art or life.
1. We believe that cinema is indivisibly a personal expression. We therefore reject the interference of producers, distributors and investors until our work is ready to be projected on the screen.
2. We reject censorship. We never signed any censorship laws. Neither do we accept such relics as film licensing. No book, play or poem-no piece of music needs a license from anybody. We will take legal action against licensing and censorship of films, including that of the U.S. Customs Bureau. Films have the right to travel from country to country free of censors and the bureaucrats' scissors. [The] United States should take the lead in initiating the program of free passage of films from country to country.
Who are the censors? Who chooses them and what are their qualifications? What's the legal basis for censorship? These are the questions which need answers.
3. We are seeking new forms of financing, working towards a reorganization of film investing methods, setting up the basis for a free film industry. A number of discriminating investors have already placed money in Shadows, Pull My Daisy, The Sin of Jesus, Don Peyote, The Connection, Guns of the Trees. These investments have been made on a limited partnership basis as has been customary in the financing of Broadway plays. A number of theatrical investors have entered the field of low budget film production on the East Coast.
4. The New American Cinema is abolishing the Budget Myth, proving that good, internationally marketable films can be made on a budget of $25,000 to $200,000. Shadows, Pull My Daisy, The Little Fugitive prove it. Our realistic budgets give us freedom from stars, studios, and producers. The film maker is his own producer, and paradoxically, low budget films give a higher return margin than big budget films.
The low budget is not a purely commercial consideration. It goes with our ethical and esthetic beliefs, directly connected with the things we want to say, and the way we want to say them.
5. We'll take a stand against the present distribution-exhibition policies. There is something decidedly wrong with the whole system of film exhibition; it is time to blow the whole thing up. It's not the audience that prevents films like Shadows or Come Back, Africa from being seen but the distributors and theatre owners. It is a sad fact that our films first have to open in London, Paris or Tokyo before they can reach our own theatres.
6. We plan to establish our own cooperative distribution center. This task has been entrusted to Emile de Antonio, our charter member. The New York Theatre, The Bleecker St. Cinema, Art Overbrook Theatre (Philadelphia) are the first movie houses to join us by pledging to exhibit our films. Together with the cooperative distribution center, we will start a publicity campaign preparing the climate for the New Cinema in other cities. The American Federation of Film Societies will be of great assistance in this work.
7. It's about time the East Coast had its own film festival, one that would serve as a meeting place for the New Cinema from all over the world. The purely commercial distributors will never do justice to cinema. The best of the Italian, Polish, Japanese, and a great part of the modern French cinema is completely unknown in this country. Such a festival will bring these films to the attention of exhibitors and the public.
8. While we fully understand the purposes and interests of Unions, we find it unjust that demands made on the independent work, budgeted at $25,000 (most of which is deferred), are the same as those made on a $1,000,000 movie. We shall meet with the unions to work out more reasonable methods, similar to those existing off-Broadway-a system based on the size and nature of the production.
9. We pledge to put aside a certain percentage of our film profits so as to build up a fund that would be used to help our members finish films or stand as a guarantor for the laboratories.
In joining together, we want to make it clear that there is one basic difference between our group and organizations such as United Artists. We are not joining together to make money. We are joining together to make films. We are joining together to build the New American Cinema. And we are going to do it together with the rest of America, together with the rest of our generation. Common beliefs, common knowledge, common anger and impatience binds us together-and it also binds us together with the New Cinema movements of the rest of the world. Our colleagues in France, Italy, Russia, Poland or England can depend on our determination. As they, we have had enough of the Big Lie in life and the arts. As they, we are not only for the new cinema: we are also for the New Man. As they, we are for art, but not at the expense of life. We don't want false, polished, slick films-we prefer them rough, unpolished, but alive; we don't want rosy films-we want them the color of blood.
Foundation for the Invention and Creation of Absurd Movies (USA, 1962)
[First published in Film Culture 24 (1962): 19.]
A humorous manifesto by filmmaker Ron Rice that nevertheless gets to the heart of the aesthetic he developed with a pre-Warholian Taylor Mead. In Underground Films: A Critical History (1969), Parker Tyler labeled Rice's work as Kerouacian "dharma-bum films," which, in the tradition of the Beats, worked to break down the distinction between art and life.
Taylor Mead and I were often asked how we worked on the conception, actin [sic] and shooting of The Flower Thief. Merely answering this question would give away our whole secret of developing the kino-eye technique of advanced underground study and aplication [sic].
The collaboration between a director and his actor can take a wide variety of forms and positions. In the classic Cinema there is a seperation [sic] of scenario and image, in short content and form. We decided to completely throw out content and concentrate only on form. After this was decided I called Hollywood and asked J. B. to send up to San Francisco a complete "Direct it yourself technician kit."
The following Friday I received a CABLEGRAM, it read . . . SORRY: HOLLYWOOD UNABLE TO SEND KIT; SUGGEST YOU CONTACT THE NEAREST MENTAL HOSPITAL: JB.
After years of underground study we were refused. Reluctantly I told Taylor. The San Francisco film festival was drawing near and we had not one foot of film to show. I was distressed and feeling sad. As a last resort I decided to call Jungle Sam Katzman. Jungle Sam came through. He sent five thousand feet of unused 16mm war surplus machine gun film for our vision.
We now had the film and I borrowed a camera from a friend who was involved in a film scratching and coloring contest. My friend was completely disinterested in the possibilities of photography at this time. He let me use the camera rent free.
We went to our location, everything was ready to roll, I was just gonna press the button on the camera when Taylor asked me what makes Cinema an Art Form.
I was struck dumm [sic], but I managed to get out the words . . . Film is an art because of the differences between a natural event and its appearance on the screen. This difference makes film an art form. Taylor said NO. The thing that makes film an art is that film creates a reality with forms.
We could not agree. We argued and fought until the light disappeared.
The following day we realized how absurd we were and agreed not to argue the subject. From this agreement The Flower Thief was born.
From Metaphors on Vision (USA, 1963)
[First published in Film Culture 30 (1963): 25-34.]
Metaphors on Vision is one of the key, if not the key, manifestos of the New American Cinema movement. Influenced by Paul Cézanne, Ezra Pound, and William Blake, among many others, Stan Brakhage's manifesto on vision stresses the power of the cinema to strip away our acculturated experience of sight, and to allow us to see, as if for the first time, anew. Brakhage argues that sight allows for knowledge that's beyond the capabilities of language. His cinema is to some degree a cinema of interiority, placing onscreen the dialectic between the artist and the viewfinder, the synthesis projected as a reimagined world.
Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of "Green"? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the "beginning was the word."
To see is to retain-to behold. Elimination of all fear is in sight-which must be aimed for. Once vision may have been given-that which seems inherent in the infant's eye, an eye which reflects the loss of innocence more eloquently than any other human feature, an eye which soon learns to classify sights, an eye which mirrors the movement of the individual toward death by its increasing inability to see.
But one can never go back, not even in imagination. After the loss of innocence, only the ultimate of knowledge can balance the wobbling pivot. Yet I suggest that there is a pursuit of knowledge foreign to language and founded upon visual communication, demanding a development of the optical mind, and dependent upon perception in the original and deepest sense of the word.
Suppose the Vision of the saint and the artist to be an increased ability to see-vision. Allow so-called hallucination to enter the realm of perception, allowing that mankind always finds derogatory terminology for that which doesn't appear to be readily usable, accept dream visions, day-dreams or night-dreams, as you would so-called real scenes, even allowing that you are focused upon and attempt to sound the depths of all visual influence. There is no need for the mind's eye to be deadened after infancy, yet in these times the development of visual understanding is almost universally forsaken.
This is an age which has no symbol for death other than skull and bones of one stage of decomposition . . . and it is an age which lives in fear of total annihilation. It is a time haunted by sexual sterility yet almost universally incapable of perceiving the phallic nature of every destructive manifestation of itself. It is an age which artificially seeks to project itself materialistically into abstract space and to fulfill itself mechanically because it has blinded itself to almost all external reality within eyesight and to the organic awareness of even the physical movement properties of its own perceptibility. The earliest cave paintings discovered demonstrate that primitive man had a greater understanding than we do that the object of fear must be objectified. The entire history of erotic magic is one of possession of fear thru holding it. The ultimate searching visualization has been directed toward God out of the deepest possible human understanding that there can be no ultimate love where there is fear. Yet in this contemporary time how many of us even struggle to deeply perceive our own children?
The artist has carried the tradition of visual [sic] and visualization down through the ages. In the present time a very few continued the process of visual perception in its deepest sense and transformed their inspirations into cinematic experiences. They create a new language made possible by the moving picture image. They create where fear before them has created the greatest necessity. They are essentially preoccupied by and deal imagistically with-birth, sex, death, and the search for God.
The Camera Eye
Oh transparent hallucination, superimposition of image, mirage of movement, heroine of a thousand and one nights (Scheherazade must surely be the muse of this art), you obstruct the light, muddle the pure white beaded screen (it perspires) with your shuffling patterns. Only the spectators (the unbelievers who attend the carpeted temples where coffee and paintings are served) think your spirit is in the illuminated occasion (mistaking your sweaty, flaring, rectangular body for more than it is). The devout, who break popcorn together in your humblest double-feature services, know that you are still being born, search for your spirit in their dreams, and dare only dream when in contact with your electrical reflection. Unknowingly, as innocent, they await the priests of this new religion, those who can stir cinematic entrails divinely. They await the prophets who can cast (with the precision of Confucian sticks) the characters of this new order across filmic mud. Being innocent, they do not consciously know that this church too is corrupt; but they react with counter hallucinations, believing in the stars, and themselves among these Los Angelic orders. Of themselves, they will never recognize what they are awaiting. Their footsteps, the dumb drum which destroys cinema. They are having the dream piped into their homes, the destruction of the romance thru marriage, etc.
So the money vendors have been at it again. To the catacombs then, or rather plant this seed deeper in the undergrounds beyond false nourishing of sewage waters. Let it draw nourishment from hidden uprising springs channeled by gods. Let there be no cavernous congregations but only the network of individual channels, that narrowed vision which splits beams beyond rainbow and into the unknown dimensions. (To those who hand their freedom, and allow the distant to come to you; and when mountains are moving, you will find no fat in this prose.) Forget ideology, for film unborn as it is has no language speaks like an aborigine-monotonous rhetoric. Abandon aesthetics-the moving picture image without religious foundations, let alone the cathedral, the art form, starts its search for God with only the danger of accepting an architectural inheritance from the categorized "seven," other arts its sins, and closing its circle, stylish circle, therefore zero. Negate technique, for film, like America, has not been discovered yet, and mechanization, in the deepest possible sense of the word, traps both beyond measuring even chances-chances are these twined searches may someday orbit about the same central negation. Let film be. It is something . . . becoming. (The above being for creator and spectator alike in searching, an ideal of religion where all are priests both giving and receiving, or witch doctors, or better witches, or . . . 0, for the unnameable).
And here, somewhere, we have an eye (I'll speak for myself) capable of any imagining (the only reality). And there (right there) we have the camera eye (the limitation, the original liar); yet lyre sings to the mind so immediately (the exalted selectivity one wants to forget that its strings can so easily make puppetry of human motivation (for form as finality) dependent upon attunation [sic], what it's turned to (ultimately death) or turned from (birth) or the way to get out of it (transformation). I'm not just speaking of that bird on fire (not thinking of circles) or of Spengler (spirals neither) or of any known progression (nor straight lines) logical formation (charted levels) or ideological formation (mapped for scenic points of interest); but I am speaking for possibilities (myself), infinite possibilities (preferring chaos).
And here, somewhere, we have an eye capable of any imaginings. And then we have the camera eye, its lenses grounded to achieve 19th-century Western compositional perspective (as best exemplified by the 19th-century architectural conglomeration of details of the "classic" ruin) in bending the light and limiting the frame of the image just so, its standard camera and projector speed for recording movement geared to the feeling of the ideal slow Viennese waltz, and even its tripod head, being the neck it swings on, balled with bearings to permit it that Les Sylphides motion (ideal to the contemplative romantic) and virtually restricted to horizontal and vertical movements (pillars and horizon lines), a diagonal requiring a major adjustment, its lenses coated or provided with filters, its light meters balanced, and its color film manufactured, to produce that picture postcard effect (salon painting) exemplified by those oh so blue skies and peachy skins.
By deliberately spitting on the lens or wrecking its focal intention, one can achieve the early stages of impressionism. One can make this prima donna heavy in performance of image movement by speeding up the motor, or one can break up movement, in a way that approaches a more direct inspiration of contemporary human eye perceptibility of movement, by slowing the motion while recording the image. One may hand hold the camera and inherit worlds of space. One may over- and underexpose the film. One may use the filters of the world, fog, downpours, unbalanced lights, neons with neurotic color temperatures, glass which was never designed for a camera, or even glass which was but which can be used against specifications, or one may photograph an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset, those marvelous taboo hours when the films labs will guarantee nothing, or one may go into the night with a specified daylight film or vice versa. One may become the supreme trickster, with hatfulls of all the rabbits listed above breeding madly. One may, out of incredible courage, become Méliès, that marvelous man who gave even the "art of the film" its beginning in magic. Yet Méliès was not witch, witch doctor, priest, or even sorcerer. He was a 19th-century stage magician. His films are rabbits.
What about the hat? or if you will, the stage, the page, the ink, the hieroglyphic itself, the pigment shaping that original drawing, the musical and/or all other instruments for copulaand-then-procreation? Kurt Sachs talks sex (which fits the hat neatly) in originating musical instruments, and Freud's revitalization of symbol charges all contemporary content in art. Yet possession thru visualization speaks for fear-of-death as motivating force-the tomb art of the Egyptian, etc. And then there's "In the beginning," "Once upon a time," or the very concept of a work of art being a "Creation." Religious motivation only reaches us thru the anthropologist these days-viz., Frazer on a golden bough. And so it goes-ring around the rosary, beating about the bush, describing. One thread runs clean thru the entire fabric of expression-the trick-and-effect. And between those two words, somewhere, magic . . . the brush of angel wings, even rabbits leaping heavenwards and, given some direction, language corresponding. Dante looks upon the face of God and Rilke is head among the angelic orders. Still the Night Watch was tricked by Rembrandt and Pollack was out to produce an effect. The original word was a trick, and so were all the rules of the game that followed in its wake. Whether the instrument be musical or otherwise, it's still a hat with more rabbits yet inside the head wearing it i.e., thought's trick, etc. Even The Brains for whom thought's the world, and the word and vision audibility of it, eventually end with a Ferris wheel of a solar system in the middle of the amusement park of the universe. They know it without experiencing it, screw it lovelessly, find "trick" or "effect" derogatory terminology, too close for comfort, are utterly unable to comprehend "magic." We are either experiencing (copulating) or conceiving (procreating) or very rarely both are balancing in that moment of living, loving, and creating, giving and receiving, which is so close to the imagined divine as to be more unmentionable than "magic."
In the event you didn't know "magic" is realmed in "the imaginable," the moment of it being when that which is imagined dies, is penetrated by mind and known rather than believed in. Thus "reality" extends its picketing fence and each is encouraged to sharpen his wits. The artist is one who leaps that fence at night, scatters his seeds among the cabbages, hybrid seeds inspired by both the garden and wits-end forest where only fools and madmen wander, seeds needing several generations to be . . . finally proven edible. Until then they remain invisible, to those with both feet on the ground, yet prominent enough to be tripped over. Yes, those unsightly bulges between those oh so even rows will find their flowering moment . . . and then be farmed. Are you really thrilled at the sight of a critic tentatively munching artichokes? Wouldn't you rather throw overalls in the eventual collegic chowder? Realize the garden as you will-the growing is mostly underground. Whatever daily care you may give it-all is planted only by moonlight. However you remember it-everything in it originates elsewhere. As for the unquotable magic-it's as indescribable as the unbound woods it comes from.
(A foot-on-the-ground-note: The sketches of T. E. Lawrence's "realist" artist companion were scratches to Lawrence's Arab friends. Flaherty's motion picture projection of Nanook of the North was only a play of lights and silhouettes to the Aleutian Islander Nanook himself. The schizophrenic does see symmetrically, does believe in the reality of Rorschach, yet he will not yield to the suggestion that pinpoint light in a darkened room will move, being the only one capable of perceiving its stasis correctly. Question any child as to his drawing and he will defend the "reality" of what you claim to be "scribbles." Answer any child's question and he will shun whatever quest he'd been beginning.)
Light, lens concentrated, either burns negative film to a chemical crisp which, when lab washed, exhibits the blackened pattern of its ruin or, reversal film, scratches the emulsion to eventually bleed it white. Light, again lens concentrated, pierces white and casts its shadow-patterned self to reflect upon the spectator. When light strikes a color emulsion, multiple chemical layers restrict its various wave lengths, restrain its bruises to eventually produce a phenomenon unknown to dogs. Don't think of creatures of uncolored vision as restricted, but wonder, rather, and marvel at the known internal mirrors of the cat which catch each spark of light in the darkness and reflect it to an intensification. Speculate as to insect vision, such as the bee's sense of scent thru ultraviolet perceptibility. To search for human visual realities, man must, as in all other homo motivation, transcend the original physical restrictions and inherit worlds of eyes. The very narrow contemporary moving visual reality is exhausted. The belief in the sacredness of any man-achievement sets concrete about it, statutes becoming statues, needing both explosives and earthquakes for disruption. As to the permanency of the present or any established reality, consider in this light and thru most individual eyes that without either illumination or photographic lens, any ideal animal might claw the black off a strip of film or walk ink-footed across transparent celluloid and produce an effect for projection identical to a photographed image. As to color, the earliest color films were entirely hand painted a frame at a time. The "absolute realism" of the motion picture image is a human invention.
What reflects from the screen is shadow play. Look, there's no real rabbit. Those ears are index fingers and the nose a knuckle interfering with the light. If the eye were more perceptive it would see the sleight of 24 individual pictures and an equal number of utter blacknesses every second of the show. What incredible films might ultimately be made for such an eye. But the machine has already been fashioned to outwit even that perceptibility, a projector which flashes advertisement at subliminal speed to up the sale of popcorn. Oh, slow-eyed spectator, this machine is grinding you out of existence. Its electrical storms are manufactured by pure white frames interrupting the flow of the photographed images, its real tensions are a dynamic interplay of two-dimensional shapes and lines, the horizon line and background shapes battering the form of the horseback rider as the camera moves with it, the curves of the tunnel exploding away from the pursued, camera following, and tunnel perspective converging on the pursuer, camera preceding, the dream of the close-up kiss being due to the linear purity of facial features after cluttersome background, the entire film's soothing syrup being the depressant of imagistic repetition, a feeling akin to counting sheep to sleep. Believe in it blindly, and it will fool you-mind-wise, instead of sequins on cheesecloth or max-manufactured make-up, you'll see stars. Believe in it eye-wise, and the very comet of its overhead throw from projector to screen will intrigue you so deeply that its fingering play will move integrally with what's reflected, a comet-tail integrity which would lead back finally to the film's creator. I am meaning, simply, that the rhythms of change in the beam of illumination which now goes entirely over the heads of the audience would, in the work of art, contain in itself some quality of a spiritual experience. As is, and at best, that hand spreading its touch toward the screen taps a neurotic chaos comparable to the doodles it produces for reflection. The "absolute realism" of the motion picture image is a 20th-century, essentially Western, illusion.
Nowhere in its mechanical process does the camera hold either mirror or candle to nature. Consider its history. Being machine, it has always been manufacturer of the medium, mass-producer of stilled abstract images, its virtue-related variance, the result-movement. Essentially, it remains fabricator of a visual language, no less a linguist than the typewriter. Yet in the beginning, each of an audience thought himself the camera, attending a play or, toward the end of the purely camera career, being run over by the unedited filmic image of a locomotive which had once rushed straight at the lens, screaming when a revolver seemed fired straight out of the screen, motion of picture being the original magic of medium. Méliès is credited with the first splice. Since then, the strip of celluloid has increasingly revealed itself suited to transformations beyond those conditioned by the camera. Originally Méliès' trickery was dependent upon starting and stopping the photographic mechanism and between times creating, adding objects to its field of vision, transformations, substituting one object for another, and disappearances, removing the objectionable. Once the celluloid could be cut, the editing of filmic images began its development toward Eisensteinian montage, the principal [sic] of 1 plus 2 making 3 in moving imagery as anywhere else. Meantime labs came into the picture, playing with the illumination of original film, balancing color temperature, juggling double imagery in superimposition, adding all the acrobatic grammar of the film inspired by D. W. Griffith's dance, fades to mark the montage sentenced motion picture paragraph, dissolves to indicate lapse of time between interrelated subject matter, variations in the framing for the epic horizontal composition, origin of Cinemascope, and vertical picture delineating character, or the circle exclamating a pictorial detail, etc. The camera itself taken off the pedestal, began to move, threading its way in and around its source of material for the eventual intricately patterned fabric of the edited film. Yet editing is still in its 1, 2, 3 infancy, and the labs are essentially still just developing film, no less trapped by the standards they're bearing than the camera by its original mechanical determination. No very great effort has ever been made to interrelate these two or three processes, and already another is appearing possible, the projector as creative instrument with the film show a kind of performance, celluloid or tape merely source of material to the projectioning interpreter, this expression finding its origins in the color, or the scent, or even the musical organ, its most recent manifestations-the increased programming potential of the IBM and other electronic machines now capable of inventing imagery from scratch. Considering then the camera eye as almost obsolete, it can at last be viewed objectively and, perhaps, view-pointed with subjective depth as never before. Its life is truly all before it. The future fabricating machine in performance will invent images as patterned after cliché vision as those of the camera, and its results will suffer a similar claim to "realism," IBM being no more God nor even a "Thinking machine" than the camera eye all-seeing or capable of creative selectivity, both essentially restricted to "yes-no," "stop-go," "on-off," and instrumentally dedicated to communication of the simplest sort. Yet increased human intervention and control renders any process more capable of balance between sub-and-objective expression, and between those two concepts, somewhere, soul. . . . The second stage of transformation of image editing revealed the magic of movement. Even though each in the audience then proceeded to believe himself part of the screen reflection, taking two-dimension visual characters as his being within the drama, he could not become every celluloid sight running thru the projector, therefore allowance of another viewpoint, and no attempt to make him believe his eye to be where the camera eye once was has ever since proven successful-excepting the novelty of three-dimension, audiences jumping when rocks seemed to avalanche out of the screen and into the theater. Most still imagine, however, the camera a recording mechanism, a lunatic mirroring, now full of sound and fury presenting its half of a symmetrical pattern, a kaleidoscope with the original pieces of glass missing and their movement removed in time. And the instrument is still capable of winning Stanford's bet about horse-hooves never all leaving the ground in galloping, though Stanford significantly enough used a number of still cameras with strings across the track and thus inaugurated the flip-pic of the penny arcade, Hollywood still racing after the horse. Only when the fans move on to another track can the course be cleared for this eye to interpret the very ground, perhaps to discover its non-solidity, to create a contemporary Pegasus, without wings, to fly with its hooves, beyond any imagining, to become gallop, a creation. It can then inherit the freedom to agree or disagree with 2000 years of Western equine painting and attain some comparable aesthetic stature. As is, the "absolute realism" of the motion picture image is a contemporary mechanical myth. Consider this prodigy for its virtually untapped talents, viewpoints it possesses more readily recognizable as visually non-human yet within the realm of the humanly imaginable. I am speaking of its speed for receptivity which can slow the fastest motion for detailed study, or its ability to create a continuity for time compression, increasing the slowest motion to a comprehensibility. I am praising its cyclopean penetration of haze, its infra-red visual ability in darkness, its just developed 360-degree view, its prismatic revelation of rainbows, its zooming potential for exploding space and its telephonic compression of same to flatten perspective, its micro- and macroscopic revelations. I am marvelling at its Schlaeran self capable of representing heat waves and the most invisible air pressures, and appraising its other still camera developments which may grow into motion, its rendering visible the illumination of bodily heat, its transformation of ultra-violets to human cognizance, its penetrating x-ray. I am dreaming of the mystery camera capable of graphically representing the form of an object after it's been removed from the photographic scene, etc. The "absolute realism" of the motion picture is unrealized, therefore potential, magic.
Kuchar 8mm Film Manifesto (USA, 1964)
[First presented at the 8 mm: Avant-Garde of the Future!? symposium at the Eventorium, New York City, 11 December 1964. First published in the Village Voice, 17 December 1964.]
George Kuchar's manifesto is one of the first statements of the role of 8 mm in the New American experiential/avant-garde/underground cinema. Kuchar was one of the pioneers of 8 mm filmmaking in New York, and this manifesto proselytizes for the small gauge in the nuclear age. Other participants in the symposium included Lenny Lipton, Alfred Leslie, Serge Gavronsky, and Kuchar's twin brother, Mike.
Yes, 8mm is a tool of defence in this society of mechanised corruption because through 8mm and its puny size we come closer to the dimension of the atom.
We in this modern world of geological dormanicity are now experiencing an evolution evolving around minutenocities. We no longer think big except in the realm of nuclear bombardment, and therefore, it is now unusual to find human beings with little things. Eight mm is one of those little things, but 8mm becomes enormous when light from a projector bulb illuminates to a great dimension the abnormalities of the psychotic.
In the hands of a potential pervert, this medium becomes like a sculpture of clay with a base of yeast. Sprinkle a few smatters of liquid upon the sculpture and it will blow up and expand to startling and gargantuan proportions. But, as you will see, the clay shell that envelops the overall piece of work will crack and make dirt everywhere.
The inner-beauty of the work will be revealed while at the same time the film-maker will crack and eventually suicide. Looking upon the face of one's own evil is enough to bring the sting of acid to an esophagus that has previously experienced only buttermilk.
That 8mm will become avant-garde is a contagious disease-breeder because we are all avant-garde to the point of annihilation, and only when we face the after-effects of total deformity can we then think more clearly and cry because we couldn't concentrate on moral isolation.
Who are we to ask whether 8 mm will be the avant-garde of the moral future when only God and the Vatican know for sure? Moral issues of this nature should never be left for the filthy hands of the beatnik to twist into pretzels of degeneracy. Let the beatnik and the frustrated executive twist 8mm film into his own image and thereby give others a chance to sniff the world of narcotics and total spiritual breakdown.
Having worked with 8mm for twelve years, I have seen what it can do to a person. The creative intellect undergoes a great revolt and the bars of restraint are ripped from the casement of sanity until everything is a whirlpool of incandescent pudding. Eight mm has taught me to think more clearly and to express myself in direct terms. Like my religion, I was born into 8mm because my aunt had loaned me her movie camera and then my mother bought me one for Christmas. Now I'm going to make a 16mm picture called Corruption of the Damned and I'm making it in 16mm because I can't make it in 7mm. Therefore I'm going up instead of down, which has been the usual trend in my life for wanton pleasures. I enjoyed working in 8mm and I'm enjoying 16mm, and if both were taken from me, I'd enjoy vegetating because a life of stagnation is one of disease and only through disease can we realise what sickness is.
Film Andepandan [Independents] Manifesto (Japan, 1964)
Takahiko Iimura, Koichiro Ishizaki, Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, Jyushin Sato, Donald Richie
[First released at the Knokke-Le-Zoute Experimental Film Festival, Belgium, December 1964. Trans. Julian Ross.]
Written after a series of Japanese experimental films were accepted in the Knokke-Le-Zoute Experimental Film Festival in Belgium, this film manifesto calls for a cinema independent of capital and industrial filmmaking (it shared these goals with other Japanese experimental groups such as the Nihon University Cinema Club). Nobuhiko Obayashi, one of the signatories to the manifesto, won an award for his film An Eater (Japan, 1963), codirected by painter Kazutomo Fujino, at the festival. Once the Film Independents event began in Japan, organized by cosignatory Takahiko Iimura, Obayashi screened his next film, Complex (Japan, 1964), during the inaugural screenings.
For cinema of genuine freedom: The Film Andepandan Proposal
With film critic Jyushin Sato and filmmaker Takahiko Iimura at its centre, the "Film Independents" project [with a call for the Film Independents Festival] is underway. The new art movement is drawing a lot of attention as it looks into the possibilities of private filmmaking which differentiates itself from commercial cinema.
Their mission statement is as follows:
The Japanese film industry has not yet given birth to truly independent cinema
Of course, there have been independent films and independent productions prior to us. Yet could we say that these products have stayed true to independence from production to exhibition? Independent films have so far been subordinate to industrial filmmaking, where commercial and political ideologies have burdened their shoulders day and night. Their requirements have continually suffocated the package-films, those films that fill our screens at cinemas for approximately an hour and a half a night. Cinema must disassociate itself from such commercial and political strategies in order to obtain the true meaning of freedom.
This "Film Independents" event is the only place in existence at the moment where we allow ourselves to ignore such prerequisites. We will have free cinema to oppose industrial filmmaking; we will have private films to oppose 35mm features that screen at cinemas. Our proposal, and the reason for our existence, is to return to the personal as a departure point and hand back filmmaking to the individual.
Expression in 120 seconds
For example, have you ever imagined a two-minute film? [A call for 2 minutes film entry for the Film Independents Festival] Two minutes. 120 seconds. If we counted by frames, that would [be] 2800 frames. 120 seconds captured by the camera frame possesses the possibility for infinite content and, of course, no content at all as well.
Through the process of eliminating of all the constraint, the Film Independents aims to release film from the limitations imposed by commercial and political ideologies and to return cinema to the truly creative artist. Whilst before we could have only imagined totally free cinema, now on the other hand the filmmaking has become possible for everybody due to the wide spread of (small) camera. In such [a] situation indolence is the only excuse of the filmmaker who could be not able to work creatively. Personal filmmaking and the language of moving imagery have become as familiar to us as a pen and paper or a paintbrush and a canvas. In other words, cinematic production has become a much freer space than before and we have the freedom of expression for ourselves. This will most definitely generate a change in the nature of film.
Pronouncing the bankruptcy
It is true that filmmakers overseas have made daring attempts to break through the suffocation of commercial cinema. Filmmakers involved in free cinema, off-Hollywood cinema and experimental film are good examples. The fact that more than 300 films were submitted to the International Experimental Film Festival held in January this year  in Brussels, Belgium, and seven Japanese films received a Special Award in the festival, testifies that there is an international shift in approaches to cinema. The Film Independents, who depart from a point of isolation from the established film industry, are a challenge against the Japanese film world that is in imminent danger of becoming a relic of the previous century. This is conceived as a pronouncement of their bankruptcy.
Discontinuous Films (Canada, 1967)
[First distributed as a mimeograph in 1967. First published in Canadian Journal of Film Studies 10, no. 1 (2001): 96-105.]
A professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science at the University of Western Ontario, Dewdney made a number of key experimental films in the late 1960s, most notably Maltese Cross Movement (1967), a key structuralist film. In "Discontinuous Films" Dewdney argues the "flicker" film reveals how the technology of the projector, and not the camera, lies at the heart of the specificity of the cinema.
1. The Flicker
Tony Conrad's The Flicker is a raw, archetypal statement about the nature of film, a statement which few understood. The Flicker revealed at one stroke that the projector, not the camera, is the film-maker's true medium. This is not to say film-makers are unaware of the projector and screen, the movie-house environment (they must learn to visualize a screen in the viewfinder of their camera). But this does say that the very use of the camera as a film-making tool has imposed the assumption of continuity on film, an assumption entirely foreign to the projector. Yet continuity has hypnotized both Hollywood and the experimental almost equally.
For some reason, we are now released from continuity. Warhol fulfills a very important satiric function in pushing the continuous scene to its outer limits. This is why his films possess a drollity beyond their subject matter.
It's like saying "Here's continuity, Jack!"
Camera Vs. Projector
During the 18th and 19th centuries, a great deal of energy was expanded in a search for "moving pictures." Some of these were: phantasmagorias, peepshows, dioramas, magic lantern shows, phenakisticopes, viviscopes, chronophotographs, kinetoscopes, etc. The great majority of these devices sought a direct translation of some image or series of images into a moving picture. The emphasis was clearly on the theatrical environment, the release of light. With Marey's Rifle-Camera (1882) we have the true precursor of the modern movie camera and the beginning of a great split in the capture of light (camera) and its release (projector). With photography it had become possible to make instant pictures and only a few more instants would be required to make a continuous run of pictures. It was in building the projector that the late 19th and early 20th Century built better than it knew. For, ideally suited as it is to the projection of whatever the motion picture camera photographs, the projector is a MACHINE CAPABLE OF PROJECTING TWENTY FOUR TRANSPARENCIES IN SEQUENCE EVERY SECOND.
The motion picture camera is quite limited in function. Generally speaking, it gathers light onto a sequence of frames in rapid order; it manufactures only continuous scenes; it will display whatever is put into it and is completely unlimited in the environment of the frame.
We are now in the process of being released from the assumption of continuity and the cinematic schools this assumption has imposed. Delightful as it has been, continuity has given us little more than a visual re-hash of the literary experience (poems included). Anyone objecting violently to this statement surely has a big stake in continuous cinema. The same person will feel enormously threatened by discontinuous film. At the Fourth Ann Arbor Film Festival last year, many in the auditorium groaned during The Flicker, not bored but frightened.
The sort of Insight provided by William M. Ivins and Marshall McLuhan is particularly valuable when applied to the projector's environment. For example, Ivins, by isolating a sense in Art and Geometry is able to make the most obvious statements about touch and yet draw the most amazing conclusions from them. (Greek temples look the way they do because they are appreciated by the "hand" and not the "eye.")
In a room is a projector and screen. People who have never seen a projector (or camera) before are brought into the room, given cans of clear and dark leader, editing tools, paint, bleach, whatever one may think of. They are told only that in a years time we want to see some interesting films.
After projecting the various kinds of leader, our people become bored. To be less bored they would begin to make marks on the leader. Yes, much better. They would not be very likely to animate because animation grows out of a consciousness of the camera. This means a rapid appearance on the screen of designs flashing by at subliminal speeds. If our people were all intelligent, creative, etc., one would see at the end of the year a more exciting collection of films than at Cannes, New York, Ann Arbor or anywhere. If they ultimately invented a camera, continuous run would be regarded as a "gimmick" on theirs, just as single frame is on ours. Hopefully, this conceptual experiment has placed the reader outside his familiar film environment long enough to realize the tyranny of the motion picture camera.
The logical result of using a camera in filming is the use of the splicer. Splices used to bother a good many people, that is, not the appearance of splice-bars on the screen but the sudden cut from one continuous scene to the next. It bothered people because here, for one fraction of a second, the true power of the projector was revealed. The cuts were bandaged with dissolves. Considering how much more expensive a dissolve is, it really is amazing that film-makers (including Hollywood) ever used them, the conventions that came to be associated with dissolvers (time passing, place changing) have nothing to do with their true function. Splices do not bother people like Conrad who spend most of a year doing them for The Flicker or Brakhage who admits "one whale of an aesthetic involvement in The Splice." This shows a healthy attitude toward the motion picture camera, described by Brakhage as a light-gathering instrument. Conrad could really have done without it entirely (like our people in the room). For if continuity is a corollary to the camera, an aesthetic use of splices is far removed from the continuous scene mentality.
The Flicker Is the Film
Many film-makers have begun to show a healthy interest in discontinuity, even though sometimes more than degree (namely insight) separates a film like Vanderbeek's Breathdeath from The Flicker. Breathdeath, in no detectable rhythm, lays down an exciting barrage of visuals. Some of the scenes probably get down to 6 frames or so, though prolonged use of shorter scenes is certainly lacking. Bienstock, last year, with Nothing Happened This Morning, used a series of very rapid zooms from many angles at once on a single action, giving one a sense of simultaneity and seeing the action (in this case, a young man punching out an alarm clock) from all directions at once. This year with Brummer's he is clearly on the trail of the discontinuous cinema. In a restaurant a couple converse while the camera, on a trip of its own, explores them and the restaurant interior with very fast, sharp scenes, none of them subliminal but all contributing to a sense of hurried excitement about the restaurant. Bang bang bang. The NFB's Norman McLaren and Arthur Lipsett, though from quite different traditions, show an awareness of discontinuous film. McLaren in Blankety Blank [sic], a somewhat older production than these others, uses a very short subliminal sequence and hues from frame to frame, giving one a floating sense of "lost" beauty. Arthur Lipsett's Free Fall and Very Nice Very Nice are clean, documentary versions of Breathdeath from the point of view of scene length and content.
A changing sense of the function of the camera can be attributed to Fat Feet by Red Grooms and others, in which, against a pasteboard facade of city, people act out stock roles as drunks, firemen, prostitutes, etc., all of them wearing enormous cardboard shoes. The technique is stop-motion and the jerky, uneven movements of the actors give the picture a nervous, hysterical quality. One hopes that a great talent like Larry Jordan will begin to explore discontinuity because he is naturally equipped, as an animator, to do it.
To postulate the existence of a kind of film which as yet publicly exists in one example alone would seem foolish were it not for the very clearly detectable trend toward shorter and shorter scenes, more and more discontinuous. For convenience we will call this kind of film, a Flicker Film, recalling that during the 20's films did flicker, and that in one sense at least, the flicker is more important than the film.
Description and Techniques
The discontinuous or flicker film will replace Conrad's blacks and whites with dark and light images. Subliminal runs (lengths of film in which the image changes entirely from frame to frame) will come into their own as an aesthetic device. A kind of visual (or even audiovisual) grammar will be built up within each film. Hypermontage. Sound will take on an entirely new dimension-no longer a slave to the continuous scene, it will cease to act as a radio or phonograph and mesh with the visual component of the film in a way never before imagined.
As an example of this kind of film, Gerard Malanga was recently filmed both reading poetry and dancing. The sounds (reading and music) were recorded on 1/4″ tape and transferred to 16 mm sound stock. Both the reading and dancing scenes lasted 2 1/2 minutes (one hundred feet of film each) and the original film was painted with black acetate ink on the base side in the following manner. First, 24 frames reading, then 24 frames black, 23 frames reading, 23 frames black, down to a frame of each. Alternate frames were blackened for nearly a full minute after this, after which the blackened frames occurred in twos, then in threes, various distances apart. The other film (dancing) was painted in complementary fashion so that when the two films were A and B rolled onto one print, one simply had an alternation from one scene to the other, an alternation whose speed was governed by how close together blackened frames were put in the original. The 16 mm sound track was cut so that sounds would confirm to action right down to the frame. The result was a highly interesting study of simultaneity. The effect one might think, would be of double exposure, but it does not work this way at all. A powerful technique.
Since disparate images being flashed 24 per second on a screen are almost entirely lost on the viewer in his normal conscious state, it would certainly help if they had been seen before. This means starting such a film with one or more key images which by the increasing complexity of their context as the film progresses, heighten the value of the image. Somewhere after this (one should pay close attention to the build up of pace in The Flicker), we begin subliminal runs which to someone just walking into the theatre may be meaningless but which to the clued-in audience are working a special magic all their own. Sound, working with image, does not merely "fill-in" the ear, but links it to the eye to an almost sensuous extent.
Persistence of Vision.
Hand-Made Films Manifesto (Australia, 1968)
UBU Films, Thoms
[First published in Chaos (Australia) 1 (1968).]
Founder of the Australian experimental film collective UBU films, for which this manifesto is written, and the Sydney Filmmakers Cooperative, filmmaker and writer Albie Thoms's "Hand-Made Films Manifesto" is exemplary of the early DIY ethos, a forerunner of the artisanal films and process cinema movements (see Hoffman's "Your Film Farm Manifesto on Process Cinema" later in this chapter). In this manifesto he outlines the centrality of the materiality of film to the experimental filmmaking process.
1. Let no one say anymore that they can't raise enough money to make a film-any scrap of film can be turned into a hand-made film at no cost.
2. Let photography be no longer essential to filmmaking-hand-made films are made without a camera.
3. Let literary considerations of plot and story no longer be essential to filmmaking-hand-made films are abstract.
4. Let no more consideration be given to direction and editing-hand-made films are created spontaneously.
5. Let no media be denied to hand-made films-they can be scratched, scraped, drawn, inked, coloured, dyed, painted, pissed on, black and white, or coloured, bitten, chewed, filed, rasped, punctured, ripped, burned, burred, bloodied with any technique imaginable.
6. Let written and performed music be rejected by the makers of hand-made films-let hand-made music be created directly onto the film by any technique of scratching, drawing etc. imaginable.
7. Let no orthodoxy of hand-made films be established-they may be projected alone or in groups, on top of each other, forward, backwards, slowly, quickly, in every possible way.
8. Let no standard of hand-made films be created by critics-a film scratched inadvertently by a projector is equal to a film drawn explicitly by a genius.
9. Let hand-made films not be projected in cinemas, but as environments, not to be absorbed intellectually, but by all the senses.
10. Most of all, let hand-made film be open to everyone, for hand-made films must be popular art.
Cinema Manifesto (Australia, 1971)
Arthur Cantrill and Corinne Cantrill
[First published in Cantrills Filmnotes 1 (1971): 1.]
Published in the first issue of their long-running journal Cantrills Filmnotes, Australian filmmakers Arthur and Corinne Cantrill's manifesto argues for a formal cinema that eschews from political and cultural commentary, and indeed from narrative, concentrating on the materiality of film itself. The authors have much in common in this regard with the then-emergent structural filmmakers in the United States and the United Kingdom.
WE'VE EXHAUSTED THE HUMAN SITUATION as film material-we've seen a million love affairs, intrigues, socially committed films, anti-war films; we're not interested in who's up who and who's paying any longer. We've been sated by countless films of Man and his confrontation with Life (mainly from East Europe-it didn't get them very far). Freud and Marx are dead. All we want now is the film experience-the optical and aural stimulation it can give. We want to be intellectually involved with the film form. Concerned with the matter of film, rather than its content. (The greatest films are those in which the form is the content, as in music.)
LOVE MATTER TO DEATH, LET IT FEEL YOUR BREATH-HOOTON
FOR EACH MAN KILLS THE THING HE LOVES-WILDE
Television news now gives us all we want to see on the condition of man (that's reportage). We want to improve the condition of man with our images and sounds, to create a new awareness of visual and aural beauty. To wrap our film frames round the world and warm it up a little. Man has lost the ability to see, to hear; his senses have become stunted. We want to regenerate them. Our films have no story because all the stories have been told and retold, on the grey pages of literature until they are meaningless, like a word repeated again and again. They have been dissected, analyzed in the morgues of Universities. We want to make films which defy analysis, which present a surface so clean, so hard, that it defies the director's blade.
WE MUST HAVE APPETITE, TASTE IS THE APPROACH OF DEATH; THE EVASIVE VALUE OF THOSE WHO ARE LOSING THEIR APPETITE-HOOTON
"Frankly, I find aspects of that statement frightening in its arrogance and its fanaticism"-Dr. H. C. Coombs, Chairman of the Australian Council for the Arts.
For a Metahistory of Film: Commonplace Notes and Hypotheses (USA, 1971)
[First published in Artforum 10, no. 1 (1971): 32-35.]
In this manifesto Hollis Frampton describes the cinema as "the last machine." Yet his notion of what the cinema "machine" consists of is what sets Frampton's manifesto apart from others that address cinema and technology. Surveying the metahistory of moving image technologies, Frampton argues that the "cinema machine" is constituted by all the cameras, projectors, and filmstrips extant, creating what he calls the "most ambitious single artifact yet conceived and made by man." The cinema is the "last machine," then, because it subsumes all others, while turning the real into the illusory in the process.
The cinematograph is an invention without a future.
Once upon a time, according to reliable sources, history had its own Muse, and her name was Clio. She presided over the making of a class of verbal artifacts that extends from a half-light of written legend through, possibly, Gibbon.
These artifacts shared the assumption that events are numerous and replete beyond the comprehension of a single mind. They proposed no compact systematic substitute for their concatenated world; rather, they made up an open set of rational fictions within that world.
As made things strong in their own immanence, these fictions bid as fairly for our contemplative energy as any other human fabrications. They are, finally, about what it felt like to reflect consciously upon the qualities of experience in the times they expound.
In order to generate insights into the formal significance of their pretext (that is, "real history"), such fictions employ two tactics. First of all, they annihilate naive intuitions of causality by deliberately ignoring mere temporal chronology. And then, to our cultural dismay, they dispense, largely, with the fairly recent inventions we call facts.
These fictions were what we may call metahistories of event. They remain events in themselves.
It is reasonable to assume that Dean Swift, desiring in his rage to confound the West, invented the fact. A fact is the indivisible module out of which systematic substitutes for experience are built. Hugh Kenner, in The Counterfeiters, cites a luminous anecdote from the seed-time of the fact. Swift's contemporary savants fed dice to a dog. They (the dice) passed through the dog visibly unchanged, but with their weight halved. Thenceforth a dog was to be defined as a device for (among other things) halving the weight of dice.
The world contained only a denumerable list of things. Any thing could be considered simply as the intersection of a finite number of facts. Knowledge, then, was the sum of all discoverable facts.
Very many factual daubs were required, of course, to paint a true picture of the world; but the invention of the fact represented, from the rising mechanistic point of view, a gratifying diminution of horsepower requirement from a time when knowledge had been the factorial of all conceivable contexts. It is this shift in the definition of knowledge that Swift satirizes in Gulliver's Travels, and Pope laments in The Dunciad.
The new view went unquestioned for generations. In most quarters it still obtains: from which it should be quite clear that we do not all live in the same time.
Who first centered his thumbs on Clio's windpipe is anyone's guess, but I am inclined to blame Gotthold Lessing. His squabbling progeny, the quaintly disinterested art historians of the 19th century, lent a willing hand in finishing her off. They had Science behind them. Science favored the fact because the bet seemed to favor predictability. Hoping to incorporate prophecy wholesale into their imperium, 19th-century historians went whole hog for the fact, and headfirst into what James Joyce later called the "nightmare" of history.
There were, quite simply, too many facts. They adopted the self-contradictory stratagem of "selecting" quintessential samples, and conjuring from them hundred-legged theories of practically everything. They had backed themselves into a discriminatory trap, and Werner Heisenberg wasn't there to save them: it was a time of utmost certainty.
Isaac Newton spent the last part of his life writing a score of Latin volumes on religion: the nascent atomization of knowledge was a fierce wind from which he took shelter in his age. As young physicists, he and Leibniz had inherited the analytic geometry of Descartes, and the triumph of its use by Kepler, to predict the motions of the planets. Algebraic equations dealt well enough with the conic sections, but Newton was absorbed by the motion of bodies that describe more intricate paths.
Complex movement in space and time was difficult to make over into numbers. The number "one" was much too large; the mathematical fact must be vastly smaller. Even the arithmetic unit was surely an immense structure built of tiny stones: infinitesimal calculi, indivisible increments.
Given that much, it was a short step to the assumption that motion consists of an endless succession of brief instants during which there is only stillness. Then motion could be factually defined as the set of differences among a series of static postures.
Zeno had returned with his paradoxes to avenge himself through the deadpan Knight of Physics.
In the 1830's, Georg Buchner wrote Woyzeck. Evariste Galois died, a victim of political murder, leaving to a friend a last letter which contains the foundations of group theory, or the metahistory of mathematics. Fox-Talbot and Niepce invented photography. The Belgian physicist Plateau invented the phenakistiscope, the first true cinema.
In the history of cinema these four facts are probably unrelated. In the metahistory of cinema, these four events may ultimately be related.
Fox-Talbot and Niepce invented photography because neither of them could learn to draw, a polite accomplishment comparable to mastery of the tango later and elsewhere.
Plateau had the calculus in his mother's milk, so that its assumptions were for him mere reflex. He took an interest in sense-perception and discovered, by staring at the sun for twenty minutes, one of our senses' odder failings, euphemistically called "persistence of vision."
His hybridization of a sensory defect with the Newtonian infinitesimal began vigorously to close a curve whose limbs had been widening since the invention of the alphabet.
Plateau's little device started putting Humpty Dumpty together again. Like dozens of other dead end marvels, it became a marketable toy, and was succeeded by generically similar novelties: zoetrope, praktinoscope, zoopraxiscope.
All of them, unconsciously miming the intellectual process they instigated, took the form of spliceless loops: an eternity of hurdling horses and bouncing balls.
And they were all hand-drawn. Photography was not mapped back upon the sparse terrain of palaeocinema until the first photographic phenakistiscope was made, three generations later.
The union of cinema and the photographic effect followed a clumsy mutual seduction spanning six decades. There was a near-assignation in the vast oeuvre of Eadweard Muybridge, before whose factmaking battery of cameras thousands paraded their curiously obsolete bodies.
In one sequence, piercingly suggestive of future intricacies, the wizard himself, a paunchy naked old man, carried a chair into the frame, sat down, and glared ferociously back at his cameras.
But the series suggested to Muybridge only the ready-made analogy of book space: successive, randomly accessible, anisotropic with respect to time. Accordingly, he published them as editions of plates.
The crucial tryst was postponed, to await the protection of two brothers bearing the singularly appropriate name of Lumière.
The relationship between cinema and still photography is supposed to present a vexed question. Received wisdom on the subject is of the chicken/egg variety: cinema somehow "accelerates" still photographs into motion.
Implicit is the assumption that cinema is a special case of the catholic still photograph. Since there is no discoverable necessity within the visual logic of still photographs that demands such "acceleration," it is hard to see how it must ever happen at all.
It is an historic commonplace that the discovery of special cases precedes in time the extrapolation of general laws. (For instance, the right triangle with rational sides measuring 3, 4, and 5 units is older than Pythagoras.) Photography predates the photographic cinema.
So I propose to extricate cinema from this circular maze by superimposing on it a second labyrinth (containing an exit)-by positing something that has by now begun to come to concrete actuality: we might agree to call it an infinite cinema.
A polymorphous camera has always turned, and will turn forever, its lens focussed upon all the appearances of the world. Before the invention of still photography, the frames of the infinite cinema were blank, black leader; then a few images began to appear upon the endless ribbon of film. Since the birth of the photographic cinema, all the frames are filled with images.
There is nothing in the structural logic of the cinema film strip that precludes sequestering any single image. A still photograph is simply an isolated frame taken out of the infinite cinema.
History views the marriage of cinema and the photograph as one of convenience; metahistory must look upon it as one of necessity.
The camera deals, in some way or other, with every particle of information present within the field of view; it is wholly indiscriminate. Photographs, to the joy or misery of all who make them, invariably tell us more than we want to know.
The ultimate structure of a photographic image seems to elude us at the same rate as the ultimate structure of any other natural object. Unlike graphic images, which decay under close scrutiny into factual patterns of dots or lines, the photograph seems a virtually perfect continuum. Hence the poignancy of its illusions: their amplitude instantly made the photograph-within the very heart of mechanism-the subversive restorer of contextual knowledge seemingly coterminous with the whole sensible world.
Cinema could already claim-from within the same nexus-a complementary feat: the resurrection of bodies in space from their dismembered trajectories.
The expected consummation took place at quitting time in a French factory, on a sunny afternoon towards the end of the century, as smiling girls waved and cheered. The immediate issue was an exceptional machine.
Typically, all that survives intact of an era is the art form it invents for itself. Potsherds and garbage dumps are left from neolithic times, but the practice of painting continues unbroken from Lascaux to the present. We may surmise that music comes to us from a more remote age, when the cables were first strung for the vertebrate nervous system.
Such inventions originally served the end of sheer survival. The nightingale sings to charm the ladies. Cave paintings presumably assisted the hunt; poems, Confucius tells us in the Analects, teach the names of animals and plants: survival for our species depends upon our having correct information at the right time.
As one era slowly dissolves into the next, some individuals metabolize the former means for physical survival into new means for psychic survival. These latter we call art. They promote the life of human consciousness by nourishing our affections, by reincarnating our perceptual substance, by affirming, imitating, reifying the process of consciousness.
What I am suggesting, to put it quite simply, is that no activity can become an art until its proper epoch has ended and it has dwindled as an aid to gut survival, into total obsolescence.
I was born during the Age of Machines.
A machine was a thing made up of distinguishable "parts," organized in imitation of some function of the human body. Machines were said to "work." How a machine "worked" was readily apparent to an adept, from inspection of the shape of its "parts." The physical principles by which machines "worked" were intuitively verifiable.
The cinema was the typical survival-form of the Age of Machines. Together with its subset of still photographs, it performed prize-worthy functions: it taught and reminded us (after what then seemed a bearable delay) how things looked, how things worked, how to do things . . . and, of course (by example), how to feel and think.
We believed it would go on forever, but when I was a little boy, the Age of Machines ended. We should not be misled by the electric can opener: small machines proliferate now as though they were going out of style because they are doing precisely that.
Cinema is the Last Machine. It is probably the last art that will reach the mind through the senses.
It is customary to mark the end of the Age of Machines at the advent of video. The point in time is imprecise: I prefer radar, which replaced the mechanical reconnaissance aircraft with a static anonymous black box. Its introduction coincides quite closely with the making of Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, and Willard Maas' Geography of the Body.
The notion that there was some exact instant at which the tables turned, and cinema passed into obsolescence and thereby into art, is an appealing fiction that implies a special task for the metahistorian of cinema.
The historian of cinema faces an appalling problem. Seeking in his subject some principle of intelligibility, he is obliged to make himself responsible for every frame of film in existence. For the history of cinema consists precisely of every film that has ever been made, for any purpose whatever.
Of the whole corpus the likes of Potemkin make up a numbingly small fraction. The balance includes instructional films, sing-alongs, endoscopic cinematography, and much, much more. The historian dares neither select nor ignore, for if he does, the treasure will surely escape him.
The metahistorian of cinema, on the other hand, is occupied with inventing a tradition, that is, a coherent wieldy set of discrete monuments, meant to inseminate resonant consistency into the growing body of his art.
Such works may not exist, and then it is his duty to make them. Or they may exist already, somewhere outside the intentional precincts of the art (for instance, in the prehistory of cinematic art, before 1943). And then he must remake them.
There is no evidence in the structural logic of the filmstrip that distinguishes "footage" from a "finished" work. Thus, any piece of film may be regarded as "footage," for use in any imaginable way to construct or reconstruct a new work.
Therefore, it may be possible for the metahistorian to take old work as "footage," and construct from it identical new work necessary to a tradition.
Wherever this is impossible, through loss or damage, new footage must be made. The result will be perfectly similar to the earlier work, but "almost infinitely richer."
Cinema is a Greek word that means "movie." The illusion of movement is certainly an accustomed adjunct of the film image, but that illusion rests upon the assumption that the rate of change between successive frames may vary only within rather narrow limits. There is nothing in the structural logic of the filmstrip that can justify such an assumption. Therefore we reject it. From now on we will call our art simply: film.
The infinite film contains an infinity of endless passages wherein no frame resembles any other in the slightest degree, and a further infinity of passages wherein successive frames are as nearly identical as intelligence can make them.
I have called film the Last Machine.
From what we can recall of them, machines agreed roughly with mammals in range of size. The machine called film is an exception.
We are used to thinking of camera and projector as machines, but they are not. They are "parts." The flexible film strip is as much a "part" of the film machine as the projectile is part of a firearm. The extant rolls of film out-bulk the other parts of the machine by many orders of magnitude.
Since all the "parts" fit together, the sum of all film, all projectors and all cameras in the world constitutes one machine, which is by far the largest and most ambitious single artifact yet conceived and made by man (with the exception of the human species itself). The machine grows by many millions of feet of raw stock every day.
It is not surprising that something so large could utterly engulf and digest the whole substance of the Age of Machines (machines and all), and finally supplant the entirety with its illusory flesh. Having devoured all else, the film machine is the lone survivor.
If we are indeed doomed to the comically convergent task of dismantling the universe, and fabricating from its stuff an artifact called The Universe, it is reasonable to suppose that such an artifact will resemble the vaults of an endless film archive built to house, in eternal cold storage, the infinite film.
If film strip and projector are parts of the same machine, then "a film" may be defined operationally as "whatever will pass through a projector." The least thing that will do that is nothing at all. Such a film has been made. It is the only unique film in existence.
Twenty years ago, in the grip of adolescent needs to "modernize" myself, I was entranced by Walter Pater's remark that "all the arts aspire to the condition of music," which I then understood to approve of music's freedom from reference to events outside itself.
Now I expound, and attempt to practice, an art that feeds upon illusions and references despised or rejected by other arts. But it occurs to me that film meets what may be, after all, the prime condition of music: it produces no object.
The western musician does not ordinarily make music; his notation encodes a set of instructions for those who do. A score bears the sort of resemblance to music that the genetic helix bears to a living organism. To exist, music requires to be performed, a difficulty that John Cage abjures in the preface to A Year from Monday, where he points out that making music has hitherto largely consisted in telling other people what to do.
The act of making a film, of physically assembling the film strip, feels somewhat like making an object: that film artists have seized the materiality of film is of inestimable importance, and film certainly invites examination at this level. But at the instant the film is completed, the "object" vanishes. The film strip is an elegant device for modulating standardized beams of energy. The phantom work itself transpires upon the screen as its notation is expended by a mechanical virtuoso performer, the projector.
The metahistorian of film generates for himself the problem of deriving a complete tradition from nothing more than the most obvious material limits of the total film machine. It should be possible, he speculates, to pass from The Flicker through Unsere Afrikareise, or Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, or La Region Centrale and beyond, in finite steps (each step a film), by exercising only one perfectly rational option at each move. The problem is analogous to that of the Knight's Tour in chess.
Understood literally, it is insoluble, hopelessly so. The paths open to the Knight fork often (to reconverge, who knows where). The board is a matrix of rows and columns beyond reckoning, whereon no chosen starting point may be defended with confidence.
Nevertheless, Iglimpse the possibility of constructing a film that will be a kind of synoptic conjugation of such a tour-a Tour of Tours, so to speak, of the infinite film, or of all knowledge, which amounts to the same thing. Rather, some such possibility presents itself insistently to my imagination, disguised as the germ of a plan for execution.
Film has finally attracted its own Muse. Her name is Insomnia.
Elements of the Void (Greece, 1972)
[First published in Cantrills Filmnotes 12 (1972): 3.]
In this manifesto New American Cinema/experimental filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos-best known for his 1950s and 1960s films such as Flowers of Asphalt (USA, 1951), Serenity (USA, 1961), and Twice a Man (USA, 1963), all of which were pulled from circulation after he left the United States for Greece in 1967-outlines what he calls the new language of the image, the element of the void, a language that could potentially bring about new national film cultures.
I am writing this essay in utter disbelief which lays bare the road of hope for the Temenos.
FORTHWITH WILL THE MIGHTY HAND ELEVATE MY PURPOSE.
Possibilities and contributions should lead naturally, one from another. They do not. The situation is impossible, and at the same time the situation is improbable. Improbable because of the nature of particular men.
It would seem that it might be in the interest of Man to change his nature as has been proposed at one of America's greatest universities of Puritan origins. This would seem so, even now, with the advance of certain measures adopted by populations. However, such controls, rather than protection of populations, advanced as they may seem, are not in the very interest of Mankind; but only add toward the greater frustrations, humiliations, and disembodiments of the popular psyches. They are indeed contributions at a great speed to the ultimate destruction of society as we have loved and hated it, to this moment.
If we are interested in possibilities we would be creating ideal situations for cineastes to develop as they would in each respective country, according to the needs of each respective country. And as for contributions they must of necessity become and do become mere perversions of the original possibility. The Ascent towards Possibility and the Descent towards Contribution are steep and costly for the individual to seek; only a few succeed. The effects of Elevation towards what is possible and its fellow contribution are today a basis of mortification. Few will willingly accept the task; and even with those who accept the task, one or two may only succeed in the rarefied space of the world will, accompanied as it is by the unchangeable eminence of a particular nation, in establishing, quite unwillingly, not only a national heritage, but in this case the beginning of a true cinematic culture. Yet, no longer, truly a cinematic culture, but the language of the image.
I firmly do not believe that it is a matter of change that is needed for the element of the void which we may call the language of the image that is being developed today. The change is only in the essence, in the manner in which we chose to build before the spontaneous gift of energy which is the soul of the universe. It is the infinitesimal part that we are always unaware of during this mostly unhealthy scientific period when accelerated Time reveals the average human being as a dead body in Eternity. A dead body breathlessly harmonising to events without choice.
But who has the time, the energy, and most of all the need to trust to any of the preceding suggestions in this short essay? Therefore, more fortunate [are] those who do not [lay] claim to contributions, to possibilities, to developments. And sublimely unfortunate [are] those who continue in their Ascent. Those like Ezra Pound who have symbolically witnessed the death of Adam in all of its awesome solemnity in the beginning of Time, yet continue to breathe in the rarefied space of the world will, by the Grace of God.
Small Gauge Manifesto (USA, 1980)
JoAnn Elam and Chuck Kleinhans
[First distributed as a pamphlet at Chicago Filmmakers in February 1980. First published in Viewpoint: Chicago Filmmakers Newsletter 5 (1980).]
This manifesto points to the capacity of 8 mm and S8 film to become an agent for community building and to change the relationship between, and democratize the roles of, filmmaker and audience. Elam and Kleinhans's manifesto echoes such groundbreaking participatory practices as the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change / Société nouvelle program.
Small gauge film (regular 8 and Super 8) is low cost, technically accessible, and appropriate for small scale viewing.
Because it's cheap and you can shoot a lot of film, filming can be flexible and spontaneous. Because the equipment is light and unobtrusive, the filming relationship can be immediate and personal.
The appropriate viewing situation is a small space with a small number of people. Therefore it invites films made for or with specific audiences. Often the filmmaker and/or people filmed are present at a screening. The filming and viewing events can be considered as part of the editing process. Editing decisions can be made before, during, and after filming and can incorporate feedback from an audience. Connections can be made between production and consumption, filmmaker and audience and subject matter.
Small gauge film is not larger than life, it's part of life.
Cinema of Transgression Manifesto (USA, 1985)
[First published (under the pseudonym Orion Jericho) in The Underground Film Bulletin 2 (1985).]
Greatly influenced by Punk and the No Wave scene in New York, Nick Zedd's "Cinema of Transgression Manifesto" delineated a new form of underground cinema that traded in the kind of shock and humor typically left out of the canon of New York avant-garde cinemas, drawing as it does on some of the tropes of exploitation film. Zedd, and other "Transgression" filmmakers like Richard Kern, produced no-budget, Super-8 films that challenged the boundaries of the underground, labeling itself as an "Other" cinema. Indeed, unlike other iterations of the New York avant-garde that espouse various degrees of spirituality, Zedd proclaims the "Cinema of Transgression" as atheist. Zedd also decries the academicism of experimental filmmaking, dismissing film schools and film theory in the process.
We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possessed the vision to see through this charade. We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimizing every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centers and geriatric cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank-such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man. We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn't shock isn't worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition. Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema. We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression-to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.
Modern, All Too Modern (USA, 1988)
[First published in Cinematograph 3 (1988): 107-116. Slightly revised and annotated for this publication by the author.]
This manifesto, echoing both Hollis Frampton's "For a Metahistory of Film" (see earlier in this chapter) and Guy Debord's 1967 manifesto Society of the Spectacle-a key influence for Sanborn-draws a line in the sand between the "Visionary Film" school of avant-garde film and the new generation of politically engaged American experimental filmmakers far more interested in the effects of mass culture and dominant ideology than with high art obscurantism. Sanborn also takes issue with those filmmakers and theorists who he sees as having appropriated and diluted Situationist thought, most notably Jean Baudrillard's concept of simulation and the bête noire of the SI, Jean-Luc Godard.
Lenin to Lunacharsky: "Amongst our people you are reported to be a patron of art so you must remember that of all the arts for us the most important is cinema."
Goebbels on Potemkin: "It is a marvelously well made film, and one which reveals incomparable cinematic artistry. Its uniquely distinctive quality is the line it takes. This is a film, which could turn anyone with no firm ideological convictions into a Bolshevik. Which means that a work of art can very well accommodate a political alignment, and that even the most obnoxious attitude can be communicated if it is expressed through the medium of an outstanding work of art."
Film is the most modern of the arts. Its powers and structure have served as a paradigm for the arts of the twentieth century, from Balla's strolling dog to Duchamp's descending nude. Film was fated to play a central role for modernist utopians from Lenin to Goebbels, from Eisenstein to Riefenstahl. For the first half of the twentieth century it represented something more than the degree zero of technology, it projected the fundamental myths of the new Metropolis, resolving their complexities in Chaplin's sentimental "The End" or Vertov's reflexive "Kinets." As we have passed beyond modernism, film has become the victim of its own paradigmatic modernity.
"The cinematograph is an invention without a future."-Louis Lumière, 1895
"The cinematographe is an invention without a future."-Hollis Frampton, 1971
In 1988, the cinematographe is not only an invention without a future, it is an invention without history. For when the cinematographe superceded its identity as a mechanical technology, history was superceded by what Frampton called "metahistory." But in deploying "metahistory," we must keep in mind our position in the labyrinth of etymology: just as "metaphysics" first meant "the works which follow the physics" [in the writings of Aristotle], so "metahistory" first means "the work which follows history." In the inevitable montage of temporal successivity, metahistory will necessarily be taken as commentary on that which came before, but it should not be assumed from the outset, that its ambition is to contain its object in succeeding it. It is a question of developing a strategy for comparing the incommensurable: what comes before and what comes after.
The avant-garde is dead. Long live the avant-garde.
The death of the avant-garde coincides with the death of modernism. For film, that was sometime between 1973 and 1978, at the latest, though the five year span a decade earlier suggests itself as well. Unfortunately, it was only in 1987 that the voice of the critics began to register any notice.
"When stupidity reaches a certain level it becomes public offense."-Ezra Pound, before 1920
Sitney's Visionary Film constitutes a kind of dictionary of received ideas for the avant-gardiste. It is high modernist in design, nationalist if not provincial in outlook, sexist in its particular omissions, and ethnocentric in the formalist circumscription of its discourse. We are presented with the search for form as the telos of cinema. We are shown how all important, i.e. European, film historical roads lead in the post-war era to New York, though San Francisco is mentioned as a kind of exception, which proves the rule. We are told of Carolee Schneemann only that she was an actress in a Brakhage film. We are told that Joyce Wieland was alive but not what films she made or what they might have meant. And we are told nothing about Mary Ellen Bute, Barbara Hammer, Yvonne Rainer, Barbara Rubin, Chick Strand, Germaine Dulac, Esther Shub, Gunvor Nelson or Anne Severson to name only an obvious few. St. Maya is the exception, which seems to prove an implicit rule. The few persons of color admitted to the discussion, must be able to "pass" formally. Homoeroticism is filtered exclusively through considerations of myth and form.
Visionary Film is the master logocentric narrative of a closed pantheon of form. In spite of its author's denials of a project of totalization, it is essentially an extended explication of the post-war segment of the collection of the Anthology Film Archives. As a justification of the choices for the eternal pantheon of film form, it becomes a project to foreclose discourse and downplay difference. By obscuring difference along the margins of film practice, the institutionalization of Sitney's views has retarded the recognition and to some extent even the creation of a cinema of resistance. Sitney, however, is not alone here. Even the deliberately Eurocentric, reverse colonialism of Le Grice's formalist Abstract Cinema and Beyond-written to limit the damage of the onslaught of the Sitney-Mekas great American art machine-comes up short on the score of recognizing sexual and ethnic difference. But these are not simply the ethical and aesthetic limitations of particular individuals, they are the symptoms of an intellectual period style. Modernism, nationalism, sexism and ethnocentrism-while not related by pure synonymy-must finally be recognized as part of the same master lexicon to be resisted and overcome.
Time: the late 1970s.
Brakhage: "I'm planning to give a lecture on the theme 'No woman ever made an important work of art.'"
Frampton: "You do and I guarantee you, I will personally make certain that you'll have Judy Chicago in your audience to dispute the point."
The lecture was never given.
History is always ironic or perhaps never so. What insight can be gained, then, from the observation that Triumph of the Will, easily the most widely known and highly praised fascist film in history, a prime vehicle for the dissemination of the century's most evil and transparently patriarchal ideology, was made by a woman? How is it that the sterile kitschy beauty of Riefenstahl's films has elevated her to the status of the most famous and perhaps the most respected woman ever to make films? And what of the attempt to reclaim her for the modernist pantheon of the avant-garde through a strictly formal consideration of her work when Esther Shub is ignored? Shall we call "ironic" her success at playing the game of history with the boys? How shall we evaluate her repeated and repeatedly exposed deceptions concerning her relation to the National Socialist party? On[c]e upon a time there were facts. Occasionally there are still.
Now at the Metropolis: Part I of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia vs. James Nares's Rome '78. The Aryan neo-nude meets the togas of simulation! Texas Death Match Rules.
During the question and answer period of a recent panel discussion in New York on the Responsibility of Representing the Other, a white male European in the audience questioned what he saw as the hyper intellectuality of Trinh T. Min-ha's treatment of the Africans she filmed in Reassemblage. He especially objected to her voice-over commentary. He offered Leni Riefenstahl's book on a certain African people-he couldn't remember their name but he said it didn't matter-as a counterexample of a more direct, accessible practice. Eye brows were raised and mouths opened by not a few members of the audience and of the panel. Min-ha with some puzzlement admitted her film could be thought of as an "art film" in the context of ethnography, but had little to say about the alter[n]ative praxis offered by the example of Riefenstahl's book.
A differing response came from Sarah Maldoror, a Black woman born in Guadeloupe, living in France and making films in Africa. Though I cannot say with certainty that Ms. Maldoror entirely understood the remarks because she spoke only in French (her remarks were translated into English by another woman) and the question was posed in English, I can say that her response was exemplary and unexpected. Maldoror first informed her interlocutor that the people in question were the Nuba. She then continued to say that while she thought Riefenstahl detestable for her relationship to German Fascism and her stand with respect to Israel, she found her book wonderful. Michelle Wallace, a Black American writer and the moderator of the panel, queried Ms. Maldoror whether she did not find the book to be racist in its representations. Maldoror responded that she did not, saying that the matter was quite straight forward: Riefenstahl had gone to Africa and photographed these people. Maldoror explained that she found the images Riefenstahl had created quite beautiful, those of the men in particular. Queried again by Ms. Wallace, she simply responded, "The images are beautiful and I'm powerless against them." A member of the audience who spoke "as a German woman" expressed her repulsion at the images saying they only celebrated power and violence. Clearly one Other's Other is not another Other's Other. Or is it?
"I had to shoot him. He had too much control over my life."-Valerie Solanas, 1968
Andy Warhol began to make films in 1963, the year Zapruder shot Kennedy on film. Warhol's own five year plan for film was completed in 1968 when he himself was shot by a woman who had acted in his films. Warhol survived all the shooting, but he is now permanently dead.
Film is not dead. He is just marvelously sick. Film is famous. Film is dead.
In the mid 1970s Hollis Frampton was given a tour of Buenos Aires by the National Librarian of Argentina. Borges proceeded with an elegant and measured gait from slums to governmental palaces, noting in critical and loving detail the history and sociology of each section of the city they visited. In the course of that tour, Borges, who was already blind, on several occasions lifted his cane to draw attention to architectural details of buildings, which no longer stood. Frampton, whose passion for knowledge and whose stubbornness for being correct are well-known, made no attempt to disabuse him. For Frampton could never quite determine whether Borges was unaware of the changes, or that he chose to ignore them, or that he was constructing for the benefit of his interlocutor (i.e., Frampton) an ironic imaginary city from the convergences and divergences between the ocular evidence and the notations of his own mind's eye.
To celebrate the death of the cinematographe and of the avant-garde, Frampton conceived his metahistory, Magellan. At first glance, the project seems to share the utopian ambitions we have come to associate with modernism. But this Utopia is not a capital of purity, of pain, of vision, of a century, or even of an art, but an invisible city at the center of a rich labyrinth of quotations-filmic and otherwise-where every street opens onto an infinity of other streets and each of those streets implies another vast imaginary city. Our loss of Frampton is irreparable as it was inevitable. And while we are the poorer for the loss of the completed cycle, its particular state of determinate incompletion only underscores its congruence with the postmodern city it resembles. For it is not fragments shorn against Frampton's ruin, but a map of the circular ruins of our culture drawn from fragments.
The "new talkie" proudly traces its paternity to Godard; in so doing it betrays its ignorance of Godard's own questionable origins. Praise among English and American academics (e.g., Wollen) for Godard's bourgeois Sunday-Maoist recuperation of the formal devices of Situationist film has been possible, first, because it coincides with the impostures of those academicians and, second, because Situationist film remains virtually unknown outside of Paris.
The Situationist International is dead. Long live the Situationist International.
Contrary to popular belief, Guy Debord was not the only member of the Situationist International, nor the only Situationist to make films. But as a central figure in the group, his case may still serve as illustration.
When the man who backed most of Debord's films and created a special theatre for screening them was assassinated several years ago, Debord withdrew his films from distribution. In recent years, Debord has refused to allow his films to be shown in public except under conditions so extraordinary as to be impossible in practice to fulfill. He has gone to great lengths to isolate himself from those interested in his work: using a post office box in the Massif Central while he was probably living elsewhere, demanding lengthy and exacting descriptions of the screening conditions, seldom even responding to the requests. In constructing an elaborate protective maze, he has labored to preserve his films from the fate of all films as they enter the discourse of history. He has attempted to prevent recuperation by the agents of the spectacle: mannerist feature filmmakers such as Godard, advertising hacks such as Godard, the historians of the "avant-garde." The films were made at a specific time for a specific purpose. Perhaps Debord believes that their time has simply passed as the time had passed for the Situationist International when its members chose to disband it. Perhaps his films have become films without a present and without a future. Left with the bare fact of their historicity, he chose erasure, an act of metahistory perversely reminiscent of Warhol's withdrawal of his films.
It is all too easy to attribute to Warhol purely economic motives for withdrawing his films. He took them off the market-say the dictates of the Warholian logic of commodification as they are officially and vulgarly understood-in order to make them scare, to make more money with them later. Probably, he just got bored with them and wanted to move on without dragging so much of his personal history around with him. An act of strategic self-erasure perfectly congruent with the aesthetic of commercial anonymity of his factory system paintings and of the films themselves, performed to enable him to move on, to travel light, to accommodate the demand for the new which drives the logic of the art work as commodity. Warhol, in fact, had allowed the films to sit neglected for many years, ignoring several offers to put them back in distribution. When he finally acceded to the offer from MOMA for the entire lot, he was surely aware that this would permanently alter their commercial exploitability for the 60s underground revival and assure their embalming as film historical corpses. But then history is an expensive commodity and Andy actually managed to manufacture and sell it, as well as to collect it.
Debord, we might assume, withdrew his films from an excess of intellectual scruples, yet the effect is the same. Just as Warhol's films have existed mainly in books for the past 20 years, the films of Debord are accessible now only in book form through his Œuvres Cinématographiques Complètes in French, two scripts translated in the Situationist International Anthology, and two other extremely rare publications in French. Through the absence coded into their shadowy presence, Debord's films have assumed the status of myth, the secret map to the buried origins of postmodernist film practice in France, much as Warhol's films, in their obscurity, have held the allure of the lost Ark of the underground, the sacred treasure of the postmodern here.
Now that Warhol has attained the perfect biological anonymity of the dead and his films are receiving their first significant exposure in twenty years, we can begin again the endless ritual of bringing their secrets to light. Unseen, they have captivated many; their position in our imaginary will be altered as they pass from the underground to the museological mausoleum. This is hardly cause for alarm, however, since necromancy and necrophilia are the filmgoer's favorite vices.
For the living, concerned with the practice of everyday life, however, it is unfortunate that Debord, in protecting his own work unsuccessfully from the ravages of recuperation, has deprived his contemporaries in France and abroad as well as his historical successors of the insights his work might offer. The occultation of these films has preserved the historical integrity of the work at the ironic cost of inflating their fetishistic value as intellectual commodity. Meanwhile, Godard, in King Lear, explicitly and with unintentioned irony reveals himself to be the Woody Allen of France, Barbara Krueger recycles Situationist form as she laughs her way to the bank and the biennial ("Shop til you drop") and Robert Longo is taken for a critic of the society of the spectacle instead of its hypostasis. But who can blame Debord? In the current cultural climate, offering one's life work to one's contemporaries-let alone to one's historical successors-has all the attraction of binding and offering oneself for gang rape, vivisection and piecemeal transplantation.
"Plagiarism is necessary; progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with a true one."-Lautréamont, 1870
"Plagiarism is necessary; progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with a true one."-Debord, 1967
Patti Astor, star of Eric Mitchell's Underground U.S.A., founded the ephemeral and influential Fun Gallery on East 10th street in New York in the early 1980s. During the height of her influence as a dealer, she would find herself deluged with slides from unaffiliated painters from all over the country. Rene Ricard, a veteran of the Warhol scene turned critic and a co-star in the Mitchell film, summed up the situation this way in his "Pledge of Allegiance" to the Fun stable of the period: "Nobody wants artists. Artists are supposed to create a culture around themselves to be noticed, set off drumbeats in the jungle, then get a gallery. Nobody wants to see slides; they're a pain in the ass. Open your own gallery. You can have your own fun. Start your own war."
Makers of film on the margins perform many rituals of complaint; the litany includes: lack of money for their films and other vices, lack of audiences, lack of critical attention, lack of position. The complaints are all more or less justified. I have performed them dutifully myself; they come with the territory. But the time has long passed for looking to the Sitneys, the Taubins, the Campers and the Hobermans of the world for intelligent critical response to film or anything else. Start your own magazine. Write your own reviews. Build your own audience. If there is a cinema of resistance that perseveres in the midst of the wake for modernism and the "avant-garde" then it must speak with its own voice or not at all. Because if you're waiting for just that review that will put your career over the top, you are waiting for hell to freeze over and deserve to. The lame will walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and a critic will pass through the eye of a needle before a writer for the Village Voice will depart one word from the perpetuation of a tired official journalistic anti-decorum. And should that review come bearing a resemblance to your intentions, I advise you to write it off to coincidence or to Nancy Reagan's horoscope, or to pause and reflect just where you went wrong.
Deconstruction is dead. Long live deconstruction.
For deconstruction: Within the few short years since his death, research has brought to light Paul De Man's carefully concealed collaborationist past. It now seems that Heidegger was a better Nazi than previously thought. Nietzsche-betrayed by his sister and bastardized-was at least dead before his corpse was handed over to the party. Though his pathological ambiguity, sweeping generalizations and sexism continue to be his downfall, Nietzsche was outspoken against anti-semitism during his lifetime. De Man and Heidegger were very much alive when they spoke out respectively against Jews and on behalf of the party. Derrida has travelled along many of the same intellectual paths as Heidegger and De Man; he assisted in the French reanimation of Nietzsche in the 1970s. While it seems unlikely that Derrida will simply lie down and die as deconstruction enters history as a dead form of literature, one may well wonder what awaits his eventual reanimators. For history refuses to be subjugated to literature. It has a way of leaking out around the edges, trickling down the bindings onto the shelves, and staining the library floor. Someone notices sooner or later. It returns where repressed and with a vengeance.
Baudrillard is dead. Long live Baudrillard.
Q: How did Professor Baudrillard of the University of Nanterre spend the spring of 1968?
A: The records have not yet been uncovered, but it is important to find out now as the consequences of his passive nihilist stance come to be tested.
For nearly 20 years, Baudrillard's idée fixe has been to discredit Debord's analytic model of the "society of the spectacle." So many trees have died, so many careers have been made in the art world and academia simply because the Situationists recognized Baudrillard in 1967 for the modernist he remains. He has spent his career trying to deny that relegation to the realm of dead history. While his currency as an intellectual pop star is unquestionable, his strategy of the transcendence of history through a literary eternal present is problematic at best. While few doubt that the past 20 years have departed radically from the previous 100 and many affirm that history may be a thing of the past, even the law of entropy dictates the concrete passage of time.
The decentered subject, which inhabits the Baudrillard world, is allowed no distance between himself and the world. He cannot be alienated because she is "always already" alien. There is no longer an inside and an outside set at a critical distance from which to judge. With the collapse of this distance we are left with the "ecstasy of communication" and with "seduction," the play of attractions between decentered self and other.
In exploring this relation, Baudrillard focusses his critique with an attack on the allegiance of one strain of feminist thought to the self-representing subject. Baudrillard speaks of "feminist naïveté" in analysing "feminine striptease" in advertising as a form of "prostitution." It is just "putting on an act," a kind of simulation. For where everyone and everything is equally alien, "alienation" can carry no meaning. But if there is no space between consciousness and the world for self-representation, precisely how can one "put on an act"? How can simulation be possible without a void between consciousness and an imaginary? But accepting this most "melancholy" of all possible worlds, we find nonetheless that some Others are still more incommensurable than others.
A methodology banal in its anti-subjectivity-American behaviorist industrial psychology-informed us long ago that an advertising message need neither be consciously registered nor remembered in order to affect our behavior at critical moments. Some circuits of power are not reversible with the turn of a phrase or the touch of a finger on the remote control. We are left with yet another attempt to recuperate the fashionable discourse of sexual difference for a master literary if not simple-mindedly logocentric narrative. Baudrillard here has performed yet another critic's paraphrase of Rimbaud. He recycles "Je est un autre" quite directly, changing "Je veux devenir nègre" to "Je veux devenir femme." Baudrillard's claim of the reversibility of the terms as a facet of current socio-economic life is at best a masturbatory fantasy.
The strategy of Baudrillard's rhetoric in presenting his world view is to collapse the dualistic oppositions of language itself (metaphor vs. metonymy or similarity vs. contiguity) to an aphasic superimposition. Similarity disorder simulates contiguity disorder. The threatened triumph of metaphor explodes into isomorphic holographic fragments placed in vertiginous atemporal contiguity. Or, to summarize the observations of Meaghan Morris: beneath the ecstasy of communication, we find the ecstasy of description, beneath the ecstasy of description, a kind of hyperrealism, and beneath this hyperrealism, a kind of hype. In the posture of a McLuhanesque nihilist, Baudrillard seems willing to take the media's things for words about the status of the global village, while ignoring the concrete aspects of its economy, multinational capitalism. See no production, hear no production, speak no production. The third world is reserved for exotic vacations.
If there are still those who persist in believing that Baudrillard's critique may offer a solution for film to the endgame of modernism, let us consider Baudrillard's particular sense of just what is important about film:
This collusion between images and life, between the screen and daily life, can be experienced everyday [sic] in the most ordinary manner. Especially in America, not the least charm of which is that even outside the cinemas the whole country is cinematographic. You cross the desert as if in a western; the metropolis is a continual screen of signs and formulae. Life is a travelling shot, a kinetic, cinematic, cinematographic sweep. There is as much pleasure in this as in those Dutch or Italian towns where, upon leaving the museum, you rediscover a town in the very image of the paintings, as if it had stepped out of them. It is a kind of miracle which, even in a banal American way, gives rise to a sort of aesthetic form, to an ideal confusion which transfigures life, as in a dream. Here, cinema does not take on the exceptional form of a work of art, even a brilliant one, but invests the whole of life with a mythical ambience. Here it becomes truly exciting. This is why the idolatry of stars, the cult of Hollywood idols, is not a media pathology but a glorious form of the cinema, its mythical transfiguration, perhaps the last great myth of our modernity. Precisely to the extent that the idol no longer represents anything but reveals itself as a pure, impassioned, contagious image, which effaces the difference between the real being and its assumption into the imaginary.
All these considerations are a bit wild, but that is because they correspond to the unrestrained film buff that I am and have always wished to remain-that is in a sense uncultured and fascinated. There is a kind of primal pleasure, of anthropological joy in images, a kind of brute fascination unencumbered by aesthetic, moral, social or political judgments. It is because of this that I suggest that they are immoral, and that their fundamental power lies in this immorality. (The Evil Demon of Images, pp. 26-27)
Et tout cela sortait de ma tasse de thé. From the preceding two paragraphs it would appear that M. Baudrillard does on occasion when abroad leave his cork-lined motel room for a drive to the 7-11. The filmic variant of his project might be formulated as a combination of "Je est un touriste" and either "Je veux devenir américaine" or "Je veux devenir image." The latter two seem nearly synonymous for him. And while the for[e]going text is moderately amusing as an exercise in colonialist provocation of an Australian university film audience, it is hardly novel. In view of the fact that the Australians have considered Baudrillard much more closely and critically than most Americans, one wonders whether those words were not the occasion for the ultimate discrediting of his project there among the film community where his work seems particularly to have flourished. [See Seduced and Abandoned: The Baudrillard Scene.] It is somewhat ironic that here, at yet another arguable Antipodes from both France and Australia, the Baudrillard scene has been confined almost entirely to the realm of the so-called "visual arts." To circle back to the text above for a final if not definitive pass: while the power of film to fascinate is undeniable, one wonders whether Professor Baudrillard would respond with the same blithely melancholic indifference to the brute leveling of the distinction between the imaginary and the real historically effected by Triumph of the Will or Der ewige Jude. Perhaps in our era hyperbole is its own reward.
Tonight on Channel 4 at 3: I walked with a Zombie and Baudrillard visits Disneyland.
We could always have an ocean ending.
The pope is resting comfortably in his private offices, daydreaming about the Avignon papacy and the French Riviera, when his chief nuncio with unusually abbreviated ceremony enters. "Your Holiness, Your Holiness. I've got some good news and some bad news." The Holy Father responds: "My son, my son. The Gospel means 'good news' so let us have the good news first." The nuncio: "It's the Second Coming, Holy Father and Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to take away the sins of the world, is on the phone and wants to talk to you." The pope: "My son, my son, with such joyous and momentous news for which Christians have been waiting nearly two millennia, what could possibly be amiss?" "Well, Your Holiness," answers the nuncio, "She's calling from Salt Lake City."
Open Letter to the Experimental Film Congress: Let's Set the Record Straight (Canada, 1989)
Peggy Ahwesh, Caroline Avery, Craig Baldwin, Abigail Child, Su Friedrich, Barbara Hammer, Todd Haynes, Lewis Klahr, Ross McLaren, John Porter, Yvonne Rainer, Berenice Reynaud, Keith Sanborn, Sarah Schulman, Jeffrey Skoller, Phil Solomon, and Leslie Thornton, and fifty-nine other filmmakers
[First distributed at the International Experimental Film Congress, Toronto, Ontario, 28 May 1989. First published in the Independent Film and Video Monthly 12, no. 8 (1989): 24.]
If the "Cinema of Transgression" was a postpunk rebellion against the ageing New York avant-garde, the "Let's Set the Record Straight" manifesto, issued at the International Film Congress in Toronto in 1989, points to the large schism between the old guard of the avant-garde and the new generation of American and Canadian experimental filmmakers, and the move from high art to pop culture and political commitment. Like "Modern, All Too Modern," "Let's Set the Record Straight" dismisses the Visionary Film generation out of hand, claiming the old guard is apolitical, sexist, and ahistorical, and calls for the new generation of avant-garde filmmakers, concerned with both the political and the post-Debordian mediascape, to have their work screened, acknowledged, and debated.
We challenge the official History promoted by the International Experimental Film Congress to be held in Toronto this Spring. The time is long overdue to unwrite the Institutional Canon of Master Works of the Avant-Garde. It is time to shift focus from the History of Film to the position of film within the construction of history. The narratives which take up this new task must respect the complexity of relations among the many competing and overlapping histories which make up the activity within the field.
We are concerned by the tone which pervades the announcements for the Congress. The recognition belatedly accorded to "the founding women of the avant-garde," the ceremonious embalming of lively, refractory work, the minimal attention given new work, the organization of screenings along nationalistic lines, and the "open"-read "unpaid"-screenings for those willing to pay $100 for the privilege, all betray a tokenism blind to any activities outside the officially sanctioned margins. And if our analytic concerns seem to prejudge the event, they are borne out with desolate clarity by the record of the Congress organizers in attempting to suppress dissent within their own community. Their efforts in Toronto against the Funnel Experimental Film Centre and against feminist film theory speak for themselves.
And while the putatively timeless Internationalism of the Congress should make it all things to all people, the overwhelming majority of the announced participants consists of representatives of the 60's Avant-Garde and its decaying power base. Only one or two younger filmmakers have been made part of the official program, though some of us will at least be discussed in our absence. Workshops are dominated by technological values and are lead [sic] exclusively by older men. In this context, the organization of screenings along nationalistic lines promises a replay of the results with which we have become all too familiar over the past decade: a government-subsidized inventory of products suitable for export. Work is chosen to minimize linguistic, sexual, and cultural difference, typically to conform to the model of the "universal language of form" so dear to institutional esperantists. Difference is recognized only where it can be recuperated and diluted to a tepid pluralism.
The "open screenings" at best provide an image of damage control. These screenings, as the de facto venue for new and unrecognized work, have been scheduled mostly for late in the evening at the end of full days of featured panels, workshops and screenings. Even without average festival delays, this scheduling usually bodes poorly for attendance. The priorities of the Congress organizers are clear: those without established institutional credentials are to be marginalized within the consolidation of the official margins, to be presented as Film Historical leftovers.
There is a spirit of mind which continues to challenge the hegemony of industry, of government, of bureaucracy. The revolutionary frame of mind pervading activity in film in the Teens and Twenties and again in the Fifties and Sixties-which seemed to die in the Seventies-continues to thrive, but only where it has shifted and migrated according to changing historical conditions. The issues which galvanized the Cinema Avant-Gardes of earlier decades arose from different conditions than those which confront us today. An event which promotes itself as of major importance to Experimental Film and fails to reflect the vitality and breadth, the vulnerability and urgency of current oppositional practice in the media renders nothing but obeisance to a moribund officialdom. It risks nothing but its own historical relevance.
The Avant-Garde is dead; long live the avant-garde.
Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto (USA, 1996)
[First presented 11 February 1996 at the American Center, Paris. First published in Point d'ironie (France) 0 (1997).]
This manifesto, a response to the celebration and marketing of the centenary of the cinema, makes a case that the official histories written at the time were dictated by capital, like much of film production throughout its history. Mekas celebrates the artisanal aspect of experimental cinema and shines light on the importance of the cinema as a shared experience between viewers and audiences but most importantly between friends.
As you well know it was God who created this Earth and everything on it. And he thought it was all great. All painters and poets and musicians sang and celebrated the creation and that was all OK. But not for real. Something was missing. So about 100 years ago God decided to create the motion picture camera. And he did so. And then he created a filmmaker and said, "Now here is an instrument called the motion picture camera. Go and film and celebrate the beauty of the creation and the dreams of human spirit, and have fun with it."
But the devil did not like that. So he placed a money bag in front of the camera and said to the filmmakers, "Why do you want to celebrate the beauty of the world and the spirit of it if you can make money with this instrument?" And, believe it or not, all the filmmakers ran after the money bag. The Lord realized he had made a mistake. So, some 25 years later, to correct his mistake, God created independent avant-garde filmmakers and said, "Here is the camera. Take it and go into the world and sing the beauty of all creation, and have fun with it. But you will have a difficult time doing it, and you will never make any money with this instrument."
Thus spoke the Lord to Viking Eggeling, Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, Fernand Léger, Dmitri Kirsanoff, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Richter, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Cavalcanti, Jean Cocteau, and Maya Deren, and Sidney Peterson, and Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos, Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Bruce Baillie, Francis Lee, Harry Smith and Jack Smith and Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Ron Rice, Michael Snow, Joseph Cornell, Peter Kubelka, Hollis Frampton and Barbara Rubin, Paul Sharits, Robert Beavers, Christopher McLaine, and Kurt Kren, Robert Breer, Dore O, Isidore Isou, Antonio De Bernardi, Maurice Lemaitre, and Bruce Conner, and Klaus Wyborny, Boris Lehman, Bruce Elder, Taka Iimura, Abigail Child, Andrew Noren and too many others. Many others all over the world. And they took their Bolex[e]s and their little 8mm and Super 8 cameras and began filming the beauty of this world, and the complex adventures of the human spirit, and they're having great fun doing it. And the films bring no money and do not do what's called useful.
And the museums all over the world are celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of cinema, costing them millions of dollars the cinema makes, all going gaga about their Hollywoods. But there is no mention of the avant-garde or the independents of our cinema.
I have seen the brochures, the programs of the museums and archives and cinematheques around the world. But these say, "we don't care about your cinema." In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions, I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the clean lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily tailor to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.
I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere in China just fluttered its wings, and I know that the entire history, culture will drastically change because of that fluttering. A Super 8mm camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, somewhere on the lower east side of New York, and the world will never be the same.
The real history of cinema is invisible history: history of friends getting together, doing the thing they love. For us, the cinema is beginning with every new buzz of the projector, with every new buzz of our cameras. With every new buzz of our cameras, our hearts jump forward my friends.
The Decalogue (Czech Republic, 1999)
[Originally published in Czech in Jan Švankmajer, Síla imaginace (Prague: Dauphin, 2001), 113-116. Published in English in Peter Hames, ed., The Cinema of Jan Švankmajer: Dark Alchemy, 2nd ed. (London: Wallflower, 2007), 141.]
Czech animator Jan Švankmajer's surrealist cinema has influenced filmmakers as diverse as Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and Tim Burton. Švankmajer's manifesto "The Decalogue" is a statement of principles that proclaims the need of the filmmaker to channel the forces of the imagination and the subconscious. For Švankmajer, immersion and affect are the guiding principles of both the filmmaker and the audience. His manifesto is a self-reflexive account of his own practice-not a set of edicts as much as a reflection of how to explode the perception of everyday life as the only viable representation of the real.
1. Remember that there is only one poetry. The antithesis of poetry is professional expertise.
Before you start filming, write a poem, paint a picture, put together a collage, write a book or an essay etc. Because only the nurture of the universality of expression will guarantee that you create a good film.
2. Succumb totally to your obsessions. You have nothing better anyway. Obsessions are relics of your childhood. And from those very depths of your childhood come the greatest treasures.
The gate has to always remain open in that direction. It's not about memories but about emotions. It's not about consciousness but about subconsciousness. Let this underground stream freely flow through your inner self. Focus on it but, at the same time, let yourself go. When you are filming you have to be "immersed" for 24 hours-a-day. Then all your obsessions, all your childhood transfers itself onto film without you even noticing it. In this way your film becomes a triumph of infantility. And that's what it's about.
3. Use animation as a magical act. Animation isn't moving about inert things but their revival. More precisely their awakening to life. Before you attempt to bring some object to life try to comprehend it. Not its utilitarian role but its inner life. Objects, particularly old ones, have witnessed all sorts of events and lives, and bear their imprint. People have touched them in different situations and with different emotions and printed into them their psychological states. If you wish to make their hidden contents visible through the use of a camera then you have to listen to them. Sometimes for several years. You have to become a collector and only then a film-maker. Reviving objects using animation must proceed naturally. It must come from the objects and not from your wishes. Never violate an object! Don't tell your own stories with the help of subjects (objects) but tell their stories.
4. Keep interchanging dream for reality and vice versa. There are no logical bridges. Between dream and reality there is only one slight physical operation: the raising and closing of eyelids. With daydreams even that is unnecessary.
5. If you are deciding which to give priority to-whether visual perspective or physical experience-then always trust the body because touch is an older sense than eyesight and its experience is more fundamental. Furthermore, the eye is pretty tired and "spoiled" in our contemporary audio-visual civilisation. The experience of the body is more authentic, not yet encumbered by aesthetics. A marker which you shouldn't lose sight of is synaesthesia.
6. The deeper you go into a fantastic plot the more you have to be realistic in detail. Here it's necessary to rely on the experience of the dream. Don't be afraid of "a boring description," pedantic obsessions, "unimportant detail," or documentary emphasis if you want to persuade the audience that everything they see in the film relates to them, that it does not concern something outside of their world but that it's about something, without them realising it, in which they are up to their ears. And use all tricks at your disposal to convince them of this.
7. Imagination is subversive because it puts the possible up against the real. That's why always use the craziest imagination possible. Imagination is humanity's greatest gift. It is imagination that makes us human, not work. Imagination, imagination, imagination . . .
8. As a matter of principle chose [sic] themes toward which you feel ambivalent. That ambivalence must be so strong (deep) and unshakeable that you can thread its knife-edge without falling off on one side or the other, or, as the case may be, falling off both sides at the same time. Only this way will you avoid the greatest pitfall: the film à la thèse.
9. Nurture creativity as a means of auto-therapy. Because this anti-aesthetic standpoint brings art nearer to the gates of freedom. If creativity has a point at all then it is only in that it liberates us. No film (painting, poem) can liberate a member of an audience if it doesn't bring this relief to the artist himself. Everything else is a thing of "general subjectivity." Art as permanent liberation.
10. Always give priority to creativity, to the continuity of the inner model or psychological automation over an idea. An idea, even the most poignant, cannot be a sufficient motive to sit behind a camera. Art isn't about stumbling from one idea to another. An idea has its place in art only at the moment when you have a fully digested topic which you wish to express. Only then will the right ideas come to the surface. An idea is part of a creative process, not an impulse towards it.
Never work, always improvise. The script is important for the producer but not for you. It's a non-binding document which you turn to only in moments when inspiration fails you. If it happens to you more than three times during the shooting of a film then it means: either you are making a "bad" film or you're finished.
Just because I've formulated The Decalogue doesn't necessarily mean I have consciously abided by it. These rules have somehow emerged from my work, they haven't preceded it. In fact, all rules are there to be broken (not circumvented). But there exists one more rule which if broken (or circumvented) is devastating for an artist: Never allow your work of art to pass into the service of anything but freedom.
Your Film Farm Manifesto on Process Cinema (Canada, 2012)
[Distributed annually to participants at the beginning of the Independent Imaging Retreat.]
One of the most innovative examples of practice-based alternative filmmaking can be found at Canadian experimental filmmaker Philip Hoffman's Independent Imaging Retreat, colloquially known as "Film Farm," which has taken place most summers on his farm in rural Mount Forest, Ontario, since 1994. "Film Farm" is a processed-based film workshop, where over the course of a week filmmakers, both experienced practitioners and artists working in other media, come together to shoot, hand-process, tint, tone, scratch, and edit films in a barn. This manifesto codifies the philosophy behind the practice.
Enter through the big barn doors, without sketches, scripts, props, actors, or cell phones. Your films will surface through the relationship between your camera and what passes in front. It may take the whole of the workshop for you to shake away the habit of planning, what has become the guiding light of the profit-driven film world. Without the blanket of preconception, the processes of collect, reflect, revise mirror the underpinnings of your formation.
Dive deep to encounter those strange fish who stare without seeing. Mental processes effect the physical when the mind is open to what appears in front of you. These images you make will be charged with your inner architecture. Don't be surprised if a person, animal, place or thing shows you a way to go. These pathways can be provocative, treacherous and joyful. They are places you have to go, one way or another, so you might as well start your trip.
The camera holds the film, and waits for light to pass through the lens. When you release the trigger, a mechanical shutter lets the image in, focused through the lens which controls the quantity of the light. What you film will be effected by uncontrollable sun bursts, and the various tones and textures that the camera passes over. With the open field before you, these little gifts can have a say, in the making of your film.
In the darkroom you watch the image surface. The big world you filmed isn't bigger than the small world that slowly appears. Hand processing movie film is a complex soup of various forces. Heat, time, light, movement, all work together and an image somehow forms through the silvery magic of the photo-chemical process. Errors of time and application can render your film opaque or clear, but you still have a latent image burned into your mind, which can be brought forward on another filming trip. Slighter inconsistencies can upset your expectations and pose a question you would never ask, if all went perfectly.
Leaving the workshop can be as difficult as entering. If you have found intensity it might seem that the world you return to has gone somewhat askew . . . when perception shifts the familiar becomes strange. Holding on to the experience allows it to resonate for months to come and hopefully fuels the finishing of your film and the initiation of new ones.