Influenced by the introduction of the revolutionary 16mm film technology; French Filmmaker and critic Alexandre Astruc predicted a breakthrough in patterns of production and distribution in the moving picture. He envisaged the birth of new cinema aesthetics drawing on experiences of the avant-garde. His ideas were published in an essay where he discussed the cinema aesthetics used by Orson Welles and Jean Renoir and compared them to recent 16mm technology and television. He predicted that everybody would have a projector in their house, hire films of any topic from the bookstore and that there would be many more cinemas. He believed that cinema is just like literature; not just a particular art but a language which can express any thought. He successfully predicted that television would pose a threat to the cinema.
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But it takes on fresh importance when placed in dialogue with recent developments in film and media theory, from the film-philosophy movement of the past decade to the work on technics by Bernard Stiegler and others. It is exactly this contact, according to Astruc, that allows us to discuss cinema not simply in terms of art but also philosophy: cinema as an instrument or vehicle for thought. Bringing Astruc and Stiegler together can help foreground the importance of understanding the fundamental co-dependency of technology, artistry and industry in the evolution of the cinematic medium.
Astruc begins his essay by suggesting that something qualitatively new is happening in the cinema. The latter to be understood in a number of ways: novelist, essayist, philosopher. Astruc born , now 92 had already published a first novel Les Vacances, when he wrote this essay.
He would return to his literary beginnings in the s, writing a series of novels even as he continued to develop film and television projects. This emphasis is not a mistake. Or, at the very least, that the shooting stage should be understood as the true starting point of cinematographic writing, with post-production editing and sound as the final stages in the generation of emotions and ideas. Cinematographic writing begins when the camera is brought into play, when it is brought into proximity with a set of pro-filmic elements — and a film is allowed to form of this encounter.
We could say, in this context, that Truffaut offers his readers a useful reminder of the etymology of the term cinematography itself: cinema as a writing with movement, just as photography means writing with light. The link between Astruc and Truffaut can be taken further.
As Dudley Andrew notes, Astruc and Bazin were quite intimate during the immediate postwar years. All three filmmakers are essential figures for Bazin as well. To the extent that this notion of the camera-pen is a metaphor, Astruc can be seen to be making a very similar — in fact, interchangeable — argument with Bazin in his piece on Welles and Citizen Kane.
But Astruc does not stop there. Although his specific examples are all feature-length narrative films, shot on 35mm, he also mentions the proliferation, in the post-WWII period, of 16mm cameras, and how this increased availability of film cameras can facilitate the continued growth of the new mode of cinematic writing.
For the work of filmmakers including Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage was made possible precisely because of the wider accessibility of 16mm cameras manufactured during WWII and then sold in second-hand shops at discounted rates in the s.
In the future, Astruc believes, not only will more people have access to cameras, but they will also have more flexibility in how they screen a film. He envisions a future. This prediction not only evokes our recent past, when we used to go to video shops to rent, first, VHS tapes, and then DVDs and Blu-Rays, but also the present, where cinema has lost its singular meaning.
In a similar vein, we can easily extend his comments on 16mm film to the emergence of digital video cameras, which now make it easier than ever for individuals to write with the camera — literally so. It becomes clear that Astruc relates abstraction to language — and language to thinking.
How so? Language is a mode of abstraction since it converts our everyday perceptions into concepts or signs. These concepts or signs allow us to reflect upon our experiences, to come to a new understanding of their meaning and relevance. In these terms, to say that language is an abstraction should not be understood exclusively in negative terms, for abstraction is not simply a subtraction, extraction or reduction of experience.
It also has an productive even creative function: our own relation to the perceptual world is changed or modified by the language we utilise as a means to access and describe — or think — our experience. When Astruc discusses thinking and language, he does not mean that filmmakers should transport linguistic ideas or linguistic signs into cinema.
To the contrary, cinema must continue to develop its own non-linguistic form of language, which does not necessarily discount speech or the written word as if this were possible , but neither does it rely on speech or words as the primary source of cognitive engagement and understanding.
The epistemological possibilities of film are directly tied to the temporal status of cinematographic images, their dynamic or dialectical qualities — although Astruc objects to the way Sergei Eisenstein equates dialectical thinking with montage. Ideas are created not simply through the juxtaposition of shots but in the relations established, within a single shot, between the various figures distributed across the frame, human or otherwise.
Astruc responds:. What is different between the two processes is that, in traditional writing, the same instruments are used at each stage of composition; whereas film involves different instruments or tools, each of which has its own range of potentials, and its own way of influencing the course of action to be taken. Born in , Bernard Stiegler studied philosophy with Jacques Derrida, whose influence is evident in his writing style, his attraction to neologisms, as well as in his skills at deconstructing the texts of other philosophers.
He was incarcerated for five years for armed robbery. It was while he was in prison that he began studying and practicing philosophy through a series of ascetic reading and writing exercises. This is how Stiegler initially trained for a life in philosophy. He defended his dissertation in , and, since then, has published more than a dozen books — a number of them organised around a common theme, as in the three-volume Technics and Time series, published in France between and In this series , Stiegler reflects on the encounter, or non-encounter, between philosophy and technology.
From the beginning, philosophy has ignored or repressed technics, a consideration of which is deemed to be outside the purview of philosophy. The evolution of mankind over a , year period does not occur despite technology but because of it. According to Ben Roberts:. There is a similar methodology on display in the work of both philosophers: just as Derrida attempts to show how the work of each philosopher he engages ends up relying, to some extent, on a concept which his philosophical system outwardly excludes, so too does Stiegler demonstrate the ways philosophers broach topics that directly implicate technics even as they studiously avoid addressing the topic.
To this notion, Stiegler adds a discussion of the new time-based media of the 19th and 20th centuries the phonograph, cinema , which not only duplicate the flux of consciousness but also — because of their mechanical reproducibility — have the ability to repeat it. Such a consideration, Stiegler suggests, would have challenged Husserl to refine his ideas on temporal objects and the challenges faced by the phenomenological subject in the twentieth century.
Leroi-Gourhan's thesis is that while the cortical system of the human brain has remained largely unchanged since the Neanderthal period, the human being has continued to evolve because of the relationship he develops with technics.
So, in the case of the human, biological evolution and technical evolution are necessarily intertwined. It is such bodily advances that lead to the development of speech and language, both of which are made possible by the peculiar features of human anatomy.
Technics are not only fundamental in the development of human knowledge, but are also significant in the creation of a non-biological form of memory. Whereas Kant proposes that the a priori coordinates of understanding are somehow innate, Stiegler argues otherwise: these coordinates are social and exterior; they are part of an inheritance, that comes from outside, and which comes to be experienced as our deepest interiority.
This inheritance is the result of technics that allow for the preservation and dissemination of cultural memory. The shift is from technics that facilitate memory to those that store it. Mitchell and Mark B. For more, see Bernard Stiegler trans. Descartes, we could say, had an instrumentalist view in regards to technology: a pen allows him to write, but plays no role in the production of thought.
In either case, we have a clear example of the way technics not only facilitates knowledge, but also allows for its extension and transformation. To ignore the conjunction of human and technology is thus not only to leave unremarked an essential component in man's evolution, but also to leave technology in the hands of technocrats and industrialists. They develop technology for their own purposes, to suit their own specific economic needs or interests versus how it might have developed otherwise, had philosophers seen technology as a philosophical concern, directly related to ethics, aesthetics and questions of knowledge.
Stiegler attempts to rectify this error. What he makes clear is the extent to which even the work of Gilles Deleuze largely ignores this dimension of the medium: the status of cinema as a technology, a technology that also happens to develop into an art form in its own right.
I would go further: much of the writing in film studies, including the works of the film-philosophy movement, also commits this error or oversight. Either the emphasis is placed on the auteur or on the film-as-text or on the historical and technical history of the medium; but what rarely occurs is the attempt to think through these topics in relation to one another ; to see these elements as inter-dependent and co-constitutive, the result of an encounter between a number of elements, human and non-human, technical and industrial.
Oddly enough, a similar thing happens in Stiegler, for even as he promises to address cinema in volume three of Technics and Time , his focus is less on films or filmmakers, or on the aesthetic potential of the medium, than on developing a sophisticated, but also largely negative, argument about cinema as an emblematic instance of the capture of modern technics by forces of power and control.
Hence, the subtitle of volume three: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise. The possibility of an individual response, the expression of a true individuality, becomes increasingly rare. Instead, there is a bland uniformity, a complacency , a conformity. This is directly related to the fact that most filmgoers and television viewers have no access to equipment, and no ability to participate in these media except as spectators.
At the same time, the temporal images produced for films and television become the foundation, the memory bank or archive, for future generations of mankind — thus allowing for the replication of the same ideas and beliefs, and the same debased notions of community and individuality.
Stiegler is not wrong to suggest that film and other related media technologies have troubling components; after all, cinema does evolve into big business that attempts to maximise profits through a set of principles or rules that function to delimit the uses to which the technology might be put. But the history of cinema is not as singular as Stiegler suggests. This unpredictability is the result of a number of factors, and they are not all part of the same industrialisation or corporatisation of the medium.
The existence of the Nouvelle Vague to cite just one example , and its continued ability to inspire future generations of filmmakers, belies the claim that cinema develops along a single course, with everything assimilated into a single, hegemonic form. There are, and have always been, alternative practices of cinema, and these practices utilise the medium otherwise, pursuing a path that Stiegler does not seriously consider in Technics and Time.
Daniel Ross, Screening the Past , issue 36 June ,. Kant acknowledges the subjective nature of human experience while also providing it with an objective basis, since this subjective experience is objectively true of all humans. Objectivity is thus relocated in us rather than in the world. Stiegler, by contrast, argues that our shared subjective experience is largely the result of a cultural memory that is preserved and disseminated; our subjective experience is objective.
But as soon as we acknowledge this fact, we also have to acknowledge the tendentious nature of these cultural memories. We have to ask: who had or has access to these mediums of preservation and who had or has access to their dissemination? Stiegler, in his more recent writings, has taken a somewhat more positive view on the question of technics related to the rise of new technologies digital, the Internet that provide new opportunities for consumers to become producers; to utilise technics such as video cameras for their own education and edification.
Let us not forget, in this context, that the Technics and Time series was written in the s. This is not to say that the majority of works produced in the past ten years have attempted to utilise technics in such a fashion; quite the contrary, for the most part, the majority of users simply wish to replicate the cinematic and televisual forms that they are familiar with, and which they recognise however falsely as their own.
The majority of users will do nothing special with these technologies, their lives will carry on more or less the same; but what is important is the transformative value these technics may have for one person, for one individual, who transforms the device, allows it to evolve, while also transforming themselves — as well as those who come into contact with their work in the near or distant future.
The majority of prisoners do not transform their life, or like him become philosophers. But there was the possibility that this might occur, through this individual encounter with technics. It is through his encounter with a series of technical instruments — the alphabet which gave him access to words and language , pen and paper which allowed him to articulate his ideas in an exteriorised form — that Stiegler was able to develop his thoughts and transform himself from a convict into a philosopher.
It is this kind of singular experience that sets the stage for true individuation, one whose outcome cannot be known in advance. But there is a time and place for polemics. There was a time and place for it in , and there is a time and place for it in , in the age of digital and the Internet. What we need, more than ever, are individuals who do not passively accept the technologies of their day, but work to transform them from within and, in the process, expand the possibilities of what can be said and what can be thought for the next generation.
With this in mind, and as a final homage to Astruc, let me end the same way he ended his piece 67 years ago:. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors. The fundamental problem of the cinema is how to express thought. After having been successively a fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theatre, or a means of preserving the images of an era, [film] is gradually becoming a language.
By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.
This metaphor has a very precise sense. By it I mean that the cinema will gradually break free from the tyranny of the visual, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language.
From that moment on, it will no longer be possible to speak of the cinema.
Cinema has become a means of expression, just like all other art forms before it but it has an accessibility like none other. Astruc, foresaw the capability of film to be a medium which everyone get become their own author of. We have seen this evolve through the accessibility of technology. Now anybody in their bedroom with a webcam, or a phone can create films that they can share with the world. Through services like YouTube and Vimeo there is an audience for all genres and directors for film like never before.
On the one hand, in , it was an anticipation. One day soon, filmmaking equipment would become smaller, cheaper, more flexible although Astruc was not yet able to imagine the advent of electronic videotape. He created a new persona for himself as a rather cranky cultural commentator. On one level, this exactly mirrors his propositions about cinema as a medium that freely mixes the most concrete, physical detail of the material world with the most abstract, metaphysical ideas. On another level, it was part of his particular, post-war culture and sensibility: he was a man of high culture, as his abundant literary references here prove, but he was also something of a dandy who liked to provoke his readers.
Alexandre Astruc obituary
The writer and film director Alexandre Astruc, who has died aged 92, personified the gap between theory and practice. He called for an end to institutional cinema and for a new style that would be both personal and malleable. Because of his influential articles on the future of cinema, expectations were high when he attempted to make two short 16mm films, in and , but they were amateurish efforts. Instead it pushed the voiceover experiments of Robert Bresson in his Diary of a Country Priest, of the year before, to an extreme. However, the Nouvelle Chic might have been a more appropriate way of categorising it, with its white sports cars, cocktail parties, a recording studio, modern skyscrapers, jazz and Bach on the soundtrack and quick, slick cross-cutting.