Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Framing Film Research Portfolio

The research portfolio was produced as one of my undergraduate first year Film Studies assignments. This was a marked exercise designed to teach us how to break down the writings of other film academics. 

Annoyingly, this is the only Film Studies assignment of my restarted time at university for which I did not get a first, and I was so close, SO close...

Week 7 - Soviet Montage (primary reading)
Bibliographical details
Ellis, JC (1995) ‘Art and Dialectic in the Soviet Film’, in A History of Film 4th Edition. Allyn and Bacon pp75-95.
Summary of main themes / points / arguments
Ellis’ chapter concerns itself with an overview of Soviet cinema, mostly between 1925 and 1929, and how through various key figures, such as: Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Alenxander Dovhenko, and V. I. Pudovkin, the process of montage came about.

1919 saw the birth of the new Soviet cinema and, like the rest of the Soviet Union, the: ‘ideological basis was provided by Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin and the ‘film makers’ concerns were social, political and economic’ (Ellis, 1995: 76). This new cinema was also comprised of two camps of filmmaking: the right wing and the left wing; these weren’t necessarily political but more formalistic. The right wing was focussed towards the old theatrical tradition of storytelling whereas the left wing was more progressive and innovative in terms of form and subject. The left wing is generally what is thought of when discussing Russian silent film.

Dziga Vertov, a left wing filmmaker, founded the Kino-Eye group from which he produced a series of monthly newsreels: ‘Life in front of the camera was permitted to run its natural course’ (ibid 78). This followed on from Lenin’s belief: ‘that the first work of Soviet film makers should be with newsreels and documentaries’ (ibid 78).

Vertov’s lack of control over directing action meant that editing took a central role and: ‘Vertov learned that by juxtaposing shots from old czarist newsreels with newly shot materials he could create new meanings’ (ibid 79). Ellis uses the example of: ‘the formal and elegant Nicholas stffly reviewing his palace guard with a shot of a shirt-sleeved Lenin energetically addressing the workers’ (ibid 79), and, just as Vertov did, the juxtapositioning of the two opposing political ideologies to illustrate the power of this process.

‘In embryonic form this was precisely the kind of editing that Sergei Eisenstein would develop into montage’ (ibid 79). But, in addition to the work of Vertov, Eisenstein drew much inspiration for Montage from Japanese hieroglyphic writing. In which two separate images, that meant completely different things on their own, were combined to create a third meaning: ‘He came to feel that the two drawn symbols combined like film shots to provide a third meaning’ (ibid 84). Indeed, Eisenstein went on to apply this process in editing: ‘For Eisenstein its function was to achieve shock, the banging together of contrasting shots in a way that would force the audience into an understanding greater than the sum and different from any one of its parts’ (Ibid 90).

Two other important contemporaries of Eisenstein were Alenxander Dovhenko and V.I. Pudovkin. Dovhenko was most different in his approach towards editing, emphasising: ‘the relationships of scenes to scenes, within the sequence, rather than shots to each other within the scene’ (ibid 80). Pudovkin agreed with Eisenstein: ‘on the fundamental importance of editing’ (ibid 90), but Pudovkin’s application of the process still differed: ‘For Pudovkin the cut was linkage, a joining of shots for the gradual accumulation of narrative meaning-the unfolding of a story’ (ibid 90).

It was Dovhenko’s and Pudovkin’s less extreme reliance and belief in montage, opposed to that of Eisenstein, which allowed their transition to sound films to be much smoother: ‘the arrival of sound reduced the use of montage to brief transitional sequences’ (ibid 94). Eisenstein’s sound films were criticized for being focused too much towards formalistic elements and less towards the socialist realistic content that the Soviets demanded.

Evaluation of usefulness for understanding this topic
-      While, the intended reader of the text is probably targeted at film students the actual writing is of a fairly concise style, as such, it is something that even a non-film student could digest and understand.

Week 4 – Postwar Japanese Cinema: 1950–1990 (primary reading)
Bibliographical details
Gazetas, Aristides (2000) ‘Postwar Japanese Cinema: 1950-1990’, in An Introduction to World Cinema. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers pp161-170.
Summary of main themes / points / arguments
In the chapter Gazetas presents an overview of the Japanese cinema of the postwar years and the three key directors who brought it recognition through their distinctive cinematic styles: Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu.

Japanese cinema had also been heavily influenced by the Noh and Kabuki Theatres. From these mediums Japanese filmmakers, in the 1920s, had incorporated elements and developed: ‘a powerful visual style for mood and atmosphere that reinforced universal themes on love and violence’ (Gazetas 2000: 161). Indeed, Kurasawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu were also influenced by these. In addition to this, all three directors had absorbed elements of Western cinema and had been influenced especially by Frank Capra, John Ford and Orson Welles.  

It was Kurosawa who first opened the doors of Japanese cinema to western audiences, through his film Rashomom (Dir. Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1950): ‘Western filmmakers were astonished to find a sophisticated cinematic culture behind the new Japanese film industry’ (ibid 163). Kurosawa’s filmic style conveyed cinematography and mise-en-scene, through tracking and travelling shots, and were designed: ‘to capture long passages of action that integrate visual metaphors through a play of light and shadow accompanied by musical support of drums and flutes’ (ibid 164). His films expressed; ‘his own thematic concerns about human moral responsibility to others and the emotional desire for power’ (ibid 164). The narratives tended to: ‘deal directly with the difficulty of separating one’s dreams from reality when faced with moral choices for action, to illustrate the basic theme of self-deception’ (ibid 164).

Mizoguchi’s films conveyed a similar moral philosophy to that of Kurosawa but where it differed was in how he examined: ‘the sacrificial role Japanese women play to redeem their morally weak men’ (ibid 167). His latter films were continually preoccupied by: ‘concerns for the social welfare of woman attempting to survive in a male-dominated society’ (ibid 167). Miziguchi had been trained as a painter and as such his visual style illustrates that his: ‘style is comparable to the illustrations of legends or folk tales displayed in Japanese picture scrolls’ (ibid 167). Mizoguchi also liked to use long takes to allow the action to be framed in the mise-en-scene of one shot as opposed to many. He preferred the Pan opposed to tracking to pick out the action of a scene. He also used low-key lighting together with acoustical sounds which helped: ‘Mizoguchi move deliberately from a natural environment to a supernatural one’ (ibid 168).

Ozu’s camera was always fixed parallel to the room: ‘as in early silent cinema and in later Andy Warhol films of the 1960s’ (ibid 169). Ozu also ignored the 180 degree rule: ‘Ozu, by using the entire 360-degree space of the room, can allow the spectator to view the action as if seated within the space’ (ibid 169). The themes in Ozu’s films differ to those of Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, in that, he deals: ‘with the loss of patriarchal authority after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War’ (ibid 170). This theme naturally brought about the conflict and tension in Ozu’s films.

Evaluation of usefulness for understanding this topic
-          For a piece that claims to be about postwar Japanese cinema, aside from referencing the work of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, it has barely a mention of other Japanese filmmakers and their films.
-          While, the chapter does state that the postwar Japanese cinema did have an impact on western cinema it fails to supply any immediate examples where this was the case in postwar Western cinema. It does reference Star Wars (Dir. George Lucas, USA, 1977) but that was nearly thirty years after Rashomom premiered at Venice Film Festival!

Week 13 - Towards a positive definition of World Cinema (secondary reading)
Bibliographical details
Nagib, Lucia ‘Towards a positive definition of World Cinema’. In: Dennison, S and Hwee Lim, Song eds. Remapping World Cinema: identity, culture and politics in film. London: Wallflower Press, 2006, pp. 30–37.
Summary of main themes / points / arguments
Nagib’s argument concerns itself with how the definition of ‘world cinema’ has always been inaccurate and, as such, needs addressing and, more importantly, needs to be re-defined: ‘However common it has become, the term ‘world cinema’ still lacks a proper, positive definition.’ (Nagib 2006: 30)

The definition of world cinema has always been inaccurate: “the usual way of defining it is restrictive and negative, as ‘non-Hollywood cinema’”. Nagib is saying that Hollywood has always been considered the centre of the film world and to which everything else is compared and periphery. What has come out of this is: ‘a binary division of the world’ (ibid 30), a film is either a product that comes from Hollywood or it comes from somewhere else.
This generalisation is still something that is widely accepted by film academics: ‘An example is World Cinema: Critical Approaches, edited by John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (2000). This pioneer attempt to look at world cinema as an independent theoretical subject does not include American cinema’ (ibid 30). Here, Nagib references Hill and his assertion that American cinema was not afforded its own separate volume because, of all the world, the US has always had the most dominant film industry. However, Nagib is quick to point out that Hill doesn’t actually define the criteria for what constitutes dominant: ‘It does not specify, for example, whether ‘dominant cinema’ refers to box-office revenues or numbers of viewers. It also fails to spell out the exact time and place of this dominance’ (ibid 30).
Nagib states that Japan, in the 1930s and mid-1950s, produced the most feature films a year: ‘reaching the mark of five hundred feature films a year’ (ibid 31). Not to mention that today India is the most prolific film producer: ‘attracting annually over one billion viewers and being enormously influential within and beyond South Asia’ (ibid 31).
Ultimately, Nagib presents a new criteria for what the term ‘world cinema’ should entail. Firstly, the term ‘world cinema’ includes all the cinemas of the world; even Hollywood.
Secondly, it should not be seen as a discipline: ‘but a method, a way of cutting across film history according to waves of relevant films and movements’ (ibid 35). By this, Nagib is referring to how cinemas around the world attract attention to themselves due to new film movements, landmark films or filmmakers that affect the practices of cinemas of other countries, such as the French New Wave did. Thus, as a method world cinema is no longer a branch of learning but a system for placing movements, films and filmmakers in context with other relevant movements, films and filmmakers of the world.
Thirdly, the concept of world cinema: ‘allows all sorts of theoretical approaches, provided they are not based on the binary perspective’ (ibid 35). Nagib is saying that film theory from all cinemas should be explored but never allowed to dominate and become the practice against which all other film practice is measured: ‘The result of viewing world cinema as ‘alternative’ and ‘different’ is that the American paradigm continues to prevail as a tool for its evaluation’ (ibid 31). Ultimately, world cinema should be a: ‘positive, inclusive, democratic concept’ (ibid 35) because it: ‘is simply the cinema of the world’ (ibid 35).
Evaluation of usefulness for understanding this topic
-          The chapter is an eye opener to how even a well-established theory can still be highly flawed. It encourages an overall critical attitude in regards to film theory.
-          The fact that she wants to champion cinemas who have been essentially side-lined shows her to be highly enthusiastic towards film and cinema.
-          Her assertion and argument towards a redefinition of world cinema is given further weight due to her position as Centenary Professor of World Cinema at the University of Leeds.

Postwar British New Cinema: 1956 - 1972
Bibliographical details
Gazetas, Aristides (2000) ‘Postwar British New Cinema: 1956-1972’, in An Introduction to World Cinema. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers pp220-228.
Summary of main themes / points / arguments
In the chapter Gazetas presents an overview of the British cinema of the postwar years. He explores the film movements and filmmakers that helped pioneer the postwar British cinema.

In the years immediately following the second world war, British cinema was populated by classical adaptations which: ‘preserved the upper-middle class social and political values and norms reflecting pre-war attitudes and sense of empire’ (Gazetas 2000: 220). However, the new cinema of the 1950s and 1960s was in stark contrast reflecting the social and political state of affairs. This manifested itself primarily as the Free Cinema movement: ‘Here, the films of Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz carefully detailed how the changing social and historical times reflected the consumer society of the 1950s’ (ibid 220).

Free cinema had been inspired by the “Angry Young Man” movement; itself a manifestation of the then current social and political upheaval. Promoting a neo-Marxist political ideology, this New Left was a; ‘reaction to the shift from the traditional values of the middle-class culture to the new postwar consumer culture’ (ibid 224). The younger working class championed this movement exactly because it championed them and called for radical reform in terms of financial, political and social treatment of the working class, it advocated: ‘recognition of the virtues and solidarity of the working class’ (ibid 226).

Exploring and promoting this topic, the free cinema films were docudramas made a in similar vein to those of the earlier John Grierson: ‘who advocated the use of documentary techniques as a means to inform and educate the public to a new social awareness’ (ibid 226). The central themes of the free cinema productions were as follows:

‘One, the director should impose his own personal observations and ideas in recording the lives of working-class people; two, a “poetic realism” should emerge from the raw material; and three, the director as artist should be selective in the choice of documentary material to support his or her views on the true nature of social reality’ (ibid 226).

Between 1956 and 1959, six Free Cinema programs were released by the BFI and shown at the National Film Theatre in London. However, it was in 1960s that the commercial New Wave of British film became the successor of Free Cinema. While, the emphasis of these films adhered less to themes of Free Cinema its legacy was still prevalent in the “poetic realism” the British New Wave films portrayed. 

Evaluation of usefulness for understanding this topic
-          As he is an associate professor for the department of Theatre and film, at the University of British Columbia, Gazetas is a reliable academic source on the subject of film.
-          The above point coupled together with the book’s ‘matter of fact’ style shows that the intended readership is the film student.
-          The bulk of the book is written by Gazetas and is basically an overview of cinema all over the world, from its inception right up to the present day. This shows Gazetas is a knowledgeable source on the subject of film.
-          This particular edition is ten years old but for a chapter which is a brief overview of a period of cinema from over fifty years ago this does not damagingly infringe upon the accuracy of the information supplied. 
-          The chapter lacks a solid conclusion which, for such a brief overview of the new British cinema, would have brought coherence and summary to the many points Gazetas has explored in the chapter.

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