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Doulas Hunter asks:
"Frequently experimental cinema reaches a level of imagistic complexity
-figuration, abstraction- not found elsewhere.  For me this is one of the
most rewarding parts of experimental cinema.  Unfortunately this aspect of
the work appears to be frequently ignored by viewers and by those individuals
writing about the work.  I wonder about the idea of visual competence.  As I
think we will agree cinema study has been dominated by narrative and thematic
forms of analysis such as psychoanalysis, semeiotics, feminist theory, autre,
genre,  and cultural theory etc.  It appears to me that methods of analyzing
the cinema that emphasize visual competence, over narrative competence and
that work on the level of the image, specifically the abstract image, do not
exist.  Is there a mode of analysis that I am not aware of?  If so please
suggest references.  Further, for those who teach how do you present filmic
abstraction to your students,  what modes of analysis do you think are proper
or useful?"
 
Although I'm far from being an expert on abstract film or critical approaches
to it, you might begin by looking at Chapter 4 on "Nonnarrative Formal
Systems" from FILM ART: AN INTRODUCTION by David Bordwell and Kristin
Thompson.  As in all their chapters, there's an excellent bibliography as
well.  Chapters 9 and 10 include analyses of FUJI, BALLET MECHANIQUE and
A MOVIE.
 
Your point about the bias toward narrative and thematic analysis is generally
accurate, though some critics do have a sensitivity to the unusual (speaking
here especially of the popular press).  (Roger Ebert is better on this
score than many of his peers.)  Back in the heyday of film noir (late 1940s,
especially), it was difficult to find any American reviewers who took note
 of the unusual aspects of style in such films as CROSSFIRE.  On the other
hand, British reviewers (in SIGHT AND SOUND and elsewhere) at least indicated
that they were aware of such matters.
 
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN