Friday, 18 December 2009

O sucesso de uma geração de transição

Sobre NEU! '75, alguém disse: "This is music not only for travelling, from one place to the next, but also for disappearance into the ether at a steady pace."
É engraçado que eu tenha andado estes últimos dias em Londres a ouvir este álbum e a pensar exactamente o mesmo. Ver escrito o eco dos nossos pensamentos é um acontecimento que se torna mais frequente após Filosofia do 10º ano, o que por um lado nos faz sentir cada vez mais estúpidos e insensíveis, e por outro nos leva a escrever, mas adiante, o que queria dizer com isto é que uma série de factores, incluindo este acontecimento, me fazem concluir que a geração alemã pós-guerra é das gerações mais bem sucedidas de sempre.
A guerra tinha acabado, a Alemanha estava destruída e dividida, tabu era um modo de vida. Não se falava do nazismo, não se falava dos judeus, não se falava dos crimes, nem dos sofrimentos, não se falava sequer do outro lado do muro - uma geração inteira cresceu sem conseguir comunicar com os pais e sem perceber por que não devia ter orgulho no seu país. Criou-se o desejo de, mais do que renovar, construir a partir do nada - sem influências alemãs ou estrangeiras, algo puro e novo. E tanto no cinema como na música conseguiu!
Este documentário da BBC poderá explicar a situação do Krautrock melhor que eu, e quando descobrir um sobre o Novo Cinema Alemão, também o ponho aqui, para que possam avaliar por vocês se a forma como esta geração tratou a música, o cinema, a arte e a sociedade não foi incrivelmente produtiva, criativa e eficaz. Muita admiração!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Essay on the strengths and weaknesses of auteurism as a critical approach in cinema.

Auteur theory is a deceiving term. A literal translation of the French, politique des auteurs, would be more appropriate since when it was first formulated in the Cahiers du Cinema it was more of a strategy of critical approach that defied ‘a certain tendency of (…) cinema’ (Truffaut 1954: 225) than one that had, through structured and objective analysis, reached a conclusion about how the cinema was to be conceived as an art form. In his polemical article, Truffaut censured the placidity with which French directors of his time made their films, accusing them of being 'essentially literary men' and 'contemptuous of the cinema by underestimating it' (1954: 229) but, as John Hess noted quite keenly in his article ‘La politique des Auteurs’ in 1974[1], Truffaut’s aesthetic considerations served him, at least in this article, to support his view that the cinema acknowledged as 'Tradition of Quality' was politically and culturally hypocrite. However, this article stirred such response that the argument was developed further and more in-depth considerations of cinematic aesthetics arose. The following approaches were concerned with pointing out the formal elements in the films that revealed that hypocrisy – they followed Truffaut's cue of the existence of metteurs-en-scène who could only produce 'scenarists' films' (1954: 225), focusing on the mise-en-scène as the main element in producing meaning and elevating the director, as the responsible for the mise-en-scène, to the status of auteur in cinema.

There were other influences in the midst of the Cahiers' principles that contributed to the development of this particular train of thought in Truffaut's article. Since their beginning, as Buscombe points out in his article on auteurism, the Cahiers' project was to 'raise the cultural status of cinema' (1973: 23) and this was undertaken through the romantic assumption that art is the expression of personal experience. In this light, the attribution of the status of auteur to an entity in cinema becomes evidently necessary in order to confer it the desired status of art. Consequently, the categorisation promoted by the critics at Cahiers and other magazines became a quest to define a valid artistic and cultural contribution of the cinema. My point in writing on the strengths and weaknesses of the politique des auteurs will be to put it in context, to show how it has contributed to a better understanding of what is cinema and how it should be looked at, but also to denounce where it fails.

The most significant contribution of auteurism to film understanding is its focus on the elements that compose the image. Contrary to the previous generations of film theorists, these critics were able to watch films keeping a distance between themselves and the thematic issues, and for the first time paying attention to the image itself, the cinematic devices that created it and their symbolism. The camerawork, the set, the lighting and the performance of actors became features with their own value, recognised as the elementary components in the construction of cinema, which are shaped up according to deliberate artistic choices in order to carry the meaning in cinematic terms. Pragmatically, this meant that there was no more a ‘right way’ of doing things, there was a meaning in the way things were done. Therefore, films that had been dismissed before as poor in theme, as they had been appreciated solely for their subject matter, were then hailed as masterpieces as an underlying meaning could start to be perceived in style. Fereydoun Hoveyda’s article on Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958) is particularly explanatory on this point: ‘(…) Party Girl comes just at the right moment to remind us that what constitutes the essence of cinema is nothing other than mise-en-scène. It is through this that everything on the screen is expressed’ (1960: 42).

This shift in critical approach turned a few careers downside up, as in the case of Douglas Sirk, whom the Cahiers decided to designate as an auteur. Contracted with Universal, he was asked to direct very melodramatic scripts which revolved around implausible love stories that bore great resemblance to the kind of plots used in soap operas, which focused on the dilemmas of the American middle class of the fifties. Both in theme and scenarios, these films were crammed with clichés, but Sirk managed to make them in a very coherent and recognizable style that, for the intellectually aware (as he claims in his interview with Jon Halliday), spoke ironically of the American society. Especially in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), Written on the Wind (1956) and All that Heaven Allows (1955), there are elements in mise-en-scène that from then on were associated with Sirk’s personal language – the multiple framing using doorways, windows and mirrors, the stupendous lamps that tower over the disgraced characters, his extravagant use of colour and lighting – all of them playing with the superficiality, ridiculousness and imprisonment that his characters live in. To Andrew Sarris – who was most enthusiastic in developing Truffaut’s argument and taking it even further at a time when Truffaut himself started to contextualise his politique des auteurs - Sirk’s stylistic consistency over so many factors that were out of his control revealed interior meaning, the result of ‘the tension between a director’s personality and his material’ which he considered to be ‘the ultimate glory of the cinema as an art' (1962: 516). In a more sober approach, Geoffrey Nowel-Smith’s statement about the politique des auteurs can also clarify why Sirk’s work should be considered excellent filmmaking:

the purpose of criticism thus becomes to uncover behind the superficial contrasts of subject and treatment a hard core of basic and often recondite motifs. The pattern formed by these motifs… is what gives an author’s work its particular structure, both defining it internally and distinguishing one body of work from another.[2]

As this case shows us, to a certain extent the concern in looking at and understanding entire bodies of work and cinema as a whole permitted insightful new perspectives on film theory, especially in genre criticism and, of course, on the relationship between style and meaning. However, it had positive reflections not only in film criticism and theory but in filmmaking as well, when the critics of the Cahiers started making films of their own and created the revolutionary Nouvelle Vague. This artistic movement involved particularly François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda (among others) and was in fact an exercise of application of these critics’ beliefs to actual filmmaking. They tried out new ways of using the camera more expressively, more cinematically. Godard especially was from the beginning very keen in subverting established rules of filmmaking, and applied Brechtian techniques to his mise-en-scène. Remember for example the structure of Vivre sa Vie (1962), which is divided in 12 chapters that are presented with worded introductions, or in Une Femme est une Femme (1961) the scene when Anna Karina’s character and Jean-Claude Brialy’s character decide to call their friend Alfred to make her a baby, and their true desires are revealed in writing over the image during panning-shots between the two. Another important example is the work of Varda, which not only calls the attention for the rarity of women filmmakers, but mainly stands out as an incredibly consistent body of work, both stylistically and thematically. If we consider Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) and Sans Toit ni Loi (1982), separated by a large number of years and a significant technologic development, we can still recognise a camera work and setting that reflect the psychological and physical situation of the main character – even though Cléo and Mona have different ambitions, they are still women with drive and who (more or less aware of how lost they are in the path to achieve their goals) pursue their own resolutions.

The contribution of these filmmakers to new ways of watching and making films is invaluable and it became possible because of the changes brought about by the politique des auteurs. However, it is important to keep in mind what is exactly the value that can be attributed to film through the auteurist perspective and where it fails, since auteurism can sometimes sound as an academic effort to justify personal views. This is most obvious for example in Andrew Sarris’ approach, as he gets carried away and attributes excessive value to the personality of the director expressing itself in his films, and even suggests that the auteur is above their cultural and historical conditions[3]. This kind of approach promotes in the audience the cult of the director as if they were creatures that held some kind of special treat that allows them to speak about human experience in their personal, unique language and it is the job of the audience to decode it, its reward being solely the pleasure in understanding the tricks and attaining the message. Contemporarily, the most appreciated directors work with this premise almost as their foundation for the artistic choices they make. Exemplary, we can point out Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Terry Gilliam, Pedro Almodóvar, among many other directors who depend on this. In spite of their success now, one can wonder how valuable is their contribution to film history and theory, not even to mention art history itself. More pertinently, one should ask how films can be analysed independently from their creator’s creation and be conceived as complete works of art, through the auteurist perspective.

The structuralist approach of auteurism tries to deal with this, particularly Peter Wollen, who says that analysis should ‘also comprehend a system of differences and oppositions. In this way, texts [films] can be studied not only in their universality (what they all have in common) but also in their singularity (what differentiates them from each other)’ (1972: 536). Yet, this perspective still considers films as a part of a whole – the whole of a director’s body of work. Although the resolutions about style and technology in the auteur theory are modernist in principle, the vision of the auteur is romantic at core and outdated – nearly forty years after Duchamp’s ‘The Fountain’ (1917) and nearly at the same time that Foucault related the author more to a function rather than a person (1969).

More outrageous than slipping over the greatest last revolution in Art History is forgetting that cinema is a collaborative art and disregarding the contribution of creative and proactive minds that are not in the directorial department. What to say of collaborations like that of Welles and Goland in Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) and Christopher Doyle’s clear mark in works of such different directors – namely, Wong Kar-Wai in In the Mood for Love (2000), Gus van Sant in Paranoid Park (2007), M. Night Shyamalan in Lady in the Water (2006) and Jim Jarmusch in his last The Limits of Control (2009). Even the role of producers should be reconsidered, as it is known that in the American studio system they were much more participative in the making of creative decisions.

Moreover, it is simply unfair that some of the greatest films made are placed in a secondary category because their directors are considered metteurs-en-scène rather than auteurs. One is confronted with the most basic of questions: what makes a film a work of art? If a film gathers in itself a combination of an interesting take on a relevant theme, cleverly conditioned in a plot structure that makes use of narrative devices that contribute to the clarity of the message, a use of the mise-en-scène that not only explores cinematic devices but does so to the extent necessary for the message to be packed in utmost accuracy, great performances and artfully appropriate editing that enhance the experience at an emotional level (not further than it is supposed to take us in order to deliver the message), than, no matter in what body of work it is inserted, in my opinion, it must still be due its value. And the same is true of the opposite, no matter what a great body of work it is inserted in, if it does not work at the levels mentioned above, it should not be considered art.

Ultimately, my position is that only truly relevant denominator in cinema is the audience, and the auteurist approach puts the emphasis not in the deliverance but in the making. To me, a film’s value is appreciated in the experience the audience goes through and it is time film criticism takes that road, if such objectivity and analytical skills are in the critics’ possession.

[1] cited in Nichols, B., ed., Movies and Methods Volume 1, p. 224. London: University of the California Press, Ltd.

[2] cited in Wollen, P. ‘The Auteur Theory’ in Nichols, B., ed., Movies and Methods Volume 1, p. 532. London: University of the California Press, Ltd.

[3] Sarris, A. cited in Buscombe, E. ‘Ideas of Authorship’ in Caughie, J., ed., Theories of Authorship, pp. 25-27. London: Routledge.

Porque há tempo

Uma coisa, tens razão, mudou - está tudo mais estável do que estava. Não sei como voltei a estar tão segura, tão dona das minhas intenções. Como, de um dia para o outro, já nem me lembro como é que podia deixar-me levar daquela forma, não ser eu o filtro principal através do qual sinto e estou no mundo. It's oh so quiet, shh, shh. Às vezes sinto que aborrecido que isto é.. e tento cair noutra taça de expectativas. Mas não é a tropeçar de propósito que se cai como deve ser, e eu nunca tive jeito para interpretação com intenção - tem de se cair sem esperar, para magoar a sério. Assim passaram quantos meses? Nas coisas do dia a dia, a estabelecer, a construir, simples, forte graníticas estruturas. Assim continua, a adaptar, a relacionar, a moldar, plasticinar.
A LCC preenche, e põe-me em perspectiva - consigo posicionar-me dentro da visão da indústria e ser eficiente, consigo ver para além disso e definir os meus objectivos. Num período sobre cinéfilia e origens do cinema, redefinição pessoal é a chave. Adaptação aos outros 67, estabelecimento de ligações, reconhecimento de visões partilhadas ou opostas. Interpessoalização, i. e. conversa que nunca mais acaba, e algum trabalho. Descoberta de tudo o que há para retirar - ainda por completar.

Neste momento, vou pousar noutro sítio, um bocado, mas 'estar em hold'..não existe.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Uma pouesia

Já sei que estás aí. Vai pro caralho.
Eu é que decido.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Reacção à experiência da representação.

Este post podia ser mais intenso se não me tivesse falhado a internet em casa ontem (e num curioso aparte, sinto-me completamente indiferente a não ter internet durante cinco dias, o que é preocupante). Corria o risco até de soar altamente histérico, ao contrário dos outros que só o são levemente - tanto melhor para o formalismo, mantenho o registo.

Ontem participei pela primeira vez numa workshop de representação. A intenção era proporcionar a aspirantes de realização a experiência do actor, para compreendermos melhor os processos por que ele passa para que nos seja mais fácil retirarmos dele aquilo que necessitamos. Estou a participar só como observadora, porque esta workshop é supostamente apenas para o segundo ano mas vale a pena infiltrar-se durante as duas semanas já que, por determinadas condições, pode ser possível que para o ano a workshop já não seja a mesma, porque o orientador é o próprio Jack Garfein, que já vai nos oitenta anos, saudáveis mas mesmo assim pesados.
Garfein tem uma experiência de vida brutal, que alimenta o seu método de representação. Ele ensina que o actor não deve fingir emoções, deve antes representar através de memória sensorial - isto é, dado uma qualquer situação, o actor concentra-se numa situação semelhante da sua experiência pessoal e recorda fisicamente toda a experiência, cedendo a impulsos proporcionados pelo estado de espírito. Este método, criado por Stanislavski e desenvolvido pelo Group Theatre em Nova Iorque durante os anos 30, procura atingir realismo psicológico, manifestado fisicamente, e foi e é usado por um lista infindável de gente conhecida e reconhecida.

Só passando pela experiência é que se percebe o poder que isto tem. O sufoco provocado pela intensidade das memórias, como se manifesta em todo o corpo se este estiver pronto a reagir, é incrível. Não que seja surpreendente em relação às memórias em si, porque isso toda a gente sabe como podem ser fortes, mas a performance resultante desta abstracção é incrivelmente poderosa e tocante. Não posso descrever como toda paixão (leia-se como sentimento/sofrimento) da experiência humana se reúniu e transbordou e se tornou tangível durante os exercícios simples que fizemos ontem. Talvez porque éramos pessoas que não estão habituadas a passar por estes cenários, sempre do outro lado. Talvez tenha sido por causa do Garfein, que, com referências e histórias dos Grandes, deu subitamente àquele acontecimento uma importância suprema. Ouvir 'o Arthur Miller uma vez disse-me..' ou 'o Kazan costumava escrever notas no seu argumento sobre..' dá outra dimensão à coisa. Compreendo melhor o ego dos actores, e estendo esta afirmação a qualquer artista (porque tudo começa com performance) - se não encontrarem na sua performance o eco do poder que a arte que lhes antecede emana, são obsoletos e vazios; algo intrinsecamente verdadeiro da natureza humana tem de se manifestar e ser transmitido.

Tudo se resume à experiência humana, diz ela ouvindo Joy Division.