So, still no major breakthroughs in terms of subject matter for the film I need to make next year as the major project for my MA in TV and Film and instead I have been reflecting on broader notions of ‘what exactly cinema/film is?’, and more importantly, how, if taken at face value, an unreflective approach to filmmaking can seriously limit originality.
I also mention in my last blog reading F.Jameson’s book ‘The Political Unconscious: Narrative As A Socially Symbolic Act’ which has helped me further develop concepts of an unconscious aspect to film production. While reading the book, however, I was interested to see that my ideas about hidden ideological limitations buried in modes of production are not new and that other creator/theorists have made similar connections. One such creator/theorist being Marxist playwright and theatre director, Bertolt Brecht. With this in mind I have been reading “Brecht on Theatre; The Development of an Aesthetic” which gives a first person account of how Brecht, as a revolutionary marxist sought to circumvent the ideological limitations of theatrical production with a view to using theatre as tool for bringing about ‘class consciousness‘ and the overthrow of the capitalist system of production.
After reading through this fascinating book it is clear that one of Brecht’s main concerns seems to be his desire to challenge the notion that theatre (early 20th century) existed as a form of ‘entertainment’. He is also very critical of the way theatre engages the audience at an ’emotional level’ and how this level of engagement renders the audience intellectually passive. He goes on to describe how in his approach to theatre he actively works to keep his audience emotionally disengaged so that they still have the capacity to reason and think about what they are seeing on the stage. The term he uses for this disengagement is ‘alienation’ which he sees as an essential ingredient if the theatre is to work as a dialectical relationship between audience and players, and not as a one-way conversation. He also makes it clear that he is not interested in realism – stating that he never wants his audience to forget that they are watching a play! (Or a film??)
It is very clear from his writings that Brecht saw the theatre of his day as an extremely corrupting force, and like Jameson, puts forward the idea that although the theatre (the apparatus) seems to offer the writer unlimited means of expression that, in fact, this is an illusion and that any writer who doesn’t see how ideologically loaded the game is will inevitably lose it. (here is a long but very relevant quote from BB)
“….This muddled thinking which overtakes musicians, writers and critics as soon as they consider their own situation has tremendous consequences to which far too little attention is paid. For by imagining that they have got hold of an apparatus (THE THEATRE) which in fact has got hold of them they are supporting an apparatus which is out of their control…”
Brecht’s notion of the hapless creator controlled by production mechanisms outside of his/her awareness, as well as being in parallel with my own thoughts, also seems to have similarities with the thoughts of the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostend (to whom I dedicated my recent blog posting – see here) in which i quoted Ostlund as saying –
“So often you have content, but then you just put it into the same production machinery as everything else, and what’s coming out of that production machinery in the end is quite similar to all the other films.”
Obviously Brecht as a revolutionary Marxist has different objectives to Ruben Ostlund but what is clear from the comments of both creators is their joint emphasis on the need for artists to be wary of the way in which various mechanisms for production – e.g. theatre or film – have built within them tendencies to distort the intentions or objectives of the artist; almost as if these various modes of production had within them a life force of their own.
To make my point and very much for my own benefit I will now list some of my own questions related to the unquestioned tacit assumptions that surround mainstream film production:
Why must the script be written before filming? Or if all all?
Why do actors pretend not to know what they are going to say next – or even what will happen to them later in the narrative? Why do they wait for each other to finish speaking before speaking themselves?
Why are actors called in to the production at a later stage but are not integral to the writing and formation of the characters they will play?
Why are actors called upon to ‘act’ – when they could ‘be’ the characters.
Why should there be a difference between documentaries and fiction film production methodologies?
Why must scripts contain emotional arcs? And characters have epiphanies?
Why must films entertain?
Why should the audience expect to be entertained?
Why should films appear to be real when they are in fact artificial?
Why should the audience expect realism?
Why should the bottom line be financial and not philosophical or cultural?
Why should we sit quietly through a film and feel as though we got our monies worth – Is it better to hate and never forget a film? or to like and never remember a film?
It’s fun to ask these questions – even though it is pretty clear that the path i am treading doesn’t seem to be leading me to box office success.. 🙂
Jameson, F. (1989). The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic act. London: Routledge.
Brecht, B. (1964). Brecht on Brecht. Columbia.