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The Cinematography
© Sotiris Dimitriou
First Publication: extract taken from the forthcoming book: Anthropology Politics and Semiotics of the Cinema -2009
 
 
   
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Beginning with the term “cinématographe”, we retain its broad polysemy. Originally, “cinématographe” was a term produced in 1895, by its definitive inventors of the “device of reception and projection of chronophotographs” (L. Lumière 1971:35). Subsequently, three more definitions were added to it: 1) that of the auditorium, also called “cinema”, 2) that of the processes which, in their totality, construct the film production of a country or an era: “Latin cinema”, “silent cinema”, 3) that of the unique art which was developed based on the moving picture, and corresponds to the terms of painting, theatre etc.

Beyond the aforementioned polysemy, there also exists the dual nature of the movie as production and function. On the one hand, the movie occurs to be an artistic creation while on the other hand, it is an industrial product. It doesn’t only aim at influencing the audience, but also at “reclaiming the money spent” along with a profit. That means that our definition of the “cinema” becomes confused with the term movie, since it entails a whole network of dependencies on the cultural, as well as, the industrial sector. In other words, there seems to be an association with many regulatory mechanisms; with the institutional framework (Sotiropoulos 1989: 48- 53), censorship, the international competition, even with the embargo against the international cinematographies. Consequently, there is a need of analysis of the “cinema” domain, as well as, of a definition of the employed terms.

The approach of anthropology towards the cinema encompasses three fundamental dimensions. Firstly, from the stance of its constitution, as well as, from the stance of its role in the social life, there is an examination of it as a social phenomenon, more specifically, of its role in the effect of consciousness. Secondly, there is an examination of its products, the films, constituting a beneficial evidence for the analysis of the culture producing them, especially for the analysis of its ideologemes. Thirdly, cinema operates as an apparatus valuable to the anthropological research. Hence, anthropology examines cinema as a body of social transformation.

According to the first dimension of cinema as a social phenomenon, it is considered to be the subsystem of the social structure. That is, an organization of relationships by certain individuals, which fulfils a particular function inside the society. To illustrate, the crew of a ship, a school or even a business, happen to form the constitutions of the individuals mentioned, which in order to perform their function, they are correlated to the special relationships established between the people, as well as to their milieu. From the standpoint of the social phenomenon, two aspects of the anthropological approach exist. The first one entails the means of constitution of the “cinema” subsystem, while the other its operation inside the society. Thus, we will begin with the first aspect; the constructional organization, in other words, its constitution.

The discourse upon the composition of cinema as a social subsystem, to put it differently, the discourse upon its structure, includes all the individuals, the relationships, the materials and the activities which participate in the production and the distribution of a film. Hence, “cinematography” is our denomination for the above cluster. The cinematography, along with the function of a movie, referring to the actual projection of it, contributes to what we generally label as “cinema”. The distinctiveness of cinema is located within the fact that it exists as a communication system which transfers constructions of symbols and enactments, namely, messages. However, these messages, the movies, happen to be an industrial product of great cost not only during their production, but also during their distribution. This product does not offer material but it offers intellectual consumption hence, it can be propagated en masse and perpetually. On account of the dual quality of the product, the cinematography embraces an entire field of artistic and business activities, many specialities, laboratories, institutions and institutes, schools, financing, star system, advertisements, critique, festivals, censorship etc.- a field which is subsequently going to be analytically examined. It is of essential importance the fact that the cinematography is constituted of three fundamental components: business, art, and institutions- politics.


Since the very first years of its appearance, it was obvious that the cinema had a great amount of potentials. Additionally, as it was previously mentioned, Lumière believed in its scientific exploitation. Be that as it may, the success which led cinema to enter the sphere of the magical spectacle, navigated its course irrevocably. For the aforementioned reasons, the masses were being crowded in the nickelodeons. Moreover, an amount of small businessmen, being enraptured by its exotic charms, entered similarly the competition arena aiming at the commercial exploitation of the cinema. Thus, cinema was developed into a popular spectacle of visual fiction which transcended the feuilletons, and simultaneously, it constituted one of the most powerful financial business establishments. Its route traversed the contemporary mythology- Maria of the “Metropolis”, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, Tarzan of colonialism, Caligari, Golem, Dracula, the cowboy, Fantômas, Rambo etc.- in order to anchor to realism, hence, to develop inevitably, due to its financial activity, a dependence on the power and authority relationships.

During the entire course of the cinema history, the conflicts and the breaches, which were constantly employing a specific shape leading to its establishment as fiction cinema, were developed into a pair of distinct levels. The first level is rooted to the “heterarchy” phenomenon which is going to be clarified. Their clash is known from the instances where the produces barred the directors Eric von Stroheim, Orson Wells and many others. Furthermore, the clash is also known from the prosecutions of the system, which was opting for the producers against the directors; a case similar to McCarthyism. The industrialization of the filmic spectacle imposed the allocation which guided the directors, who simultaneously existed as producers, to failure. To illustrate, G. Méliès, M. Sennett, H. Lloyd, H. Langdon, D. Griffith were some instances of this incident. Thus, it becomes obvious that the roles of the director and the producer are rather incompatible.

The course of the directors/ producers’ breach is analogous to the history of the cinema aesthetics. In its majority, the history of the 7th art is identified with the history of the conflict between the artists- creators and producers. Some of its famous benchmarks were the neorealism (1945) in Italy, the independent producers of the U.S.A. (1954), the Greek social cinema (1963- 1970), as well as, the recent Turkish and Iranian cinema. The creators were struggling either to conquer the means of expression of the novel art, or, a certain amount of them, to put into question the genres of our culture- some movies aspired to both of the aims above. A case in point would be “Hirosima, mon amour” (Resnais 1959) and “Breaking the waves” (Lars Von Trier 1996). Until the decade of the 1960, the breach developed as the aftermath of the producers’ dominance. Eric Von Stroheim apologized to the audience due to the fact that, after his “art film” “Les Rapaces” (1923), which was rejected by his producer, he was obliged to film the commercial movie “The Merry Widow” (1925), “according to the audience’s taste”, as the producers used to apprise. Since the 1960s, the circumstances seemed to be transformed to prosperous for the directors, much like in the case of the post- studios crisis- “independent producers” of the U.S.A., or like the 1970s’  “cinéma d΄auteur” of our country. The fact that the dissension occurred inside the frame of the established social structure in the form of heterarchy, led to the lack of disruption- a fact recently reversed though- of the basic cultural genres: individualism, male supremacy, Europe-centralism, as well as, discrimination of the Other (Indians, homosexuals etc.)· the male supremacy remained its permanent attribute. The exceptions appear to be extremely infrequent: “I am a fugitive from a chain gang” (M. Leroy 1932), “Modern times” (Charlie Chaplin 1935), “La grande illusion” (J. Renoir 1937).

The second dimension contains the cross of the producers’ financial competitions and those of society. After its integration into the industrial production, the cinema appears belonging to a non- symmetrical communication. The recipients are not able to reply to the transmitter via the same channel. Thus, owing to the latter incident, the message of the film receives the authority position. The upper advantageous relationship provided the capability of its exploitation by the dominant discourse, in order to influence the common opinion. Additionally, its utilization seemed to be multiple. Firstly, cinema was indirectly political. It was impossible for it to survive without reproducing the classification of our culture: male supremacy, colonialism, militarism, violence. Moreover, its function was also propagandistic: newsreels, projection of the American life style, exploitation even by the Greek dictatorship (Smirnis 2009). Lenin’s decree of 1919 was comparable to the upper, containing the promotion of the cinema as a means of socialist principles expansion. Be that as it may, he created it enforcing the fiction direction of S. Eisenstein and V. Poudovkin, while he excluded the documentary direction of Dziga Vertov and Mendvekin. To put it differently, Lenin’s creation existed inside the identical frame of the bourgeois producers. A frame which did not seem eliminating the conversion neither  of the cinema into a “dream industry”, a term referring to Hollywood, employed by the anthropologist Powdermaker in 1950, nor of its social function into an alibi of paid labour, as B. Brecht wrote a little later (1972:44).

Consequently, it seems to be difficult to deny the fact that a kind of dependence exists between the social structures of power, the state to be more specific, and the fictional films. The fact that the 7th art has produced masterpieces occurs to be indisputable. However, in comparison to the bulk of the film production, the number of those masterpieces is extremely small (400 films per year for the large countries, and more than 100 films per year for the “commercial cinema” of our country), while the audience’s attendance proved to be even smaller. “Citizen Kane” was being screened in empty theatres: the hero’s self- fragmentation did not favour the audience’s identification with him. Simultaneously, it was being sabotaged by RKO, while the “Battleship Potemkin” was banned due to censorship. Furthermore, the fact that the upper were screened under the condition of a non- symmetrical communication also places the masterpieces into the position of authority and immunity against any kind of attack.

It is of importance to pinpoint the fact that, particular momentous benchmarks related to the formation of a film, were noticed during the evolutionary course of the filmic production. However, the latter remained restricted and did not happen to impinge on the audience. The aforementioned benchmarks are three. Firstly, the filmic image disrupts the stability of the political formations and the national state. This begins with films like “Battleship Potemkin” (1925), as well as, “October” (1928) by S. Eisenstein, and continues with others, for instance, J.-L. Godard. Secondly, the filmic narration shatters the stability of the personal identity projecting it into different levels, and becomes actually accomplished with “Citizen Kane” (1941) by O. Welles. Thirdly, the stability of the representation seems to disintegrate into a field of personal experiences and ambiguities. The upper incident occurs via a wide variety of means: highly sensitive film, camera motions, close ups and details, editing. Moreover, it is related to Stone’s films, beginning with “Platoon” (1986), as well as, “Breaking the waves” (1996) by Lars von Trier.

Cinema inevitably entered the social conflicts arena, being a non- symmetrical communication form, which was offered to the political authority as the apparatus for the manipulation of the public opinion. Additionally, as a result of the sponsorships and censorship, becoming more controllable in comparison to the rest of the art forms, as well as, becoming more beneficial to the imposition of the dominative voice. The financial and political benefits are hard to distinguish in this arena, since they are, as a matter of principle, placed on the identical side of the social conflict. Thus, the stipulation of Hollywood films admission into the Marshall Plan, the U.S.A. embargo against the Latin cinema in the 1950s, Frederica’s special tax on tickets and cinema products in our country and last but not least, the organized censorship, seem to cohabit on the same side.

 To sum up, in reference to the contradiction between directors and producers, we might support that, in general, the contradiction above occurred within the frame of our cultural genres. However, the directors and producers’ differentiations related to the acceptance of the aforementioned classification, is indisputable. As a result, seditious films were produced by a large amount of directors. Be that as it may, the cinematography control mechanisms constrained the popularity of the upper exceptions. Initially, the amount of those who succeeded seemed to be the minimum. Furthermore, as it has already been mentioned, the directors who decided to undertake an independent production were led to insolvency. A. Resnais filmed his movies inside a total absence of funds, as well as, the “Salt of the Earth” (Biberman, 1955) and “Easy Rider” (Hopper, 1969) were filmed outside the commercial network (Dickinson 1971: 115, 139). Thus, the aforementioned friction was expressed into another level, to be more specific, that of the heterarchy. They proved to be competing for the mastery of the authenticity to form representational canons of values, genres and attitudes of the Western world, which would direct the audience. The directors/ producers’ dispute was expressed through the contrast between art and entertainment. The directors were based on the symbolic fund, employing art as their emblem, while the producers were based on the material fund having entertainment as their emblem. It was not the producers’ occupation with violence or pleasure films which led the directors into litigating, but the actual fact that they were producing them en masse and in a trite manner, as well as, in the total absence of art. The film “No country for old men”, which was perceived as an art film happens to be one of the infinite examples.

Another broader example is that of the Nouvelle Vague movement. Making its appearance as an artistic stream, signifying the domination of the creators against the producers, its starting point seemed to be the amoralist film “À bout de souffle” (Goddard, 1959). It was promoted as an effort to demystify and eliminate the heroism of the Hollywood cinema, as well as, to reveal the experiential time based on the model of the “presence of absence”, or M. Proust’s “lost time”. To put it differently, Nouvelle Vague was introduced as an ideological- artistic revolution. All the same, it established in a deeper level, the disdain towards the human action and the social relationships, as well as, the procedure leading to the passivity of the individual, a procedure which simultaneously was inaugurated by the affluent society. To illustrate, “La Notte” (M. Antonioni, 1961) was a film immensely appraised by the critics. Moreover, the collection of vanity and refutation seem to be the goal of the heroes’ lives. The apology towards the critique, “this is reality and this is what nouvelle vague presents”, on the one hand, connived that the foundational value is the fact that art violates and exceeds reality, while on the other hand it affirmed the fact that its films reproduced the reality of the affluent society. The second argument presented by the Nouvelle Vague advocates, claiming that the spectator had the ability to be perturbed by the films in order to be awakened and to select, was absolutely fallacious due to the fact that the filmic spectacle does not awake, on the contrary it enchants and hypnotizes, a fact which was widely accepted even by the advocates themselves. In other words, as it is going to be introduced, declared and analyzed by the anthropological approach, the Nouvelle Vague films assign the model of passivity to the audience.

Returning to the second level, to the cross between the financial and the social competitions, the ambiguity towards the dominant discourse seems to prevail. Even though the social breach is independent of the breach between the directors and the producers, there frequently exists a cross between them, just like in the case of McCarthyism which proved to be not against the producers, but against directors, scriptwriters and actors. Some of the most significant benchmarks of the aforementioned social breach, are: the J. Grierson and P. Rotha’s English realist school (1930- 1933) producing 400 films, the Italian neorealism of 1945, the Latin American cinema of the 1950s, the American Independent producers of 1954, last but not least, the cinéma vérité. Shortly thereafter, the elation of May ’68 with Godard’s cinema, free cinema, newsreels and their extensions: cinegiornale, cinetracts (Hartog, 1972: 215- 31), seem to follow. Hence, the upper led to the coexisting network of the U.S.A., to the national kind of cinema, the political cinema, as well as, to the wide diffusion and popularisation of the documentary thanks to contemporary technology.

The result of the growing social doubt was the restrainability of the cinema’s role in the communication of the dominant discourse. Between 1952 and 1968, the number of cinemas is reduced below half of their previous sum and respectively there is a ticket decline (Williams, 1971: 69). Since the era of ’68, when most of the issues referred in this paragraph were introduced, the dominant discourse began transferring its foundations from the big screen, to the television. Simultaneously, the commercial films quality confronted an even more considerable decline, so as violence and fairytales could dominate the screen. All the same, various schemes of, impermanent successful, interference to the cinema, seem having been employed by the system. A case in point would be that of the resolution during the 1970s, to liberate porn films from any kind of restrictions; it is a landmark that during the dictatorship era the “Orthodox Greeks’ Greece” there emerged an unprecedented diffusion of porn films which were orchestrated by porn magazines.

Translated from greek: Danae Loukaki
 
 
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