welcome mat

This is a journal I keep to record all things I do within the realm of filmmaking.

hollywood boxoffice

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Manhatta and The Avant-Garde Cinema, by Jared Caldwell

In Germaine Dulac's The Avant-Garde Cinema, the term avant-garde is used to describe “any film whose technique, employed with a view to a renewed expressiveness of image and sound, breaks with established traditions to search out, in the strictly visual an auditory realm, new emotional chords” (Dulac 43). Though Manhatta breaks a few of Dulac's “proofs” of pure cinema, Manhatta in spirit and mostly in form meets the ideas of avant-garde filmmaking presented by Dulac.

According to Dulac, an avant-garde film “considers nothing else” but art, unlike commercial cinema that seeks a monetary profit. Towards the beginning of its inception, the cinema went into the direction of “literature”, or narrative. Film was simply another means of communicating ideas in the same form. Most films were fictional stories, represented by the cinema in almost the same way a play would be represented, had it been recorded on film. Dulac speaks of three considerations essential to the cinema as a whole: movement, rhythm, and life. Dulac uses this quote: “'To strip the cinema of all those elements which did not properly belong to it, to find its true essence in the understanding of movement and visual values: this was the new aesthetic that appeared in the light of a new dawn'”. With these narrative films, the cinema was only mimicking other existing arts in a visual way. Dulac suggests that the film medium be used in ways separate from the other arts.

Manhatta, a short film collaboration between Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, is a film that meets most of Dulac's pure cinema “proofs”. Proof number one states “that the expression of a movement depends on its rhythm”. In Manhatta, the rhythm of machines, workers, and the crowds of the city move the film along. The constant inclusion of steam throughout the city creates a kind of visual pedal to drive the film. Proof two comments “that the rhythm in itself and the development of a movement constitute the two perceptual and emotional elements which are the bases of the dramaturgy of the screen”. Manhatta holds this to be true as well. Manhatta starts off with a water sequence, which then segways into the landing of the barge filled with people. The flow of people move into a different piece with workers and machines, and the film continues this flow of continuity driven by movement and rhythm. The focus in Manhatta is real life. Manhatta's documentary style also captures the people in their surroundings, which is made apparent by scenes of water, the surrounding city, and the relationship nature has with the people.

The main proof that Manhatta does not follow is ”that the cinematic work must reject every aesthetic principle which does not properly belong to it and seek out its own aesthetic in contributions of the visual”. Manhatta does not solely use visual elements to progress the film. Music is used in Manhatta, and a poem by Walt Whitman is inter cut into the film. Though these elements are in Manhatta, it seems as if the written poem is used as a contrast to the visual aspects of the film. It is as if the poem is just made up of bland words compared to the powerful tableaux and imagery used throughout the visual components of the film. Even though these elements do not meet Dulac's standards for “pure cinema”, it is as if Manhatta is arguing the case that “pure cinema” is all that is needed, and that the written word in film does not have the meaning that the image has. Though Manhatta does not meet all of Dulac's criteria, Manhatta at heart contains the spirit of true cinema.

No comments: