Alternative Cinema

.. own reality. The actors use exaggerated gestures to externalise the characters emotions. The audience discovers the characters emotions without being sucked into the world that the characters inhabit. This style of acting was seen as a response to method acting, a style developed by Stanislavsky between 1910 and 1920 and taken up by actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman in modern cinema. German expressionism used the actors as an extension of the sets, making a psychological link between the two.

The expressionist movement was clearly an alternative to the mainstream and was similar in many ways to Brechts epic theatre and in that respect can be called alternative cinema. However, it is difficult to class German expressionist filmmakers as Brechtian in approach, although there are similarities. German expressionism does not succeed in breaking the fictional barrier, it distorts what is recogniseable enough to increase the impact of the film. German expressionism along with soviet montage, (and especially the films of Sergei Eisenstein) both bear similarities with Brechtian theory, however, this is seen as more by coincidence rather than influence. It was with the emergence of the French new-wave that Brechtianism was embraced fully.

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Filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Goddard focused largely on the audiences relationship with the action on screen, and their main aim was to push back the boundaries that the mainstream cinema up until then had promoted. in 1959 Jean-Luc Goddard released A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) which illustrated how he was trying to experiment in film. Goddard has attempted to remove many of the techniques used by mainstream film-makers to pull the audiences into the filmic reality, and he has replaced them with characters that talk to the audience, a total removal of transparent editing, and an anti-illusionist method of acting. The film is a milestone in world cinema for a number of reasons. Firstly its style of editing which, according to John Francis Kreidl: “does not allow the viewer – like in the normal Hollywood film viewing experience – to set up a preconceived notion how to take a shot and assign to it meaning.

Shots are cut in ways that confound anticipation the exact opposite of the way the classical Hollywood film of the 1930s sets up each successive group of shots. Every act by the hero of “Breathless”, Michel Poiccard, seems as if he had just, on the spur of the moment, decided to do what he did.” (Kreidl, 80) Michel as a character often comments upon himself as a character in the film, which distances Michel from the filmic world, and lets the audience ask questions themselves as to what they would do. Michel has chosen to go one way, would we have done the same? Whilst Michel asks questions of Patricia, her vagueness in answering them allows the audience to step in and answer them for her so giving the audience a feeling of participation, a feeling that this is not reality and therefore we are allowed to enter the world and choose the outcome. The cinematographic technique is ahead of its time, with innovations in the jump cut (a few feet of film is cut in random places) and the quick cut (short shots are cut out that break up the continuity of a given scene). With these shots the audience is invited to fill in the missing gaps. In one scene Michel is seen lying in Patricias bed, and in the next he is walking out of the bathroom.

The film also uses highly professional actors in very amateurish situations which does not ring true, (the same situation would arise if amateur actors were in professional situations). This technique adds to the falseness of the film and the involvement of the audience. In 1967 Vent DEst was released. The French New-Wave had already petered out but here was a film that embraced Brechtianism wholly, as Brecht remarked, “Character is never used as a source of motivation; these peoples inner life is never the principle cause of the action and seldom its principle result; the individual is seen from outside.” (Brecht, 64) Vent Dest involved characters talking directly to the camera, different characters using the same voice, and different voices for the same character. Therefore, a distancing from reality occured and as an audience, we, rather than following the plot in a logical fashion, have to force our own perception onto proceeding to garner our own meaning from what we see. Jean Marie Straub followed Brechtian theory closely in his work. His first feature film, Not Reconciled, begins with a Brechtian quote, “Only violence serves where violence reigns” and Bordwell and Thompson remarked that “Straub..

films invite us to consider the actors not as psychological beings but as reciters of written dialogue. We thus become actively aware of our own conventional expectations about film acting, and perhaps those expectations are broadened a bit” (Bordwell, 97) Not Reconciled uses the theory that fiction in the context of another time period was inevitably alienating for the audience. In short, each period of history has its own beliefs and values inapplicable to any other, so that nothing can be understood independently of its historical context; Brecht called this Historicization. In Not Reconciled, the narrative flits around between differing time periods and does not clearly seperate each period from the next, therefore, alienating the audience from the events on screen. The actors in Not Reconciled spout their lines as if reciters of written dialogue. Through this the audience, become aware of the expectations of film acting and then they broaden these expectations which again helps to alienate them.

Brecht only briefly toyed with the film industry, making the left wing communist picture Kuhle Wampe, yet his theories were applied liberally by the French New-Wave cinema and can be seen as early as German Expressionism. The German New-Wave cinema of the 1960s also displayed many of Bertholt Brechts theories, with directors such as Alexander Kluge displaying these ideas in films such as Disorientated. The film Disorientated was typified by episodic narrative, alienating acting and the seperation of sound and image. alternative cinema is not just a term used to describe French, German and Soviet cinema, although these were simply the countries most renowned for this type of production. Countries such as Brazil, Iran, India and Britain have all produced films classed as alternative or new-wave.

The Brechtian philosophy, if used in the production of film, will nearly always get the film the title of alternative cinema because the concepts of pleasure, spectacle and identification all take a backseat whilst the differing concepts of alienation, sporadic and episodic narrative take the front seat and help the audience to understand the film on many differing levels. Many barriers have been broken down in recent years with directors such as Quentin Tarantino offering Jean-Luc Goddard as a major influence in his work. Yet he is still classed as Mainstream because his films gain high box-office receipts, although, at the same time, garnering cult status. The film-makers that emerged through the seventies, for example Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Copolla and Arthur Penn, all displayed prominent anti-Hollywood threads. Yet their box-office returns proved that the so-called Hollywood rules of production set up in the studio years, can be ignored and a specific effect achieved.

These directors were great innovators yet still gained huge box-office returns, which forged the alliance between the alternative and the mainstream. Hollywood is still concerned with the economic side of film-making yet it has been shown to be possible to innovate and also side with the mainstream movement. Bibliography Makins, M (Managing Editor) (1992) Collins: English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers Bordwell, D & Thompson, K (1997) Film Art: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill. Willett, J (1964) Brecht on theatre. Methuen. Cook, P (1999) The Cinema Book. Elsaesser, T From anti-illusionism to hyper-realism: Bertolt Brecht and Contemporary Film.

Brewser, B (1975-76) Brecht and the Film Industry. Screen. 16(4). Heath, S (1975-76) From Brecht to Film: Theses, Problems. Screen.

16(4). MacCabe, C (1975-76) The Politics of Seperation. Screen. 16(4). Kuhle Wampe. (1974) Screen. 15(2). Kreidl, J, (1980).

Jean-Luc Godard. Boston: Twayne Publisher. Internet Resources Romney, J. Praise be to Godard. The Guardian/The Observer Visited Apr 2000 URL: http:// Feature Story/interview Brown (1998)The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The Magic of the Movies Visited. Apr 2000. URL: Filmography A Bout de Souffle (1960) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Written by Jean-Luc Godard. French: Les Films georges de Beauregard, Imperia, Societe Nouvelle de cinematographie, societe Nouvelle de Cinema. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Directed by Robert Wiene.

Written by Hans Janowitz & Karl Mayer. Germany: Decla-Bioscop Kuhle Wampe (1932) Directed by Slatan Dudow. Written by Slatan Dudow & Bertolt Brecht. Germany & Switzerland: Praesens-Film AG, Prometheus Film. Not Reconciled (1965) Directed by Daniele Huillet & Jean Marie Straub. Written by Heinrich Bolle & Daniele Huillet. West German: Unavailable.

Vent DEst (1969) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard & Jean0Pierre Gorin Written by Sergio Bazzini & Daniel Cohn Bendit. French: Film Kunst, Anouchka Films, Polifilm.


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