Saturday, 14 June 2014

Cinema of the Abstract

This blog is written by a fan of cinema and the medium of motion picture art who is frustrated with reading websites and even official publications dedicated to ‘weird’ and ‘para’ cinema that, for all their applaudable dedication and level of detail, felt conservative and lackadaisical in complete contradiction to the films they were reviewing and making notes on. I am merely a film fan whose university degree was history and American Studies, not psychology, philosophy or sociology. I did well in Film Studies in college, but didn't go further than it. Nonetheless, I find myself baffled that the people wanting to write about this sort of area of cinema, combining art house cinema like Jean-Luc Godard with the likes of anime etc., with some wonderful, inspired exceptions, do not try to understand the difficult films they lambast, even if afterwards they still hated them, and instead cry "the Emperor has no clothes on", and do the equivalent of running into a brick wall instead of looking for a way over it.


This is not the first time I have done this. The ashes of an older blog Region Incognito - [link here] - have been used for this one, based on a project I had on a film site, with the same title and concept, but taken further and entirely devoted to. The original guidelines will be built on, broken down in areas and taken further than before. Like before, I want to understand my reactions to films, good and bad, and ask why. I'm sick of trying to write reviews like professional critics do, because they don't work for me. Instead I'm more concerned with asking about the point of this kind of cinema. It's also fed by an increasing disinterest in mainstream but also acclaimed cinema. Honestly, a work with the widest popularity possible, to be curt, tends to be overspread in content to be able to do this. The problem exists in art house cinemas as it does for multiplexes. Not all the greatest works will be able to be added onto here. Those that can have one purpose, a new one to fix the mistake I made before. I am not looking for the peculiar anymore, but the unconventional that breaks away from staled convention. To paraphrase dialogue from Gustav Meyrink's The Golem (1914), which would gladly qualify for a similar project dedicated to literature, you can dress an actress as a milkmaid, and someone who has no humanity would start blubbering when seeing them act, only to not care for humanity aside from themselves again after the performance is over. None of the films in this, even the badly made ones with no political message, can be easily batted to the side and ignored.

Personal Guidelines
The cinema that I would include is that which evoke the following words…
·         Coarse
·         Distorted
·         Disturbing
·         Embracing
·         Meditative
·         Phantasmagoria
·         Provocative
·         Oneiric/Dream-like
·         Raw
·         Still
·         Surreal
·         Taboo Breaking
·         Time Manipulating
·         Transcendental
·         Uncanny
·         Unconventional
·         Unease
·         Weird

For my criteria, it is not - 
  • Extreme gore and rubber prosthetic effects. Someone's head coming off is not enough, it's how you use it.
  • Fantasy, science fiction, horror or animation, as a concept or a genre, on a whole. Having space ships or anthropomorphic animals is not enough for me to have the effect I am looking for. The most distinct or analysed films in these areas, such as the classic Looney Tunes cartoons or horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, have their own unique logics to them that make them stand out above the rest.
  • Ironic filmmaking. I.e. pathologically lazy and insincere filmmaking.
  • Zany. It's just annoying.

What I have added to the criteria has expanded from before however. It now includes
  • Animated and "handmade" cinema. The creation of representations of our thoughts is inherently an unconventional and more powerful idea than per usual live action filmmaking.
  • Avant-garde and experimental cinema, which, in most cases, is inherently abstract in trying to break from convention.
  • Films that subvert social norms. For example, a film that celebrates and eroticises pansexual bodies, because society is still dictated by heterosexual, patriarchal norms, is going to have an effect on some viewers because, even if they are very progressive, they may not encounter it as much as the conservative norms, producing surprise. Anything from feminist essay cinema to pornography is capable of having this effect, to flip social customs upside down or demolish them.
  • Films or works that try to have strange premises or feel ‘unconventional’ in plot or in technical production. Weird for the sake of weird doesn't necessarily work, and usually fails miserably. But those that take a real risk, even for their creators own amusements, is something special.
  • Follies. Attempts at introduction controversial politics or spectacles in cinema that fail are alien to conventional cinema because the expectations are vastly different from the results, creating a gap that drastically effects the film. So, depending on the films themselves, if I ever see them, the infamous adaptations of Atlas Shrugged might, just maybe, in a hopeful world, get their foot in the door regardless of my own politics.
  • Taboo and Transgressive cinema. Unlike before, when this was not included, I realise now that the breaking of taboos and good taste is just as effecting in the ways I am talking about because of how the individual viewer reacts to the material. But mere attempts at shock is not enough to qualify, because a film that tries too hard to shock me just disgusts me in its laziness and offensiveness, not because its leaving scars in my thoughts. So there is a line that still needs to be kept with these films.
  • True depictions of reality. Not "realistic" cinema, but those that are reality shown, like the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman, which feel abstract paradoxically because we are not shown reality in documentaries and biopics, only very edited down works from Michael Moore to a Lincoln biopic that removes the contradictions and the unexpected things that happen to real people.
  • Works with unique traits. A softcore franchise over many films long and has the same continuity, rather than starting afresh, is inherently different from conventional cinema. Film serials, now gone in cinema, are the same. The genre blending, 3 hour epics of Bollywood could apply, depending on the specific films, as can five hour avant-garde cinema.

I will be strict on what I include on this list and write about even if the quantity of entries suddenly expands rapidly. I will not be lazy about why I choose certain choices and include reasons in the notes. If anyone wants to make an argument for certain films to be added, I encourage you to try and influence me. Aside from that, any work is liable for inclusion…

- All nations of cinema
- All eras
- All genres and types
…provided the rules I’ve placed for myself are kept to. Also I will include any work that is a motion picture creation. TV series, short films, music videos, even commercials, if it fits the criteria outlined, it will be treated with as much consideration as the other entries.
There will be only a basic system of ratings for each entry. No complicated scoring systems, as what I write will be of more importance. It is…

Abstract Rating: High/Medium/Low

High (Completely Unique) – Works which play with mood, structure, music, style, content or as many factors existent in film/motion art as possible on purpose or by accident. They are films which create their own rules for themselves, even if they rift on the conventions of genre or areas within cinema’s canon such as cinéma vérité, and manage to be alien and yet familiar at the same time. They certainly are almost impossible to forget afterwards even if you hate them.
Potential Examples – Satantango and the later films of Bela Tarr; Once Upon A Time In The West; Guy Maddin

Medium  (Break Conventions) – Those that saddle the border line between films of genre and ‘non-abstract’ cinema but manipulate their own forms to the point that, cutting through the flowery sentences, pull the rug from under viewers’ feet expecting the films they’ve seen before being repeated. They are not on the level of the ‘High’ entries, whose abstractness is fully embraced, but the ‘Medium’ entries still push themselves to unexpected areas, and that doesn’t even mention the unintentional creations that manage to dumbfound the viewer by their accidents and mishaps.
Potential Examples – Tarkovsky’s Solaris; The Holy Mountain; Riddles of the Sphinx

Low (Manipulate Conventions) = Films that only exhibit some traits of the ideas I am exploring with this list. They are genre films, they are possibly experimental, they can be any type of film, but many ‘weird’ and ‘abstract’ films and work will not be added to the list while these have. They may be great films, terrible films, but the ones that managed to make my biased list for clear reasons above the rest.
Potential Examples – A Chinese Ghost Story; Ichi the Killer; Lady In The Lake

There will be entries for films that don't make the cut but nearly did. I will not however review films that don't really have a chance even to get here, and life is too short for every boring, uninspired one that I cannot have passion to explain why I didn't include them. I admit personal opinion will dictate my choices, but many of these films have fans and acclaims for good reason.

And with this, I hope to start this project again, a new and better blog than before, with a goal to strive for rather than wander aimlessly in my writing, which no matter how endless it is, still has a distance in sight which I can learn from. Let the entries be added...

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