A Research Site Devoted to the Past and Future of Found Footage Film and Video


"The Literary and Artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes." - Gil J. Wolman
“A lot of people who call themselves artists now are cultural critics who are using instruments other than just written language or spoken language to communicate their critical perspective.”
-Leslie Thornton

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Towards a Poor Cinema

Below are eleven points of a credo for the "Recylced Cinema" I'm calling "Towards a Poor Cinema" in reference to Jerzy Grotowski's outsider theater manual "Towards a Poor Theater." I've modeled it stylistically off Debord's writing, making brief statements to articulate some points about the intersections of the "high art" or avant-garde tendencies of so called "found footage" and the "low brow" tendencies of mashers, jammers and internet video appropriators. I believe that the term "Recycled Cinema" should replace "found-footage" because it is more intellectually honest about its origins (footage is hardly ever "found" in the way it used to be) and because of the positive association of the word recycle, which defines a certain post-modern tendency to reuse something without the icky suggestion of actually stealing or plagiarizing. In the spirit of Recycled Cinema, feel free to repost wherever!

Towards a Poor Cinema: A Credo of Recycled Cinema

1. Cinema, like other arts, should remain in a constant state of flux. Stasis is the enemy of art the same way it is the enemy of science and medicine.

2. The dialectic, in which a thesis, antithesis and eventual synthesis are produced is the most productive means of facilitating a constructive, socially relevant artistic tradition. Artistic output is a conversational practice by which ideas and sensibilities are evaluated, imitated, critiqued, devalued, buried and eventually resurrected. All of these components are part of a rich process of evolution by which societies and artists contribute. This tradition currently has little or no place in the infrastructure of cinema.

3. Current economic and social conditions have strained the desired dialectic from taking place. Several hindrances have arisen. A.)Studios have divested themselves of earlier models of funding vying instead to spend large sums of money to attract large audiences with astronomical returns; B) the endowments and benefactors of other art forms are not present for cinema because of the immense popularity of the form and immense commercial successes possible thus eliminating funding for those who haven’t been granted access by gatekeepers of popular distribution corporations; C) The labor involved in the business of making films have a strong grasp on the industry. A combination of self-sustaining unionization which makes it difficult to self-produce, guarded and expensive distribution platforms which make it unfeasible to deliver films to audiences, and a nearly universal acceptance of these parameters has made true independence a fallacy. A poor cinema will abscond from every one of these tyrannical forces in the film-making process.

4. We believe as Cocteau did when he stated that "film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper." In other words all commercial cinema is the sale and marketing of products by corporate monopolies designed as a part of what Guy Debord has called “the spectacle.” These products have been tailored to appeal to mass audiences based on the successes and failures of the past, making innovation (which translates as economic risk) more and more sparse.

5. We believe that the new technological innovations made possible by internet distribution platforms, digital video, and the tools of the age of reproducibility must be harnessed by individuals with a commitment to re-instituting an artistic dialectic. We believe this is the only possible step in reviving an art form which admittedly for a lengthy period of time necessitated significant capitol for materials and participation, but has recently been dramatically stunted by a rising trend of artistic stasis.

6. We believe that the Recycled Cinema is the most powerful pedagogical tool in this process of reinvigoration. The goal in this circumstance is not only to think, but to remember. It is a revaluation of the art form in the hopes of discovery and critical deconstruction in an artistic laboratory. We support this process in part because the tools necessary to produce art are more widely available with an enormous cannon of works to detourn, re-construct, manipulate and addend.

7. While the financial irreducibility of cinema as we know it today plays a part in our support for Recycled Cinema, or the act of utilizing appropriated and sometimes “found” footage, our ultimate conclusions in this direction are liminally based on money, though we find this fact very convenient. The “cinema povera” or cinema of poverty allowed through the pillaging of images makes it a revolutionary practice on a number of levels. Ideally, a person is re-claiming the works of those who erred, mistreated or denigrated the medium so that they may redeem them by highlighting, altering or critiquing their work. Recycled Cinema in itself is an end towards showing the essentially uniformity and creative vapidity of commercial cinema.

8. The financial infrastructure by which films are made is fundamentally at odds with the practice of recycled cinema on a number of counts. The studio model, by which large sums of capital are invested up in hopes of larger returns has no place in a system in which films are made often “on the fly” with limited need for materials which can be distributed and accessed for free on internet video platforms. This aesthetic and economic difference will not be left as a simple artistic divergence. Capitalist forces in the industry will always retaliate against individuals offering competitive products at zero cost to the public. Copyright infringement suits will always be a looming threat to appropriators of footage, but for now the relative obscurity of the medium is its best defense against truly crippling legal action. But just as various forms of online video have had enormous overnight success, some unfortunate spokesman of the digital age will be left trying to explain to intellectual property owners the difference between appropriation and piracy, fair use and theft, and all of the other artistic practices of the post-modern era. Inevitably they will fail to move the holders, and it is likely they will fail to persuade the courts. These are necessary battles that must be waged.

9. The fading remnants of independent film (a term usually falsely attributed) and the tradition of the art film has little or no relationship to the burgeoning recycled cinema. These traditions, which are endemic to the academy, highly intellectual and theory based art institutions is produced by a fringe of the society for themselves. It has little or no interest in harnessing the popular distribution platform that is the internet which Recycled Cinema has been a part of since the inception of internet video portals.

10. The purpose of detournement, compilation, mashups and other techniques attributed to recycled cinema is to reach to the root of the artistic stasis present in the commercial cinema. Mashup films which combine two or more films expose the uniformity present in narrative today. The most skilled mashup filmmakers will use the tropes and styles of commercial films like an armory of easily imitated techniques, ultimately undermining the elements present. In the process these tropes and styles can be understood as easily employed “tricks” which require no artistry in their execution and only an understanding of quick ways to manipulate people. Compilation filmmakers like Craig Baldwin seek to discover the subconscious of styles and genre through the prism of history and culture. In this way, he exposes the temporal nature of commercial cinema—which stands in stark contrast to the universality and timelessness of real works of art.

11. Ultimately the Recycled Cinema offers tools to evaluate an even more threatening tyranny over independent artistry; the universal specter of narrative, most contemptibly in the stylistic mold of the novel. Much can be said of the novel’s rise to become the foremost model of narrative structure, but ultimately the most important idea to note is the needless choice made by filmmakers to perpetuate it. The single most differentiating attribute of avant-garde film from commercial narrative cinema is its reliance on non-novelistic models. Whereas avant-garde films overwhelmingly rely on literary traditions like poetry, the short story, stream-of-consciousness, and religious literature; non-literary art forms like painting, sculpture, animation, and dance; social sciences like psychology, and anthropology; and human phenomena like ritual, mythology, synesthesia and the subconscious. The novelistic mode has dominated cinema because in film-making’s nascent stages, novels were the most popular art form in the western world. We believe as Bruce Elder when he wrote “narrative is the artistic structure of technocracy. The cinema we need, the cinema that combats technocracy will, therefore, be non-narrative.” The co-incidence of the novel and the industrial revolution which followed soon after has devastating implications. Narrative at its foundations is a cause and effect, chain of events structurally identical to the assembly line on a factory floor. This linear means of representing human life is often defended by the false adage that human life is best represented by narrative. Instead, we are faced with propaganda, aimed at witling realistic events into a highly unrealistic framework.

1 comment:

DDLM's. said...

cinema is not yet born.