Definitions

Political cinema

Political cinema

Political Cinema in the narrow sense of the term is a cinema which portrays current or historical events or social conditions in a partisan way in order to inform or to agitate the spectator. Political cinema exists in different forms such as documentaries, feature films, or even animated and experimental films.

The notion of political cinema

Political Cinema in the narrow sense of the term refers to political films which do not hide their political stance. This does not mean that they are necessarily pure propaganda. The difference to other films is not that they are political but how they show it.

However, even ostentatively 'apolitical' escapist films which promise 'mere entertainment', an escape from every day life, fulfil a political function. The authorities in Nazi Germany knew this very well and organized a large production of deliberately escapist movies.

In other entertainment movies, for example westerns, the ideological bias is evident in the distortion of historical reality. A 'classical' western would rarely portray black cowboys, although there were a great many of them. Hollywood Cinema, or more generally speaking so called Dominant Cinema, was often accused of misrepresenting black, women, gays and working class people.

More fundamentally not only the content of individual films is political but also the institution of cinema itself. A huge number of people congregate not to act together or to talk to each other but, after having paid for it, to sit silently, to be spectators separated from each other. (Of course the behaviour of the public is not always the same in all countries.) Guy Debord, a critic of the society of the spectacle, for whom "separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle" was therefore also violently opposed to Cinema, even though he would make several movies portraying his ideas.

Cinema, World War I and its aftermath

Before World War I French cinema had a big share of the world market. Hollywood used the collapse of the French production to establish its hegemony. Ever since it has dominated world film production not only economically but has transformed cinema into a means to disseminate American values.

In Germany the Universum Film AG, better known as UFA, was founded to counter the perceived dominance of western propaganda. During the Weimar Republic many films about Frederick II of Prussia had a conservative nationalistic agenda, as Siegfried Kracauer and other film critics noted.

Communists like Willi Münzenberg saw the Russian cinema as a model of political cinema. Soviet films by Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov and others combined a partisan view of the bolshevist regime with artistic innovation which also appealed to western audiences.

Film and National Socialism

Leni Riefenstahl has never been able or willing to face her responsibility as a chief propagandist for National Socialism. Almost unlimited resources and her undeniable talent led to results which despite their hideous aims still fascinate some film aficionados. There is much controversy around her work, but it is generally accepted that Riefenstahl's main commitment was to moviemaking, rather than to the Nazi party. Proof of that might be seen by the portrayal of Jesse Owens' victory on the movie Olympia (about the Olympic games in Germany) and in her later work, mostly on her photographic expeditions to Africa.

The same is certainly not true of the violently antisemite films of Fritz Hippler. Other Nazi political films made propaganda for so-called euthanasia.

Forms of Political Cinema

Form has always been an important concern for political film makers. While some argued that radical films, in order to liberate the imagination of the spectator, have to break not only with the content but also with the form of Dominant cinema, the falsely reassuring clichés and stereotypes of conventional narrative film making, other directors such as Francesco Rosi, Costa Gavras, Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, Spike Lee or Lina Wertmüller preferred to work within mainstream cinema to reach a wider audience.

The subversive tradition dates back at least to the French avant-garde of the 1920s. Even in his more conventional films Luis Buñuel stuck to the spirit of outright revolt of L’age d’or. The bourgeoisie had to be expropriated and all its values destroyed, the surrealists believed. This spirit of revolt is also present in all films of Jean Vigo.

Remembering

Especially in the last decades of the twentieth century many film makers saw remembrance and reflection upon major collective crimes (like the Holocaust) and disasters (like the Chernobyl disaster) as their political and moral duty.

Current topics

Since a few years a renewed interest in openly addressing current problems is apparent, especially in the context of the controversial discussions about globalization.

Films (selection)

D. W. Griffith's highly controversial film, which glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, is widely considered to be a masterpiece because of its impact on the development of the cinema. The basic structure consists of a description of an idealized lost idyll ("the Old South"), the disruption of this order during reconstruction after the Civil War, and the restoration of White supremacy, which is shown a legitimate goal that unites the former enemies. In the end the leader of the Ku Klux Klan secures his private happiness too and the alleged idyll is restored.

Detailed information: http://www.filmsite.org/birt.html

  • 1924 Stachka - Strike

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

  • 1925 Bronenosets Potyomkin - The Battleship Potemkin -

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

  • 1927 The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty- Director: Esfir Shub
  • 1929 Chelovek s kino-apparatom - The Man with a Movie Camera -

Director: Dziga Vertov

  • 1931 Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in uniform) - Director: Leontine Sagan
  • 1932 Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? - To Whom Does the World Belong? - Director: Slatan Dudow
  • 1933 Borinage - Director: Joris Ivens and Henri Storck

Militant film about the misery of Belgian coal miners See also:Les Enfants du borinage - Lettre à Henri Storck, Director : Patric Jean, 2000

  • 1935 Triumph des Willens - Triumph of the Will - Director: Leni Riefenstahl - Technically brilliant propaganda film about the Reichsparteitag in Nuremberg 1934
  • 1940 „Der ewige Jude. Ein Filmbeitrag zum Weltjudentum“ - The Eternal Jew - Director: Fritz Hippler - Virulently antisemitic
  • 1948 Strange Victory - Director: Leo Hurwitz

"He creates the image of an America that is complacent in its victory, prosperity and racism; the narrator warns: 'Nigger, kike, wop, take my advice and accept the facts – the world is already arranged for you'." Richard M. Barsam

Regie: Herbert J. Biberman Legendary documentary feature film about a strike in [New Mexico]. Not only do the workers have to fight against the company, but also their women against their macho attitude in order to be 'allowed' to support them fully.

Director: Kurt Maetzig, socialist realism - German Democratic Republic style

  • 1956 On the Bowery

Director: Lionel Rogosin An important film about Alcoholism, here homeless people in New York City.

  • 1964 The Cool World - Director: Shirley Clarke — the cruel reality of street life in the U.S.
  • 1965 Obyknovennyy fashizm - Ordinary Fascism - Director: Mikhail Romm
  • 1967 Titicut Follies

Director: Frederick Wiseman - In his first film Wiseman shows the inhumane conditions in Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. For more than 20 years the film could not been shown in the USA.

  • 1968 La Hora de los hornos: Acto para la liberación: notas, testimonios y debate sobre las recientes luchas de liberación del pueblo argentino - The Hour of the Furnaces - Director: Fernando Solanas
  • 1968 In the year of the pig - A compilation film about the Vietnam war - Director: Emile de Antonio
  • 1968 Teorema - Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini - The power of desire disrupts a rich family
  • 1969 Yawar mallku - Blood of the Condor - Director: Jorge Sanjinés
  • 1969 Salesman - Directors and Editing: Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin

Four men try to sell the Bible; one of the most important films of Direct Cinema

  • 1970 Le chagrin et la pitié - The Sorrow and the Pity - Director: Marcel Ophuls - Politically a pathbreaking documentary about collaboration in France during the German occupation
  • 1970 Warum läuft Herr R. Amok? - Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder - The humiliating madness of ordinary life

  • 1971 Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt - It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives

Director: Rosa von Praunheim - This film started the second gay movement in Germany

  • 1971 The Woman's Film - Directors: Louise Alaimo, Judy Smith
  • 1971 L’aggettivo donna, Annabella Misuglio, Italy, documentary film - In the early seventies many feminist documentary films were made. L’aggettivo donna analysizes the double exploitaion of women workers, the isolation of housewives and mothers, the rote training of children caged in schools, separated froom the others ...
  • 1971 Wanda; Director: Barbara Loden
  • 1972 Sambizanga - Director: Sarah Maldoror — feature film about the liberation movement in Angola
  • 1973 La Société du spectacle - Society of the Spectacle - Director: Guy Debord
  • 1974 Angst essen Seele auf - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – A poignant feature film film about racism, sexuality, love and ageism - Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • 1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - Every day life of a housewive – a feminist classic -Director: Chantal Akerman
  • 1976 Harlan County, U.S.A. - Director: Barbara Kopple
  • 1978 Baara (Work) - Director: Souleymane Cissé
  • 1978 Yıkılmayan Adam (Indestructible Man), Turkey - Director: Remzi Aydın Jöntürk
  • 1984 Before Stonewall - Director: Greta Schiller
  • 1986 Shoa - Director: Claude Lanzmann
  • 1989 Camp de Thiaroye - Director: Ousmane Sembène
  • 1991 American Dream Director: Barbara Kopple
  • 1992 Lumumba: La mort du prophète - Lumumba: Death of a Prophet - Director: Raoul Peck – A moving and very intelligent poetical reflection on the presence of apparently bygone hopes and disasters.
  • 1998 At the Sharp end of the Knife - Director Barbara Orton

„Filmmaker Barbara Orton's emotional documentary follows Scottish activist Cathy McCormack's journey into the impoverished townships of post-apartheid South Africa. Along the way she draws interesting parallels between the conditions in the devastated regions of South Africa and her own experiences with poverty in the centralised ghetto of Easterhouse, one of Scotland's most deprived estates.” Freya

  • 2001 Intimacy - Director: Patrice Chéreau - Intensive feature film on solitude, alienated sexuality and an impossible love
  • 2002 War and Peace/Jang aur Aman - Director: Anand Patwardhan - On nuclear madness in India and Pakistan and their efforts to imitate Big Brother, USA.
  • 2003 Gujarat: A Laboratory of Hindu Rastra, Fascism- Director: Suma Josson
  • 2004 Black Panthers (in Israel) speak out

Israel, Director : Eli Hamo, Sami Halom Chetrit

  • 2004 Ratziti Lihiyot Gibor – On the Objection Front, Documentary about the refuseniks movement in Israel i.e. soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, Director: Shiri Tsur
  • 2004 Memoria del saqueo - Social Genocide , Director: Fernando E. Solanas – A passionately partisan survey of the history of neoliberalism in Argentina
  • 2004 Darwin's Nightmare Director: Hubert Sauper Using the effect of fishing the Nile perch in Tanzania's Lake Victoria as an example, Sauper shows how Africa functions today, how famine, wars and aids, European ‘aid’ and the ruthless plundering of African resources are connected.
  • 2006 Atos dos Homens / Acts of Men, Director: Kiko Goifman, Brazil/Germany, 75 min.

Originally conceived as a documentary about the history of death squadrons in Brazil, the film of anthropologist Kiko Goifman concentrates on a recent massacre, police officers committed in 2005. Goifman interviews also a killer, who sees himself on a mission to keep order.

  • 2005 Un Monde Moderne, Directors: Sabrina Malek, Arnaud Soulier, France, Documentary, 84 min.
  • 2006 The Road to Guantanamo, Director: Michael Winterbottom
  • 2006 The last communist, Director: Amir Muhammad Muhammad based his documentary on the autobiography of Chin Peng, born in 1924, the last chairman of the forbidden communist party of Malaysia (CPM) but this is not a conventional biographical film. Key elements in the film are the songs Hardesh Singh composed for the occasion. This is an often funny film about a difficult chapter in Malaysian history which is still taboo ‘back home’.
  • 2006 The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez, Director: Heidi Specogna
  • 2007 Persepolis - animated film based on the comic Persepolis - Directors: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
  • 2008 The World Without US, Director: Mitch Anderson, 84 min.

Explores what might happen if the United States were to return to an isolationist nation stance.

References

See also

Bibliography

  • James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work, Delta 2000 (first published in 1976), ISBN 0-385-33460-5
  • Erik Barnouw, Documentary. A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford University Press 1993 - still a useful introduction
  • Amy L. Unterburger, ed., The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera, Paperback, Visible Ink Press 1999
  • Amos Vogel, Film as as subversive art, Paperback ed. , Distributed Art Publishers (DAP), 2006, ISBN 1-933045-27-2

External links

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