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Posts Tagged ‘Critical Theory’

New Article – “Synthetic Cinema” in QRFV

Friday, July 7th, 2017

I have a new article out today on the rise of “synthetic” cinema in QRFV.

Above, Mark Ruffalo in what he all too accurately terms the “man cancelling suit” for his role as The Hulk in yet another Marvel comic book movie; this is just the sort of thing I’m talking about in this article – films that are so far removed from the real that there’s no human agency left in them.

As I write, in part, in the article, “there’s a force at work that has pushed mainstream cinema almost entirely into the fantasy franchise zone; the DC, Marvel, and now Universal Dark Universe films, comic book movies that rely almost entirely on special effects for that added ‘wow’ factor, often shot or reprocessed into 3-D, almost entirely lacking in plot, characterization, depth, or innovation – films that have no connection to the real world at all. I’ve [recently] published a book, A Brief History of Comic Book Movies, co-written with comic book historian Richard Graham on the history of the comic book movie, and for me, it was by far the most difficult project I’ve ever worked on, because as Gertrude Stein famously put it in another context, in comic book movies, ‘there’s no there there.’

There’s nothing remotely real here, or even authentic, and absolutely nothing is at stake. There are meaningless titanic battles, but the outcome is always predestined – the major characters will live until they have outlived fan base demand, and then they’ll ‘die’ – only to be resurrected in a reboot after sufficient time has passed. Most pressingly, nothing really happens in a comic book film despite the constant bombast, the endless ‘shared universe’ team-ups, and the inevitably angst ridden backstories that most superheroes and heroines are provided with today – a trend started in the early 1960s in Marvel comics, whose protagonists had a seemingly human, sympathetic edge, as opposed to the square jawed certainty of DC’s Superman and Batman.

There’s no real progression here, just repetition, for as Marvel head Stan Lee has famously stated, ‘fans don’t want change; they want the illusion of change.’ And that’s what they get – a film that starts off with things in a pattern of stasis, disrupted by an artificial crisis, which amid much hand wringing and supposed character development is brought to some sort of conclusion in the final reel of the film, but with a trapdoor always – always – left open for a possible sequel, because what Hollywood wants more than anything else in 2017 is a film that can turn into a long running, reliable franchise, as witness the long string of the ultra-comic book action films in the Fast and Furious series. This is the central issue that is facing the cinema today.”

You can read the entire article here – behind a paywall. But it’s worth it!

Leslie Reed on The New Book Series “Quick Takes”

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Our new Quick Takes series is taking off!

As Leslie Reed writes of our new book series in UNL Today, ” Quick Takes, a new series of short books on popular culture topics edited by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon, launches March 17 with the publication of Disney Culture by John Wills and Zombie Cinema by Ian Olney. Foster and Dixon . . .will oversee at least 12 books in the series, to be published by Rutgers University Press over the next three years.

‘Gwendolyn and I think about interesting topics that people might want to know about, and then we find the top experts in the field to write about it,’ Dixon said. ‘It’s a bleeding-edge, major book series on pop culture.’

The Quick Takes books have been in the works for about two years. Loosely patterned after the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series, the Quick Takes books will range from 30,000 to 40,000 words, making them pocket-sized and readable in one sitting. Paperbacks and E-books will cost $17.95; cloth copies are priced at $65.

‘They’re free of jargon, direct and accessible,’ Dixon said. ‘We’re aiming at college kids, pop culture fiends and the general public.’ ‘These are topics that are really important in the 21st century,’ Foster said. ‘The series is designed to introduce them to the widest possible audience.’

The first two books have been well received by critics. In Disney Culture, Wills, director of American Studies at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, explores how Disney grew from a small animation studio to a global media giant. Critic Blair Davis describes Disney Culture as a ‘well written and thoroughly engaging overview’ of the Disney Empire.

Olney is an associate professor of English at York College of Pennsylvania, who received his doctoral degree in English and Film Studies from Nebraska. In Zombie Cinema, he explores why the genre has captured the imagination of 21st century audiences. Critic Stephen Prince said Zombie Cinema is a ‘zesty tour through an amazingly prolific and popular contemporary film cycle.’

Future volumes will feature rock-and-roll movies, action movies and comic-book movies, among other topics. Digital Music Videos by Steven Shaviro of Wayne State University in Detroit, and New African Cinema by Valérie K. Orlando of the University of Maryland are due to be released in April. The book series will be showcased at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies March 22-26 in Chicago.”

Thanks, Leslie, for an excellent overview of the series, which promises to be quite exciting.

New Book Series: “Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture”

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon announce their new book series.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon are proud to announce the publication of the first two volumes in their new book series Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture from Rutgers University Press – Disney Culture by John Wills, and Zombie Cinema by Ian Olney.

Disney Culture explores the Walt Disney Company, which has grown into a diversified global media giant. But is it still possible to identify a coherent Disney ethos? Examining everything from theme parks to merchandising to animation to live-action films, Disney Culture proposes that they all follow a core corporate philosophy dating back to the 1920s.

Zombie Cinema notes that the living dead have been lurking in popular culture since the 1930s, but they are now ubiquitous. Presenting a historical overview of zombies in film and on television, Zombie Cinema also explores this globalized phenomenon, examining why the dead have captured the imagination of twenty-first-century audiences worldwide.

Early reviews are excellent: Blair Davis, author of Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page writes that in Disney Culture, “Wills makes a strong contribution to both the fields of media studies as well as Disney scholarship with this concise, well written and thoroughly engaging overview of how the cultural, artistic, and economic factors surrounding the Disney corporation intersect.”

Janet Wasko, author of Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy adds that “Disney Culture is a notable addition to the growing critical work on Disney and its cultural significance. Wills skillfully dissects the Disney ethos and even challenges the multimedia giant to ‘mean something beyond merchandise’ in the twenty-first century.”

Of Zombie Cinema, Stephen Prince, author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality writes,”Zombie Cinema is a brisk, informative read that gives us a zesty tour through an amazingly prolific and popular contemporary film cycle. He’s clearly done his homework in excavating – or disinterring, as the case may be – zombie movies from disparate cultural and historical contexts.”

Rick Worland, author of The Horror Film: An Introduction notes that “what the vampire was to the 1980s and 90s, the zombie has become for early twenty-first century audiences, the monster of choice, spreading through a multitude of media texts. [In Zombie Cinema] Ian Olney organizes the history of the zombie in popular culture from Haitian voodoo practice to the present, providing clear analysis of its evolution and development. Theoretically informed, the writing is engaging and accessible throughout.”

New African Cinema by Valérie K. Orlando, and Digital Music Videos by Steven Shaviro are forthcoming soon.

Click here for more information on the new series.

“Consuming the Apocalypse, Marketing Bunker Materiality” by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has published a new article in Quarterly Review of Film and Video.

Foster’s article, “Consuming the Apocalypse, Marketing Bunker Materiality” has just appeared in the latest issue of Quarterly Review of Film and Video (March 17, 2016), in which she argues that “there are two parallel social movements that may, at first glance, seem unrelated, but are in fact closely intertwined; the rapid increase in economic inequity in contemporary society (as evidenced in the enormously wide gap between the wealthy and the poor) on the one hand, and the current apocalyptic cultural mindset (associated with paranoia, prepping, the rise of the gated community, the return of the underground bunker, and a massive uptick in gun sales) as celebrated in myriad apocalyptically-themed films and television programs, programs I define as apocotainment.

The upwardly mobile class and preppers have more in common than one might think, and in some ways the two groups have even merged; what brings these two identities together is a decided lack of empathy for others and a sense of free-floating paranoia, centering on a crisis in masculinity, whiteness, and a fascination with Doomsday scenarios.”

Needless to say, this is a very timely essay, and expands on Foster’s work in her 2014 book Hoarders, Doomsday Preppers and the Culture of Apocalypse, which explores the current American, and indeed worldwide fascination with an ever expanding universe of Doomsday scenarios. The current vogue for “end of the world” or “end of civilization” narratives has taken hold of practically every area of the public consciousness, and Foster’s article examines the ways in which this cultural trend has moved to the center of contemporary public discourse.

Here’s a link to the article; fascinating reading in every respect.

New Book: Peter Stanfield’s The Cool and The Crazy

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Peter Stanfield’s new book is a crash course in 1950s pop cinema – not to be missed!

I had the opportunity to see this book in page proofs, whose title is a homage to William Witney’s classic teen film of the same name. It’s a magnificent piece of work, both from a critical and new historical perspective. As Rutgers University Press, the publisher of the book, notes of Stanfield’s volume: “Explosive! Amazing! Terrifying! You won’t believe your eyes! Such movie taglines were common in the 1950s, as Hollywood churned out a variety of low-budget pictures that were sold on the basis of their sensational content and topicality.

While a few of these movies have since become canonized by film fans and critics, a number of the era’s biggest fads have now faded into obscurity. The Cool and the Crazy examines seven of these film cycles, including short-lived trends like boxing movies, war pictures, and social problem films detailing the sordid and violent life of teenagers, as well as uniquely 1950s takes on established genres like the gangster picture.

Peter Stanfield reveals how Hollywood sought to capitalize upon current events, moral panics, and popular fads, making movies that were ‘ripped from the headlines’ on everything from the Korean War to rock and roll. As he offers careful readings of several key films, he also considers the broader historical and commercial contexts in which these films were produced, marketed, and exhibited. In the process, Stanfield uncovers surprising synergies between Hollywood and other arenas of popular culture, like the ways that the fashion trend for blue jeans influenced the 1950s Western.

Delivering sharp critical insights in jazzy, accessible prose, The Cool and the Crazy offers an appreciation of cinema as a ‘pop’ medium, unabashedly derivative, faddish, and ephemeral. By studying these long-burst bubbles of 1950s ‘pop,’ Stanfield reveals something new about what films do and the pleasures they provide.”

As I noted in my critical commentary for The Cool and The Crazy, the volume has “fresh ideas, fresh arguments, and a good feel for the 1950s—Stanfield has it all. This book is one of a kind,” while critic Will Straw adds that “this dazzling archaeology of cycles and genres in postwar cinema goes deep into cultural history, then pulls back to reveal patterns and movements unseen until Stanfield saw them. Highly recommended.”

New, dazzling, and absolutely cutting edge – the inner workings of 1950s American pop cinema.

Hoarders, Doomsday Preppers, and the Culture of Apocalypse

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new book out July 10th, in a cutting edge series from Palgrave Pivot.

As the official website for the book notes, “the culture of twenty-first century America largely revolves around narcissistic death, violence, and visions of doom. As people are bombarded with amoral metanarratives that display an almost complete lack of empathy for others on television, in films, and on the internet, their insatiable appetite for excessive pain and routine death reflects an embrace of an endlessly warring culture. Foster explores this culture of the apocalypse, from hoarding and gluttony to visions of the post-apocalyptic world.”

“Gwendolyn Audrey Foster writes passionately about the debased media-scape of our death-worshipping culture. She probes into our collective fascination with an Earth without us, even as we continue activities that are sure to lead to yet more ecological devastation and mass extinction. Hoarders, Doomsday Preppers, and the Culture of Apocalypse is not a comforting book, but it is an eloquent call from a voice crying in the wilderness: a warning that we ignore at our peril.” – Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor, English, Wayne State University

“In this urgent and important book, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster exposes and explores the multiform obscenities – of violence, wealth, consumption, ownership, avarice, aggression, and more – that infect the politics, businesses, entertainments, and mentalities of today’s narcissistic, fear-peddling, death-celebrating culture, shining a laser-sharp spotlight on excesses of sexism, neo-liberalism, speciesism, capitalism, and nationalism in the contemporary media.” – David Sterritt, Columbia University

“In her newest book, Hoarders, Doomsday Preppers, and the Culture of Apocalypse, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster explores the excesses of late-capitalist American consumerism; her exploration of media representation of gluttony, hoarding, waste, and debt is compelling reading for anyone interested in contemporary popular culture.” – Patrice Petro, Professor, English, Film Studies, and Global Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Gwendolyn Audrey Foster challenges us to confront the apocalyptic narratives of our time in her engaging and thought-provoking book. Through our desire for what she terms ‘apocotainment’ – the apocalypse as entertainment for the masses – we eagerly digest the mediatized horrors of our planet’s ecological destruction on screen as we continue to deny it as reality in our own front yards. Foster’s book is a wakeup call to take notice of the preciousness of our common humanity, before we confront the death of our planet in real life.” – Valérie K. Orlando, Professor, French and Francophone Literature and Film, University of Maryland

Click here, or on the image above, to go to the book’s official website.

No More Masterpieces

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

“No More Masterpieces” by Antonin Artaud, 1958

“One of the reasons for the asphyxiating atmosphere in which we live without possible escape or remedy—and in which we all share, even the most revolutionary among us—is our respect for what has been written, formulated, or painted, what has been given form, as if all expression were not at last exhausted, were not at a point where things must break apart if they are to start anew and begin fresh.

We must have done with this idea of masterpieces reserved for a self-styled elite and not understood by the general public; the mind has no such restricted districts as those so often used for clandestine sexual encounters.

Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us.  We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to everyone.

It is idiotic to reproach the masses for having no sense of the sublime, when the sublime is confused with one or another of its formal manifestations, which are moreover always defunct manifestations.  And if for example a contemporary public does not understand Oedipus Rex, I shall make bold to say that it is the fault of Oedipus Rex and not of the public.

In Oedipus Rex there is the theme of incest and the idea that nature mocks at morality and that there are certain unspecified powers at large which we would do well to beware of, call them destiny or anything you choose.

There is in addition the presence of a plague epidemic which is a physical incarnation of these powers.  But the whole in a manner and language that have lost all touch with the rude and epileptic rhythm of our time.  Sophocles speaks grandly perhaps, but in a style that is no longer timely.  His language is too refined for this age, it is as if he were speaking beside the point.

However, a public that shudders at train wrecks, that is familiar with earthquakes, plagues, revolutions, wars; that is sensitive to the disordered anguish of love, can be affected by all these grand notions and asks only to become aware of them, but on condition that it is addressed in its own language, and that its knowledge of these things does not come to it through adulterated trappings and speech that belong to extinct eras which will never live again.

Today as yesterday, the public is greedy for mystery: it asks only to become aware of the laws according to which destiny manifests itself, and to divine perhaps the secret of its apparitions.

Let us leave textual criticism to graduate students, formal criticism to aesthetes, and recognize that what has been said is not still to be said; that an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives; that all words, once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered, that a form, once it has served, cannot be used again and asks only to be replaced by another, and that the theater is the only place in the world where a gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice.

If the public does not frequent our literary masterpieces, it is because those masterpieces are literary, that is to say, fixed; and fixed in forms that no longer respond to the needs of the time.

Far from blaming the public, we ought to blame the formal screen we interpose between ourselves and the public, and this new form of idolatry, the idolatry of fixed masterpieces which is one of the aspects of bourgeois conformism.

This conformism makes us confuse sublimity, ideas, and things with the forms they have taken in time and in our minds—in our snobbish, precious, aesthetic mentalities which the public does not understand.

How pointless in such matters to accuse the public of bad taste because it relishes insanities, so long as the public is not shown a valid spectacle; and I defy anyone to show me here a spectacle valid—valid in the supreme sense of the theater-since the last great romantic melodramas, i.e., since a hundred years ago.

The public, which takes the false for the true, has the sense of the true and always responds to it when it is manifested.  However it is not upon the stage that the true is to be sought nowadays, but in the street; and if the crowd in the street is offered an occasion to show its human dignity, it will always do so.

If people are out of the habit of going to the theater, if we have all finally come to think of theater as an inferior art, a means of popular distraction, and to use it as an outlet for our worst instincts, it is because we have learned too well what the theater has been, namely, falsehood and illusion.  It is because we have been accustomed for four hundred years, that is since the Renaissance, to a purely descriptive and narrative theater— storytelling psychology; it is because every possible ingenuity has been exerted in bringing to life on the stage plausible but detached beings, with the spectacle on one side, the public on the other—and because the public is no longer shown anything but the mirror of itself.

Shakespeare himself is responsible for this aberration and decline, this disinterested idea of the theater which wishes a theatrical performance to leave the public intact, without setting off one image that will shake the organism to its foundations and leave an ineffaceable scar.

If, in Shakespeare, a man is sometimes preoccupied with what transcends him, it is always in order to determine the ultimate consequences of this preoccupation within him, i.e., psychology.

Psychology, which works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and the ordinary, is the cause of the theater’s abasement and its fearful loss of energy, which seems to me to have reached its lowest point.  And I think both the theater and we ourselves have had enough of psychology.

I believe furthermore that we can all agree on this matter sufficiently so that there is no need to descend to the repugnant level of the modern and French theater to condemn the theater of psychology.

Stories about money, worry over money, social careerism, the pangs of love unspoiled by altruism, sexuality sugarcoated with an eroticism that has lost its mystery have nothing to do with the theater, even if they do belong to psychology.  These torments, seductions, and lusts before which we are nothing but Peeping Toms gratifying our cravings, tend to go bad, and their rot turns to revolution: we must take this into account.

But this is not our most serious concern.

If Shakespeare and his imitators have gradually insinuated the idea of art for art’s sake, with art on one side and life on the other, we can rest on this feeble and lazy idea only as long as the life outside endures.  But there are too many signs that everything that used to sustain our lives no longer does so, that we are all mad, desperate, and sick.  And I call for us to react.

This idea of a detached art, of poetry as a charm which exists only to distract our leisure, is a decadent idea and an unmistakable symptom of our power to castrate.

Our literary admiration for Rimbaud, Jarry, Lautreamont, and a few others, which has driven two men to suicide, but turned into cafe gossip for the rest, belongs to this idea of literary poetry, of detached art, of neutral spiritual activity which creates nothing and produces nothing; and I can bear witness that at the very moment when that kind of personal poetry which involves only the man who creates it and only at the moment he creates it broke out in its most abusive fashion, the theater was scorned more than ever before by poets who have never had the sense of direct and concerted action, nor of efficacity, nor of danger.

We must get rid of our superstitious valuation of texts and written poetry.  Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed.  Let the dead poets make way for others.

Then we might even come to see that it is our veneration for what has already been created, however beautiful and valid it may be, that petrifies us, deadens our responses, and prevents us from making contact with that underlying power, call it thought — energy, the life force, the determinism of change, lunar menses, or anything you like.  Beneath the poetry of the texts, there is the actual poetry, without form and without text.  And just as the efficacity of masks in the magic practices of certain tribes is exhausted — and these masks are no longer good for anything except museums — so the poetic efficacity of a text is exhausted; yet the poetry and the efficacity of the theater are exhausted least quickly of all, since they permit the action of what is gesticulated and pronounced, and which is never made the same way twice.

It is a question of knowing what we want.  If we are prepared for war, plague, famine, and slaughter we do not even need to say so, we have only to continue as we are; continue behaving like snobs, rushing en mass to hear such and such a singer, to see such and such an admirable performance which never transcends the realm of art (and even the Russian ballet at the height of its splendor never transcended the realm of art), to marvel at such and such an exhibition of painting in which exciting shapes explode here and there but at random and without any genuine consciousness of the forces they could rouse.

This empiricism, randomness, individualism, and anarchy must cease.

Enough of personal poems, benefiting those who create them much more than those who read them.

Once and for all, enough of this closed, egoistic, and personal art.

Our spiritual anarchy and intellectual disorder is a function of the anarchy of everything else — or rather, everything else is a function of this anarchy.

I am not one of those who believe that civilization has to change in order for the theater to change; but I do believe that the theater, utilized in the highest and most difficult sense possible, has the power to influence the aspect and formation of things: and the encounter upon the stage of two passionate manifestations, two living centers, two nervous magnetisms is something as entire, true, even decisive, as, in life, the encounter of one epidermis with another in a timeless debauchery.

That is why I propose a theater of cruelty. With this mania we all have for depreciating everything, as soon as I have said ‘cruelty,’ everybody will at once take it to mean ‘blood.’  But ‘theater of cruelty’ means a theater difficult and cruel for myself first of all.  And, on the level of performance, it is not the cruelty we can exercise upon each other by hacking at each other’s bodies, carving up our personal anatomies, or, like Assyrian emperors, sending parcels of human ears, noses, or neatly detached nostrils through the mail, but the much more terrible and necessary cruelty which things can exercise against us.  We are not free.  And the sky can still fall on our heads.  And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all.

Either we will be capable of returning by present-day means to this superior idea of poetry and poetry-through-theater which underlies the Myths told by the great ancient tragedians, capable once more of entertaining a religious idea of the theater (without meditation, useless contemplation, and vague dreams), capable of attaining awareness and a possession of certain dominant forces, of certain notions that control all others, and (since ideas, when they are effective, carry their energy with them) capable of recovering within ourselves those energies which ultimately create order and increase the value of life, or else we might as well abandon ourselves now, without protest, and recognize that we are no longer good for anything but disorder, famine, blood, war, and epidemics.

Either we restore all the arts to a central attitude and necessity, finding an analogy between a gesture made in painting or the theater, and a gesture made by lava in a volcanic explosion, or we must stop painting, babbling, writing, or doing whatever it is we do.

I propose to bring back into the theater this elementary magical idea, taken up by modern psychoanalysis, which consists in effecting a patient’s cure by making him assume the apparent and exterior attitudes of the desired condition.

I propose to renounce our empiricism of imagery, in which the unconscious furnishes images at random, and which the poet arranges at random too, calling them poetic and hence hermetic images, as if the kind of trance that poetry provides did not have its reverberations throughout the whole sensibility, in every nerve, and as if poetry were some vague force whose movements were invariable.

I propose to return through the theater to an idea of the physical knowledge of images and the means of inducing trances, as in Chinese medicine which knows, over the entire extent of the human anatomy, at what points to puncture in order to regulate the subtlest functions.

Those who have forgotten the communicative power and magical mimesis of a gesture, the theater can reinstruct, because a gesture carries its energy with it, and there are still human beings in the theater to manifest the force of the gesture made.

To create art is to deprive a gesture of its reverberation in the organism, whereas this reverberation, if the gesture is made in the conditions and with the force required, incites the organism and, through it, the entire individuality, to take attitudes in harmony with the gesture.

The theater is the only place in the world, the last general means we still possess of directly affecting the organism and, in periods of neurosis and petty sensuality like the one in which we are immersed, of attacking this sensuality by physical means it cannot withstand.

If music affects snakes, it is not on account of the spiritual notions it offers them, but because snakes are long and coil their length upon the earth, because their bodies touch the earth at almost every point; and because the musical vibrations which are communicated to the earth affect them like a very subtle, very long massage; and I propose to treat the spectators like the snake charmer’s subjects and conduct them by means of their organisms to an apprehension of the subtlest notions.

At first by crude means, which will gradually be refined.  These immediate crude means will hold their attention at the start.

That is why in the ‘theater of cruelty’ the spectator is in the center and the spectacle surrounds him.

In this spectacle the sonorization is constant: sounds, noises, cries are chosen first for their vibratory quality, then for what they represent.

Among these gradually refined means light is interposed in its turn.  Light which is not created merely to add color or to brighten, and which brings its power, influence, suggestions with it.  And the light of a green cavern does not sensually dispose the organism like the light of a windy day.

After sound and light there is action, and the dynamism of action: here the theater, far from copying life, puts itself whenever possible in communication with pure forces.  And whether you accept or deny them, there is nevertheless a way of speaking which gives the name of ‘forces’ to whatever brings to birth images of energy in the unconscious, and gratuitous crime on the surface.

A violent and concentrated action is a kind of lyricism: it summons up supernatural images, a bloodstream of images, a bleeding spurt of images in the poet’s head and in the spectator’s as well.

Whatever the conflicts that haunt the mind of a given period, I defy any spectator to whom such violent scenes will have transferred their blood, who will have felt in himself the transit of a superior action, who will have seen the extraordinary and essential movements of his thought illuminated in extraordinary deeds—the violence and blood having been placed at the service of the violence of the thought—I defy that spectator to give himself up, once outside the theater, to ideas of war, riot, and blatant murder.

So expressed, this idea seems dangerous and sophomoric.  It will be claimed that example breeds example, that if the attitude of cure induces cure, the attitude of murder will induce murder.

Everything depends upon the manner and the purity with which the thing is done.  There is a risk.  But let it not be forgotten that though a theatrical gesture is violent, it is disinterested; and that the theater teaches precisely the uselessness of the action which, once done, is not to be done, and the superior use of the state unused by the action and which, restored, produces a purification.

I propose then a theater in which violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theater as by a whirlwind of higher forces.

A theater which, abandoning psychology, recounts the extraordinary, stages natural conflicts, natural and subtle forces, and presents itself first of all as an exceptional power of redirection.  A theater that induces trance, as the dances of Dervishes induce trance, and that addresses itself to the organism by precise instruments, by the same means as those of certain tribal music cures which we admire on records but are incapable of originating among ourselves.

There is a risk involved, but in the present circumstances I believe it is a risk worth running.  I do not believe we have managed to revitalize the world we live in, and I do not believe it is worth the trouble of clinging to; but I do propose something to get us out of our marasmus, instead of continuing to complain about it, and about the boredom, inertia, and stupidity of everything.”

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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