Thursday, March 6, 2014

Michael Dean Benton: Dialogic Cinephilia 5.0

[This was a Pecha Kucha presentation for Filmslang 2013 (There was an image for each number in the presentation). It was the original inspiration for this website.]

1 I would like to start with a spin on a quote by the philosopher Bertrand Russell: The observer, when she seems to be observing a film, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the film upon herself.

2 By the time Americans reach 18 years of age, on average they will have witnessed on screens 14,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.

3 During this time they will also have seen 350,000 commercials. They will have totaled nearly 17,000 hours of viewing experience and will watch at least 20 films for every book they read. Eventually the average American spends 10 years of their life viewing entertainments.

4 It is essential that we learn to understand what happens during the viewing process. So that we can better understand the stories that construct our understanding of the world; but just as importantly, so that we can defend against those that seek to manipulate our screen conditioning.

5 The lawyer instructs a jury on how to “see” a video; advertisements pretend to peel back the frame only to encapsulate us again in a seductive sales pitch; and, politicians adopt the phrases and imagery of movies to sell us on their agendas.

6 If we spend so much time passively sitting before screens, letting images tumble over us, what form of conditioning is taking place? Humans are very susceptible to crowd conditioning in which they follow the dictates of the popular, what happens when that crowd is a mediated mass audience and people have difficulty separating their authentic feelings from conditioned impulses?

7 What is Dialogic Cinephilia? It is my call to develop a critical relationship with that which we passionately love. The movies in all of their manifestations from the boob tube, to the church-like cinema, to the more intimate media shrines we build in our home, and yes, even the tiny streaming pictures on our ever multiplying technological devices.

8 At a young age I became a cinephile, much later I was trained as an academic. Cinephiles reject the academic’s utilitarian approach toward films as simply a canvas for the discussion of their totalizing theories.

9 Academics look down on the cinephiles seemingly undiscriminating addict approach to film viewing which includes films perceived as distasteful or trashy. I seek a rapprochement between the two.

10 In order to remain open to the potential and possibilities of an engaged cinema. I seek a dialogic relationship with the movies I view and a strong critical awareness of filmmakers that encourage dialogic relationships in their films.

11 Let me briefly explain my awareness and appreciation of dialogism through my experience of an experimental film that vividly demonstrates the potential of dialogical creativity.

12 The British filmmaker Peter Watkins’ 2000 French film La Commune (Paris, 1871) is a clear example of dialogical creativity. This 345 minute film was co-created with the participation of 220 actors, most of them acting for the first time. Collectively they researched the radical history of the Paris Commune of 1871 and together over a period of a month they developed their characters.

13 Watkin’s outlines his reason for the collaborative development of the film: “The Paris Commune has always been severely marginalized by the French education system, despite - or perhaps because - it is a key event in the history of the European working class, and when we first met, most of the cast admitted that they knew little or nothing about the subject.

14 It was very important that the people become directly involved in our research on the Paris Commune, thereby gaining an experiential process in analyzing those aspects of the current French system which are failing in their responsibility to provide citizens with a truly democratic and participatory process."

15 This dialogic collective creativity is vividly brought to life through Canadian filmmaker Geoff Bowie’s documentary The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins. We see how the actors’ creative participation in developing their characters irrevocably changes them.

16 We see the young man who learns of the radical history of his ancestors, the undocumented Algerian immigrant who realizes what he has in common with earlier working classes, the social worker who recognizes her complicity in the state’s attempts at social control, and the young man who develops an understanding of how popular media anesthetizes him to brutal realities.

17 Furthermore, the stories and characters in the film are represented through contemporary media forms that are anachronistic to the actual historical period. At first it seems strange to see historically marked personalities commenting on TV about the Commune’s resistance,

18 but this estrangement develops in the viewer an awareness of how contemporary media also serves to distract and distort the actual issues surrounding the resistance and rebellions of social movements around the globe. Collectively we gaze back into the camera to see the siren call of the spectacle.

19 Watkin’s in “Notes on the Media Crisis” (2010) states that he seeks to challenge the dominance of a moniform that “gives no time for interaction, reflection or questioning.

20 Its dense layering of sound, its lack of silence (except for manipulative purposes), is … hostile to reflection. … rapidly edited images are like small railway cars … designed to move the story (the message) in a pre-determined line (pre-determined by the producers, not the public), rising and falling between impact points to a final climax and termination.

21 This Monoform is designed to entrap - to catch and hold the attention of the public over prolonged periods of time. It is organised to create pre-determined responses, which means that before the audience sees any Monoform film or television programme, its producers already know how they (the audience) will react - or at least such is the intention. No allowance is made for any reaction from the audience which might be different to the anticipated and created one.

22 As can be expected Peter Watkins has been marginalized within the global corporate media structure that favors pre-determined, simplistic concision over open-ended collective dialogues. Still his resistance continues … and his creative collaborations are inspirations for the potential of engaging cinema.

23 I have many more examples of dialogic filmmaking and films and would be thrilled to discuss them further with those who are interested. I think, most importantly, we must initiate critical awareness, multi-literacy and engagement with media in all of its forms/manifestations.

24 I would like to see the development of a critical forum, perhaps an online publication/forum/website in which we could continue to build critical awareness and share our dialogical relationships with films/filmmakers.

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