Talking Pictures

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The Radical Film Network

Posted by keith1942 on September 10, 2019

Formed in 2013 in London this association is now fairly widespread across several continents. The objects are to further ‘radical film’ and participants are involved in production, exhibition and associated activities. Radical is defined as

“… first and foremost a political affiliation to progressive politics and struggles for social justice –  from workers’ rights and environmental sustainability to gender, racial and sexual equality.”

There are regular circulars/emails with information and comment. One that caught my interest was by a filmmaker, Duncan Reekie circulated as a tape/slide presentation:

‘What Actually is Radical Cinema’ [available on line running six minutes with 20 slides] PechaKucha 20×20 – What Actually Is Radical Cinema?

Duncan Reekie explains that the idea of ‘radical cinema’ can be confusing  and certainly there are numerous definitions. he takes the line of listing a series of categories or ‘trajectories’ with brief comments.

‘Mainstreaming’ which hopes to catch a mass [and working class] audience. The illustrative still is from ‘Cathy Come Home’ {BBC, Ken Loach 1966). I suspect that Ken Loach would take issue with the use of ‘mainstream’; more accurately this involves attempting to distribute and  exhibit in commercial cinema.

‘Independence’ rather than ‘Independent’. Aiming to be autonomous and often avoid capitalism. The latter is impossible; even Soviet cinema was affected by the market of commodities. The illustrative still shows  a small group tracking in a hand-cart among high-rise flats; suggesting low-budget and addressing the situation of ordinary lives.

‘Agit-prop’, protest and direct action. Illustrated by a group of demonstrators surrounded by British police. But this should also include the ‘agitational’ which Soviet cinema saw as addressing a mass audience.

‘Collective’ which is outside the industrial hierarchy. This also stresses the involvement of the many rather than ‘auteur’. The latter developed as a critical tool and is now usually an industry marketing tool.

‘Cultural Democracy’, participant cinema, ‘the dream that anyone can make a film’. Is it realised today? It depends how you define film and even so the mass audience remains focused on the mainstream; so much produced by by participants replicates the values and tropes of the mainstream.

‘The avant-garde’ emphasizing artists and artistry. This is a different meaning from the many and early avant-garde groups and Manifestos.  There is no film still’; why not Jan Švankmajer.

‘Subjectivity’ is the work of individuals. But it should be noted that this covers a wide range of subjects, styles and attitudes.

‘Ant-art’ is the ‘sublation’  [deny, contradict, negate] of Art; avoiding that fetishism. The illustration is a dadaist urinal, not a film; perhaps a still from a film by Kenneth Anger?

‘Demystification’ addresses the hypnotism of the masses. The illustrative diagram seems to be a variation on the metaphor of the ‘cave’ in Plato. This could use the still from ‘The Conformist’ which also quotes Plato. I think terms like ‘hypnotism’, or indeed ‘false consciousness’ overstate reality. And Plato’s hypothesis was elitist as well as being anti-realist.

‘The Occult’ is about magic and film-makers who believe in magic. I did not really get  handle on this.

‘The Underground’ is a hybrid of other categories plus drugs and rock music.  But there is a division between those that have overt politics and those that do not.

‘Third Cinema’ is anti-colonial and anti-imperialist and here is referenced by Latin-American cinema and a still from Antonio das Mortes / O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro (1969). But the cinema and the Manifestos aimed beyond one continent to the global conflict.

‘cybertopia’ sees the Web as solving capitalism, globalism and copy right. There is an interesting question here about ‘utopian’ cinemas: read Jemma Desai’s review of the ‘Flaherty Seminar’, ‘A week in Utopia’, in Sight & Sound October 2019.

‘micro cinema’, where the author operates. Local but also [possibly] ‘convivial’, people interact during the screenings. In Britain the development of pop-up cinemas and ‘video lounges’ [i.e. Everyman] has expropriated this into a reflection of the mainstream.

He ends by seeing ‘Radical Cinema’ as still fractured with no coherent centre. This is possibly a virtue; like genre itself the notion is slippery. So the idea of a network is helpful. And discussions about what constitutes this – who should be in or out – is healthy.

The Radical Network proposes ‘progressive’ but in the proper sense of ‘radical’ one would have to include non-progressive films; I would suggest that Leni Riefenstahl’s films are radical and they are clearly reactionary. And as noted, some political standpoints would exclude others: films from the Chinese Cultural Revolution? I would argue that Breaking with Old Ideas / Jue lie (1976) is radical but I suspect I would encounter opposition.

In fact, the slide show includes a reference and a photograph of Jean-Luc Godard; where could one place his film work? An intriguing debate.

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