Sunday, October 30, 2022


I put this passage in a post just below, but it reminded me of something I've avoided.

Eisenstein, Film Form, p. 20, defending convention, and tradition. 

We have been visited [1928] by the Kabuki theater-a wonderful manifestation of theatrical culture.

Every critical voice gushes praise for its splendid crafts­manship. But there has been no appraisal of what constitutes its wonder. Its "museum" elements, though indispensable in estimating its value, cannot alone afford a satisfactory esti­mate of this phenomenon, of this wonder. A "wonder" must promote cultural progress, feeding and stimulating the intellec­tual questions of our day. The Kabuki is dismissed in plati­tudes: "How musical!" "What handling of objects!" "What plasticity!" And we come to the conclusion that there is nothing to be learned, that (as one of our most respected critics has announced) there's nothing new here: Meyerhold has already plundered everything of use from the Japanese theater!

Behind the fulsome generalities, there are some real atti­tudes revealed. Kabuki is conventional! How can such con­ ventions move Europeans! Its craftsmanship is merely the cold perfection of form! And the plays they perform are feudal!—What a nightmare!

More than any other obstacle, it is this conventionalism that prevents our thorough use of all that may be borrowed from the Kabuki.

But the conventionalism that we have learned "from books" proves in fact to be a conventionalism of extremely interesting relationships The conventionalism of Kabuki is by no means the stylized and premeditated mannerism that we know in our own theater, artificially grafted on outside the technical requirements of the premise. In Kabuki this conventionalism is profoundly logical-as in any Oriental theater, for example, in the Chinese theater.

Among the characters of the Chinese theater is "the spirit of the oyster"! Look at the make-up of the performer of this role, with its series of concentric touching circles spreading from the right and left of his nose, graphically reproducing the halves of an oyster shell, and it becomes apparent that this is quite "justified." This is neither more nor less a convention than are the epaulettes of a general. From their narrowly utilitarian origin, once warding off blows of the battle-axe from the shoulder, to their being furnished with hierarchic little stars, the epaulettes are indistinguishable in principle from the blue frog inscribed on the forehead of the actor who is playing the frog's "spirit." 

I've linked to this a few times since I read it, because most of it is about Zizek playing the fool, and being one, in Ramallah. But a passage stuck with me that as I said above, I've avoided. Think about the relationship of form to meaning—not "content"

Darwish directed a series of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)-funded films from the early 1970s. He was a pioneer—his shorts that dealt with the armed struggle, first in Jordan, then in Lebanon, were critical documents for any student of the period. More than that, each film text experimented with a particular element of cinematography. They may have all focused on the armed resistance, but the first one was really “about” framing, the second on montage, the third on sound, and so on. These films had long been forgotten save by old comrades and an enthusiastic group of recent devotees. When I found out that he had studied at the Moscow Institute, I asked him about Sonallah and Malas, and he told me how they had all been there together. I asked if he had worked with Godard in Jordan, “Yes! How’d you guess? I was his production assistant. He was there for only a few months, but while he was here, he worked. He never rested. I’ve never seen that sort of ethic. After what happened, he didn’t know what to do for a couple years with all that footage.” 

Godard the Maoist, etc. Politicized aesthetics is aestheticized politics. Sincerity of intention means nothing. Another pithy sentence I wrote once. "The romance of orthodoxy is mannerism." Attaching formal games to political engagement is a kind of decadence. Eisenstein was younger that Panofsky and Kracauer but they all grew up and into he new age of film and their relation to it was organic. 

Film art is the only art the development of which men now living have witnessed from the very beginnings; and this development is all the more interesting as it took place under conditions contrary to precedent. It was not an artistic urge that gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of a new technique; it was a technical invention that gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of a new art.

For me, there is nothing that anyone has written on cinema that is more moving than Kracauer’s recollection of the first motion picture he saw, as a young boy in the early twentieth century: “What thrilled me so deeply was an ordinary suburban street, filled with lights and shadows which transfigured it.”
Several trees stood about, and there was in the foreground a puddle reflecting invisible house façades and a piece of the sky. Then a breeze moved the shadows, and the façades with the sky below began to waver. The trembling upper world in the dirty puddle—this image has never left me.

If Eisenstein turned to politics in a time of revolutionary hope, the hope was more important than doctrine, because possibilities were more important than limits. But defending conventionalism within his understanding of art, he set limits for himself. "The arts are Burkean".  That's another one.

I once spent a long train ride picking apart a copy of October, a special issue, maybe dedicated to Buchloh but centering on formalism and collage and the superiority of early Soviet experiments over later fascist versions. The writing was pretentious, defensive, overintellectualized and overdetermined, and every writer ignored the simplest and least intellectual observation: that the early Soviet stuff was formally fresh and open, and the designs gave an audience room to breathe. But accepting that means accepting art as something other than "a plastic art which sets itself up in place of books."

repeats from 2010 and 2003 on art and original intent. "Show us yer arse!"


I found it. Vol. 30, (Autumn, 1984)  Buchloh's in it but it's not s special issue and he's the only one wring about Soviet art. But my description of the language applies to all of it. I picked apart figuratively and literally. I keep it in a binder. Now it's conceptual art.

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