January 22, 2013 – FILM LECTURE
Today‟s topic: The Radical Film
Go check on Blackboard for Assignment number 2 (The Prompt)
We will discuss the radical film by dedicating ourselves to a variety of film texts. We
need to think about the general relationship the cinema has to politics. Usually, the kind
of film that comes to mind are films like “Capitalism: A Love Story”, or “Lincoln” which
concerns itself with a particular historical figure.
“Every film is political, inasmuch as it is determined by the ideology which produces it
(or within which it is produced, which stems from the same thing)” from Jean-Luc
Comolli and Jean Narboni‟s “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”.
Nichols‟s essay = very thorny but very important for this course. At the start of his essay,
Bill Nichols‟s defines ideology as: “an internalized image of one‟s place within all of the
social dynamics related to power and hierarchy”, or “the lens through which individuals
see and understand how they fit into the social world around them”. We can note that
ideology manifests itself by way of all of the prevailing truths in our lives, which seem
like logic but are actually human-made. Ideology manifests itself by all the social norms,
which lend order to the world around us and give meaning to our lives. Ideology is
reinforced in our culture in so many ways, we can hardly object to these norms. However,
these ideologies are not necessarily true. There can be alternatives. For example, hard
work can be considered a virtue but we can also view it as a barrier to hedonism, or a
barrier that prevents us from accessing happiness. Ideologies uphold the status quo. We
must distinguish ideologies from the natural truth.
We can trace all this back to a thinker, Louis Althusser. Althusser was a French Marxist
philosopher. He sparked social movements and demonstrations in which certain
cinematographic figures (like Jean-Luc Godard) were swept up in. The journal “Cahier
du Cinema” became leftist with time. As a Marxist, Althusser worked out of the
fundamental conviction that capitalism served the interest of the capitalists. He dedicated
himself to thinking of the nuances of class workfare. One key question Althusser wanted
to answer: “How does the capitalist system come to perpetuate itself, or come to be
perpetuated by the very workers it might exploit”. His answer is that the existing system
is secured through the legal political realm and the ideological realm.
He spoke of repressive state apparatuses and ideological state apparatuses.
Althusser argued that the current system is perpetuated through the workings of two types
of institutions: Repressive State Apparatuses (worked by way of force) and Ideological
State Apparatuses (worked by way of coercion or suggestion, these were more subtle and
thus more powerful -> they imposed on others by mean of the heart and the mind rather
than by physical means).
“In a class society ideology is the relay whereby, and the element in which, the relation
between mean and their conditions of existence is settle to the profit of the ruling class.”
Following Althusser, the group “Cahier du Cinema” saw film as something that served
the interests of the ruling class as representing a status quo. They argued that every film
is political, as they are all determined by the ideology that produces it. What we think of
as reality is an expression of the dominant ideology. What a filmmaker captures with his camera is the world of the dominant ideology. What the camera registers is the vague,
unformulated, untheorized, unthought-out world of the dominant ideology.
We are immersed in ideology by being social creatures. Ideology allows us to recognize
ourselves as individuals within a particular society. According to Althusser, we become
part of an ideology at birth, when we enter a society. He says that every time we are
hailed by the social world and we respond, we become infolded in ideology. Our position
in ideology is reaffirmed at this time.
Interpellation = the process by which we become subjects in ideology. Interpellation is a
combination of interpolation (insertion) and appellation (a name). We are both named
and inserted into the social system. This hailing is made literal in advertisements (because
they directly address us, we are drawn into the world of the advertisement). The ad
speaks to us, it acknowledges the condition of our existence. The ad hails us, we are
being interpolated, we are named and inserted into the world dictated by logic.
This hailing also happens regularly in the cinema. Ex: It Happened One Night or Silver
Linings Playbook, we relate to the characters and to their situations. We see ourselves or
a version of ourselves in this representation of reality (in this system).
The films that end up naturalizing the status quo are the ones that confirm the world view
and pass the world off as “just the way things are”. The vast majority of films produced
are enbued through and through with dominant ideology (these are dominant films). But
there are other possibilities as well. A film can fall into 7 categories due to its relationship
a. Dominant films (conventional in content and form)