Early Soviet Cinema: Innovation, Ideology and Propaganda (Short Cuts)

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Like the post critics of the influential French journal, she argues for Marxist ideological analysis, but also for enter- tainment and fantasy. Johnston relates her non-formalist commitment to the entertainment film to the question of pleasure: political cinema aims to produce and disseminate knowledge, but cannot accomplish this without also generating pleasure. Women's cinema, she argues, should learn from the successes of Hollywood: 'In order to counter our objectifi- cation in the cinema, our collective fantasies must be released: women's cinema must embody the working through of desire: such an objective demands the use of the entertainment film' b: While acknowledging the disproportionate institutional and economic power of Hollywood, Johnston argues that this does not necessarily deprive its products of internal complexity and heterogeneity.

Following Comolli and Narboni's influential Cahiers du cinema editorial , she argues that studio films may function counter-hegemonically if they contain enough ideological contradictions. Hollywood films appear in the former category, but also in a special category of films in which ideology fails to cohere, producing contradiction in the text.

Johnston writes: This internal criticism facilitates a process of de-naturalisation; behind the film's apparent coherence there exists an 'internal tension' so that the ideology no longer has an independent exis- tence but is 'presented' by the film. The pressure of this tension cracks open the surface of the film; instead of its ideology being simply assumed and therefore virtually invisible, it is revealed and made explicit.

Sergei Eisenstein

The less realistic the icon the better, as verisimilitude naturalises iconography, whereas obvious stereotypicality is always in some sense reflexive: it points to textuality, and to the place of the text in a cultural tradition. Johnston sees this process at work in the films of Dorothy Arzner, Nelly Kaplan and others: In fact, because iconography offers in some ways a greater resis- tance to the realist characterisations [of male personae], the mythic qualities of certain stereotypes become far more easily detachable and can be used as a short-hand for referring to an ideological tradition in order to provide a critique of it.

It is possible to disen- gage the icons from the myth and thus bring about reverberations within the sexist ideology in which the film is made. The importance of Arzner, she states, is that 'her films pose the problem for all of us: is it possible to sweep aside the existing forms of discourse in order to found a new language? Unlike Mulvey, Johnston argues for the elaboration of feminist discourse within the interstices of conventional forms. In this, she anticipates the postmodern preoccupation with appropriation, citation and rewriting 'These women do not sweep aside the existing order and found a new, female, order of language.

Rather, they assert their own discourse in the face of the male one, by breaking it up, subverting it and, in a sense, rewriting it' 4.


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Her definition of women's cinema is based on the same methodological presupposition as Anne Freadman's definition of women's writing: That any text is a rewriting of the field or fields of its own emergence, that to write, to read, or to speak is first of all to turn other texts into discursive material, displacing the enunciative position from which those materials have been propounded. I mean that 'use' can always do something a little different from merely repeating 'usage'. In an attempt to do something towards specifying 'women's writing', I shall suppose that it is in the business of transforming discursive material that, in its untransformed state leaves a woman no place from which to speak, or nothing to say.

In the interplay between these discourses, through contestation and subversion, the male point of view may be displaced by the female. In Ida Lupino's films she finds 'reverberations within the narrative, produced by the convergence of two irreconcilable strands - Hollywood myths of woman v the female perspec- tive - [which] cause a series of distortions within the very structure of the narrative' b: In Nelly Kaplan's films, Johnston regards generic intertextuality - references to Hollywood genres and cartoon imagery within an art film - as the principal tactic of a feminist surrealism.

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In Johnston's work until the late s these enabling ideas co-exist in contradiction with a Lacanian feminist model of spectatorship and subjectivity. Instead, she turned to the 'conjunctural analysis' of cinema as a social practice, embedded within a social and cultural formation, and in her last published essay on women's cinema,1 'Maeve', advocates: A move away from the notion of'text' and 'spectator' conceptualised in abstract and a-historical terms and towards a more interven- tionist conception of textual practice seen within specific historical conjunctures, where formalist criteria for assessing whether a film is 'progressive' or 'reactionary' are secondarised.

The film uses narrative and identification, but, Johnston argues, works within and against their conventional deployment. Her struggle to enter into this culture is essentially a struggle to displace the nationalist imaginary, in which women function as passive objects in a conflict between men or embodiments of a mythic, maternal Ireland, to construct instead an alternative imaginary for women, in which they might figure as historical agents. Maeve is not a 'positive heroine', but she is a point of identification, engaged with the possibility of creating positive images for women.

Johnston suggests that the film uses this identification precisely to address the problem of identity, and that Murphy, like Arzner, articulates the woman's situation by pitting discourse against discourse: 'If the dominant discourse works to natu- ralise ideologies and culture, the feminine discourse works to de-natu- ralise it, producing a space which must be filled, a problem of identity and position within the text' The value of an approach which prioritises discursive structures over looking relations has been drawn out by Christine Gledhill, in her essay 'Image and Voice', in which she argues that the theory of woman as sign leads to a dead end as far as cultural struggle is concerned, whereas the notion of women's discourse allows for contestation and negotiation.

Early Soviet Cinema: Innovation, Ideology and Propaganda

The usefulness of the concept of women's discourse, Gledhill suggests, derives from the way that it cuts across the division between text and society, and in doing so, 'draws discourses circulating in society and in other cultural forms into the fabric of the film' The notion of discourse also functions as an antidote to formalism: unlike a formal strategy, which manifests itself systematically throughout the text in the same register or registers of expression, a discourse may be distrib- uted across the film discontinuously, through a variety of articulations, which may be aesthetic, semantic, ideological and social.

The concept of discourse allows theorists and film-makers to sidestep hegemonic aesthetics without rushing into the hermetic embrace of formalism. In her work, the concept of women's cinema meets the theoretical chal- lenges and cultural changes of the s and s. From the outset, de Lauretis proposes an approach which is reconstructive rather than deconstructive: The present task of women's cinema may not be the destruction of narrative and visual pleasure, but rather the construction of another frame of reference, one in which the measure of desire is no longer just the male subject.

For what is at stake is not so much how to 'make visible the invisible' as how to produce the conditions of representability for a different social subject. It is to have stepped through the looking glass' In a series of essays written during the s, de Lauretis comes to see narrative as essential to feminist cinema.

Agreeing with the premise that narrative is the structure within which positionalities of desire and identification are worked out, de Lauretis points out that the only way to renegotiate these is by working 'with and against' it. In the films of Yvonne Rainer, where a growing feminist awareness is accompanied by an increasing narrativity, she argues that narrative produces not only closure, i.


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  • Re-focusing attention towards the spectator of feminist film was one way of coming to terms with the explosion of identity politics in feminism in the s: the spectator is addressed as a woman, not as Woman, taking into account the intersections of gender with class, race, age and sexuality, acknowledging differences among women as well as differ- ences between women and men.

    De Lauretis regards the fore- grounding of black characters and performers in a film directed by a white woman as particularly important, not because it supplements a 'lack' in white feminism although at the time that she wrote this, white feminism's neglect of questions of race was a subject of heated debate , but because it creates more complex identificatory possibilities, addressing the spectator as 'female in gender and multiple or heteroge- neous in race and class' b: She quotes Borden on the film's address to its audience: What I was trying to do and using humour as a way to try to do it was to have various positions in which everyone had a place on some level.

    Every woman - with men it is a whole different question - would have some level of identification with a position in the film Basically, none of the positioning of black characters was against any of the white viewers but more of an invitation: come and work with us. Hopefully, one would be able to identify with one position but be able to evaluate all of the various positions presented in the film.

    Rather, she is hypothesising a women's cinema in which the flexibility of cinematic identification provides the formal means to explore the particularity, multiplicity and mutability of social identities. In her own words: 'the concept of heterogeneity in the audience also entails a heterogeneity of, or in, the individual spectator' In 'Guerrilla in the Midst' , de Lauretis moves from describing the mode of address of women's cinema to situating it in a political context.

    However, where her earlier work seems to assume the positioning of women's cinema in an uncomplicated way on the continuum of 'alternative' film which includes independent, avant-garde and third cinema or at least allows the reader to do so , here she defines women's cinema quite differently, in terms of its capacity to identify and address actual communities, foregrounding marginal or emergent groups within feminism, and, interestingly, working against its 'imaginary self-coherence': In sum, what I would call alternative films in women's cinema are those which engage the current problems, the real issues, the things actually at stake in feminist communities on a local scale, and which, although informed by a global perspective, do not assume or aim at a universal, multinational audience, but address a particular one in its specific history of struggles and emergency.

    This aspect of de Lauretis's thinking has been carried forward by Anneke Smelik who defines feminist cinema in terms of the centrality it grants to female subjectivity of authors and spectators , conceived as a position in 'a network of power relations of which sexual difference is a major constitutive factor along with others like race, class, sexual preference, age' 3.

    Soviet Montage: Crash Course Film History #8

    Through 'focalization', she claims, narrative films inscribe women's perspectives and engage with feminist issues and women's experience. Smelik's work completes the cycle of a return to narrative in feminist theory and draws critical attention to the tradition of women's narrative film-making in European cinemas. As well as responding to the theoretical and formal problematics that were the legacy of the s, de Lauretis's rethinking of women's cinema is a response to the shifts that took place in feminism in the s, when thewhite, heterosexual presumptions which feminist film theory inherited from its psychoanalytic framework began to attract criticism from many directions for example Stacey ; Gaines ; hooks Up to a point, the debate was additive and corrective, forcing theorists to think in specific and material ways about the aesthetics and politics of women's cinema.

    De Lauretis argues that 'feminism can exist despite those [racial, cultural, sexual] differences, and, as we are just beginningto understand, cannot exist without them' b: However, the very strength and vitality of the other enterprises which also claimed the allegiance of many women film-makers and writers - queertheory and cinema, third cinema, post-colonial cinema, to name but a few - inevitably blurred the bound- aries of women's cinema as a critical and cinematic field.

    In the s, as hybridity became the watchword in cultural theory, women's cinema too occurred in hybrid forms, like the African-American woman's film Daugh- ters of the Dust or the queer feminist costume drama Orlando , nor is the feminist canon fixed in this respect: Dorothy Arzner has been reclaimed as a lesbian director Mayne and Chantal Akerman has been discussed under the various guises of Belgian, Jew, francophone, exile and lesbian auteur Foster All of these books define women's cinema in terms of relations of intertextuality with hegemonic cinema traditions.

    Fischer's book is framed as a response to the dilemmas of the femi- nist art historian: whether to conceptualise women's art as an alternative cultural heritage or to situate it within pre-existent traditions and whether to view the work of women artists as gendered or androgynous creation. Fischer proposes a middle way, based in a historical rather than essentialist conception of female identity and cultural production: 'a unity may be found in women's collective dissension from the mainstream culture - a revolt that arises from historical rather than archetypal exigencies' 7.

    She argues that because women's art emerges in a dialogical relationship with patriarchal tradition, it is marked by an unusual degree of intertextuality.

    Each chapter of her book is thus devoted to reading women's films against conventional films, as virtual - although generally not literal - remakes. Mayne sees women's cinema as a feminist reinvention of film which reworks conventions of narrative and narration, authorship and spec- tacle, to create the formal conditions for inscriptions of female desire and points of view.

    She moves away from the dualism which prevails in much of the feminist writing about film by treating forms and conventions as permeable boundaries between one set of possibilities and another, rather than impenetrable borders.

    Movies and Film: Volga Displays: A Brief History of Russian Filmmaking

    Mellencamp maps the development of film feminism - by which she means feminist theory, historical research and films - over five stages of development: intellectual, irascible, experimental, empirical and economical. She places texts in relation to the intertext of romance as a Hollywood genre and cultural mode, in orderto create an inclusive model of women's cinema which builds a tradition from a plurality of broadly feminist perspectives.

    Finally Modleski's book responds to a return to genre which is evident in progressive American cinema and culture, and examines the ways that recent works by women engage with established genres. Although 'genre, with its conventions and the security provided by predictable endings, represents stasis and fixity and thus appears at odds with a project that seeks evidence of psychic and social transformations' , the works Modleski studies, in a range of genres from the western to the romance, display quite a high degree of fluidity and mutability.

    Modleski regards genre as an intertext which mediates between aspects of reality, although she draws no general conclusions about the social significance of the current fashion for genre-crossing. All of these studies combine a pluralistic approach to film styles with attention to the specificity of each. No longer in pursuit of 'a feminist film practice', the authors acknowledge that in contemporary cinema, women produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles. Women's cinema as minor cinema The plurality of forms, concerns and constituencies in contemporary women's cinema now exceeds even the most flexible definition of counter-cinema.

    Women's cinema now seems 'minor' rather than oppo- sitional. A minor literature is the literature of a minority or marginalised group, written, not in a minor language, but in a major one, just as Kafka, a Czech Jew, wrote in German. Or no longer, or not yet, even know their own and know poorly the major language that they are forced to use? A minor literature is not 'marginal', it is what a minority constructs in a major language, and so it is a model of action from a colonised position within a given society.

    In this it differs from theories that propose, like Laura Mulvey's early work in film, to found an alterna- tive system. Morris xvii The analogy upon which the adoption of this concept depends is by no means new in feminist film criticism. Ruby Rich writes: 'our experi- ence is like that of the exile, whom Brecht once singled out as the ulti- mate dialectician for that daily working out of cultural oppositions in a single body' Moreover, the three defining features of a minor literature as listed by Deleuze and Guattari are instantly recognisable as characteristics shared by women's cinema and, indeed, most feminist activity : displacement, dispossession, or, as they term it, deterritoriali- sation; a sense of everything as political; and a tendency for everything to take on a collective value.

    The individual concern thus becomes all the more necessary, indispensable, magnified, because a whole other story is vibrating within it' Because a minor literature emerges from a deterritorialised group, its function is to conjure up collectivity, even in the absence of an active community: Literature finds itself positively charged with the role and function of collective, and even revolutionary, enunciation. The communities imagined by women's cinema are as many and varied as the films it comprises, and each is involved in its own historical moment. Thinking of some women's cultural production as 'minor' in some ways does not depend on a belief in women's absolute alienation from language and culture, unlike the 'women's writing' theorised by Kristeva and others, but posits instead a mediated and contestatory relationship: Even when the author is in the position of a minority and disempowered by the phallocentric nature of the apparatus, the metalinguistic status of the latter demands that all texts be produced within its terms: the codes and language of the Holly- wood model become ineluctable vehicles.

    The necessity of writing in a dominant language from which one is also excluded does not indicate mere subjugation however, but a significant degree of infil- tration, and thus potency.

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    Islam 99 However, this is not to limit the minor to the strategic infiltration of the mainstream: many of the examples of minor practices offered by Deleuze and Guattari are famously experimental. Indeed, one of the strengths of the concept is its ability to connect radical aesthetics with popular expe- rience: 'What is unusual about Kafka is that in place of an avant-garde negation of art's status in bourgeois society, Deleuze and Guattari offer an affirmative project based on a mass historical experience' Morris xvii.

    The assumption of this book is that women's cinema is not 'at home' in any of the host cinematic or national discourses it inhabits, but that it is always an inflected mode, incorporating, reworking and contesting the conventions of established traditions. All of the films I will discuss can be situated within at least one other context such as a national cinema, or an international mode of representation besides that of women's cinema; few of them, however, are fully comprehended by their other contexts.

    A concomitant assumption of the book is that neither the makers nor the viewers of these films are exhaustively defined by their membership of the category 'women'. It has often been argued that the conceptualisation of women's cultural production as distinct from men's is counter-productive both for feminism, with its egalitarian goals, and for the individual artist who may aspire to androgynous creativity. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that artists are social subjects what- ever their aspirations to the contrary, and that only the most conserva- tive of feminisms approaches the goal of equality via the denial of social differences.

    The debate about the grounds for defining women's collec- tivity, and the political effects of doing so, is an extremely complex one, beyond the scope of this book.