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Friday, January 11, 2008

Roundtable 2: Experiential Cinema

Jmac posted an interesting comment in the post on non-narrative criticism, and on her blog (and here too). The point is that when we say that CCC is "non-narrative", we are refering to a "mainstream norm" by contrast, by antithesis, in a negative opposition. So this is the same issue we are currently discussing in the first roundtable (CCC synopsis).
Let's talk about this issue here.
How could we describe CCC in a positive way, narrativewise. What term would better express what CCC does (instead of what it doesn't). Jmac suggests the word "experiential". What do you think? And what are your own propositions?

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jmac said...

Hey Harry! Thank you for your contemplation of my comments and post. :) I think that all of cinema is meant to be experienced, explored, and exposed!

As an umbrella term though, "experiential" is a bit awkward. It doesn't roll off the tongue easily. :) Although, this is the easiest way for me to define experimental cinema, and I am amazed at how close the words are. Experimental is experiential!

An expansive state of being is where narrative and experimental cinema may overlap . . . We could call it Poetic Cinema! :)

Carlos Ferrão said...

Poetic is a nice word for this.

Here's my adaptation of the definition for poem from the American Heritage Dictionary:

An audiovisual composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of images and sounds chosen for their suggestive power and by the use of cinematic techniques such as composition, staging, lighting and editing.

Could this be a start for a definition for poetic cinema?

jmac said...

Hey Carlos! Thanks for the definition, and it is much closer in description than the term "non-narrative"! Although, the American Heritage Dictionary does not blow me away. :) I've tried to define poetry on my blog, and it just dissolves the more I try to logically describe the subject. I have read recently that poetry is an act of love, and that is my favorite definition thus far. What do you think?

Maybe we need more than one word to replace the lazy term, "non-narrative," i.e. poetic, experiential, contemplative cinema!!!


Thanks for this discussion!

HarryTuttle said...

The "experimental/experiential" could be a surrealist pun. ;)
I also consider experimental cinema to be what poetry is to litterature: an area where words transcend meaning and grammar, where the rules are invented, where the ideas come from the collision/association/confrontation of words and concepts all in one. There is verse poetry (like Structuralists or Lettrists or Situationists with emphasis on the form itself : repetitions, mirror, echoes, metrics, strict composition, rhythm) and there is prose poetry (like freestyle cinema with emphasis on the visual inspiration : standalone images, "sculpting in time", impressions, creative universes, non-linearity, pure emotions, dream-state...)

Maybe I'm too technical, and not enough affective about it, but the word I'm looking for would be a neutral technical descriptor which could suit any film, regardless of its aesthetics and originality. If the term is already conceptual, it implies a structural a priori, or a stylistic trait.
I see the point of the word "experiential" to emphasize viewership rather than traditional storytelling. But, I don't know, I feel there is a "je ne sais quoi" suggesting we are embarcking for a trip, like a journey full of experiences, and it evokes sensationalism and a certain expected result (the experience we get from it). So it's already biased. I mean the non-narrative territory is broader than this. Sometimes the experience is minimal itself.
How "experiential"

I guess it's far too restrictive for experimental cinema at least, which is often more conceptual/intellectual than truly something we are able to grasp with our senses. There is more than experience to Avant Garde cinema. Well I shouldn't talk about what I don't know.

Back to CCC. As far as I'm concerned the word replacement I'm looking for is based on the narrative role of this kind of cinema. Thus, the term should define it narratively, to be the equal counterpart to the phrase "narrative cinema". If it's not narrative, what is it?

Edwin Mak said...

We are all referring to a body of films that can convey cinema by means of the "poetic", "experiential", "contemplative" and so on..

What strikes me about these discussions is that concrete definition is probably (and thankfully) impossible. That is not to say that attempts at definition will ever end either. There is a perverse sense of enjoyment in taxonomy isn't there?

"Non-narrative" film is nonsense. Cinema is an inherently narrative art, sequential and constructed. Narrative is not plot or story.

I would have liked to of stopped at "Poetic", in agreeing with Jmac and Carlos. However, this position would require that films outside of this body are not poetic.

Clutching at an example, say James Cameron's The Abyss (1989) for me was a poetic film in sentiment. However, its technique is at a contrast with the so-called contemplative canon.

Conversely, just because a film has all the traits of a contemplative cinema it guarantees not a successful arrival at the poetic.

Can anyone ever pin down like a butterfly to a desk, what is poetic?

The tension is between 'how' a film creates or arrives at 'what is poetic'.

I find Harry's technique approach to be safer, that is to describe the 'how'. (Maybe it is a bias of our Eurocentrism?)

This is what Deleuze took to its extreme, boiling down to a stock all cinematic narrative technique to 'movement image' and 'time image'.

My penny into the well of categorisation is simply: minimalist cinema.

This body of films exploit certain effects by means of stripping away others. Their [minimalist filmmakers] method of economy aim at getting more of something at the expense of something else.

HarryTuttle said...

I don't think the point is to define "cinema" as a whole, this I agree is impossible. But just to find a term to describe a specific narrative mode should be within the realm of possible.
We know what a "narrative film" is (they all comply to the same formulas, codes and acts), and we know that CCC is too minimalist, too different from the bulk of mainstream narration, to fit in the same bag.

I'm thinking of "atmospherical narration" to emphasize the environement over the storytelling. But it's still a vague term... I don't know.

Herman said...

First I want to say hello. The name's Herman. Extremely excited to come across this site and the wonderfully insightful discussions tkaing place here. I'm a filmmaker interested in working the CCC fashion and it's vital for me to understand what and how it works.

Agreeing with edwin I believe there's a difference (or divide) between how a CCC film is constructed and told and its "successful arrival at the poetic." The construction gets us to particular moment or feeling...sometime this held throughout the film or seen periodically.

I do have some problems with the word poetic as it (personally) denotes a positive, dream-like, or transcendent quality that I don't neccesarily think has to define what CCC is, although that is often the case.

As for suggestions, at this moment I'm still searching.

Herman Bergman

HarryTuttle said...

Welcome Herman! I hope you will find yourself at home around here. Please do comeback often, to tell us about your own projects and your thoughts on CCC.

What kind of "poetic" in a negative way are you thinking of?

Herman said...

Poetic in the negative? Perhaps that's too strong a word, negative.

I'm thinking of films like Panahi's Crimson Gold (CCC film? not sure) or Lisandro Alsonso's Los Muertos (http://imdb.com/title/tt0407021/). Both end with death or the possiblity of that. Although both have a poetic quality that not the word I'd use to describe them.

HarryTuttle said...

I see what you mean now. These two films are more neorealist (naturalist, mundane) than poetical (transcendental/lyrical) indeed, this I agree.
But I don't know if an unhappy ending or death would necessarily disqualify "poetry".

To me, Crimson Gold belongs to the same CCC trend.

HarryTuttle said...

But, for instance, we could say the opening shot and closing shot of Los Muertos are quite "poetical", a little outside of the ordinary.

Herman said...

Definitely yes. The opening shot of Los Muertos is probably more "poetical" than many other films you'd place in the CCC family. I would say the same about the closing shot...but I had some personal qualms about it (seemed forced).

Another example of this emotion or feeling I'm refering tp could be located at ending of Twentynine Palms. Now it's certainly a CCC film but how would you describe that ending? Certainly not "poetical," right?

HarryTuttle said...

I didn't see Twentynine Palms yet unfortunately. Maybe someone else here could reply.

Edwin Mak said...

I haven't seen Twentynine Palms (or Los Muertos) yet, but to join the search for an ambivalent poetical value term. I rather like the connotations of poignant.

Herman said...

edwin, when you see Twentynine Palms let me know if you think 'poignant' works. lol I do see where you're going though. Thanks.

Edwin Mak said...

As if by chance I have Twentynine Palms as tonight's film. Looks like I have homework to do! hehe.

Herman said...

Love to hear your comments on this, Edwin. Personally, I think Dumot's masterpiece is Life of Jesus.

Edwin Mak said...

Thanks Herman, the grisly ending did come as a surprise!

The test then was, can the Horrific (with a capital H) be the poignant or poetic? I believe it can be. TP can be read as a film concerning ‘that’ which persists beyond communicative impotence. Dumont’s method was to construct an asphyxiated atmosphere via cycles of sex, violence and the frustratingly mundane, a result that bears on the audience more than is containable in the film. By this, Dumont’s film is really a love poem to the Freudian death drive. The poetic would not have been achieved (at the end) if its remorselessness were not honoured, this time taking the form of the horrific.