Monday, March 31, 2008

The Academicization of the Avant-Garde

What have been the major critiques of the "academicization" of the American avant-garde film? Give your own response to these critiques in relation to the films and readings from our class. (A good example to use might be Rainer's Lives of Performers and Noel Carroll's essay on it that we discussed in class.)

It seems to me that one of the major critiques or criticisms of the 'academicization' of avant-garde film is the simple act of pigeonholing it as any one thing. Noel Carroll cites the quote that precedes Yvonne Rainer's "Lives of Performers": "Cliché is, in a sense, the purest art of intelligibility; it tempts us with the possibility of enclosing life within beautifully inalterable formulas, of obscuring the arbitrary nature of imagination with an appearance of necessity." As Carroll points out, the narration given in the film is seemingly intentionally vague and generalized, almost as though it could be about any of the characters, or even other people entirely. Through intentionally using this device, Rainer acknowledges the concept of narrative, and offers the audience just enough of it to know that there is a story in place.

But by applying this cliche to the film, it becomes more definable, easier to categorize. Feeding back into the main question, one criticism of 'academicization' is the fact that once a film or movement is placed into a category, then it's cliché is established and its value as a unique piece of film is damaged.

At the heart of "Lives of Performers", and certainly as well as other films, is the desire to somehow deal in emotions. Carroll believes that Rainer made the switch from choreography to filmmaking because it "allowed her the opportunity to reflect on the emotions dispassionately." In other words, film allowed Rainer to analyze emotion without having her films get caught up in the expression of emotions in the traditional sense. Putting this sort of thing into an academic context detracts from the art of the piece in favor of a colder, more scientific reading. So while Rainer worked to examine and analyze emotion on film, this still technically allowed her to utilize them on screen. Academicization appears to only concentrate on the 'what' and the 'how', while letting the 'why' of the piece fall under the definition of cliché.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Michael Fried's Question of Art and Objecthood

"The answer I want to propose is this: the literalist espousal of objecthood amounts to nothing more than a plea for a new genre of theatre; and theatre is now the negation of art. Literalist sensibility is theatrical because, to begin with, it is concerned with the actual circumstances in which the beholder encounters literalist work." - Michael Fried

If this is Fried's answer, what is his question? Why does he object to what he calls "objecthood," "theatricality," and "literalist" work?

In the Sally Banes text, Clement Greenberg considers realistic art an imitation of the world, and he seems to advocate this heavily. In his article "Art and Objecthood", Michael Fried refers to objecthood as "antithetical to art." Fried's argument is that modernist art's goal seems to be more about defeating theatre than participating in it, and in doing so is somewhat of a moot point.

The question that he attempts to answer in the above quote might be: "What is the purpose of literalist art, if its intent is to expose the artificiality of art and performance?" It seems to me that Fried is arguing that for literalist art to attempt to negate art and theatre, it must contradict itself and become art/theatre in the process.

"The literalist case", Fried says, "against painting rests mainly on two counts: the relational character of almost all painting, and the ubiquitousness of pictorial illusion." In other words, minimalists want to eschew art as illusion in favor of something more finite and spatially present. Fried objects to this, because he believes that doing so is simply an attempt at establishing a new form of art, which seems to defeat the purpose of trying to negate art all together.

"Theatricality" here refers to the fact that minimalist art attempts to incorporate the viewer, the audience, into the art itself. "The object, not the beholder, must remain the center or focus of the situation; but the situation itself belongs to the beholder - it is his situation." His argument against objecthood here is that once the object comes into question, so too does the beholder. If the art is, in fact, the encompassing space of the showroom or theatre venue, at what point do the object and beholder cease to be either?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yvonne Rainer's "Lives of Performers"

My initial impression was that this film was like watching someone read a book. The narration and dialogue all had a very stilted 'read aloud' sound to it, yet at the same time it seemed that this was intentional. I felt the first segment of the film was indeed jarring, mostly because I did not expect it and simply needed a few minutes to adjust myself to it. I will admit, I had to struggle a bit to keep my interest during these opening minutes of the dancers pacing and the odd 'Greek' sequence.

Once the segment involving the four lovers began I felt more comfortable with the film, as there was more of a narrative hook to grasp. It may have been my desire to make some sense of the film, but when this sequence began it had my full attention.

I get Rainer's sense of experimentation, especially during the segments consisting of still photographs or 'frozen' shots. The film is an interesting use of dancers in capacities other than dancing; it is a look at performance itself, and as the title suggests, the lives around it.

As to the review posted on the film's IMDb page, it's clear that the 'reviewer' is locked into one mode of thinking about film. He doesn't seem to understand the role of performance here, nor does he seem willing to think outside the box in any way, shape or form. To call "Lives of Performers" a worse movie than "Plan 9 From Outer Space" demonstrates a total lack of appreciation for experimental/art films that he claims to sometimes enjoy. "Plan 9" tried to be a standard Hollywood sci-fi flick, and failed hilariously. "Lives of Performers" is not trying to appeal to a mass audience, or even come across as a typical Hollywood film. It is instead a very experimental take on performance, and in doing that it succeeds.

I personally do not see any reasonable way to even compare the two films, nor do I think I could compare "Lives of Performers" to any other conventional narrative. Its style is its own, and deserves more consideration than the previously mentioned reviewer was willing to give it.