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.

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