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Altering Eye

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Robert Phillip Kolker

Preface to the 1983 Edition

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1Narrative film can set out to please its audience, soothe it, meet and reinforce its expectations. Or it can challenge, question and probe, inquire about itself, its audience, and the world they both inhabit and reflect. This is the kind of film that is my subject: film made in a spirit of resistance, rebellion, and refusal; made with desire. These films are made all over the world; they were made in America at one time—in the forties, in the late sixties and early seventies—and I have spoken about them in another book. Here I am concerned with the same periods, but with films made in Europe and Latin America, made in reaction to American cinema, often to America itself, yet dependent upon America, upon the conventions and attitudes of American film and culture, feeding upon them and sometimes spitting them out. These films are part of the modernist movement in twentieth-century art, a movement whose diversity has a common location in the desire to challenge attitudes about the work and place of art, to attack conventions and complacency, to reorder the relationship of the work and the spectator.

2The modernist endeavor as a whole does not follow a simple chronological path, but in commercial cinema it concentrates in the movement that started in postwar Italian neo-realism, climaxed in the work of the French New Wave, and extends into the films of the new German cinema. It is various in its manifestations, complex in its forms, and demanding upon its audience. It is, therefore, not very popular. These films run contrary to everything popular cinema has trained us to expect, and present the added difficulty of being spoken in foreign languages, translated with words printed on the screen that distract our attention. But popularity is a relative thing. In the sixties, when the movement was at its peak, it caused great excitement, much critical and even commercial attention. That attention has now dwindled, as the creative drive of cinema world wide has slackened. Therefore a central function of this book is to attempt both to recapture and reevaluate that excitement by means of tracing the modernist movement in cinema using the critical apparatus that has been explaining it and that is in fact part of it. (For a key to understanding modernist film is an awareness that the work of imagination is simultaneously a work of criticism and vice versa.) In the course of this study I will examine films of great intellectual and emotional energy, engaged in a struggle to negate traditional cinema while drawing sustenance from that cinema in the process. In fact process itself is my major concern, and while I will look closely at representative works and figures, I will concentrate upon movement and the changing perceptions of the work of cinema.

3What follows is a critical progress through progressive film, through a cinema that asks to be taken seriously and assumes that complexity is not a quality that diminishes entertainment. This is a cinema that invites emotional response and intellectual participation, that is committed to history and politics and an examination of culture, that asks for the commitment of its audience; a cinema that offers ways to change, if not the world, at least the way we see it.

4RPK, June 1982

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