Re: experimental film and genre films

From: gregg biermann (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Apr 29 2006 - 06:19:22 PDT


Tony Conrad wrote:

>Quoting Jonathan Walley <email suppressed>:
>>From my perspective in academia,
>>I agree that we're still stuck in the 60s and 70s. My own work is
>>kinda stuck there. I'm not sure if this is a matter of the continued
>>dominance of a modernist model of art abroad in avant-garde film
>>(and among the academics who teach/write about it). Obviously it's
>>complicated - I'd be interested in hearing other people's ideas
>>about the causes of this....
>I tend to identify "the 60s and 70s" with a hegemonic artistic interest
>in formal structures, and consequently I agree with your suggestion that
>"this is a matter of the continued dominance of a modernist [i.e.
>formalist] model of art abroad in avant-garde film."
>The problem for the modernist "avant-garde" experimental film scene (a
>problem that I think stands some chance of being renegotiated as a
>positive cultural "edge"!) is that there has been no "new" broadly
>theoretical model of formal structures that is applicable both to art
>making and to the complexities of corporate society. In this absence,
>experimental film (with its dogged inertial commitment to formalist
>interpretive scaffolding) faces certain aporias, and resolves--at least
>in part--into a mannered refashioning of earlier conceptual developments.
>It would be my hope that a new understanding of formal structures might
>reinvigorate experimental film, authorizing it to truly "experiment"
>with (as Gregg Biermann says) "some of the established conventions of
>the experimental/avant-garde film genre...[using] parody, refinement,
>revision, deconstruction of or assault on the genre's modernist
>ancestry... [with] an awareness of what it means to be doing this now."
>This new conceptual platform will have to lead us into un(der)explored
>territory, so that the revisionist approach Gregg suggests can have both
>revolutionary fecundity and cogency in relation to contemporary
>political and social matters.
>My hints for this program are that it should center on the affective
>logic of formal tools, by taking stock of advertising techniques and the
>legacy of Ericksonian psychotherapy. I addressed this in an essay on
>propaganda that appeared in The Squealer (here in Buffalo) in 2003, of
>which this is the relevant excerpt:
>[I]n practice, the [political] right--which I take as including the
>corporate world, or at least corporate management--probably has the
>sharpest propaganda strategists anywhere, and probably launches the most
>focused and duplicitous propaganda of anybody. Aside from "news," which
>is the trickiest propaganda to figure out, the most humongous shitload
>of propaganda is advertising. Any book that deconstructs advertising is
>by the same token a propaganda "how to".... [moreover,] an understanding
>of advertising offers many tips for us in our efforts to unveil the
>hidden "propagandistic" (that is, ideological) programs that may reside,
>latent, in our own work.
> 2. Now let's look at some work that is "purely artistic," and that
>might easily convince us of its ideological neutrality. As an example, I
>would like to consider the kind of work that is least likely of all to
>appear propagandistic, and that to all appearances has a minimal
>relevance to propaganda: abstract art. By this term, I intend to address
>all kinds of work in any medium in which formal principles---design,
>rhythm, fragmentation, process, materials, and
>decontextualization---provide the dominant effects in the work. Most
>artists whose work is abstract or formal tend to think of their work as
>politically neutral, unconcerned with social issues, solely technical,
>and esthetically rewarding simply in terms of its own inner integrity.
> I have made work with this kind of values; I still make work with these
>values. I won't try to discount the proven validity of the authentic
>esthetic experiences that can arise in the presence of abstract work. In
>fact, what I would like to do is refute the notion that because abstract
>work does not (in itself) acknowledge its own propagandistic values,
>that it is then [politically] discredited and valueless (or worse)....
> [A]dvertising has been there before us: the formal elements in
>advertising are dominant; that's why the commercials are separate from
>the programs! And as one looks back over the historical course of
>artwork that is recognized and praised for its value as propaganda, we
>see a startling profusion of formalist approaches--the collages of
>Heartfield, the constructivist posters of revolutionary Russia, the
>design-conscious peace posters of Peter Max. How is it, then, that in
>all propaganda abstract and formalist principles--the apparent antitheses
>of propaganda--provide so dominant a function?
> The answer I have to offer involves areas of psychology that have been
>more exploited by the right than the left: perceptual and motivational
>psychology on the one hand, and on the other hand the most recondite
>region of psychology--not the intellectually turgid theoretical domain of
>psychoanalysis, but hypnosis research. Many findings of perceptual
>psychology have of course long been incorporated in design principles,
>for example the expectation that the moving eye will follow a border or
>line. And advertising research is plowing up new psychological turf
>relentlessly, continually exploring the perceptual and motivational
>advantages of using particular colors, of using a particular schedule of
>presentation, and so forth. However, what I would like to suggest goes
>further, toward a more general accounting for "the formalism that
>sells," and an explanation of the need to rely on abstract and formal
>devices for designing "content-oriented" messages--whether they are
>framed as news, narratives, documentaries, or simply advertising
>(propaganda pure and simple).
> It was a hallmark of the later work of Milton Erickson (1901-80), who
>for decades was America's premiere hypnotherapist, that by deliberately
>puzzling or preoccupying his clients' conscious attention, he was able
>to achieve a more direct relationship to their unconscious
>processes--including the clients' fundamental sense of self, their
>habitual behaviors, and certain of their attitudes; in short, he was
>able to address the places where their psychological problems were
>seated. Usually, but not always, his "depotentiation" of conscious
>processes was characterized by a condition he called "trance." What I'm
>getting at here is that the most clearly-understood pathway to the seat
>of our ideological outlooks, our habitual behaviors and attitudes,
>bypasses our conscious processes--and in particular, it seems that the
>route is most direct when the rational mind is set aside or directed to
>other things. The tactics that are used by Ericksonian therapists to
>depotentiate conscious processes include boredom, distraction,
>confusion, and interruptions. Some examples will help to show how these
>tactics are related to classic formal structures in media and other art.
>The use of extended durations that is common in structuralist and
>conceptual media works (which is to say formalist media works) is
>usually treated as an exploration of an altered sense of temporality or
>expectation. Said another way, these works are boring; yet boredom is,
>as these works themselves demonstrate, in fact productive of a renewed
>orientation toward those fundamental (ideological?) actuators,
>expectation and the value of passing time.
>An example of the distraction technique (cited in Stephen Gilligan's
>Therapeutic Trances) is to ask the subject "to count backwards from 1000
>to 1 by 3's, or verbalize the alphabet forwards while visualizing it
>backwards (i.e., saying "A" while seeing "Z", saying "B" while seeing
>"Y", etc.)...." The similarity here to certain formal/conceptual
>paintings, films, and even performances is pretty striking.
>Erickson himself once used confusion to rattle and destroy his opponent
>in a debate, simply by deliberately and persistently using sloppy
>grammar and an incorrect choice of words; that is, he wielded a formal
>disruption of syntactical and semantic usages as a propagandistic weapon.
>The interruption tactic includes introducing meaningful nonsequiturs or
>rapidly changing the subject--which are stock formal techniques.
>And so forth--with repetition, multiple communication modalities,
>allegorical and figural meanings, confusions of reflexivity, and so on.
>The wherewithal for distracting and depotentiating conscious mental
>processes is almost a direct translation of the formalist artist's
> What I have to suggest here, then, reflects my own personal ideology. I
>believe that there is still much significant work to be done in the
>development and thorough understanding of abstract and formal art making
>tools, and that these tools have a prominent role to play in the work of
>any propagandist. And since what we do is bound to be propaganda anyhow,
>we owe it to ourselves and our friends and collaborators to make sure
>that we fully grasp the ideological spin that is either overt or hidden
>in the propaganda we make.
>For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.