Alternative Cinema The term alternative cinema has certain connotations. To many, it is not alternative, instead it is the way cinema was meant to be viewed, in that the viewer should be able to define the film in their own personal terms. In the following essay, I will firstly examine what the term alternative cinema means, and secondly how Brechts theories are evident in many elements of the films that have been pigeon-holed as alternative cinema. The word alternative is described in Collins English Dictionary as: “Denoting a lifestyle, culture, art form, etc., regarded by its adherents as preferable to that of contemporary society because it is less conventional, materialistic, or institutionalised, and, often, more in harmony with nature.”(Makin, 1992) This is an extremely useful definition, as the word alternative has been used to describe a form of medicine or therapy, and even forms of energy.
Alternative medicine examines the persons physical well-being, and uses acupuncture, feng-shui, massage, and many others, as techniques to alleviate disease. Alternative energy is energy created from what surrounds us, such as, wind, the sea and the tides; it is energy that brings us in alignment with nature.The word alternative in these forms looks at natural processes found in nature. A number of films from around the world can be pigeon-holed as alternative cinema, that is, the cinema that rejects the mainstream approach of filmmaking.
It is not a particular method of making films because many of these films are very different from each other and use differing approaches. alternative cinema does not look at a particular way of doing things but a particular way of not doing things. the Brechtian aspect of making films centres largely on the theoretical and creative side of film-making, therefore, many of the films said to be alternative, in terms of production, cannot be discussed in terms of the work of Bertolt Brecht.Bertolt Brecht was born in Germany in 1898, and has been cited as the driving force behind what is commonly known as the epic theatre.
Brechts ethos centred around bourgeoise theatre, which through the elaborate sets and acting style helped to allow the audience to consider what they are seeing, rather than a simple attempt to create reality. The bourgoise theatre did this by presenting storylines and characters that the audience could empathise with and not presenting a simple construction of reality. The audience were pushed to evaluate the piece and no longer treated it as simple entertainment. I once stood, with a friend, in front of a painting by the Italian painter, Gustave Cailebotte.The painting was called Paris: On A Rainy Day, and to me the paintings use of drab colours and suffused light, plus the details of Cailebottes characters, distinct in the foreground yet blurred in the background, gave me a sense that I was a Parisian walking through those streets. I could not focus on what lay beyond, and was just single-mindedly getting to where I was going.
The rain had turned Paris into a city that conflicts with the Paris that we all know, a Paris that welcomes you with open-arms, a friendly Paris full of sunshine. This to me was the anti-Paris. In short, my belief was that Cailebotte was attempting to express the wonder of Paris through challenging what Paris is not.My friend on the other hand believed that Cailebotte was destroying the notion of Paris as a city where the sun always shines, where the scenery is beautiful and the streets are full of friendly faces. This to him was the back-end of Paris, where the locals never wore smiles and walked about their daily business unaware of how the other half lived.
This to him was the real Paris. This incident perfectly illustrates the essence of alternative cinema, enabling the consumer to personally interpret the film. It should be possible for two people to walk out of the film with totally differing views on what they have just seen.
It is up to the audience to unravel the film, not the film to unravel itself.Brecht himself remarked that Epic Theatre: “turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his capacity for action, forces him to take decisions.. the spectator stands outside, studies.
” (Brcht, 64) When the Hollywood studio system started in the 1920s, certain techniques and standardised operations grew from this. Up until this point most film-making was said to be experimental. However, with the advent of the major five studios (Paramount, MGM, RKO, Warner, Fox) and the minor three studios (Universal, United Artists, Columbia), a divide between what can be classed as alternative and what can be classed as mainstream cinema appeared. There was an assembly line technique of production within the fully integrated studios and their sole aim was economical rather than artistic.Mass production was the vogue.
Henry Ford made cars for the masses – the studios made films for the masses. The studios tried to open a fictional world and drag the audience inside by hiding the technical side of film-making. They would obide by specific rules of operation, such as the 180 rule (A line is drawn through the action in which the camera cannot cross, thus keeping the right perspective on the action) and the 30 rule (The camera cannot cut to more than thirty degrees around the axis of an object), to name just a few. Temporal continuity kept the story flowing in the right direction, and all these techniques helped the audience to be totally absorbed in the action on screen and to believe in the fictional narrative. In contrast to this, it was Jean-Luc Goddard who remarked that his films are “more essayistic [and use] less narrative than ever before, [and] have become a continuous free-form commentary on art, society, memory and, above all, cinema.” (Romney, J) This way of thinking was largely foreign to Hollywood and the mainstream film-makers, and this quote typifies the ethos of the alternative film-makers.
To exemplify the methods of the mainstream filmmakers versus the alternative filmmakers we can simply look at the film, Cape Fear. The 1962 version of this film by J. Lee Thompson works on the Hollywood ethos of equilibrium. The sugar coated portrayal of family life, is soon followed by the disequilibrium caused by the entry of Max Cady and then the film ends with the equilibrium that returns when Cady dies. In the 1991 version, Martin Scorsese, its director, who although not generally classed as an alternative filmmaker, is classed as an auteur in that his films are personal journeys, and express personal beliefs.His version of Cape Fear begins with a family already in disequilibrium and the entry of Cady exacerbates this. Cady eventually dies and an equilibrium is found that was not evident at the beginning.
The film of Scorsese can be seen as working in the mainstream because of the happy ending but still does not follow standardised narrative procedure. This method of working is indicative of the modern film-makers move away from what is generally thought of as mainstream, and instead illustrates a newly realised technique of storytelling. Peter Wollen remarks that “The beginning of the film starts with establishment, which sets up the basic dramatic situation – usually an equilibrium, which is then disturbed.A kind of chain reaction then follows, until at the end a new equilibrium is restored.” (Wollen, 99).
Scorseses Cape Fear does appear to have an economic purpose above everything else and closure gives the mainstream film its own reality, with nothing existing ouside its own bounds, and no need to reach ouside this perimeter to find closure. Mostly, Mainstream cinema is fictional entertainment and its aim is to be unchallenging and above all enjoyable, with social and political issues largely ignored and even biographical and true-life films presented as simple representations, all this differs from what the documentary film and alternative cinema is trying to achieve. The acting style withing the Brechtian film should have an alienating effect on the audience. The actors would use various techniques to seperate themselves from the characters they were playing.Lines were delivered as if simply quoting from the script, which had the effect of seperating the actor from the part they were playing.
It would disregard the 4th wall of the theatre and address the audience directly. I will now look at German expressionism (commonly cited as alternative cinema) and in particular Robert Wienes Cabinet of Dr Caligari. This film displays many elements of Brechtian theory, with its distorted view of reality. One reviewer started his critique by saying: “Is the film what it is on the surface? Is Francis a madman who has concocted the story? Or is it yet again reversed, with the framing device an epilogue which illustrates how corrupt power protects itself? or, again, can any part of the story be believed? Could some aspects be true and others false?.. The speculation produced in the minds of the audience have the same effect as the scenery: they put everything off-balance.
No one can be trusted. In this way, the message about crippling power and the nature of authority is even stronger because of its actual mentally disorientating quality.” (Brown, 98) The film poses questions.Its dream-like quality avoids a realist take and therefore lets the audience pose its own questions and then answer these questions, therefore in effect forming its …