03. The New American Cinema: United States (1940s-60s)

“If cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form, it must cease merely to record realities that owe nothing to their actual existence to the film instrument. Instead, it must create a total experience so much out of the very nature of the instrument as to being separable from its means. It must relinquish its narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the causal logic of narrative plots, a form which flowered as a celebration of the earth-bound, step-by-step concept of time, space and relationship which was part of the primitive materialism of the nineteenth century.” Maya Deren

The participants in the New Americans Cinema, bohemians in American cities resisting post-WWII conformity,  make two profound checks on the tradition we are studying. First, they engage in anti-realist practices (against the “innocent arrogance of the objective fact,” says Deren) seeking to use the medium to express internal truths or “a semi-psychological reality … communicating on an emotional level” (Brakhage), creating a “balance between subjective and objective expression” (again Brakhage).

Instead, they sought to use the medium to express a different, even “magicalreality, a new sort of  filmic truth expressed within a space that Stan Brakhage called the “balance between sub-and-objective expression.” Using a machine, “the creative process takes place as reality passes through the artist.” In this way, the mechanical eye meets the artist’s vision allowing for a more internally honest depiction of both self and world. This was in service of their second move away from Marxist praxis, a commitment to personal liberation over collective change. What Mekas calls “an existential movement, an ethical movement, a morality of the new.” Certainly a movement where a language of ethics is central, what are the terms of this for their praxis?

Can an expressive politics of anarchic experimentation, creative expression, and individual liberty be called a politics?  It is certainly proto-political, in that it set the groundwork for feminism, civil rights, and other identity-based political movements that would flourish in the late sixties and onward. But is an internal change (self-changing) all that is necessary for politics, or must this be linked to an act of world-changing as well? Yes, the personal is the political, but is that only after personal experience has been linked to other personal experiences, theorized, and then acted upon? Is this a substitution of politics for culture, the living of everyday reality. Might not praxis be closer to what we call politics, an act that is theorized?


5 comments on “03. The New American Cinema: United States (1940s-60s)

  1. Stan Brakhage footage of the Water Window Baby, was a beautiful moment of pure art. What is more beautiful then a woman given birth. Thus bringing tiny living soul into a real true beauty into a complex and chaotic world of ugliness. The placement and movement of the camera, and the rapid jump cuts cutting on action shots correlated well perfectly with the film’s narrative structure. The POV were both the mother and father.

  2. Upon watching Maya Deren – ritual in transfigured time, it was abstract in its use of imagery. Its an avant-guard film and I see restricted movements being place on women with ordinary objects. I see the religious symbolism as another form of restriction. The music chosen to play during the video was distracting and I had to mute it so I could watch it. As the protagonist rejects the advances of males at a party we see how society influenced those thoughts of chastity and restrictions upon women.

    Water Window Baby, was another avant-guard film with its use of shocking but also beautiful imagery in showing the birth of a baby. However, the director over sexualized with the usage of too many vaginal images and blindfolded moaning scenes. It seemed to dance around the lines of pornography and art. I have seen birth videos before that did not sexualize the mothers giving birth. Yes sex is the reason why any of us are here but I feel that you do not have to sexualize it while she is giving birth. That is just my opinion.

    In the 3rd video, I did not get the title of it but it seemed like home videos with a mix of experimental narrative film. The usage of the young woman picking a white flower perhaps showed so sort of purity. The usage if text in the film reminded me of
    Jean-Luc Godard. I could not really understand its message and really left me thinking what was the director trying to say.

  3. Post #7: Ethics
    Stan Brakhage Water Window Baby is a beautiful avante-garde short film. The video is of the filmmaker’s wife and her journey giving birth to her baby. The cameras placement throughout the short film was too claustrophobic and was a bit pornographic. By was showing too many images of the wife’s body, especially her vagina, set an unethical boundary. There should be a trigger warning or disclaimer before showing the film, because not many people are comfortable watching the birth of a baby, especially through the many close-up of a person’s vagina.

  4. Ethical Post:

    In the film, Water Window Baby shows a woman giving birth to a baby while her husband is assisting her. I thought it was hard to watch, but at the same time our reality because that is how each of us has come to this world. The film showed the whole natural process of how it feels for women to give birth to their child, and how painful it feels for women. It is something that a lot of women experience and a lot of women don’t, and it something most men will not get to feel either. Giving birth shows that the world will be nothing without women. The way the birth was shown in the film made me think of my mom and how she brought me into the world. A mother can not guarantee how a child lives will be, but they can nurture us till its time to leave the nest and learn to about the world on our own and learn what our calling is in life. So everyone is put on this earth for a reason. So that is a major reason why giving birth makes the world go around.

  5. Ethical Post #7

    I feel like Maya Deren – ritual in transfigured time portrays a subtle hint of oppression. The women seemed to be ignored in the dance. When one of the women tried to pair up with another woman, she was quickly separated. In the confusion, she ran out trying to find herself. I think the running man chasing after her is oppression that she’s been running from.

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