“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 “magical” reality, 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?