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Montage and Theatricality as Sources of Estrangement A Tendency in Contemporary Brechtian Cinema Nenad Jovanovic Although Brecht’s interest in cinema was only intermittent , resulting in comparatively few films and critical writings on the medium, he seems referenced with equal frequency in the literatures on theatre and film. The vast range of filmmakers Brecht has been associated with includes figures as diverse as the Brothers Taviani,1 whose eclectic style is reminiscent of Italian Neorealism, and—somewhat outrageously—the American sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer.2 The mutual disparity between some of the connotations Brecht’s name has acquired in film studies has led the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum to conclude that “One of the most abused critical terms we have is ‘Brechtian .’”3 Because of the term’s exceptional breadth, what follows will first define it for this paper’s purposes, along with the other terms in the title (in the order of their appearance within it). The paper will then proceed to argue, using the examples of Brecht and Slatan Dudow’s film Kuhle Wampe (1932) and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Geschichtsunterricht (History Lessons, 1972) and Die Antigone des Sophokles in der hölderlinschen Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht (Sophocles’ Antigone in Hölderlin’s Translation as Reworked for the Stage by Brecht, 1992), that Brechtian cinema is increasingly abandoning the once privileged technique of montage as a source of estrangement in favor of theatricality . While the relevance for Brecht and Brechtian cinema of montage— both in the term’s general and its specifically cinematic sense—has been extensively investigated,4 the relationship between the technique and theatricality as applied in the mentioned contexts remains to be explored. The first of the title terms that needs definition is montage. Perhaps the most famous appearance of the term in Brecht is in “Notes to the 112 N E N A D J o v A N o v i C Opera ‘Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’” (1930), the writer’s earliest systematic articulation of the Epic Theatre concept.5 In the table contrasting dramatic and epic theatre, montage—a principle associated with the latter theatrical model—is juxtaposed to growth.6 As John J. White notes in Bertolt Brecht’s Dramatic Theory, three pairs of terms that surround the cited one clarify the sense in which “montage” is used in the context:7 DRAMATIC THEATRE EPIC THEATRE one scene makes another each scene for itself linear development in curves evolutionary determinism jumps All three contrasts pertain to narrative structure, rather than the other codes of a performance, inscribed in the play text or added in the process of staging. Elsewhere in his writings, however, Brecht uses the term “montage” more broadly, to describe the opposition to the classical and Romantic idea of stylistic organicity,8 which entails art’s concealment of artifice through imitating nature’s modes of production.9 Brecht sometimes refers to montage also in relation to realms other than artistic, a possibility suggested by the term’s inherent possession in German of such connotations as construction and assemblage. For Brecht the theatre practitioner, montage allows, first, the subversion of the Aristotelian unities. Instead of aiming for the impression that scene b “naturally” follows from scene a, and scene c from scene b, an epic play juxtaposes scenes, often employing large chronological gaps to emphasize the changes undergone by the characters during the course of the narrative (to give but one example, Life of Galileo spans about three decades of the protagonist’s life). Brecht’s second use of montage stems from his opposition to Wagner’s synergistic concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or the total work of art), which refers to merging of elements of different arts into a seamless whole. Abandoning this ideal, Brecht proposes their relative independence from each other (the principle of separation, or Prinzip der Trennung). In the context of cinema, and particularly in the English-language discourse on the medium, montage is distinguished from editing to suggest the former’s divergence from dominant cinema’s aim of creating the illusion of continuity of space and time within film scenes, as well as maintaining...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9937
Print ISSN
1065-4917
Pages
pp. 111-128
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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