restricted access 7. States, Dictatorships, the Comitern, and Theocracies
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7 STATES, DICTATORSHIPS, THE COMINTERN, AND THEOCRACIES S T A T E S , D I C T A T O R S H I P S , T H E C O M I N T E R N • 487 . . . This chapter considers a series of manifestos that, unlike the others in the book, are State, or quasi-State, sanctioned. In these instances, the manifestos written by members of governments and religious institutions function as means by which to mobilize the cinema for the goals of the State, be they national, political, or theocratic ones. A key precursor is “The Lenin Decree” (see chapter 1), which outlines the role of the cinema in the then-nascent USSR based on the notion that film could bring together the disparate population of the USSR through propaganda. In a similar fashion, Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda and popular enlightenment in Hitler’s Nazi government, quickly moved to consolidate the German film industry under the command of the State. In “Creative Film,” a speech Goebbels gave at the closure of the International Congress of Film in 1935, he proclaimed what he saw as the role of cinema, not just in the Third Reich but internationally. Under the guise of aesthetics, Goebbels delineated the propagandistic role for the cinema as a means to reflect back the image of the nation put forth by the State as its own. Certainly, the quasi-messianic properties of Goebbels’s speech draw on religious rhetoric to argue for a form of transcendence only obtainable by blind adherence to the nation and its goals as propagated by the State. The introduction to this book paid some attention to the quasi religiosity of film manifestos, of which “Creative Film” is but one salient example. But what of truly religious film manifestos? In the few writings one finds on film manifestos, it is almost always taken as a given that manifestos are inherently left-wing and revolutionary. This unfounded presupposition elides the complex history of manifesto writing and the role it has played in the creation of film cultures. If leftist film manifestos are often seen as a central aspect of modernity, right-wing film manifestos are, in essence, critiques of modernity and the modernist project, as one can see in Goebbels’s writings but also in the writings of theologians. A recurring concern in much Catholic writing on the perils of the cinema is the way in which the cinematic spectatorial space lends itself to a lack of vigilance on the part of the spectator. Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, better known as Pius XI, develops these arguments further and in a startling, one might even say audaciously prescient, move along the way articulates the basis of suture theory some thirty years before Jean-Pierre Oudart. In his seminal essay “Cinema and Suture” Oudart writes: The spectator is doubly decentred in the cinema. First what is enunciated, initially, is not the viewer’s own discourse, nor anyone else’s: it is thus that he comes to posit the signifying object as the signifier of the absence of anyone. Secondly the unreal space of the enunciation leads to the necessary quasi-disappearance of the subject as it enters its 488 • S T A T E S , D I C T A T O R S H I P S , T H E C O M I N T E R N own field and thus submerges, in a sort of hypnotic continuum in which all possibility of discourse is abolished, the relation of alternating eclipse which the subject has to its own discourse; and this relation then demands to be represented within the process of reading the film, which it duplicates.1 Although the terminology is distinct, this passage echoes the critique launched by Pius XI, especially in regards to the sublimation that takes place on the spectator’s part while watching the cinema. And Pius XI is not alone among Catholic writers to see the cinema this way: in Quebec, Boston, and other predominantly Catholic cities and states, this vision of the cinema’s powers can be traced back to the 1910s, if not earlier. What Vigilanti Cura does is codify these critiques for the worldwide church. Furthermore, one cannot discount the importance of this manifesto as a call to arms and a proclamation of how to best live one’s material and spiritual life, as papal encyclicals fall under the rubric if not of divine infallibility, then as Pius XII, his...


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