Appendix. What Is a “Manifesto Film”?
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625 APPENDIX WHAT IS A “MANIFESTO FILM”? Despite the increasing preponderance of the term manifesto film in both film criticism and theory, I don’t believe that, as a discipline, we have fully addressed the question of whether there is such a thing as a “manifesto film.”1 One might assume that there must be such a thing, as the past hundreds of pages contain a litany of manifestos all calling new forms of cinema into being. Wouldn’t the films made under the precepts of these manifestos constitute manifesto films? If one delves into the question a bit further, however, a straightforward answer is not so readily apparent. Throughout this book I have argued that manifestos are a form of writing and a very specific form of speech act; as such, one must question whether film can perform the same epistemological function as the written word. The term itself has often been deployed with an incredible vagueness. For instance, Michel Marie calls René Clair’s Sous les toits de Paris (France, 1929) a “manifesto film” for an “aesthetic revolution: a sound cinema which would be musical, part-talking and part-sung, but in which synchronized dialogue would never play a dominant dramatic role.”2 Louis Bayman writes that La terra trema (Italy, 1948) is “almost a manifesto film for neorealism.”3 And Yves Lever argues that Gilles Groulx and Michel Brault’s Les raquetteurs (Québec, 1958) is a “manifesto film” for Québécois cinema, but I suspect that what he means is that the film points to a turning point in the emergence of a new documentary film practice in Québec, not that the film itself argues for a new way of filmmaking.4 The term manifesto film cannot simply be critical shorthand for “first.” 626 • A P P E N D I X If there are indeed films that fit this label, I contend that first and foremost they must raise questions about the nature of the cinema through a self-reflexive analysis of film form itself. Often, but not always, made by filmmakers who have written manifestos, the films in question present the imagined future of the cinema postulated by the manifestos in material form. This is certainly true of the “manifesto films” of filmmakers as diverse as Guy Debord, Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Jean-Luc Godard, and Tony Conrad. While I’ve stated that a manifesto film must be a self-reflexive examination of film form, it must also speak to the emergence of a new film practice that goes beyond the film in question. For example , Fellini’s 8½ (Italy, 1963) is a film about the film onscreen, as Christian Metz notes: “8½ is the film of 8½ being made: the ‘film in the film’ is, in this case, the film itself.”5 Yet, 8½ is only about 8½, unlike Riddles of the Sphinx, which is not only a self-reflexive examination of film form but also an attempt to discover a new language of the cinema. Another question that arises from the “manifesto film” is whether it can be considered a genre. If one were to answer in the affirmative, it could only be with the proviso that it is a genre that emerges and is defined a posteriori, much like the film noir of classical Hollywood. The genre of the manifesto film is taxonomic in nature, created by writers and critics to categorize the emergence of certain tendencies in the cinema. This does not mean that certain films are intended to be manifestos—Hour of the Furnaces (1968) can certainly be understood as such— but that a manifesto film genre is a construct built retrospectively upon a body of distinct films. This genre, as it has emerged, can be seen as having some distinct characteristics, consisting of a certain kind of reflexive examination on the properties of the cinema through the cinematic process itself. This process can be aesthetic, formal, or political in nature. Yet the simple use of self-reflexivity as a means by which to examine cinematic form is a necessary but not sufficient reason to describe a work as a manifesto film. To be considered as such, the work must address cinematic form, production, and representation and take these as its sole or major areas of inquiry. Furthermore, this examination must center on the emergence of a new form of cinema. The question raised by these films can be stated thus: the...