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positions: east asia cultures critique 9.2 (2001) 331-367
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Third Cinema in a Global Frame:
Curacha, Yahoo!, and Manila by Night
Jonathan L. Beller
“Could be the Fila-peeens…. That's definitely the Fila-peeens.” —Max California offering expert commentary on a bogus snuff film in 8MM
The Violation of the Real or, a Topography of Mediatic Marginality
The movie 8MM (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1999) tells us in no uncertain terms that, in its view, the degraded media festering beyond the Hollywood frame (and the degradation they transmit) include the world of Philippine cinema, a small-time, low-production-value perversion that is part of the slag thrown off by the great L.A. image smelter. Philippine cinema here is represented by a snuff film that is vague, terrifying, obscene, and bogus—characteristics that third cinema has always had to negotiate.1 In the Filipino film within a Hollywood film in 8MM, the presumably real gang bang and faked murder of a woman identified as Filipina is an image of the violating real that Hollywood wants to show but cannot. Put another way, her situation (what [End Page 331] she presumably is: object of desire/degraded whore; what she presumably represents: Third World licentiousness/freedom from moral inhibition) is at once internal to Hollywood's visual logic and radically excluded from its representation. Inside and underneath the official images—what can be shown—is her blood. This topographical peculiarity characteristic of the violating real is both the condition of the image as it appears in the global frame and a constitutive feature of the political economy of the image. The ongoing crisis of peripheral victims is both condition and result of what I call the visual economy, partly induced by but not completely revealed by the Hollywood film.
This essay explores what can be thought of as the double articulation of the image preliminarily described in the dialectical topography laid out above. Images today have a local enunciation and a global dispensation; alterity is always already included as excluded. Subalternity is represented and occluded in one and the same gesture. Equally significant, as the plot of 8MM is at pains to show, subalternity drives the image and is driven by it. If the image today is inseparable from a commodifying network that structures relations of domination, can we identify instances or modalities of the image capable of disrupting the latticework of commodification that has the visual in its grip?2
As the title 8MM suggests, the small-gauge, alternative film, presumably closer to reality, is at the center of the Hollywood narrative but is also what the Hollywood narrative cannot be. Nonetheless, this alternative cinema is consonant with at least some of the desires manifest in the Hollywood text, and its character is inflected by Hollywood's historical warping of the perceptual field. My title, “Third Cinema in a Global Frame,” expresses both the generalized condition for the emergence of images—the global frame which my work over the last decade elaborates as the logistics of the emergent visual economy—and the situated, contestatory potentialites and trajectories of certain images, here, third images. In suggesting at the outset that Philippine cinema is both internal and external to Hollywood, I am arguing that there can be said to exist something like a hegemonic visual field, which overdetermines the function and to some extent the fate of images as well as strategic interventions in that field. This field, it must be emphasized, does not exist independently of imperialist politics, economic inequality, and [End Page 332] historical violation—indeed, I argue that it has developed in dialectical relation to these and is in many respects the realization (meaning the great achievement and indispensable perpetuator) of hierarchical domination. Note that the perceptual field is not unitary, but its logistics are overdetermined in ways not yet adequately conceptualized. Just as the commodity form, as objects and fashion, can be overtaken for alternative practices, so, too, can the image. However, the process of commodification enabling even these radical...