- The Radio Eye: Cinema in the North American Atlantic, 1958-1988
Experimentations within media outlets in the North Atlantic regions of Quebec, Newfoundland, the Faroe Islands, and the Gaelic-speaking communities in Ireland between the late 1950s and late 1980s are the subject of Jerry White's critical survey The Radio Eye. The book accentuates similarities between those experiments, and how they were informed by the approaches of Soviet silent filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who himself wrote about 'the Radio Eye' notion. In this regard White suggests that some of the filmmakers in the region made films that seemed closer to radio than to conventional cinema. Of particular interest to White is how specific media experiences in the North Atlantic complemented Vertov's preoccupation with escaping 'the shackles of the realist-illusionist, narrative feature film, and to make work that reflected everyday life of a transforming society.' In this well-researched and eloquently written book, White explains why.
The book proficiently describes how the experiments of Pierre Perrault, the Newfoundland Project, the Faroe Islands' 'Sjonvarpsfelagio i Havn,' and the work by Irish Gaeltacht activists in film, video, and television projects, each within its own distinctive social and national framework, were able to capture a renewed sense of Vertov's cinematic conceptual originality. White also juxtaposes these experiments with Cuban theorist and filmmaker Julio Garcia Espinosa's proposal for an 'imperfect cinema,' and to Jurgen Habermas's notion about the 'public sphere.'
Each in its own way, the cultural practices alluded to in the book tend to merge 'document and story' with 'narrative and data' by introducing new [End Page 281] ways to experience 'social realities,' and to eventually capture their findings on film. As such, these projects anticipated today's 'New Media's' tendency to utilize non-linear and associative sorts of interpretation. Equally important, these experiments also echoed Vertov's social and political engagement and his rejection of a predominant view that looks at the artist as 'somehow removed from society at large.' In this regard, White demonstrates how these experiments struggled to speak on behalf of their marginalized communities and their 'smaller languages.' White indulges the aesthetic and stylistic commonalities between the practices of various North Atlantic media-makers over a period of three decades, and those advocated by Vertov a couple of decades earlier. This is where the author's scholarship excels and succeeds meticulously.
But the author is also describing a form of media practices that were ideologically anti-provincial and largely regionalist in comparison with the fiercely Marxist and internationalist ideological outlook of Vertov in the 1920s. Furthermore, White is essentially making connections between these two conflicting ideological outlooks on the one hand, and what he portrays as 'globalized' culture of today, on the other hand. These are arguments that certainly need to be more nuanced, particularly if we consider the political, institutional, and cultural differences that distinctively characterize each of these experiences and settings. Even in dealing with the period encompassed in his book (1958-88) as a whole, the author seems equally less interested in the serious differences between discourses associated with the height of the Cold War, the rebellious late 1960s and early 1970s, and the period of the mid and late 1980s that witnessed the beginning of the end of Soviet 'socialist' model and the return of a one-polar political and economic world model. This somewhat weakens White's argument and opens it to some questions.
Nevertheless, as White represents them, the 'Radio Eye' media experiments in specific parts of the North Atlantic region amount to key and pioneering practices in twentieth-century activist art form. As such, The Radio Eye certainly uncovers crucial, albeit long-forgotten (and largely ignored) alternative forms of cultural practices.
Malek Khouri, Department of Performing and Visual Arts, American University in Cairo