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Marxist film theory

Related: cultural Marxism - film theory


Marxist film theory is one of the oldest forms of film theory.

Sergei Eisenstein and many other Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s used Marxism as justification for film. In fact, the Hegelian dialectic was considered best displayed in film editing through the Kuleshov Experiment and the development of montage.

While this structuralist approach to Marxism and filmmaking was used, the more vociferous complaint that the Russian filmmakers had was with the narrative structure of Hollywood filmmaking. They believed, as many Marxists since have believed, that Hollywood cinema is designed to draw you into believing in the capitalist propaganda. Shot reverse shot is nothing more than a device to make you align yourself with this unhealthy ideology.

Eisenstein's solution was to shun narrative structure by eliminating the individual protagonist and tell stories where the action is moved by the group and the story is told through a clash of one image against the next (whether in composition, motion, or idea) so that the audience is never lulled into believing that they are watching something that has not been worked over.

Eisenstein himself, however, was accused by the Soviet authorities of "formalist error," of highlighting form as a thing of beauty instead of portraying the worker nobly.

German marxist film makers had, however, been behind the development of subjective point of view camera angles, and they believed that it was possible to discomfit bourgeoise audiences with the very tools of bourgeoise illusionism. Hence, F. W. Murnau, among others, would use Expressionist techniques to force viewers into seeing through the eyes of working class figures ("The Last Laugh"). Fritz Lang, though not a Marxist, would tell a sympathetic tale of a child murderer in "M."

French Marxist film makers, such as Jean Luc Godard, would employ radical editing and choice of subject matter, as well as subversive parody, to heighten class consciousness and promote Marxist ideas.

Some later Marxist critics saw the very cinematic apparatus to be infused in the capitalistic ideology which no film can escape. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist_film_theory [Oct 2004]

Apparatus theory

Apparatus theory, derived in part from Marxist theory, semiotics, and psychoanalysis, was the dominant theory within cinema studies during the 1970s. It maintains that cinema is by nature ideological because its mechanics of representation are ideological. Its mechanics of representation include the camera and editing. The central position of the spectator within the perspective of the composition is also ideological.

Apparatus theory also argues that cinema maintains the dominant ideology of the culture within the viewer. Ideology is not imposed on cinema, but is part of its nature.

Apparatus theory follows an institutional model of spectatorship. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparatus_Theory [Oct 2005]

Screen theory

"Given Screen's commitment to theoretical understanding of film, the magazine has been engaged over the last five years in the elaboration of the various advances in semiotics, structuralism, psychoanalysis and Marxism." --Colin MacCabe, "Days of Hope-A Response to Colin McArthur," Screen 17, 1 (Spring 1976), 103.

Screen theory is a Marxist theory of visual mass-communication and cinematography associated with the British journal Screen in the 1970s. The theoreticians of this approach -- Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath or Laura Mulvey -- describe the "cinematic apparatus" as a version of Althusser's Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). According to screen theory, it is the spectacle that creates the spectator and not the other way round. The fact that the subject is created and subjected at the same time by the narrative on screen is masked by the apparent realism of the communicated content. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_theory [Jul 2006]

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