Project Status Report: What is the Foundation of Political Cinema?

2009 July 30
by Zachary McCune

It has been a little over a week since I began pulling together textual sources and contexts to compliment the course’s screening material. Approaching this task, I had to wonder, is the primary focus of this course the films, the filmmakers, the history the films present, or the history concurrent with the film’s production. Basically, what is the foundation for an inquiry into political cinema?

There are many possible foundations: one might want to consider political cinema as founded on the very history of the cinema itself. So we might ask, when did politics enter the cinema? When the entertainment of the spectacle of cinema first become politicized? Or more pointedly, when did the cinema become an agent of history? When did filmmaking begin to become a part of the production of history, thus politicizing the past by means of telling one story and not the other?

This is a frequent theoretical topic for historians and media theorists. But it really became alive when I began searching out books that dealt with the history of films in the course, the filmmakers who made them, and the film cultures (national heritages as well as international impulses such as “New Wave”) in which one might consider the films of the course. Such an approach made me fear that I was over-emphasizing the filmic aspect of the course, rather than considering the films as products of a history, a result of interpretation and translation.

For now, I will keep these questions open, as I search for a way to thoroughly consider the tasks of historian/scholar approaching political cinema. A certain premonition tells me that the most effective way of dealing with this question is to consider political cinema in an ecology- a networked series of relationships- that ties filmmakers to history, films to politics, and spectators to historical-social contexts. None of these individual nodes can exist without another, so it is only through moving through the ecology, finding the connections from node to node that one can perceive political cinema. Seen from this vantage, one might understand political cinema not as something to be grounded in a foundational context, but something that is in and out itself a hybrid form- it is politics and history leaking into the entertainment space of the cinema, a blurring of boundaries produced by filmmakers and film audiences, who cannot escape their realities sufficiently to produce non-political films.

Such an inquiry however, hides the   much larger ecology in which the film

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