This blog represents a summer of research on the subject “Political Cinema.” It is funded by a Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award granted by the Dean’s Office at Brown University to Professor Konstantinos Kornetis and Zachary McCune to facilitate a “renovation” of Kornetis’ popular History seminar on the same subject.
With a focus on European cinema, this study of film interrogates the ways in which in movies may serve as documents of social and cultural history. Clearly, a great deal of attention is paid to the politics of film, asking what messages a film is trying to communicate about the politics of its production, its subject, or about politicality in general. Frequently, the cinema is used as a public forum, and filmmakers present certain rhetorical arguments personified by characters or ensembles for the consideration of the movie-going public. Given the status of film as a mass-media, these statements are often discussion starters for popular culture asking who should we empower, what form of government shall we maintain, and what realities must society face about its history or current situations.
Historically, film has been employed “politically” since early in its development. D.W. Griffith’s (in)famous “Birth of a Nation” packaged a certain political opion in a highly contrived, historical photoplay. Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” helped outline the core ideology of Russian Sovietism. Leni Refienstahl’s cinematography co-produced the cult status that Hitler had among Germans in her film “Triumph of the Will.”
Since World War II, film has provided a way of looking back on history, and intrepreting it. In “Night and Fog,” the horrors of the holocaust were considered visually for the first time, allowing French society’s to peer through the fog of the past into the solid, unresolved reality of concentration camps. Italian films like “The Conformist” also allowed such re-consideration of history, examining the perversion of fascism.
From Documentaries to Feature Films, cinema has always been a site for (re)presenting ideas. As such, it follows that the movie-maker and the movie-goer might be considered to be in a dialog of sorts, co-existing within the film to negotiate the realities of politics and history. And there is a third party as well, the scholar in this case, who is interested not only in the film as a site of discourse, but in the readings of the film by movie-goers (e.g. critics/historians/politicians) and the moviemakers (actors, directors, producers) which comprise an entire film-consumption eco-system.