Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” Revisited

Barbara Klinger critiques ideological criticism in film theory that distinguishes a category of films as “progressive” or “subversive”. Klinger argues that the progressive text criticism consists of an assessment of textual politics based on a restricted/rigid sense of what “makes” or “breaks” the system.

Klinger traces the origin of critical constitution of the “progressive” text to the work of Louis Althusser where the focus is on art’s relation to ideology. She appropriates his commentary as implying a class of texts with a superior epistemology thereby suggesting the existence of a textual practice that amplifies the “basic” epistemological dynamics ofa text. Such a practice suggests a “break” from the ideological — a critical distance that forces the ideological into conspicuous view. Althusser’s discussion corresponds to a Marxist critical practice where the purpose of criticism is to realize and quantify the internal textual objectification of ideology produced by art’s epistemological character. This, she argues leads to a strong textual focus in the theorization of artistic text and it is the potential of such a perspective that is elaborated within film studies to produce the formal and aesthetic category of “progressive”.

Klinger then elaborates that Althusser’s precepts were mobilized by the Comolli/Narboni editorial through which the film texts were purposefully scrutinized to determine their “textual politics”. She critiques the category classification of film types, developed from the same essay, where the focus was on text’s specific relation to the ideology it produces in form and content. She elucidates that films here are appraised according to how they adhere to or depart from pre-dominant expressions of ideology. Just as “E” films get their preferential “politic” status because of their deconstructive relation to what is recognized as a “classic “ text, Klinger argues that the critical investment in designating “counter cinema” or “progressive” cinema stems through a strong conception of what constitutes “classic” textuality, against which the progressive practice is defined.

Klinger uses Kaplan’s conception of the classic text as that which gives access to the real world, thereby subscribing to an ideology of representation. Klinger argues that the classic text’s unproblematic broadcast of dominant cultural ideas is distinguished from the progressive film’s ‘anti-realist’ tendency as it rattles the perfect illusionism transmitted by classic cinema. Similarly she cites Pam Cook’s appraisal of previously considered “low- life” films like exploitation and B films to present the logic of progressive genre argument as against classic Hollywood cinema. Cook presumes them being less objectionable than mainstream films as they lay bare the “ground rules” from which mainstream films are built.

Klinger maintains that even though all the critics that engage in progressive genres do not draw explicitly from Althusser, the terms in which they identify the characteristics of the progressive genre are strikingly similar. She uses Robin Wood’s study of horror films as using the difference from the environment of conventions within which these films exist. This difference becomes the primary feature of their progressive status and the rationale by which they are accorded a radical valence.

Klinger then engages in a selective exposition of the characteristics that describe the progressive class of films like — a pessimistic world view that constitutes negativity; theme that dramatize the repressive and deforming principles of institutions like law and family; narrative forms leading towards exposure rather than suppression, departing from convention by either minimizing the usual construction devices to a bare minimum or by exaggerating and maximizing its principles to destabilize the logic of the system and the refusal of closure; foregrounding of visual style and calling attention to itself; and excessive sexual stereotyping of characters being the preferred characterization. This, according to Klinger situates the cinema/ideology inquiry within the logic and tenets of progressive-text argument, and even though it is an essential advance from reductive theories, she warns that there is an impulse to overestimate the significance of textual signifiers in determining the text/ideology relation. Klinger, thus critiques the univocal textual centric consideration of the cinema/ideology relation and problematizes the political value attached to those differences within a system of representation.

Klinger posits two theoretical problems arising from such a designation of texts as progressive — the overvaluation of invention underplays the way the works relate to their mother systems thus posing the question of generic/systemic evolution and of genre’s relation to classical narrative.

Klinger then uses the formalists’ approach of using words like “deviation” to denote the normative evaluation of a literary evolution rather than a subversive implication. Thus, a break from tradition or its continuation is seen as firmly entrenched in the system itself. Klinger uses Maria Corti’s work, where Corti sees transformation as an event that constitutes a link in the path of the literary; and argues that inventions can be seen as instances of the system’s requisite operation. Klinger thus categorizes the “rupture criticism” as based on a restricted formulation of a classical narrative. She cites Stephen Neale’s conception of genre as being produced from a volatile combination of disequilibrium and equilibrium. Just as both Neale and Corti recognise disequilibrium/difference as an essential component of the overall system itself, Klinger argues that genre thrives on a play of variation and regulation, providing an economy of variation rather than rupture. The overestimating of radical valence of the inventional signifiers leads to an underestimation of the means through which the regulating system negotiate a normative function for even the most excessive, fore grounded, deformative tendencies.

Author: Ritika Kaushik

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