The Critical Realist Cinema of Wang Bing: A Comparison with the Films of Chantal Akerman and Jia Zhangke 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

This project aims to position contemporary Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing at the center of the debate on new forms of realism in film. Wang Bing is celebrated worldwide as the most important documentary filmmaker of the past decade, yet his work has still to receive proper academic study in the West. His style is geared towards a detailed and slow-paced documentation of people living in the margins of Chinese post-socialist society. My aim is double: to explore the critical significance of Wang's cinema at the level of his specific aesthetic choices and, second, to elucidate these core properties within the context of a perceived 'new realist' turn in contemporary art cinema and through comparison with two filmmakers, the first European the second Chinese, Belgian cinéaste Chantal Akerman and Wang's contemporary Jia Zhangke. The degree to which these filmmakers put their faith in the real and attach value to materiality and testimony returns us to Marxist philosopher and literary historian Georg Lukács' theorization of the representation of a 'social totality' as found in 19th century realist novels of Tolstoy and Balzac. In order to understand this turn to the real in contemporary film and in Wang's work in particular, I will reconsider the concept of 'critical realism' as it was originally put forward by Lukács, while at the same time weighing his original insights against the recent writings on politics in film and art by the French Post-Marxist philosopher Jacques Rancière.

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Research team(s)

From 'Film is Truth' to 24 Frames: Cinematic 'Revelationism' in Jean-Luc Godard's Late Films and the Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

This project aims to further understanding of the aesthetic paradigm at work in the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami and late Jean-Luc Godard. This paradigm – essentially an answer to the question posed by André Bazin of what cinema is – I want to call 'revelationism'. It can be traced back to the 'ontological tradition' in 1950's French film theory. As a new art form grounded in the unique representational properties of the photographic image, Bazin thought cinema capable of revealing reality. The 'semiotic tradition', on the other hand, stressed the mediated nature of the image and criticized Bazin's ontology - and the 'long-take' style that he favoured - for encouraging 'mysticism'. Despite their association with Bazinian aesthetics, the films of Kiarostami and late Godard rely for the better part on Eisensteinian constructivist tactics of 'montage' that question the direct reproducibility of 'reality'. Starting from this apparent discrepancy, my proposal is organized around three central questions: first, how revelationism as a historical paradigm, informs the work of these contemporary filmmakers. Secondly, I will ask which audio-visual strategies and stylistic forms are employed by Kiarostami and Godard to actualise or reexamine these theoretical presuppositions. And third, I will ask in what ways their constructivist approach towards revelationist aesthetics can be seen to constitute a synthesis between 'ontological' and 'semiotic' traditions in film theory.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The Critical Realist Cinema of Wang Bing: A Comparison with the Films of Chantal Akerman and Jia Zhangke 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

This project aims to position contemporary Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing at the center of the debate on new forms of realism in film. Wang Bing is celebrated worldwide as the most important documentary filmmaker of the past decade, yet his work has still to receive proper academic study in the West. His style is geared towards a detailed and slow-paced documentation of people living in the margins of Chinese post-socialist society. My aim is double: to explore the critical significance of Wang's cinema at the level of his specific aesthetic choices and, second, to elucidate these core properties within the context of a perceived 'new realist' turn in contemporary art cinema and through comparison with two filmmakers, the first European the second Chinese, Belgian cinéaste Chantal Akerman and Wang's contemporary Jia Zhangke. The degree to which these filmmakers put their faith in the real and attach value to materiality and testimony returns us to Marxist philosopher and literary historian Georg Lukács' theorization of the representation of a 'social totality' as found in 19th century realist novels of Tolstoy and Balzac. In order to understand this turn to the real in contemporary film and in Wang's work in particular, I will reconsider the concept of 'critical realism' as it was originally put forward by Lukács, while at the same time weighing his original insights against the recent writings on politics in film and art by the French Post-Marxist philosopher Jacques Rancière.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

From New Stagecraft to New Cinema: Silent Film Performs the Avant-Garde. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

"From New Stagecraft to New Cinema: Silent Film Performs the Avant-Garde" is an intermedial project geared towards redefining the evolution of cinema against developments in the historical avant-garde in performing arts. It examines why there is an apparent historiographical gap between the onset of the historical avant-garde in performing arts - described as "new" or "modern" from the 1880s onwards (Knopf 2001) - and that in cinema, where newer forms categorized as such do not appear in history books until 1919 with German Expressionism, French Impressionism and the Soviet Montage Movement (Hagener 2007). These three are characteristically defined as reflecting the devastating effects of the Great War (Kaes 2009), propelling cinema into modernity. This idea is not only essentially ahistorical, however, it also chooses to ignore the relationships that already existed between new cinematic forms and new performing arts, but have yet to be defined. This archive-driven research project will address and close the historiographical gap by demonstrating these connections in 6 well-defined case studies. It starts from the concept of new theatre forms as a "New Stagecraft," coined by theatre historian Kenneth Macgowan (1921) and built around the significant and popular work of Edward Gordon Craig, Max Reinhardt and Adolphe Appia. The influence of the New Stagecraft on silent cinema (1910-1927) will be defined scenographically and discursively through archival research in New York via Columbia University.

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Project website

Towards a New Cinematic Realism. The Cinema of Wang Bing. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

This project aims to create a central position for the contemporary Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing within the discourse of global and Chinese cinemas and within recent critical discussions on realism in film. Wang Bing is celebrated worldwide as the most important documentary filmmaker of the decade, yet his work has still to receive proper academic study. His style is geared towards detailed documentation of people living in the margins of Chinese post-socialist society. It is characterized by long takes that are at once distanced and immersive. My aim is double: to explore the critical significance of Wang's cinema at the level of his specific aesthetic choices and, second, to shed light on Wang's cinema within the context of a perceived critical-realist turn in contemporary cinema. The degree to which Wang puts his faith in the real returns us to Lukács' theorization of the representation of a totality as found in 19th century realist novelists like Tolstoy and Balzac that counters the bodily and psychological alienation under capitalism. In order to understand the return of the real in contemporary art cinema and in Wang's work in particular, I will re-appropriate the concept of 'mapping totality' as it was originally put forward by Marxist theorists like Lukács and Jameson, while at the same time weighing their insights against concrete contemporary artistic practice.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The Status of the (re)translated inter-title in the restoration and presentation of silent film. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

When restauring silent films with translated intertitles film archives are confronted with ethical, aesthetic and practical problems. Due to the scarcity of scientific research with a focus on the status of translated intertitles, restauration procedures are often ad hoc, i.e. they lack a uniform, scientific approach. By describing, categorising and analysing existing silent films and their translations, the present research project aims to help develop procedures for a scientifically founded restauration of both photographic and textual material.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)