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Cinema of Material and Historical Conditions

By: Ryan Conrath

This is part of a four-part list I have planned about films that concern themselves with issues related to film itself. I have no idea how much time I will dedicate to this list, but ideally it will be a collaborative, learning experience for all who care to involve themselves!

THERE IS GOING TO BE A LOT OF OVERLAP HERE. For instance, Ken Jacobs’s “Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son” could technically fall into all of these categories (except perhaps the last one, right?). In any case, my general feeling is that categories and labels are useful ONLY INSOFAR as they complicate their own objects.

That being said, it might be useful to think of this project as held together by larger, materialist concerns. That is, this all comes from the imperative film seems to issue BEYOND the way in which any specific work might provide us with entertainment, enjoyment, stories, wonder (all the things we [truly] love!) We are breaking it up mainly for the sake of sanity! :P

This, the first installment, includes the so-called “structural” filmmakers, as well as artists who locate themselves outside of that particular (and largely retroactively realized) movement, but who nonetheless can be characterized in part by their foregrounding of specifically filmic devices. All of these films are literally “about” the material/physical conditions of the medium. The classic example is Michael Snow’s “Wavelength.”

This list is also referring to a cinema of historical conditions. That is, films literally concerned with OTHER FILMS and the historical conditions of those films/movements. Matthias Muller’s “Mirror” is an example of such a film. Unfortunately, it is not on The Auteurs yet.

I would really appreciate some input. A lot of the ones I am aware of are not on The Auteurs yet. So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Some folks not on the auteurs that I would love to see: Larry Gottheim, Ernie Gehr, (more) Hollis Frampton, Matthias Muller, Phil Solomon, (more) Martin Arnold, and MORE!!!

These lists are going to seem absurdly incomplete for obvious reasons, but also for the reason that The Auteurs simply is still a work-in-progress, isn’t it? So, part of the reason I am starting these lists is to engage this site as it looks to expand its knowledge base.

Finally, I think it might be helpful for folks to share interesting articles, links, books here. I can add to an ongoing list. Obvious examples that come to mind are scholars/critics like Scott Macdonald, P Adams Sitney, Hollis Frampton, A Annette Michelson, etc.

Part 2 (coming soon): cinema of narrative conditions (or image-text relations) - films that overtly make it their aim to explore the ways in which film enacts narrative specific to the medium (big overlap with the first list-for instance, “Wavelength” is arguably concerned with both the narrative and material conditions of the medium. An example, in my mind, of a film with these kind of concern would be Frampton’s “Nostalgia.”

Part 3 (coming soon): cinema of reception conditions — films that concern themselves with the culture/event of movie-watching. Think “Goodbye, Dragon Inn.”

Part 4 (coming soon): cinema of production conditions — films that concern themselves with the actual time of production (their own and that of others). Think anything from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “Ed Wood” to “Inland Empire” to “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One.”



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