Subverting Cinematic Conventions

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Cinema is an avenue for exploring or resisting against political and social change (source: Young Revolution)

Creativity in cinema often comes from escaping conventions, or developing new ones. As such, cinema has been revolutionary media in multiple periods in time, not just when it became mainstream in the 1920’s. This often stems from significant political or social change; including sexual revolution, civil rights and wars.

Auteur Theory

Auteur theory relates to the concept of ‘personal filming‘. It considers the director of a film to be its major creative force (instead of the screenwriter) because they control what the camera sees (and thus captures). Examples include blocking, lighting and scene length. Auteur theory argues that those editing and production techniques hold a higher importance in film production than its story-line.

La Nouvelle Vague: The French Wave

Auteur theory built up during the 1950’s, in France. It was the rise of the ‘film school generation’, where film became an intellectual exercise. Critical analysis and writing of film became valued. This period of time is characterised by low-budget films, often with non-actors, experimental editing and storytelling involving youth, social issues and themes of existentialism.

In 1959, Francois Truffault broke away from these ideas, deciding the films of his peers were too political in nature. He decided film should be more about the medium. Thus he directed a film called The 400 Blows (1959) which celebrated the ‘spirit of being alive‘, rather than social issues or sentimentality.

In the same year, Jean-Luc Goddard directed Breathless, a film which focused on cinema as a sensory experience. He used shots as thoughts. At the same time, a group of other directors  continued to create literary, political propaganda-like films within the conventions of the time.

Contemporary Art Cinema

During the late 1950’s, “underground film” began to surface in Hollywood as an alternative to mainstream cinematic conventions. Matthew Barney is one such director. He broke away from conventions of time order, through releasing his five Cremaster films (1994-2002) in the order ‘4, 1, 5, 2, 3’, rather than chronologically. He also used very little dialogue.

Subverting Audience Conventions

The traditional audience sits in a chair quietly and observes the big screen until the film is over. In fairly recent years, a movement against this began. The Rocky Horror Show, for example, adopts audience participation methods to rebel against these constraints. Similarly, The Room (2003) incorporated audience activities such as:

  • throwing spoons at the screen; and
  • yelling various words at the screen.

Another example is smellovision , a technology which releases various scents and odours throughout a film to enhance the audience’s experience, or their reaction to a particular event.

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