In order to analyze the present state of cinematography I need to use the theory of alienation.
More than 170 years ago Karl Marx wrote his Capital, where he brilliantly analyses the phenomenon of alienation in the capitalist society.
Nowadays we can see that his words, written at the early stage of capitalist development, became prophetic. In capitalist society everything, including art and cinematography, become commodities. Cinematography is a hugely profitable business and an important mean for capitalists to generate great profits and also a powerful propaganda tool.
Production and Consumption of Art in a Capitalist Society
Marx wrote that artists, like scientists and intellectuals, could not escape from the general conversion of all human creativity into commodities. Firstly this is because artists, like all other workers, are dependent on their ability to make money: “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyers, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers”.
The fact that works of art and films are sold on the market shapes every level of their conception and production. Marx gave one example of this in his critique of the novels of Eugene Sue, in which he ‘stresses the influence upon the author of the ethical and political assumptions of its intended bourgeois public’.
Neither can art escape commodity fetishism: “If one form of spiritualizing mystification has been eroded by expansion of commerce – the romantic apotheosis of the arts as soaring above material reality – a new fetishism has replaced it: the fetishism of commodities”.
– Eugene Lunn
In the western consumer society the problem of the alienation of man is the most important one. The rapid development of alienation is an indicator of the changing position of the individual in society.
The problem of alienation takes on a new meaning in many ways as in the modern era when globalization threatens the global community rollback from productive to the monetarist principle in the economy of a pluralistic system of international relations to the dictates of unilateralism in international politics. Claims of global financial and political approval of a global world order led to a state of universal, global alienation. Violation of traditional ties – family, national, human, spiritual – leads to the denationalization of man and the atomization of social life. The result of it is a sense of loss of high ideals and the meaning of existence, pessimism and and loneliness.
The phenomenon of post-industrial society – alienation – is becoming a global environmental, industrial, technological, spiritual order of life. Post-modernist society often loses a holistic view of life and its meaning. The breakdown of traditional social structures, the usual forms of social life, the process of alienation from government, the results of labor, alienation of art, of the nature – all of this suggest the need for philosophical understanding of the various forms of alienation; environmental, technical, political, moral, global, etc.
Karl Marx in the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844” analyses the social relations problem of alienated labor.
During the XX century philosophical reflection seeped into concrete manifestations of the phenomenon of alienation in different cultures and separate spheres of social reality. Significant contribution to the study of the problem of alienation made philosophy of existentialism. In the works of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and others there were propositions of various ways to overcome the alienated state through the activation of individual abilities.
In philosophy, the Russian existentialist thinkers such as Nikolai Berdyaev described the problem of alienation from the perspective of the devastating impact on the spiritual world of various forms of objectified world – economy, technology, government, and others. Berdyaev’ philosophy of alienation is central to the understanding the objectification of reality in which man lost “a hierarchical place in the universe.” It means that Man exists the world where the degree of “forced materiality” is directly proportional to the degree of alienation.
In post-modernist society new cultural developments are rapidly incorporated into the system as mere commodities.
Of course the nature of cinema is different from simple commodities like Coca-Cola etc. so it is difficult to reduce it to the same level. Cinematography has an important cultural and ideological impact on society. Only few directors devote their energies to attempt to reach beyond capitalism as most choose to profit from the system.
Eugene Lunn wrote:
“We cannot reduce art to exchange rates reflecting the pervasive alienation. Even with its halo removed, art was capable of diagnosing, and pointing beyond alienating social and economic conditions… All art has the capacity to create a need for aesthetic enjoyment and education which capitalism cannot satisfy. Although coming increasingly under the influence of the marketplace, art is produced and consumed in relative autonomy and is not identical to factory work or to a pure commodity.”
Another application of Marx’s theory of alienation is in the formulation of an analysis of other activities outside the sphere of work, which we undertake through own choice. When the world of everyday work becomes miserable and alienating the people become more interested in life after work; entertainment and hobbies. Leisure Industry very quickly fulfilled this need and offered substitutes for life itself.
Independent Cinematography reflects alienation of our times.
One of the first films depicting alienation is Modern Times by Charles Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin’s character is alienated from the production process. On the assembly line, he has no control over the speed of the assembly line. He is also alienated of the products he made. It is not even clear from the film what exactly he is producing. Like any capitalist enterprise, these products will become the property of the capitalist and therefore do not interest the worker. Third, Chaplin is alienated from the other people. The boring work requires no creativity, which Marx believes to be an essential element of human nature. Finally, the workers are alienated from each other, there is no real communication between them.
The film was made in the period of beginning of capitalism and reflect alienation of the working class. After the economic miracle of the late 50s and early 60s, feelings of alienation and estrangement were felt by members of all social classes, from the aristocrats to the white-collar employees.
A classical cinematographic study of alienation is the so called ‘Alienation Trilogy’ by Michelangelo Antonioni consisting of L’Avventura, Eclipse and La Notte.
As the initial excitement of consumerism, materialism and employment subsided, people began to realize that they were giving up a chance for meaning, fulfillment and happiness in return for money and status.
The city in the film Eclipse is not only a cinematic expression of their symbolic alienation, but is a literal creation of their moral desperation and material fetishism. The film reflects despair, isolation, and emotional alienation from others.
The stillness of the camera emphasizes still lifelessness of the buildings, terrain and image – illustrating a heartless city. This is exemplified by Antonioni’s pictorial interest in unique corporate architecture. The buildings are towering monoliths and through Antonioni’s wide-angle lens camera, we see amplified scenery of pervasive architecture as tiny beings move in the low foreground. The strong contrasts, background, and environment – or the visual – defines essentially all we need to know about these characters. The lack of any true dramatic movement by the camera in particular represents the lack of emotional connection between them.
Architecture plays a big role in Antonion’s films. He was an artist and mostly enjoyed drawing houses because he felt that there is an untold story behind any facade. This attention to environment benefits him in his films because “it is the very structure of market society”. Baudrillard also describes a situation where alienation is so total that it cannot be surpassed because “it is the very structure of market society”. He states that in a society where everything is a commodity that can be bought and sold, alienation is total. Indeed, the term “alienation” originally signified “to sale,” and in a totally commodified society where everything is a commodity, alienation is everywhere. Moreover, Baudrillard describes “the end of transcendence” where individuals can neither perceive their own true needs or another way of life.
Finnish director Ari Kaurismäki also investigates problems of alienation. Finland is one of the most ”civilized” countries in the world and therefore alienation has reached the highest degree there, what is reflected especially well in the film The Match Factory Girl. The protagonist is a young girl estranged from her alcoholic parents, from her boring, monotonous work at the factory, from the gray bleak city with horrendous modern architecture, from the other people. Unlike Antonioni, whose film heroes are mainly passive subjects of alienation, Kaurismäki shows protest against this alienation – the match factory girl becomes a murderer.
Cinematography reflects alienation of our times and it becomes the source of even more alienation.
Cinematography nowadays creates another reality, another world which has nothing to do with the world where we live – a playground for adults which they can use to escape from their boring life. All technological achievements are used to create this hyper realistic playground.
”We always go to a high-resolution, ie on the way the path of senseless improving image sharpness. And a Super clear image ceases to be a proper way, turning into reality, taking place in real time. The more we come to the absolute resolution, to realistic perfection of the image, the more it loses the ability to create illusions.”
– Jean Baudrillard
Hyper-reality is a system of signs relating to that which is within imagination as opposed to the reality. Thus, phantasm is the presence of the imaginary manifest, or imprinted, within reality. The concept of simulacrum to Jean Baudrillard is that simulation leads inevitably to the extinction of the original. The basis for this lies in his four successive phases of the simulation of an image. The first stage “is the reflection of a basic reality” which suggests that at first the simulation acts as a sign referring to a deeper meaning although already subverting, by reflection, the original. However, in the second stage “It (the simulation) masks and perverts basic reality”, meaning that the symbol has become in itself a symbol of the transformation of the original. The third phase,“masks the absence of a basic reality” and denotes that in the symbol’s presence as a symbol that has taken on its own transformation, thus outgrowing or moving away from the original concept, we can no longer grasp the reality it belongs (or belonged) to. Therefore, this stage is the simulation which disguising itself as the real. The fourth stage is that “It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.
”Recall now on Beijing opera. As a simple motion of two bodies in a boat can be represented, to make alive the whole length of the river flow, when the two bodies closer to each other, escaping from each other, moving side by side, not touching each other, in the invisible intercourse creates a clear physical presence on the dark stage in which the battle takes place. The illusion in this case is total and intense, brought not only to the aesthetic, but to physical ecstasy, and precisely because it is completely absent any realistic portrayal of the dark or the river, the landscape is made visible only through the delightful movement of two figures, generating a perfectly natural illusion. The western opera in such cases, the water will pour out on stage tons highlight battle infrared rays, etc. … Pornography image is three – or four-dimensional. The music recorded on three, four or twenty-four tracks. Adding real-real in order to achieve a perfect illusion (illusion of similarity, the perfect illusion of realistic stereotype), we kill in the illusion of its depth dimension. Porn, adding an extra dimension of realism to a sexual way, deprives him of measuring desire, rejecting all the seductive appeal. The apogee of this disfiguring the image through intoxication by unprecedented efforts in all areas, so that the image is no longer a way is digital, the synthesized image numerically, in virtual reality.”
There is a very fast technical progress on one hand and on the other hand a degeneration of the spiritual content of films.
Industrial part of cinematography develops quickly, but the artistic is in decline. The cameras, special effects, etc. are able to create images which are more precise and realistic, however, what they depict becomes more and more alienated from reality, filled with images and acting which falls down non-stop on the audience like a waterfall not giving a chance to the spectator to think. They lead the audience into a hyper realistic world which has no connection to reality. No wonder that superhero, fantasy and fairy tales films have become more and more popular. Films about vampires repeat the same subject again and again, becoming a reflection of one another, lacking interesting ideas, but, nonetheless still in demand.
Even when filmmakers turn to real stories, as in the case of biographical films, they are not interested in creating anything credible or truthful. The only reason for choosing the biopic genre is to market their products by association with well known personalities. Such films as Diana (2013), Grace of Monaco (2014), Life (2015), Hitchcock (2012), The Danish Girl (2015) etc, instead of undertaking serious issues, concentrate on secondary unimportant moments of life of famous people, and even not bothering to cast suitable actors. The title ”Life” of the film about James Dean is quite symbolical in this way, because what the film offers is a sort of parody on James Dean and life in general. In this sense films which are consciously deforming reality and selling it to an audience are even worse than fairy tales, which just reproduce the same story again and again.
They are worse because the filmmakers consider their audience ignorant and conclude that they can give to it any cheap substitute of reality.
Repetition has become the main leitmotiv of postmodernism.
Numerous citations are characteristic for filmmakers, even for those whose films are recognized by critics and received numerous prizes. Terence Malick and Paolo Sorrentino repeat Fellini, Alejandro González Iñárritu repeats Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier in Antichrist copies Tarkovsky. However these copies are very shallow and lack the deep meaning of great directors, repeating only the techniques of the classical filmmakers, not their ideas.
Globalization and technological development producing standardization and visualization are erasing individuality, social struggle, critique and reality itself as more and more people became absorbed in the hyper and virtual realities of media and cyberspace.
Postmodern universe is one of hyperreality in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of banal everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal (e.g., media simulations of reality, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasy lands, TV sports, and other excursions into ideal worlds) is more real than real, whereby the models, images, and codes of the hyper real come to control thought and behavior themselves: a carnival of mirrors reflecting images projected from other mirrors onto the omnipresent television and computer screen and the screen of consciousness, which in turn refers the image to its previous storehouse of images also produced by simulatory mirrors. Caught up in the universe of simulations, the “masses” are “bathed in a media massage” without messages or meaning, a mass age where classes disappear, and politics is dead, as are the grand dreams of desalination, liberation, and revolution.
The cinematographer today becomes more and more a slave of the industry as the producers become more and more important and direct dependence of the filmmakers from financial support is evident. Gradually films become much more expensive despite the fact that technology becomes more accessible to filmmakers as prices for digital cameras and film equipment continue to fall, and films today are mostly made digitally which saves a lot of money. However marketing becomes a lot more important and expensive and in consequence film production becomes an industry which is furthermore commercialized.
Films become more and more computerized, many are filmed on a green screen what eventually leads to an increasing gap between the films and reality. Different media unite with films to create an illusory world which is carefully branded and marketed. Computer games, films, comics, toys – are all becoming different instruments of this one hyperreality.