Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alain Badiou's "Cinema": Book Review

Thirty-one essays and reviews comprise this collection, translated well by Susan Spitzer to convey this French political philosopher's applications of film study, from his student days in 1957 up to Clint Eastwood's A Perfect Heart in 2010. Badiou, I have found in his theoretical efforts, can daunt the reader by his immersion in qualification and enumeration. He pokes a bit of fun at his "Chinese" tendency for the latter penchant in an opening interview.

A bit of levity is needed, for this is usually a very serious study. The "seventh art" takes in all the rest, he notes, and it shows us as possibly no other art form can a sustained exhibition of fluid (or must it be fixed?) sexuality, for instance. He watches Antoinini and wonders if cinema is "an art of love" or desire or lust. He muses whether love is "human or non-human," and how cinema can display it, either way. He, called now a "Platonic communist," looks to Plato for direction, too.

Such asides, for me, resonated more than the pronouncements of his Maoist phase. He denounces revisionist film and the French Communist Party in any of its forms, and his late-1960s period captures the confidence and the hard-headed utopian demands of that era. He inveighs against "big-city journalism" when reviewing Volker Schlondorff's Circle of Violence purportedly about Lebanon: he compares the self-absorbed Westerners depicted as its protagonists to the Jesuit chroniclers who popularized the efforts of an earlier "imperialist domination."

I relished such analogies in his comments, however predictably leftist: again, these remained foremost in my mind more than his more laborious, now dated manifestos. Often his reviews get tangled up in making political or theoretical points; although I expected this, I would have liked these points to have been made more tersely, as when Badiou lets us look through his eyes at what he sees, the results can be more valuable, decades later.

Still, this collection of over half-a-century shows the evolution of Alain Badiou. And he watches in a way that, although ideologically separate, can credit such forebears as Andre Bazin and later, Gilles Deleuze (he nods to both, especially the latter, whom he regards as an influence more than perhaps any other for his reflections). The core of his insight arrives in an untranslatable bit of wordplay. "After all, cinema is nothing but takes and editing." That is. the film exists only as "an idea come to its take [prise]"; the wonder or pull of the film comes in "how it is overtaken [sur-prise]."

Five ways of thinking about cinema characterize Badiou's argument. Enumerated. of course, 1) Image, its ontological basis. 2) Time. 3) Historical succession of the arts. 4) Art vs. "what is not art." 5) Ethical or moral perspectives. As with sex and editing, Badiou returns to cinematic sums of discontinuity and continuity. He assimilates impurity and he finds that cinema, out of "infinite complexity" can purify this material into the "modern social imaginary" to make it our era's art form. (Amazon US 10-9-13)

No comments: