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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Is Surrealism a cure for film criticism? - Bruce Hodsdon retrieves a poetic, vintage contribution to the conversation

Bruce writes: I have recently been reminded of this statement below that I cobbled together about ten years ago as a pickup to accompany a nine program Sunday Film series with the theme of “Surrealism's Filmic Accomplices”. While hardly an attempt at a manifesto it was meant as some kind of provocation. I then attached my e-mail address. Needless to say I received no responses.

A realist film deploys conventions of representation to persuade the viewer that it is representing the real. There are many realisms.

A surrealist film retains the function of representation but profoundly alters the character of the something being represented. There are many paths to the sur-real.

A movie is not an assertion which is either true of false or even, in a sense, good or bad, but a show.

The show itself stands in no essential need for the 'understanding' provided by either criticism or aesthetics. Let's not regard the individual movie as a riddle which demands additional critical  concepts and the expertise of a chosen critic for comprehension.

A work is first experienced.

“I like” is just the beginning. “I dislike” can be a productive starting point.

The work can then be evaluated, not on the basis of literary or artistic technique, but on the richness of the flow between the conscious and the subconscious.

Don't look for logic, theme, structure and overall reason for the film's existence at the moment of exposure. Don't resist the unconventional or try to force the film into a preconceived frame where it doesn't fit. Rare is the movie without memorable moments, scenes, sequences-we each experience them differently as they are refracted through the mix of perception, temperament and experience that constitutes the viewer's individual sensibility.

Surrealist Man Ray once said that in the best film he had ever seen there were but ten minutes worth seeing, and in the worst film he had ever seen there were also ten minutes worth seeing.

We are not looking for in-depth analysis or rounded film criticism here. We are not looking for ratings and plot synopses subject to conventional (Aristotelian) logic that demands sense, easily nameable passions, cause and effect continuity, integration and an external moral.

A movie is a show available to us in no other way. The first violation of this autonomy occurs precisely in those films in which the show has been subsumed in order to make some moral comment on real life. In the show ambiguity rules!


What we are ultimately looking for is not the death of logic but a larger logic – what has be called the logic of the marvellous that releases the imagination rather than of reason that encloses it. Poetic not realist sensibilities rule here!

Editors Note: I asked Bruce for the list of films screened  which this 'manifesto' accompanied. Here they are.
Comedy: The Pawnshop (Chaplin) + It’s A Gift (W C Fields); Hellzapoppin’; The Plumber (Weir); 
Love: The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen); King Kong (1932); The Blue Angel; The Saga of Anatahan (Sternberg);
Terror: The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale); After Hours (Scorsese); Detour (Ulmer)

Bruce's email is hodsdonb@bigpond.net.au



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