The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Marxist film theory

Marxist film theory is one of the oldest forms of film theory.

Sergei Eisenstein and many other Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s used Marxism as justification for film. In fact, the Hegelian dialectic was considered best displayed in film editing through the Kuleshov Experiment and the development of montage.

While this structuralist approach to Marxism and filmmaking was used, the more vociferous complaint that the Russian filmmakers had was with the narrative structure of Hollywood filmmaking. They believed, as many Marxists since have believed, that Hollywood cinema is designed to draw you into believing in the capitalist propaganda. Shot reverse shot is nothing more than a device to make you align yourself with this unhealthy ideology.

Eisenstein's solution was to shun narrative structure by eliminating the individual protagonist and tell stories where the action is moved by the group and the story is told through a clash of one image against the next (whether in composition, motion, or idea) so that the audience is never lulled into believing that they are watching something that has not been worked over.

Eisenstein himself, however, was accused by the Soviet authorities of "formalist error," of highlighting form as a thing of beauty instead of portraying the worker nobly.

German Marxist film makers had, however, been behind the development of subjective point of view camera angles, and they believed that it was possible to discomfit bourgeoise audiences with the very tools of bourgeoise illusionism. Hence, F. W. Murnau, among others, would use Expressionist techniques to force viewers into seeing through the eyes of working class figures ("The Last Laugh"). Fritz Lang, though not a Marxist, would tell a sympathetic tale of a child murderer in "M."

French Marxist film makers, such as Jean-Luc Godard, would employ radical editing and choice of subject matter, as well as subversive parody, to heighten class consciousness and promote Marxist ideas.

Situationist film maker Guy Debord, author of The society of the spectacle , began his film In girimus imus nocte et consimuur igitur [Wandering around in the night we are consumed by fire] with a radical critique of the spectator who goes to the cinema to forget about his dispossesed dayly life.

Situationalist film makers produced a number of important films, where the only contribution by the situationalist film cooperative was the sound-track. In Can dialectics break bricks? (1971) a Japanese samurai film was transformed by redubbing into an epistle on state capitalism and anarchist revolution. The intellectual technique of using capitalism's own structures against itself is known as detournment .

Some later Marxist critics saw the very cinematic apparatus to be infused in the capitalistic ideology which no film can escape.

Last updated: 08-17-2005 06:54:34