Third Cinema revisited

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First, Second and Third Cinemas.

Posted by keith1942 on March 12, 2014

‘El Grupo Cine Liberación’

A colleague helpfully pointed out that the original post under this title contained a serious misreading. I have followed up his argument and now offer a new post which is, as far as I can tell, is a more accurate commentary.

The Manifesto Towards a Third Cinema is probably the central text relating to film-making that offers a genuine opposition to colonialism and neocolonialism. However, the sub-title [‘Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World’] makes the point that these are ‘ideas’ rather than a fully worked out analysis. The Manifesto was written in very particular conditions, under an authoritarian regime in a neocolonial state and involved proscribed political activity. Different aspects of the arguments and examples in the work receive different emphasis in different authors who comment. I note in the ‘About this Blog’ that I focus on anti-colonial film-making, though some other writers include oppositional film from within the colonising states. The original Manifesto [translated into English] includes

The mechanistic take-over of a cinema conceived as a show to be exhibited in large theatres with a standard duration, hermetic structures that are born and die on the screen, satisfies, to be sure, the commercial in­terests of the production groups, but it also leads to the absorption of forms of the bourgeois world-view which are the continuation of 19th century art, of bourgeois art: man is accepted only as a passive and consuming object; rather than having his ability to make history recognised, he is only permitted to read history, contemplate it, listen to it, and undergo it. The cinema as a spectacle aimed at a digesting object is the highest point that can be reached by bourgeois film-making. The world, experience, and the historic process are enclosed within the frame of a painting, the stage of a theatre, and the movie screen; man is viewed as a consumer of ideology, and not as the creator of ideology. This notion is the starting point for the wonderful interplay of bourgeois philosophy and the obtaining of surplus value. The result is a cinema studied by motivational analysts, sociologists and psychologists, by the endless researchers of the dreams and frustrations of the masses, all aimed at selling movie-life, reality as it is conceived by the ruling classes.

The first alternative to this type of cinema, which we could call the first cinema, arose with the so-called `author’s cinema,’ `expression cinema,’ `nouvelle vague,’ `cinema novo,’ or, conventionally, the second cinema. This alternative signified a step forward in­asmuch as it demanded that the film-maker be free to express himself in non-standard language and in­ as much as it was an attempt at cultural decolonisation. But such attempts have already reached, or are about to reach, the outer limits of what the system permits.

The second cinema film-maker has remained `trapped inside the fortress’ as Godard put it, or is on his way to becoming trapped. The search for a market of 200,000 moviegoers in Argentina, a figure that is supposed to cover the costs of an independent local production, the proposal of developing a mechanism of industrial production parallel to that of the System but which would be distributed by the System according to its own norms, the struggle to better the laws protecting the cinema and replacing `bad officials’ by `less bad.’ etc., is a search lacking in viable prospects, unless you consider viable the prospect of becoming institutional­ised as `the youthful, angry wing of society’ – that is, of neo-colonialised or capitalist society.

Real alternatives differing from those offered by the System are only possible if one of two requirements is fulfilled: making films that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs, or making films that directly and explicitly set out to fight the System. Neither of these requirements fits within the alternatives that are still offered by the second cinema, but they can be found in the revolutionary opening towards a cinema outside and against the System, in a cinema of liberation: the third cinema.

(Towards a Third Cinema Notes and experiences for the development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, Tricontinental no. 13, 1969, translation by Julianne Burton).

The ‘second cinema’ includes what is described as ‘auteur films’ and also aspects of ‘national cinemas’. One example is cinema novo; this was influenced by the French nouvelle vague, there are fundamental differences, not just of style but of treatment and assumptions.

An equally important distinction arises because Fernando Solanas, by himself, wrote a ‘clarification’ on the original manifesto. This changes the emphasis given to the various types of cinema characterised in the Manifesto.

First cinema expresses imperialist, capitalist, bourgeois ideas. Big monopoly capital finances big spectacle cinema as well as authorial and informational cinema. Any cinematographic expression … likely to respond to the aspirations of big capital, I call first cinema. Our definition of second cinema is all that expresses the aspirations of the middle stratum, the petit bourgeoisie…

Second cinema is often nihilistic, mystificatory. It runs in circles. It is cut off from reality. In the second cinema, just as in the first cinema, you can find documentaries, political and militant cinema. So-called author cinema often belongs in the second cinema, but both good and bad authors may be found in the first and in the third cinemas as well. For us, third cinema is the expression of a new culture and of social changes. Generally speaking, Third Cinema gives an account of reality and history. It is also linked with national culture … It is the way the world is conceptualised and not the genre nor the explicitly political character of a film which makes it belong to Third Cinema … Third Cinema is an open category, unfinished, incom­plete. It is a research category. It is a democratic, national, popular cinema. Third Cinema is also an experimental cinema, but it is not practised in the solitude of one’s home or in a laboratory because it conducts research into communication. What is required is to make that Third Cinema gain space, everywhere, in all its forms … But it must be stressed that there are 36 different kinds of Third Cinema. (Reprinted in L’Influence du troisienre cinema dans le monde, ed. by CinemaAction, 1979.)

Now we no longer have the specific references to particular film movements, including such as cinema novo which I would define as national. And the particular point is made that ‘Third Cinema’ is linked to ‘national culture’.

This issue becomes clearer if we look at the major political influence on the Manifesto by Solanas and Getino. The key work here is Frantz Fanon’s On National Culture Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom (in The Wretched of the Earth, 1965). Fanon describes three phases in the consciousness of the intellectual or artist in relation to the anti-colonial struggle.

In the first phase, the native intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power. …

In the second phase we find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is. …

Finally, in the third phase, which is called the fighting phase, the native, after trying to lose himself in the people and with the people, will on the contrary shake the people. (Translation by Constance Parkington in the 1963 Penguin edition).

Clearly Fanon’s original words need to be amended to avoid gender determination as does the Manifesto. However, whilst Solanas and Getino did not use Fanon’s concept in exactly the same way, his thought clearly marks their set of categories. The idea of falling under the hegemony of the colonial power, of progressing to a sense of the indigenous culture and its history, but finally breaking free to struggle for a new, autonomous culture is central both to Fanon and to Towards a Third Cinema. Fanon’s ‘first phase’ is rather different from the uses of ‘auteur’: it is worth noting that auteur is predominantly of French derivation. Thus it is part of the coloniser’s language. Interestingly in Africa the common designation of auteur occurs in what was known as ‘Francophone’ Africa. I find this relates to an important point that Fanon makes earlier in the article distinguishing between the struggle in advanced capitalist states and states that are under colonial or neo-colonial rule.

“…little by little the American Negroes realized that the essential problems confronting them were not the same as those confronted by the African Negroes. The Negroes of Chicago only resemble the Nigerians or the Tanganyikans in so far as they were all defined in relation to the whites. But once the comparisons had been made and subjective feelings were assuaged, the American Negroes realized that the objective problems were fundamentally heterogeneous. The test cases of civil liberty whereby both whites and blacks in America try to drive back racial discrimination have very little in common in their principles and objectives with the heroic fight of the Algerian people against the detestable Portuguese colonialism.”

Fanon’s point here is in line with the Marxist-Leninist position of a distinction between the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and the class struggle of proletarians and peasants against occupation, military or economic, in a colonial system. The world situation has moved on as have a number of the terms used in these discourses. But the essential point seems to me to be still valid. Despite the tendency by some writers to use terms like ‘post-colonial’ both colonial occupations and neo-colonial exploitation and oppression continue today. Whilst Towards a Third Cinema defines this category as ‘anti-colonial’ the Manifesto appears to include film work from the advanced capitalist states and from colonial and neocolonial states in the definition. It uses the term ‘consumer societies’ which strikes me as a rather vague term. One early example from such a society is is ‘a US New Left film group’, another later example is ‘Cinegiornali liberi in Italy’. Whilst it is true that film-makers in the former states often support the anti-colonial struggle the Manifesto does not seem to include the clear distinction that Fanon offers. I get a sense that both are included in some way in this Third Cinema.

Commentaries on the Manifesto frequently include film-makers working in colonising states such as Europe or North America. I tend to restrict Third Cinema to film-makers working in a situation of National Liberation Struggle, this being the struggle against direct occupation or economic and political domination.

If I can take a practical example. I have posted a piece on films in black townships under Apartheid regime. I was prompted to do this by viewing and reviewing the South African / UK film production Mandela Long Road to Freedom (2013). I argued that this film merely dramatised the reformist politics that characterised the settlement the ANC made with the Apartheid regime. One could characterise this with Fanon’s criticism of the limitation of the national bourgeoisie. This Mandela biopic is not really a work of an auteur in a cinematic sense. If there is an authorial strand, then it comes from the book by Mandela himself. However it seems to me that the film does express a national bourgeois set of values. The values of the film would appear to be those inscribed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the Apartheid era one can identify films along these lines and the rarer films that take offer a full opposition to the system.

A film from an advanced capitalist state, Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom (1987), can be placed within a cinema of auteurs. The film is based on the book by Donald Woods but the film that it appears to most closely resemble is Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). And both of those films offer a sequence of liberal protest against violence that recalls The Angry Silence (1959) produced by Richard Attenborough. Certainly the political projects of these latter films differ from those of the Mandela film. The latter presents actual violent resistance to the Apartheid regime, a settler regime in line with neocolonialism. The former has almost no violent resistance and the ordinary black Africans appear as victims of the system.

For me the terms in Towards a Third Cinema remain problematic: I incline to use alternative terms – dominant cinema: auteur cinema: national cinema: and oppositional cinema. These terms for me also need to be informed by the distinction between those film produced in the advanced capitalist states and those produced in states that are the objects of colonial and neo-colonial action. It seems to me that a debate on the terms and their significance is part of revisiting Third Cinema.

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2 Responses to “First, Second and Third Cinemas.”

  1. […] Solanas and Getino commented on the […]

  2. […] Al-dhamr, Algeria 1975), and a screening of Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s seminal ‘Third Cinema’ film La Hora de los Hornos Neocolonialismo y violencia (Argentina 1966 – 1968). There was a fine […]

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