Third Cinema revisited

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First, Second and Third Cinemas.

Posted by keith1942 on March 12, 2014

Solanas and Getino, centre in group photograph.

Solanas and Getino, centre in group photograph.

The Manifesto Towards a Third Cinema is probably the central text relating to filmmaking that offers a genuine opposition to colonialism and neo-colonialism. However, the sub-title makes the point that these are ‘notes’ rather than a fully worked out analysis. And different aspects of the arguments and examples in the work receive different emphasis in different authors: I note in the ‘About this Blog’ that I focus on antic-colonial filmmaking, though some other writers include oppositional film from within the colonial and neo-colonial states.

An equally important distinction arises because Fernando Solanas, by himself, wrote a ‘clarification’ on the original manifesto. This changes the terms and meanings given to the various types of cinema characterised in the Manifesto. So in the original text we are presented with a dominant and reactionary cinema, and their possible alternative cinemas:

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 Julianne Burton).

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

Ten years on the ‘clarification’ presents only three types of cinema: the dominant cinema and two alternatives:

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. Some writers quote one set of categories, some the other. I have to confess that in my earlier pieces I followed the 1979 classification of a dominant ‘first cinema’ and the alternative ‘second’ and ‘third’ cinemas; not really paying attention to any distinction between ‘auteurs’ and the ‘national’. This takes on particular importance if, as I do, one wants to emphasise the question of anti-colonial. So in revisiting the original Manifesto I have become convinced that the original formulation is the best [even if slightly ambiguous]. Of course even that is not completely adequate: I think this will be clearer when we consider the political discourse that informs the manifesto.

Firstly, we have two circulating concepts to consider. There is ‘The Third World’, a useful but politically somewhat dubious formulation from the 1960s. Then we have ‘Third Cinema’, which presents a set of categories that are different from the ideas of a ‘First’ ‘Second’ and ‘Third World’.

This 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.

Clearly Fanon’s original words need to be amended to avoid gender determination. 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. This complexity is diluted in the 1979 re-formulation. Even if one includes oppositional film in the developed capitalist states the bracketing of auteur with national cinema loses important distinctions. [The posting on The Spirit of ’45 suggests that Ken Loach works as an oppositional filmmaker in a particular national context rather than as an ‘auteur’]. Equally categorising the work as petit bourgeois reduces the complexity. Fanon discusses the petit bourgeois, the national and the comprador bourgeoisie

Fanon’s ‘first phase’ is rather different from the uses of ‘auteur’: though it is worth noting that auteur is predominantly of French derivation. Thus is part of the coloniser’s language. Interestingly in Africa the common designation of auteur occurs in what was known as ‘Francophone’ Africa. Fanon’s ‘second phase’ does correspond much more closely to the idea of ‘second cinema’ in a national interpretation; it suggests a national consciousness but not necessarily an anti-colonial consciousness. With Fanon’s ‘third phase’ there is a strong alignment between his concept and ‘third cinema’.

If I can take a practical example. I have recently posted a piece on the films set in black townships under the South African Apartheid regime. I was prompted to do this by viewing and reviewing the new South African / UK film production Mandela Long Walk to Freedom (2013). I argued that the 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. Something similar seems to inform an earlier South African film Tsotsi (2005). Whilst it is both scripted and directed by Gavin Hood (from a novel by Athol Fugard] his other work seems to fall into the category of genre rather than auteur. Tsotsi, and his later films, with their strong relationships to Hollywood and dominant cinema, demonstrate the limitation of the merely national.

I find it difficult to think of a South African based film auteur, though you could apply the literary equivalent to Athol Fugard. But 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 and Tsotsi films.

Closer to the territory of Solanas and Getino would be examples from the Latin American Cinemas. The New Latin American Cinema that developed in the 1960s produced a range of films that were clearly anti-colonial. Now in the C21st we have had had several New Cinemas in Latin America: notably in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. But this movement is dominated to a greater degree by films of ‘personal visions’. Often, as with Mexico’s La Zona (Rodrigo Pla, 2007), there is a clear sense of opposition to the dominant system. But in others, such as with the films of Carlos Reygadas, any critical sense is subordinated to the ‘personal vision’ of the filmmaker. Moreover, many of these directors tend to travel between Latin America, Hollywood and Europe in their filmmaking. A position that tends towards the privileging of dominant values. So a film like Y Tu Mama tambien (2001), directed by Alfonzo Cuaron, draws attention to the oppressive social system in the mise en scène. But his foray into Harry Potter (2004), and now space travel in Gravity (2013), is redolent of Solanas’ and Getino’s description of ‘first cinema’.

The terms remain problematic: I incline to use alternative terms – dominant cinema: auteur cinema: national Cinema: and oppositional cinema. The last two 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.

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One Response to “First, Second and Third Cinemas.”

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

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