Third Cinema revisited

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On representation

Posted by keith1942 on April 2, 2021

I subscribe to the Radical Film Network. You get a lot of notices, more than I can handle. However, you also get some excellent recommendations like this one:

“Following on from Adam Curtis’ “Can’t Get You Out of my Head” I was delighted to watch the latest film on the RFN Film site this morning ‘What is Representation” by sub.Media. For me it’s an excellent analysis of the problematic definition of representation and should be screened to all media students. Being only 11 minutes long as opposed to Curtis’ 6 hour production, it probably says as much in that short time.

So thank you sub,Media for putting it on our site – I hope you’ll get lots of viewings.”

Here is the link:

‘What is Representation’ is part of an ‘A for Anarchy’ series on sub.Media;

“sub.Media is a video production ensemble, which aims to promote anarchist and anti-capitalist ideas, and aid social struggles through the dissemination of radical films and videos. Founded in 1994, has produced hundreds of videos on everything from anti-globalization protests to films about shoplifting. Our films have been screened around the world in social centers and movie theaters and have been watched by millions on the internet.”

In eleven minutes this short video manages to pack a lot of analysis and comment on a term that is bandied about in media studies; frequently without it being clear what exactly it means, covers or indeed ‘represents’.

The video offers a stream of moving images from many sources; mostly the mainstream media. I did find the stream had a rapid pace, rather too rapid. Being able to play it in slow motion, [like Jean-Luc] would be interesting. However, viewers who are used to the tempo of much modern video will probably find it fine. The majority of clips are moving images with sound but the sound is not heard; rather two songs play behind the commentary. Given how important sounds are in representations and that noise rather than the dialogue or commentary frequently receive less attention, I think it would be helpful to address this.

The commentary that runs over these images is excellent and it comments on the underlying social relations of representations, an aspect often overlooked. There are a number of references to ‘ideology’, another term that seems to have multiple meanings and which in any particular case it may not clear which is meant. It did seem to me that this video treated ideology as something which applies to nearly all intended communications. This term, unlike representation, is undefined and I could not find among the sub-Media titles on its web page one that dealt specifically with ideology.

What is ideology. I follow a key definition and usage by Karl Marx; that ideology is not just the dominant ideas of the ruling class in a social formation but a viewpoint that treats the surface aspects rather than the underlying social relations. This video tends to treat ideology in the first sense though the commentary does emphasize that any representation disguises the real relations involved. It also appears to see all representations as of this character. I tend to think that there are communications, like this video aware of the underlying social relations, which, to that extent, are not ideological.

There are indeed two meanings of representation in the video. In its early part the emphasis and examples are of portrayal of people and people’s actions that re-present our world. Towards the end the commentary addresses the ideas that actual people in power are seen to represent those not in power; that is they claim our voice and our consent for the activities of the state. Both meanings of representation interact in what is called hegemony; the dominance of the ideas of the ruling class. This takes a very particular form under the capitalist mode of production. Whilst the video addresses the sense of capitalist societies I think there is a need for a accompanying video about the commodity that lies at the heart of this mode of production. Another entry in ‘A is for Anarchy’ is ‘Property’ which refers to commodities but this is a commentary that I think needs development. A second title in the series is ‘Class’; this I thought good on the working class but that it needed development in its commentary on the Capitalist class.

The commentary ends with a generalised call for the anarchist movement; something which also does not seem to be set out in any video in ‘A for Anarchy’. So sub.Media’s ‘representation’ of the way that these cultural transmissions work itself needs to be critically viewed.

I note that the recommendation also referred to the new set of titles by Adam Curtis. I have watched earlier series by Adam Curtis and find his work extremely problematic. This seems to be the case as well with ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’. I only watched the first episode; that was enough. Curtis tends to use ideas expropriated from other thinkers but not always credited. He espouses a type of fast editing [Montage] which is typical of the modern media but fails to draw critical attention to the representation itself. And in this title he criticizes what is termed ‘individualism’ but which itself relies on individualist values.

Sub.Media is definitely a better use of your time.

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