The Definition of Pure Cinema

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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knives
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#26 Post by knives » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:24 am

So Jun-Dai, are you saying to reach a 'pure' cinema the film would have to be totally advent-garde, something like Un Chien Andalou or would it be possible to expand beyond the unrelated images? Could something even like a Kenneth Anger film count as pure under your condition?

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Jun-Dai
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#27 Post by Jun-Dai » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:34 am

Keep in mind, this notion of 'pure' cinema didn't exist in my head until a few posts ago. It was just an idea that popped up while reading Sausage's post. But it's definitely a way to think of 'pure cinema'.

And in this case, something avant-garde would not necessarily be 'pure cinema' in this sense, but something that was 'pure cinema' would most likely be considered avant-garde. This wouldn't really include Un Chien Andalou, since that's chock full of ideas and is clearly designed very much to be worked through the intellect (despite statements by the directors to the contrary).

On the other hand, one problem with this definition is that it might feasibly include footage of clouds to a muzak rendition of Beethoven's sixth, and there's nothing 'pure' about that. Maybe a more appropriate term for this would be something like 'abstract cinema' even if, in a purely technical sense, cinema can't really be abstract. Or maybe that's the real problem. Oh, I don't know. Good night.

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knives
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#28 Post by knives » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:41 am

That is a toughie. Personally I think the idea of pure anything is unachievable, but making a step toward that direction is good. With something like film, the thing to strive toward could be a number of things, but it definitely must be doing something you can't do in theater, even if that just means dutch angles.

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gokinsmen
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#29 Post by gokinsmen » Tue Jun 16, 2009 3:14 am

knives wrote:With something like film, the thing to strive toward could be a number of things, but it definitely must be doing something you can't do in theater.
I think that criterion (HA!!) should be applied to other non-film mediums as well. Pure film should consist of things you can't do in theater, still photography/painting (which nixes dutch angles), music/radio plays, and poetry/literature (Bresson remarked that tracking shots reek of literature because of their "description by succession").

Brakhage is probably the closest thing to Pure Cinema mentioned so far.

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Tommaso
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#30 Post by Tommaso » Tue Jun 16, 2009 6:22 am

Jun-Dai wrote: Perhaps pure cinema is cinema that doesn't try to express any ideas and is only a raw, aesthetic, cinematic experience that goes straight to the heart without making a pit stop at the intellect.
This again reminds me of Ozu. For instance, I watched "Floating Weeds" a few days ago, with the Ebert commentary on. Ebert nicely points out how Ozu again and again uses the colour red or bottles placed somewhere in the frame; neither the colour nor the bottles seem to have any real significance as far as 'ideas' or 'meaning' are concerned; however they are means to strategically organize and perhaps even hold together the cinematic experience in an abstract, aesthetic way. I assume this goes for other Ozu films, too (think of the teapots); and I guess the interest that an Ozu film holds for me comes from these purely aesthetic strategies, not from the plot itself, about which in most cases I didn't care very much (which was one of the reasons why I didn't understand for a long time why Ozu was considered so great by many people). Thus perhaps the 'purity' works on a level totally unconcerned with 'representation' or 'narrative' in the usual sense, which is why I can't quite see how dialogue comes into that concept or why we should differentiate between sound and silent films here.

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Sloper
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#31 Post by Sloper » Tue Jun 16, 2009 6:49 am

Jun-Dai wrote:Hmm, I guess that was kind of my point, though. I mean, in 12 Angry Men the camerawork is subtle, and it sort of layers in some meaning into the theater, but it works entirely in subordination to it, trying not to draw attention to itself. If you take out Kaufman's camerawork of 12 Angry Men and you set it all inside a proscenium, you still have 12 Angry Men, and with all the same actors, you wouldn't fundamentally be missing much.

With Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the camerawork may be more self-conscious and showy, but it also comes closer to creating an experience you can't have in a stage performance. If you took the camerawork out of it and ran it on a stage, even with the same actors, it would be a more dramatically different experience than with 12 Angry Men, for better or worse. Or perhaps you disagree?
I do, really - I think both films would (or should) have been staged very differently if being performed on a stage, but I don't know either film well enough to go into specifics here. Incidentally (and I may be wrong about this) I think 12 Angry Men started out as a TV-play rather than on the stage, and it would be pretty challenging to do it in the theatre, given how much time you would inevitably be spending looking at the actors' backs. But in general, I would say that stage-plays performed on film as they would be on stage do not translate well; there has to be some adaptation to the new medium or it doesn't work.

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knives
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#32 Post by knives » Tue Jun 16, 2009 10:10 am

Tommaso wrote:
Jun-Dai wrote: Perhaps pure cinema is cinema that doesn't try to express any ideas and is only a raw, aesthetic, cinematic experience that goes straight to the heart without making a pit stop at the intellect.
This again reminds me of Ozu. For instance, I watched "Floating Weeds" a few days ago, with the Ebert commentary on. Ebert nicely points out how Ozu again and again uses the colour red or bottles placed somewhere in the frame; neither the colour nor the bottles seem to have any real significance as far as 'ideas' or 'meaning' are concerned; however they are means to strategically organize and perhaps even hold together the cinematic experience in an abstract, aesthetic way. I assume this goes for other Ozu films, too (think of the teapots); and I guess the interest that an Ozu film holds for me comes from these purely aesthetic strategies, not from the plot itself, about which in most cases I didn't care very much (which was one of the reasons why I didn't understand for a long time why Ozu was considered so great by many people). Thus perhaps the 'purity' works on a level totally unconcerned with 'representation' or 'narrative' in the usual sense, which is why I can't quite see how dialogue comes into that concept or why we should differentiate between sound and silent films here.
I was thinking about this very thing. I just started to watch Ozu, and somehow his camera, while stationary and basic has some strangely cinematic experience to it. Didn't care for the stories I've seen, but amazing composition.

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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#33 Post by HarryLong » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:01 am

12 Angry Men gets it just right: in the most limited space possible, with very theatrical material, it is filmed in an un-showy but still very cinematic way (the use of close-ups, especially, distinguishes it from a stage-play
Backing waaaaaay up here ...
12 ANGRY MEN is not filmed theater ... it is filmed television.
It was only adapted for the stage much later.
I think 12 Angry Men started out as a TV-play rather than on the stage, and it would be pretty challenging to do it in the theatre, given how much time you would inevitably be spending looking at the actors' backs.
Ah, I see you caught this before I caught up with all the posts.
12 ANGRY MEN works brilliantly in live performance ... if staged in the round, btw.
Thinking on it, isn't discussing purity in regards to an artform that is indebted to, and borrows so heavily from, others arts and mediums an ineluctable contradiction?
Thanks, Mr. Sausage ... I tried to make that point earlier ...
Last edited by HarryLong on Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:55 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Sloper
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#34 Post by Sloper » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:09 am

Yes, that realisation came to me a couple of posts back - apologies for the howler.

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Jun-Dai
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#35 Post by Jun-Dai » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:14 am

HarryLong wrote:
12 Angry Men gets it just right: in the most limited space possible, with very theatrical material, it is filmed in an un-showy but still very cinematic way (the use of close-ups, especially, distinguishes it from a stage-play
Backing waaaaaay up here ...
12 ANGRY MEN is not filmed theater ... it is filmed television.
It was only adapted for the stage much later.
I don't think anything in the quote you reference contradicts that. It just says the material is very "theatrical", which I'd have to agree with pretty strongly.

Also, whether it was originally television or not, it would be pretty easy to mistake it as having come from a stage play (I did). I mean, it looks like a play, feels like a play, sounds like a play, and has been pretty popular as a stage play.

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Sloper
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#36 Post by Sloper » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:35 am

HarryLong wrote:12 ANGRY MEN works brilliantly in life performance ... if staged in the round, btw.
Of course! I never thought of that, but I can imagine it working on so many levels...

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#37 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:53 am

I find it very hard to imagine Ozu's cinematographic strategies decoupled from his "people" and the things that they experience during the course of his films. If all he had going for him was formal elegance, I doubt that I would have taken much interest in his work.

HarryLong
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#38 Post by HarryLong » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:58 am

Also, whether it was originally television or not, it would be pretty easy to mistake it as having come from a stage play (I did). I mean, it looks like a play, feels like a play, sounds like a play, and has been pretty popular as a stage play.
True. In fact I'd read a couple posts past the original when I remembered. I was just being anal in pointing it out.

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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#40 Post by Saarijas » Thu Jan 07, 2010 7:22 pm

I think I find myself accepting a much broader definition of pure cinema then most here, something I hadn't really thought about until reading this thread. I do agree with several people here that 'pure cinema' is derived from those moments which cannot be replicated by another art - I just don't believe there is a specific means to this goal. As in pure cinema neither requires one to use every element of cinema to perfection, or remove all other relationships to the arts (like Brakhage) to achieve pure cinema. To me Art (yes with a capital A) has always been taking a moment and creating an aesthetic to properly express that moment. I think there are times in a Powell & Pressburger movies that achieve pure cinema through, what would be related to, 'total theater' as well as times where Bela Tarr achieves pure cinema strictly through the camera as well as times when I think pure cinema is achieved in total abstraction like in James Benning's films. I think we can all agree pure cinema refers to what only cinema can accomplish - I just don't think it's necessary to choose a definitive method. Kinda like the Lubitsch touch, you can sense it, but you can't really nail how it's done.

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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#41 Post by stalker_ozu » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:50 pm

Pure cinema is cinema of absolute image. The pure cinema can be moments of extreme contemplation without resorting to plot or narrative strategies. Sometimes a film can have the narrative implicated but there are moments when the image "escapes" any possible rationality. Those images maybe are from a poetic understanding of the world that has stripped away many elements that "obscures" the act of watching. So We see things as they are. The tree as a tree, the dog as a dog. It is by achieving an eternal emptiness but at the same time we achieve a deep abstraction of the reality that is in front of us. The image doesnt point to anything else, they are a direct gaze to the universe and time.

In Ozu you have characters and sadness but his style is highly formalistic. The images convey states of contemplation, looking at the world without any point of view (neither human). Avoiding the point of view is like giving the camera a power of transcending reality. Also pure cinema is in PRESENT tense, like Wisejake affirms, they are moments. But most importantly it is cinema true to life. Life has no plot, it is a totally chaotic world filled with accidents, like the "piecemeal" style of the films of Ozu.

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Ovader
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Re: The Definition of Pure Cinema

#42 Post by Ovader » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:41 pm

Just came across this quote from Films and Feelings by Raymond Durgnat, 1967 from this blog of a cinephile/filmmaker I've known for a few years:
Ever since the cinema began, aestheticians have sought to define “pure” cinema, the “essence” of cinema. In vain. The cinema’s only “purity” is the way in which it combines diverse elements into its own “impure” whole. Its “essence” is that it makes them interact, that it integrates other art forms, that it exists “between” and “across” their boundaries. It is cruder and inferior to every other art form on that art form’s “home ground”. But it repairs its deficiencies, and acquires its own dignity, by being a mixture.

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