Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980

By AndrÁs BÁlint KovÁcs | Go to book overview
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Theorizing Modernism

The heterogeneity of artworks and the inaccuracy of the concept
make any attempt at a theory of aesthetic modernism almost hopeless.

PETER BÜRGER

My primary goal in this book is to develop a notion of modern cinema in terms of stylistic history. This involves understanding modern cinema as a historically determined entity located in art-historical time and defined by a finite number of aesthetic/stylistic traits. However, I do not intend this to be a purely formalist work. I want to understand modern cinema and its various forms in its historical and philosophical contexts, which in my view are primarily responsible for the specific aesthetic forms modernism developed.

Here and in chapter 2 I will present several interconnected arguments. First, modern cinema was a historical phenomenon inspired by the arthistorical context of the two avant-garde periods, the 1920s and the 1960s. Second, modern cinema was the result of art cinema's adaptation to these contexts rather than the result of the general development of film history or the “language” of cinema. Third, as a consequence of this process of adaptation, art cinema became an institutionalized cinematic practice different from commercial entertainment cinema as well as from the cinematic avant-garde. And last, another result of this process is that modern cinema took different shapes according to the various historical situations and cultural backgrounds of modernist filmmakers.

There are three terms that need distinction and clarification at the outset: modern, modernist, and avant-garde.1 The use of these terms is so widespread

1. There is a huge literature on the history and the meaning of these terms. I list here
those that were most helpful for me in this book. Hans Robert Jauss, “La 'modernité'

-7-

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