Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980

By AndrÁs BÁlint KovÁcs | Go to book overview
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12
Critical Reflexivity or
the Birth of the Auteur

Setting exact period boundaries to art historical phenomena is always somewhat arbitrary. However, there are always important works of art that can be considered turning points. Here I will try to determine the relevant appearances of basic formal principles of the second phase of modernism in the late 1940s and 1950s. I will look for the (re)emergence of the three most general principles of modern art in the cinema of the 1950s: reflexivity, abstraction, and subjectivity.

The way and the circumstances under which these formal principles appear in the fifties are quite different from those in the twenties. Early modernism was essentially a phenomenon of industrial mass culture; late modernism was the first cultural manifestation of the information- and entertainment-based leisure civilization. At least forty years passed between the two modernist periods, and those years represented the most important phase in the evolution of modern societies: the period between the birth and the decline of the mass society based on heavy industry leading to the appearance of postindustrial Western civilization. The first phase of modernism was mainly an isolated national phenomenon in German, French, and Soviet cinema, whereas the second phase of modernism was a general phenomenon of global dimensions: apart from most of the European filmmaking countries, Japanese, Indian, and Brazilian new cinemas as well as the North American underground were all contributing to the second modernist movement. It was important as a global film art movement as much as a local national cultural phenomenon. Finally, in the twenties, cinematic modernism (as a silent film movement) was influenced mainly by the visual arts avant-garde, whereas the second phase in the talking era was influenced in large part by modern literature and theater. We should take all these

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