The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker

The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker

The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker

The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker

Synopsis

Why have certain kinds of documentary and non-narrative films emerged as the most interesting, exciting, and provocative movies made in the last twenty years? Ranging from the films of Ross McElwee (Bright Leaves) and Agnes Varda (The Gleaners and I) to those of Abbas Kiarostami (Close Up) and Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), such films have intrigued viewers who at the same time have struggled to categorize them. Sometimes described as personal documentaries or diary films, these eclecticworks are, rather, best understood as cinematic variations on the essay. So argues Tim Corrigan in this stimulating and necessary new book. Since Michel de Montaigne, essays have been seen as a lively literary category, and yet--despite the work of pioneers like Chris Marker - seldom discussed as a cinematic tradition. The Essay Film, offering a thoughtful account of the long rapport between literature and film as well as novel interpretations and theoretical models, provides the ideas that willchange this.

Excerpt

When I began to work on this book in the 1990s, the phrase essay film was a fairly cryptic expression that normally required more than a little explanation. Since then, both the phrase and the films have become increasingly visible, and although for many the notion of an essay film remains less than self-explanatory, this particular mode of filmmaking has become more and more recognized as not only a distinctive kind of filmmaking but also, I would insist, as the most vibrant and significant kind of filmmaking in the world today.

Some versions of the essay film arguably extend back at least to D. W. Griffith’s 1909 A Corner in Wheat, a sharp social commentary on the commodity wheat trade, or, more convincingly, to the 1920s and Sergei Eisenstein’s various cinematic projects, such as his never-completed film adaptation of Marx’s Capital. Especially since the 1940s, however, more and more filmmakers from Chris Marker to Peter Greenaway have described their own films as essay films, joining numerous film critics, theoreticians, and scholars who, since Hans Richter and Alexandre Astruc in the 1940s, have hailed the unique critical potentials and powers of this central form of modern filmmaking. Whereas Richter and Astruc can be considered two of the earliest filmmaker/critics to identify and argue the specific terms of the essay film, critical attention by critics and filmmakers alike has continually expanded and accelerated: from André Bazin’s comments in the 1950s and Godard’s in the 1960s through the work of contemporary scholars such as Nora Alter . . .

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