Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Radical Film Culture

By Chris Robé | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Montage, Realism,
and the Male Gaze

To fully grasp the nuances and developments within U.S. Left film theory and criticism, one must first recognize its intimate connection with international film theory and cinema. As we will see throughout this book, U.S. Left film theory and criticism always defined itself in relation to an international vision of cinema. For these theorists and critics, film served as an ideal medium for bridging national divides by familiarizing audiences worldwide with one another’s cultural practices and attitudes in order to forge international solidarity against the exploitative tendencies of global capitalism.

This chapter situates U.S. Left film theory and criticism within the pages of international and domestic film journals and Left periodicals. A brief exploration of these primary sources reveals how writers from seemingly opposed film and political backgrounds—the avant-garde, Soviet socialist realism, and commercial cinema, to name only a few—influenced one another’s writings. Furthermore, an international focus exposes a much more sophisticated theoretical background at work within U.S. Left film theory and criticism than has been typically assumed by film historians who have adhered to a more limited geographical and disciplinary scope.

Montage theory served as a key theoretical framework within which international and U.S. Left film theorists could develop their ideological analysis of cinema. Contrary to the belief that these theorists adhered to a narrow conception of montage that simply championed Soviet cinema over all other cinematic forms, a variety of montage theories proliferated throughout their writings. Montage functioned as an extremely pliable concept that Left film theorists and critics deployed to analyze a whole host of commercial and independent films, both international and domestic. It offered them a conceptual tool for examining how various filmic techniques could provide viewers with a radically new critical perspective for assessing their world.

New forms of representation, for many of these writers, were a neces-

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