"Return to Third Cinema: The Case of Listen to Venezuela."
by Deidre O'Neill and Mike Wayne
Originally published in Film International 8.1 (2010)
The dialectical image
The question that we were confronted with was how do you make a film adequate to a process
as complex, collective and contradictory as a revolution? We felt that many of the dominant
film models were problematic from the point of view of making a revolutionary film.
What mode of consumption a film encourages in the watching audience is a political
question. Audiences are not only learning about a particular topic/content when they
watch a film, there is also a pedagogy involved in how they watch and use the medium of film itself. We wanted our film to be watched in a different way from the dominant models, we wanted to challenge habitual ways of looking and seeing and encourage the audience to critically decode images and sounds. A revolutionary film is one that gives agency back to the audience because it opens a space to question taken-for-granted models and values. We do
not know whether we succeeded in this but that was the intention.
For inspiration we looked to the traditions of radical cinema. Sergei Eisenstein’s theories of revolutionary cinema came out of a context of immense social changes in the first years after the Russian revolution and the overthrow of the centuries-old Tsarist regime. In this context Eisenstein tried to develop a theory of film form that was congruent with a period of social upheaval and change. Eisenstein developed a theory of editing that stressed how editing stirs up and agitates the spectator’s mind, conceiving each cut as a ‘shock’ or stimulus at the level of rhythm, tone, composition and juxtaposition. Eisenstein’s other ambition was to bring together the sensuous/emotional impact of the image with an intellectual and conceptual dimension to expand the spectator’s consciousness of social relations. This required rejecting the linear, continuity editing then becoming dominant in Hollywood.
Eisenstein’s fellow compatriot film-maker Dziga Vertov stressed the space between shots
as the moment where the spectator’s activity sets to work, making sense of the relationships
between the cuts or in the mental ‘space’ between sound and image.
Inspired by left cultural practitioners, the philosopher Walter Benjamin coined the phrase
‘the dialectical image’ to identify a distinctive revolutionary approach to social and historical reality. The dialectical image interrupts naturalized modes of seeing and hearing, it interrupts linear conceptions of history or narrative. The dialectical image has the potential to awaken us to the disjunctures and contradictions of social life. Awareness of disjuncture at the level of film form can begin a process of questioning and decoding representations. The dialectical image tries to enable a cognitive shift in the
viewer; it begins a process that starts with the film but can be applied beyond the film to social relations generally.
To Read the Entire Essay