Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Peter Watkins: The Media Crisis

Having been blown away by the achievement of Peter Watkin's La Commune: Paris 1871 (France: 2000)

the documentary The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins (in particular the theoretical discussions about the problems with the mainstreaming of a monologic form in contemporary audiovisual production) and finally sitting in awe at the sheer insanity of his Punishment Park (USA: 1970) and how it's film "reality" seems so much more imaginable (here in the USA) now than it probably did when it was made (and leads us to ask how did he ever get this made?)

So, with these cinematic experiences, I was excited to hear that Watkins 250+ minute film on the life of August Strindberg, The Freethinker (Sweeden: 1992-1994), is about to be released on DVD (finally)

of course finding it is difficult (I'm still tracking the distributor down), but in the meantime if you haven't heard of Peter Watkins (one of the most important filmmakers and tragically very ignored by the system he challenges--as is to be expected), check out his manifesto "The Media Crisis" (an excerpt is included below from the revised introduction):


In 2003, I completed the work on this website. It was subsequently translated into French by my son Patrick, and published as The Media Crisis by Alain Dichant of Homnispheres, in France. Alain is now releasing a new edition of The Media Crisis. The book, and this website, remain essentially unchanged at this time, but the crisis in the audiovisual media has worsened. Few, if any, of the problems I analysed have been addressed by the mass audiovisual media, and the related environmental threat, which I referred to in 2003, has become catastrophic. I hope in this revised introduction to clarify some of the worsening issues...

According to an article in the British press (The Guardian Weekly, Feb. 9-15, 2007), world scientists recently issued their strongest warning to date, that a failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will bring devastating climate change within a few decades. The final report by an expert UN panel states that average temperatures will likely increase by 4C, and could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise. The forecast is higher than previously estimated, because scientists have discovered that the earth's land and ocean masses are becoming less able to absorb carbon dioxide.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is written by hundreds of scientists across the world, and has been approved by all governments. It appears that human activity is largely to blame for this current state of affairs. The director of the UN Environment Programme said: “February 2007 may be remembered as the day the question mark was removed from whether people are to blame for climate change.”

This latest information from the media on the global environmental crisis does not, however, mention another crucial question mark - one which is also related to human activity, but which is never discussed publicly: the role of the mass audiovisual media in the current state of affairs.

Society at large still refuses to acknowledge the role of form and process in the delivery and reception of the mass audiovisual (MAVM) output. By this I mean that the language forms structuring the message contained in any film or TV programme, and the entire process (hierarchical or otherwise) of delivery to the public are completely overlooked, and are certainly not debated. In turn, this lack of critical public debate means that over 95% of all MAVM messages delivered to the public are now structured by the Monoform.

- the Monoform is the one single language form now used to edit and structure cinema films, TV programmes - newsbroadcasts, detective series, soap operas, comedy and ‘reality shows’, etc. - and most documentaries, almost all of which are encoded in the standardised and rigid form which had its nascence in the Hollywood cinema. The result is a language form wherein spatial fragmentation, repetitive time rhythms, constantly moving camera, rapid staccato editing, dense bombardment of sound, and lack of silence or reflective space, play a dominant and aggressive role.

- there is total silence within the ranks of the professional MAVM on the impact of this mono language on society in general, and on its relationship to the environmental crisis. The MAVM refuse to discuss this issue either in their films and TV programmes, or in any public debate.

- this silence is further reinforced by the reluctance (to put it mildly) of today’s educational systems to discuss the nature of the MAVM in critical or holistic terms, and especially to analyse the impact of the Monoform. It would even appear as if many of today’s media teachers are hardly aware of, or concerned with, this impact.

- the silence on the role of the MAVM is also maintained by most alternative political movements, associations, NGOs, etc. While sometimes acknowledging that the MAVM may be withholding information (e.g., on the arms race), or that it may, in general terms, have an impact on certain events (e.g., the war in Iraq), alternative movements do not usually hold the MAVM to holistic account for its overall impact on society, nor for its direct relationship to the environmental disaster.

- finally, the silence on the media crisis is sustained at, and by, most major international ‘public’ MAVM events such as film festivals, documentary film forums, and the escalating number of specialist TV festivals, trade fairs, and so-called ‘world congresses’. These events play a central role in the media crisis because they are structured in such a way as to preclude meaningful debate with the public, and instead, reinforce the mindless absorption of torrents of Monoform material. Major festivals pack as many as 200-300 films into 4-5 days of screenings, often obliging viewers to run to and from the sessions. Inserted into these events are authoritarian panel ‘discussions’ by experts, master classes with celebrity filmmakers, and pitching sessions. Rarely, however, are there any discussions with the public about the role of the MAVM in contemporary society - and never is there any mention of the Monoform.

These international events, mostly unknown to the public, more than anything else represent the global market forces industry that the MAVM have become.

To Read the Rest of Watkin's Statement--also see links on the left hand side

French Version

Sections include:

1. Media Crisis - Suggestions for use and Personal Prologue
2. Revised Introduction to the Media Crisis
3. The role of the American MAVM, Hollywood and the Monoform
4. The European, Canadian, Scandinavian (etc.) MAVM
5. Media education, popular culture, violence
6. Filmmakers, festivals and the repression
7. Role of the Global Justice Movement
8. Public-alternative processes and practices
9. Conclusion


Unknown said...

just wondering where the english version of Media crises has disappeared...server not found :0
I would like to re-read it for an exam...
thank you in advance :)

Michael said...

Hi Maria - hit the download button on this page