Peter Watkins - The Media Crisis

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timdrage
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Peter Watkins - The Media Crisis

Post by timdrage » Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:53 pm

http://www.mnsi.net/~pwatkins/part1_home.htm

I think EVERYONE making or even watching films, tv and video should read this. Very interesting and, I think, important ideas about the 'monoform', the 'universal clock' and other usually unexplored aspects of how the media works (or DOESN'T work?), how the public could and should be involved in the process, and more.

I really wanna see some of Watkins' films now, tho for reasons explained in detail on his site they're almost imposible to find.

So yeah, read it ...and weep!? :) But seriously, hope people will read and think about this stuff.
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Post by steve hyde » Tue Dec 12, 2006 12:27 am

..this is interesting reading. I will have to print it so that I can spend more time with the text. I prefer to read printed texts so I only read the first three sections of Part 1. I agree with much of his criticism on MAVM (mass audiovisual media), but his criticism of "monoform" seems to distract from real counter hegemonic solutions.

I don't think Aristotelian narrative forms are what is dumbing down viewers. e.g. the use of likable characters, and "once upon a time" storytelling. I think the problem is a lack of engagement with meaningful themes. I should add - serious engagement with meaningful themes. In other words, I would like to see more stories that are the product of rigorous research into themes so that "thick description" can be used to present the themes in cinematic mosaic. If that means using Aristotle's "Poetics", Joseph Campbell's "Hero Journey" or Shakespearian tragedy...fine.

For me form is less important than thematic focus. What I mean by thematic focus is focus on the psychological and sociological processes that produce a given theme. For example, Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" is a complex character study with many sub themes, but the story seems to me, to be held together with the story of the process of Treadwell becoming unraveled and truly believing that the vast wilderness of Katmai National Park is a place of peace and harmony and not recognizing (or pretending not to recognize) that it is also a landscape of "murder and chaos" (to quote Herzog) Through the Treadwell story we learn about some of the ways that Treadwell never fit well in the society and his psychological response to that. The Treadwell story is a "once upon a time story" structurally. I doubt very seriously that Peter Watkins does not recognize "Grizzly Man" as an extraordinary and singular accomplishment in filmmaking. I don't see anyone claiming that Werner Herzog is part of the MAVM problem. In fact I think Herzog has always worked counter to MAVM.

My point is that I don't think monoform structure is the problem. The problem is that people are not taking risks and using the monoform to present stories that matter..

I do agree with the danger that the Entertainment industry imposes. The idea that the big media corporate entities are just working to "tell a good story" or "entertain" is laughable. They are the censors of what would be meaningful themes. They censor themes that threaten to anger advertisers, go against conservative political agendas, or offend audiences. Like all business in the United States (and through out the world) Business-as-usual is a socio-political affair and in an industry run by crony capitalists, you get crony capitalism. And that means that many of the meaningful themes of the society are silenced and thus ignored.

Steve

The Watkins piece is interesting. I look forward to reading more of it.

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Post by steve hyde » Tue Dec 12, 2006 12:43 am

...I should add that I think I have oversimplified Watkin's criticism of the "monoform". ...need to read more of his essay.

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Post by steve hyde » Tue Dec 12, 2006 9:07 pm

...anyone interested in Watkins arguments on media education will also be interested in this classic text from Paulo Friere:

http://www.marxists.org/subject/educati ... /index.htm

This text has influenced my own ideas on "meaningful themes".

Steve

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Post by npcoombs » Wed Dec 13, 2006 11:39 am

steve hyde wrote:For me form is less important than thematic focus. What I mean by thematic focus is focus on the psychological and sociological processes that produce a given theme. I doubt very seriously that Peter Watkins does not recognize "Grizzly Man" as an extraordinary and singular accomplishment in filmmaking. I don't see anyone claiming that Werner Herzog is part of the MAVM problem. In fact I think Herzog has always worked counter to MAVM.

My point is that I don't think monoform structure is the problem. The problem is that people are not taking risks and using the monoform to present stories that matter..
Firstly, I don't know about Watkins but I would very much question 'Grizzly Man' as a singular accomplishment in filmmaking. I enjoyed the film, but I don't think it was quite as profound a story as it was hyped up to be. It was quite similar to Capturing the Friedman's (which for me was a more interesting piece).

Secondly, again IMO, I am more interested in new forms than thematic focus or 'stories that matter'.. I like all those directors who fly in the face of norms such as Bela Tarr, Sokurov, the Dardennes...yes for each of these directors the themes are unique, but put them in a conventional form and I would find them far less interesting.

I think breaking conventional ideas about film length, shot duration, camerawork, stock, stylisation of dialogue etc. are more radical than holier-than-thou attempts to look at 'meaningful themes'

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Post by mattias » Wed Dec 13, 2006 3:31 pm

it seemed in the sofia coppola thread like you held the opposite opinion. so can we conclude that you simply don't "like" or "get" the way she shoots her films, and that it's not at all her "easy" themes that you don't like? :-)

/matt

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Post by steve hyde » Wed Dec 13, 2006 6:54 pm

npcoombs wrote:
steve hyde wrote:For me form is less important than thematic focus. What I mean by thematic focus is focus on the psychological and sociological processes that produce a given theme. I doubt very seriously that Peter Watkins does not recognize "Grizzly Man" as an extraordinary and singular accomplishment in filmmaking. I don't see anyone claiming that Werner Herzog is part of the MAVM problem. In fact I think Herzog has always worked counter to MAVM.

My point is that I don't think monoform structure is the problem. The problem is that people are not taking risks and using the monoform to present stories that matter..
Firstly, I don't know about Watkins but I would very much question 'Grizzly Man' as a singular accomplishment in filmmaking. I enjoyed the film, but I don't think it was quite as profound a story as it was hyped up to be. It was quite similar to Capturing the Friedman's (which for me was a more interesting piece).

Secondly, again IMO, I am more interested in new forms than thematic focus or 'stories that matter'.. I like all those directors who fly in the face of norms such as Bela Tarr, Sokurov, the Dardennes...yes for each of these directors the themes are unique, but put them in a conventional form and I would find them far less interesting.

I think breaking conventional ideas about film length, shot duration, camerawork, stock, stylisation of dialogue etc. are more radical than holier-than-thou attempts to look at 'meaningful themes'
How is arguing for a meaningful theme "holier than thou"? I call it thinking and writing about something important. If you can't explain why your story is important, why should it get funded? Tarr, Sokurov and the Dardennes all cut their teeth on documentaries and further, they all work on important themes. I think there is danger in putting form before function. Form before function in film usually manifests itself as pretentious, self-important self celebrations of the artist and distracts from what is in front of the camera. Go look at Bela Tarr's early films and his progression as an artist is made visible when you compare those films to Satantango, Damnation and Werkmeister Harmonies. All these films are a product of form following function. For me that means form following meaningful themes.

Steve

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Post by npcoombs » Wed Dec 13, 2006 7:27 pm

mattias wrote:it seemed in the sofia coppola thread like you held the opposite opinion. so can we conclude that you simply don't "like" or "get" the way she shoots her films, and that it's not at all her "easy" themes that you don't like? :-)

/matt
For me the great directors are distinguished by the way they pioneer new or radical forms. But the themes also need to hold up too.

I quite like the way Marie Antoniette was shot (it looked pretty) but thematically it is was weak and I am prejudiced against films that focus on the lives of the super-rich.

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Post by npcoombs » Wed Dec 13, 2006 7:38 pm

steve hyde wrote: How is arguing for a meaningful theme "holier than thou"? I call it thinking and writing about something important. If you can't explain why your story is important, why should it get funded?

Go look at Bela Tarr's early films and his progression as an artist is made visible when you compare those films to Satantango, Damnation and Werkmeister Harmonies. All these films are a product of form following function. For me that means form following meaningful themes.

Steve
Yes but how do you define an important story or meaningful theme? Here in the UK this kind of talk usually ends up in endless tedious films about race/religion/immigration/homosexuality etc..

I find the definition of meaningful stories very problematic. If you read the Guardian regularly you eventually want to vomit when you hear talk like this...

I would argue that with Tarr form has come first in his last three films. They are entirely structured around his wish to work with challenging and pioneering forms, camera movements etc. I think it is a delusion to consider him to be putting themes first - a fact which he himself always denies to incredulous audiences. This is why Western critics always want to talk about how the break up of the Soviert Union is allegorically reflected in his work and he is always saying "no really my films are about the fact that no-one has every performed this kind of dolly before".

I am writing a paper/magazine article about this right now.

Ok so Tarr is an extreme example. But take the Dardennes, whose themes are VERY important. But if you took away the unsettling and extreme use of hand held camerawork and long takes, I for one would be bored shitless with their work, which would come across as tedious politically correct pieces.

There really isn't one example of a great director who hasn't pioneered new forms in some sense.

Themes are great, the lifeblood of cinema, but form is where the art lies.

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Post by steve hyde » Wed Dec 13, 2006 11:28 pm

npcoombs wrote: Yes but how do you define an important story or meaningful theme? Here in the UK this kind of talk usually ends up in endless tedious films about race/religion/immigration/homosexuality etc..
Exactally my point *how do you define an important story or meaningful theme*
That is the coversation we should be having every single day of our filmmaking careers because it is something that evolves. Every filmmaker, that is impassioned about filmmaking is impassioned for a reason. Perhaps they are impassioned by self importance or maybe they want to publically express some deeply felt emotional response to something. This place where emotions are felt is the primary domain for finding themes. If a filmmaker succeeds at conveying how and why they feel the way they feel, they have a meaningful film idea.

My theory on *meaningful themes* is something I am currently working to think through so it is not surprising that I have not done a very good job of articulating what it is that I am thinking about. Perhaps the phrase "meaningful themes" is not the best term for what I am thinking. I'm not really sure how to talk about it.

The themes of our lives are complex and multifacted. Themes merge with other themes and create new themes. Some themes subvert other themes. I like to envision themes as concentric rings in the sames ways that Friere posits is "generative themes" in "Pedagogy of the oppressed", 1973

Friere was not a filmmaker, but he understood, and argued powerfully on the importance of people engaging the themes of their lives. He offers many good empirical examples of how and why the empowered use the media and state education institutions to maintain their power through the propagandizing of some themes over others....

When we talk about race, religion, immigration and homosexuality as themes. (tedious you say) you are really making reference to a broad range og general themes that need to be broken down into intelligible parts. This is why I think it is important to recognize that themes are layered and multifacted and it is precisely the uncovering the layered and multifacted qualities of a theme that make an insightful story. If a storyteller can tell me how and why the layers are formed with precise insight, then I know the storyteller is a truth seeker. I don't care if the storyteller really has access to "truth" per se; what matters is that they have an interest in learning what the truth might be. What I mean is an interest in really understanding how and why a theme exists in the world.

It is true that Bela Tarr is good at making long sublime takes that open dimensions into singular cinema experiences, but his work would be intollerably pretentious if he didn't have meaningful themes. The girl in Satantango killed the cat for complex reasons and Tarr shows us what some of those reasons are. What Tarr says about his own work is far less interesting to me than what people who experience the work say because it is the viewers that make the meaning. After all, it isn't Tarr's film. It is our film. He just happened to make it....
npcoombs wrote: I find the definition of meaningful stories very problematic. If you read the Guardian regularly you eventually want to vomit when you hear talk like this...
I really don't know what you are talking about. I feel like vomiting every time I pick up the daily news. A meaningful story could be the complex relationship between a small child and a photograph of a cat or the story of a mail order bride and her suitor or the story of a young mans love for futbol or what ever. What matters is the internal anatomy of the story and the search for truth. I'm not suggesting that it has to be left-wing political propaganda.
npcoombs wrote: I would argue that with Tarr form has come first in his last three films. They are entirely structured around his wish to work with challenging and pioneering forms, camera movements etc. I think it is a delusion to consider him to be putting themes first - a fact which he himself always denies to incredulous audiences. This is why Western critics always want to talk about how the break up of the Soviert Union is allegorically reflected in his work and he is always saying "no really my films are about the fact that no-one has every performed this kind of dolly before".
I can't imagine why this would be a delusion?!?! Bela Tarr adapts novels. If he puts the novel first, he is putting themes first....all this talk about dollys is technocratic. Clearly he is uncomfortable talking about the deeper meaning in his films and of course he should be. Again, because he does not make the meaning - meaning making happens in the moments of communication. He made the film. He said what he wanted to say. Why should he publicly interepret it for us? He should not.
npcoombs wrote: I am writing a paper/magazine article about this right now.
I will be interested to read it. I am watching Bela Tarr films this month.
npcoombs wrote: Ok so Tarr is an extreme example. But take the Dardennes, whose themes are VERY important. But if you took away the unsettling and extreme use of hand held camerawork and long takes, I for one would be bored shitless with their work, which would come across as tedious politically correct pieces.
And this touches on the importance of form and new forms. But I think meaningful themes and truth seeking has to intersect with form. Filmmkers should strive to work at that intersection.
npcoombs wrote: There really isn't one example of a great director who hasn't pioneered new forms in some sense.

Themes are great, the lifeblood of cinema, but form is where the art lies.
I would not argue with this. I'm reminded of the work of Stanley Kubrick.

Steve

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Post by Evan Kubota » Thu Dec 14, 2006 3:46 pm

I am prejudiced against films that focus on the lives of the super-rich.
Why?

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Post by npcoombs » Thu Dec 14, 2006 4:59 pm

Evan Kubota wrote:
I am prejudiced against films that focus on the lives of the super-rich.
Why?
because they are stories we have seen too much of in human history... Marie Antoinette for instance, what a bore, much more fascinating the revolutionary figures (and counter revolutionaries) involved in the actions on the street

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Post by steve hyde » Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:46 pm

npcoombs wrote:
Evan Kubota wrote:
I am prejudiced against films that focus on the lives of the super-rich.
Why?
because they are stories we have seen too much of in human history... Marie Antoinette for instance, what a bore, much more fascinating the revolutionary figures (and counter revolutionaries) involved in the actions on the street
It is true that history tends to be a history about winners written by winners. No disagreements there, but again, we return to "themes" critical histories of the super rich are warranted.. In other words, I have no problem with films that focus on the super rich. It all depends on what the filmmaker wants to say about that. Wes Anderson has always been good at showing the super rich in a balanced (tragic and funny) way.

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Post by Evan Kubota » Fri Dec 15, 2006 3:31 am

because they are stories we have seen too much of in human history... Marie Antoinette for instance, what a bore, much more fascinating the revolutionary figures (and counter revolutionaries) involved in the actions on the street
I don't know. To me, if films focused only on the 'revolutionary figures' it would be equally monotonous. Besides, there's nothing about the lives of the rich/powerful that means they can only be depicted in one way. If the approach is critical (as Marie Antoinette sort of is, IMO) it's interesting regardless of whether you want to see stories about the rich or not.

If what you're saying is you are tired of seeing the rich depicted in a purely flattering light, I think everyone agrees there.

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Post by steve hyde » Fri Dec 15, 2006 7:45 pm

...I continue to read this interesting Watkins essay.

I'm not convinced that "monoform" is the root of the media crisis, but I do agree that we are experiencing a media crisis. What do you guys think Watkins means by "monoform"? Why would it be a central element of the media crisis?

Steve

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