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Thinking Images

The Essay Film as a Dialogic Form in European Cinema


David Montero

The essay film – ‘a form that thinks’ – serves to create a self-reflexive space for contemporary society by challenging expectations and demanding the creative involvement of the spectator. Using film to provoke thought has never been more important than now, when non-fiction films are gaining in popularity and playing a growing part in debates about culture and politics. This timely publication argues that the appeal of the essay film lies primarily in the dialogic engagement with the spectator and the richness of the intellectual and artistic debate it stimulates.
The book focuses on the work of three key European film directors associated with the essay film: Chris Marker, Harun Farocki and José Luis Guerín. It provides a detailed analysis of several films by each director, exploring the relationship between dialogism and essayism in their work and placing this in the wider context of debates on the cinematic essay as a genre. Central aspects of essayistic filmmaking are explored, including its radical approach to knowledge, its distinctive patterns of subjectivity, its challenging of the formal representation of reality, and its contribution to new understandings of spectatorship. Written with clarity and perception, this volume offers new insights into the rise of the non-fiction film and the essay film, in particular.


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Chapter 1 - Questions and Answers: Towards a Dialogical Understanding of the Essay Film 21


Chapter 1 Questions and Answers: Towards a Dialogical Understanding of the Essay Film The academic debate on essayistic filmmaking has significantly advanced our knowledge of what an essay film actually is. Subjectivity and ref lexivity appear as key markers which allow us to separate it from other non-fictional forms such as factual reportages or observational documentaries. However, the picture is still fragmentary; some discursive features within essayistic filmmaking seem to have been favoured over others, and questions about how subjectivity is articulated or about the form’s epistemological foun- dations have not yet been properly answered. The address to the viewer, the self-ref lexive focus on images, and the essay film’s status as a critical form can also benefit from a more defined focus on the key role played by dialogue and exchange. Over the last fifteen years or so, a growing interest in the development of non-fiction film formats has generated a relatively large number of academic articles and books concerned with the essay film or the work of filmmak- ers who have been linked to the form.1 Most of these texts concentrate on the conceptual operations of ‘identification’ and ‘characterization’. The 1 These books include Ivelise Perniola’s Chris Marker o del film-saggio (2003); Thomas Elsaesser’s Harun Farocki. Working on the Sightlines (2004); Catherine Lupton’s Chris Marker. Memories of the Future (2004), Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues and Murielle Gagnebin’ L’essai et le cinéma (2004), Antonio Weinrichter and Maria Luisa Ortega’s Mystère Marker. Pasajes en la Obra de Chris Marker (2006)...

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