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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 6 - Mapping the Origins of an Essayistic Sensibility in Five Films 133


Chapter 6 Mapping the Origins of an Essayistic Sensibility in Five Films This chapter sets out to explore the historical origins of essayistic film- making. The scope of the exercise is necessarily limited, pointing to the emergence of the cinematic essay as a self-ref lexive form which connects disparate discursive material in a dialogic manner. The ultimate aim is to allow the reader to link dif ferent examples of the essay film throughout film history, especially up to the 1960s. Such an approach will also foreground the historical junctures at which essayistic filmmaking has f lourished in its task of denouncing the alienating nature of various types of audiovisual discourse. In his article ‘Las cenizas de Pasolini y el archivo que piensa’ [‘Pasolini’s Ashes and the Thinking Archive’, 2007], Josep M. Català comments on the dif ficulties of approaching the essay film historically. He warns that any historical overview should begin by assuming the form’s fragmentary and deeply heterogeneous nature. As has been seen, essayistic filmmaking connects images, discourses and modes of representation. Not to mention the fact that it often uses artistic languages such as painting, photography, music, and so on. Furthermore, cinematic essays are also linked to a liter- ary tradition which, in itself, contains a self-conscious ref lection on the nature of words and human communication. This line of thought remains present in many contemporary examples of essayistic filmmaking. Therefore, tracing the origins of the essay film would mean revisiting subjects such as the way in which...

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