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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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Conclusion 155


Conclusion To conclude implies finalization. However, such a move would be directly counter to the logic of thinking that informs essays and essay films: both aspire to be the beginning of an open-ended process of ref lection shared with viewers and readers. It is within this ethos that my study has aimed to pose questions rather than to provide answers, approaching the form from a fresh theoretical perspective in order to rethink the essay film as a dialogic form of inter-personal knowledge which engages critically with images. In this, essays are counter-forms; knowledge always derives from the act of contrasting and comparing, whether images, experiences or discourses. This principle also regulates aspects such as the non-fictional status of form, the inscription of the author within the text, and the direct mode of address to the viewer. It seems to me that our visual culture is becoming increasingly essay- istic, willing to engage with images not as ref lections but as sites of con- tention. The need for a non-sectarian, open-ended, critical approach to visual images is surely stronger than ever, quickly becoming one of the central cultural questions of our time. In response to this need, essayistic discourses are rapidly spreading from the increasing numbers of non-fiction films to art galleries, museums, and even to the Internet. An academic discourse that matches the ambition and originality of essayistic output remains to be developed. This volume attempts to open up a new line of analysis in relation to the cinematic essay,...

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