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John Caldwell (#110 of 2)

Remediating the Avant-Garde Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

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Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics
Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

In his 1979 book To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema, film theorist Noël Burch said “the very notion of theory is alien to Japan; it is considered a property of Europe and the West.” With clarity and a multitude of supplementary examples to back her up, Yuriko Furuhata systematically dismantles Burch’s Eurocentric, haphazard claims throughout Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics, a remarkably researched and argued case for Japan’s complex theoretical contributions to the field of cinema studies, often by the filmmakers themselves.

However, this feat is all the more impressive, given Furuhata’s multifaceted approach to myth-busting Japan’s deficiencies in providing thoughtful film theory not just through historical evidence (such as interviews and primary texts), but by re-conceptualizing the very nature of Japanese documentary and avant-garde practices over roughly a two decade span to reveal early examples of converging media cultures. Nagisa Oshima, the book’s primary focus, summarized these tendencies himself, proclaiming in a late-’60s interview that “everything can be made into cinema.” The implication for Furuhata, and it seems the correct one, is that cinema “has the capacity to absorb and subsume other media forms.” In the case of Oshima, Furuhata uses his 1967 film Band of Ninja to explain such capacities—what Furuhata calls “remediation”—in which the film calls attention to medium specificity by “heightening the materiality of the original comic-book medium rather than concealing it.” That lack of concealment, or disinterest in concealment, separates Oshima’s work from other mangas of the time and provides a foundation to define “actuality,” which essentially constitutes the limits between cinema, documentary filmmaking, and journalism. Jacques Derrida calls it “artifactuality,” but whatever name one ascribes, the filmmakers discussed here are dedicated to questioning and, perhaps even, dismantling the political power attained through such neat separations.

Auteur! Auteur! Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

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Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood
Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

Though Mark Gallagher has indeed set his sights on Steven Soderbergh for his second, solo-authored film studies monograph (the first being 2006’s excellent Action Figures: Men, Action Films, and Contemporary Action Narratives), it’s the book’s subtitle that reveals his true, and more compelling, interests: authorship and contemporary hollywood. In fact, a work like Another Steven Soderbergh Experience could arguably not have been written even just a decade ago (or would have been received with maximal skepticism), given that cinephilia still existed in a pre-Hulu state, not yet having seen the fruits of the Criterion Collection’s labor, where the complete oeuvre of Keisuke Kinoshita can now be seen in essentially the same place as Kristen Wiig’s return to Saturday Night Live. What’s at stake, it seems, is exactly how one discusses cinema (not movies, to use Soderbergh’s recent distinction) in a complex, thoughtful manner that would necessarily take into account both the modes of production and viewership prevalent in the 21st century, and not simply under the banner of a director’s intent or other films.

Skeptics may refuse to alter their methodological means—that being a purely auteurist line of critical inquiry. However, Paul Schrader has recently stated that even he, at 66 years old, has had his brain rewired by digital technology, to the extent that he finds it “harder and harder to sit for two hours straight. Even in a theater,” and goes on to claim that “the concept of movies itself is pretty much becoming a 20th-century concept.” Schrader’s words offer a nice segue into Gallagher’s, who states near the beginning of his book: “Soderbergh’s work illuminates many trends in industry practice, media authorship, technologies of film and television production and distribution, and motion-picture aesthetics.” Soderbergh’s intermediary status here affirms the very struggle of defining how to place a filmmaker-as-author now, especially one as prolific, in both output and medium vacillation. Gallagher’s intent is less to embark upon another attempt at auteur baiting (as the title ironically suggests), than casting Soderbergh as his fishing lure to demonstrate how he “complicates our recognition of authoring figures’ positions within global circulation networks.” Although Gallagher engages textual analysis in brief (more as evidentiary support than an end), the bulk of the book’s focus is in exploring alternative methods for understanding precisely what a screen author does in contemporary Hollywood.