Tuesday, 30 July 2013

On the Road Again: Kelly Reichardt and the New American Road Movie

Unlike, for instance, comedy or drama, both rooted primarily in inherent faculties of human emotion and empathy, certain cinematic genres find themselves and their life spans distinctly linked to specific cultural and historical contexts. Film noir is the classic example, its immediate life—from the early 1940s to the late 1950s—short enough to warrant the protracted argument that continues to this day as to whether it can indeed be classified a genre at all. Inextricably linked to the social circumstances of the United States in the period immediately following the Second World War, noir’s dominant themes and tropes, though still reworked now in films categorised as neo-noir, address issues particular to that place in that period of time. The western, too, though still more recognisably intact in its classical form than noir, would seem to offer little explicit relevance to modern America, its frontier narratives now outdated by more than a century. The road movie, then, is a particularly interesting case: arguably growing only more relevant with the passage of time and the ever-increasing ubiquity of infrastructure, the genre has nonetheless encountered ebbs and flows through the course of its lifetime that suggest an important link between social circumstances and the road’s cinematic exploration thereof. In briefly examining these resurgences and assessing the predominant narrative and stylistic tropes that characterise the genre, this essay aims to examine the films of director Kelly Reichardt in the context of modern America, and through them to posit the emergence of a new breed of road movie that speaks to the issues facing the nation today.

24 Lies per Second: Illusionism and the Excess of Reality in the Films of Michael Haneke

“Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth”
—Michael Haneke (24 Realities per Second)

Such a play on Jean-Luc Godard’s famous dictum as to the inherent truth of the cinematic medium is typical of the cynical postmodernism of Michael Haneke, the Austrian writer-director whose feature films have consistently engaged in revealing and reassessing what he sees as the inevitable falsity of the filmed image. Considered a realist by virtue of his often long takes, predominantly naturalistic dialogue, and anti-sensationalist presentation of violence and sexuality, Haneke’s work has in fact constantly pointed toward its own unreality, exposing the abstraction of the cinematic image and the long tradition of the mechanical reproduction of reality as, necessarily, a manipulation of truth and thereby of the spectator. In eleven theatrical releases to date, he has repeatedly drawn attention to the extent of this manipulation, using his films as incitements to his audiences to re-evaluate their own relationship to reality and question the degree to which modern media—television and the internet as much as film—has divorced them from a meaningful connection to the truth of the world in which they exist. This essay intends to assess Haneke’s subjugation of the cinematic apparatus to his own self-reflexive end, and to reach—through an investigation of the manner in which he implements and inverts typical tropes of screen realism—an understanding of the key themes his oeuvre addresses by way of this intently self-aware, postmodern deconstruction of filmic reality.