Weapon in class struggle

Mike Wayne, 'Political Film - the dialectics of third cinema', Pluto Press, 2001, pp176, £14.99 pbk, £45 hbk

Film-making committed to social and cultural emancipation, of course, did not start in the 1960s, when 'third cinema' announced itself. Mike Wayne's welcome study traces the relevance of earlier "critics and cultural producers" - Eisenstein, Vertov, Lukács, Brecht and Walter Benjamin - "crucially informed by the revolutionary turbulence between 1917 and the late 1930s" (p2). Political cinema is about much more than politics in the narrow sense: "Social and cultural emancipation," he rightly asserts, "cannot be achieved merely in the political realm of the state," but "needs a much more fundamental and pervasive transformation "¦" (p2). Wayne edited Dissident Voices - the politics of television and cultural change (1998) and lectures on third cinema at the West London Institute of Higher Education - now part of Brunel University. With refreshing modesty, he claims to have been "taught by some very good students" and attributes "whatever merits" the book may have to that "classroom experience". It was the Argentinians Solanos and Getino, makers of the ground-breaking 1968 documentary The hour of the furnaces, who coined the term 'third cinema' to indicate the school of both film-making and criticism, largely Latin American, which emerged after, and was influenced by, the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Glauber Rocha, founder of Brazil's Cinema Nuovo in the 1960s, spoke of a 'cinema of hunger' "desperate for social and cultural justice" (p5). One-time director of the Cuban Film Institute Julio Garciá Espinosa advocated an 'imperfect cinema', rejecting the technical and aesthetic criteria dominant in the medium. Third cinema contrasts itself to first cinema (commercial, mainstream) and second cinema (art, authorial, auteur). It cannot be a simple rejection, however, says Wayne, but a "dialectical transformation" of them. He emphasises the "complex relations of interchange and difference between first, second and third cinema" and the necessity to fully grasp first and second in order to defend and develop third cinema (p7). Here is how the Argentinian filmmaker Fernando Birri made the point: ""¦ 'Commercial' cinema won its audience by any method going. We cannot support it. The 'cinema of experience' uses the best methods, and scorns the mass audience. We cannot support it either. Once again, the contradiction between art and industry is resolved very badly "¦" (p7). Third cinema should not be conflated with third world cinema, as has frequently been construed from the title of Teshombe Gabriel's 1982 Third cinema in the third world. Indeed, Wayne underlines that Gabriel himself insisted it "is not "¦ defined by geography; it is a cinema primarily defined by its socialist politics" (p1). Wayne extends third cinema theory into analysis of first and second cinema, challenging the hegemony of some "ivory-towered paradigms", particularly "Lacanian psychoanalysis, post-colonial studies and postmodernism", academic theoretical currents "prone to over-estimating the power of ideas and underestimating the importance of social forces which make or break ideas" (p7). Wayne makes his argument in the context of a wide range of case studies, taking us on a fascinating tour around "the most advanced and sophisticated body of political films" (p1), from an extensive study of Italian communist Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 classic The battle of Algiers (1965), through Patricio Guzman's The battle of Chile (1973-76) to the Indian Bandit queen (1994), the Turkish Eskiya (1997) and the Irish The general (1998), to name just a few. The "revolutionary conjunctures" which gave birth to third cinema have given way to the "dark times of neoliberalism's hegemony" (p8). Wayne recalls a 1996 British Film Institute-sponsored conference on African cinema, where there was no dissent when British filmmaker John Akomfrah declared third cinema dead. But the cultural offspring of those revolutionary struggles is not dead, and has a crucial role to play in turning the tide of history. Wayne's serious Marxist polemical treatment of the practice and underdeveloped theory of third cinema seeks to rescue it from "what EP Thompson called the condescension of posterity" (p4), and sharpen it as a revolutionary weapon for the struggles to come: "Inspiration, political tradition and memory are the umbilical cord that nourishes third cinema in a time of reaction and barbarism. When the time comes, as it surely must (the very survival of the human race depends on it), for new revolutionary upheavals, then any interim developments in the theory of third cinema may make a small contribution to subsequent practical interventions" (p8). Stan Keable