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REMODERNIST FILM

and an emphasis on existential and spiritual subject matter. European filmmaking in the seventies explored numerous aesthetic strategies that challenged the supposed supremacy of dramatic narrative framed within a classic three-act structure. German filmmaker Wim Wenders emphasised the lyrical rather than action in his early films. At nearly three hours, Kings Of The Road (1976) is perhaps his masterwork, a road movie in which at least in Hollywood terms very little happens. Instead, the film follows two men as they drive a truck through Germany, travelling from cinema to cinema to repair projectors. The film is concerned with depicting the relationship between the friends as it slowly develops on the road, yet the two men never fully communicate, and there is no emphasis on either characters motivation. The film focuses on the landscape as much as the characters, until fragmented rural Germany becomes akin to a character itself. The second of Wenders road movies, it was preceded by Alice In The Cities (1974), which was similarly lyrical in nature, and also emphasises a growing friendship (in this case, between a man and a child) on a drifting road trip through small town Germany. Its perhaps unsurprising that American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch shot his second movie, Strangers In Paradise (1984), on film stock given to him by Wim Wenders. Like Wenders seventies films, Jarmuschs movie is interested in silence and observation, communication and travel, and like the German director, there is an emphasis on the quiet rather than an aggressively propelled narrative. More recently, director Gus Van Sant has embraced long takes and a move away from traditional narrative form in his Death Trilogy of Gerry (2002), Elephant (2003) and Last Days (2005), all of which divided critics. Alongside these notable indie and arthouse movies, there is a longer tradition of lyrical, quiet and experimental narrative film in the American avant-garde, with underground filmmakers like Andy Warhol fascinated by the details of watching, and Jonas Mekas turning his camera onto the commonplace elements of his life, and creating unique and intimate diary films. For many critics and commentators, Meeks Cutoff was an artistic success, but for some, it was simply, as Mick LaSalle stated in The San Francisco Chronicle, boring. Writing in The New Yorker, David Denby described the film as an absurdist quest, as if John Ford had been overtaken along the trail by Samuel Beckett before moving on to summarise the film as pleasureless and anti-sensuous. Such criticisms led to a debate in the pages of The New York Times, in which Dan Kois described watching films such as Meeks Cutoff as being akin to eating cultural vegetables, watched because these films are part of an emergent canon of high culture works that are critically embraced but never fully enjoyed. For Kois, the rewards are too low. Im suffering, he writes, from a kind of cultural fatigue, and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me. The following month, The New York Times Manohla Dargis and A.O Scott responded to the piece. Dragging out the culinary metaphor, Dargis suggested that Kois will be more than sated by the cornucopia of junk food offered at most cinemas, before moving on to suggest that the very concept of boring was being misunderstood. For Dargis, the repetition of plot and characters from The Hangover (2009) to The Hangover Part II (2011) was boring, while experimental works were about more than simply entertainment. Faced with duration not distraction, your mind may wander, but theres no need for panic: it will come back. In wandering, there can be revelation. Scott, meanwhile, lamented the anti-art and anti-intellectual trajectory that Kois introduced, stating that movies may be the only art form whose core audience is widely believed to be actively hostile to ambition, difficulty or anything that seems to demand too much work on their part. This argument has, over the years, been dragged out in various forms, with lowbrow culture condemned by serious critics, and high culture seen as elitist by other critics. Yet
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to simply fall into such a division is banal, and is perhaps best illustrated by Philip Frenchs review of Jackass: The Movie, published in The Observer in 2003. In his review, he predictably bemoans the movie before closing with the statement surprisingly, the film is co-produced by Spike Jonze, and less surprisingly, has proved infinitely more popular at the American box office than Jonzes Adaptation. For a supposedly serious critic, it appeared essentially unthinkable that a filmmaker could occupy both sides of an imagined cultural divide, and yet, it is only in recognising that such a divide is absurd that thinking and writing about film can truly become inspired. But away from the arthouse and festival circuit where works such as Meeks Cutoff can find their audience, there has been a move to create a new form of personal cinema geared around The Remodernist Manifesto, authored by filmmaker Jesse Richards. Written in August 2008, the manifesto opens not with an explosive declaration of intent, but with a disclaimer, encouraging a distrust of didacticism, instead stating its intent in almost humble tones: The ideas put forth here are meant sincerely and with the hope of bringing inspiration and change to others, as well as to myself. Believing that the creative potential of cinema has been squandered by being too beholden to other art forms, and to the rigidity of classic narrative structure, the broad ambition of Remodernism is to seek a new spirituality in film. This is not a transcendental religious mysticism, but an existential spirituality concerned with people and the simple moments and gestures in which true humanity can emerge.

MaNy OF ThE pEOpLE ThaT aRE DRawN TO REMODERNISM wILL aLSO bE cONcERNED wITh DuRaTION, wITh quIET, wITh TExTuRES, aND wILL ThINk OF acTION IN a way ThaT avOIDS uNNEcESSaRy acTION...

To this end, the manifesto suggests that filmmakers embrace the Japanese ideas of wabi-sabi (the beauty of imperfection) and mono no aware (the awareness of the transience of things, and the bittersweet feelings that accompany their passing). It advocates that filmmakers espouse an intuitive mode of honest communication that embraces the subjective rather than seeking the grey patina of the objective. The manifesto demands an authenticity on behalf of the filmmaker, even if the film fails. The Remodernist filmmaker must always have the courage to fail, it boldly asserts. The Remodernist Manifesto derides Dogme 95s pretentious checklist the insistence of colour film, diegetic sound, location and so on instead framing itself as a collection of ideas rather than prescribed rules. The one rule that was briefly introduced in the initial version of the manifesto was that filmmakers should avoid video and shoot on Super8 and 16mm film, but this was soon reversed following ongoing debate between Richards and other filmmakers, a discussion which has been archived on Richards blog, enabling an ongoing discourse between filmmakers interested in the manifesto. The manifesto advocates that filmmakers acknowledge their influences and learn from them, with a number of filmmakers named as influential in the manifesto. These include Jean Vigo (Zro De Conduite, 1933), Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953), Maurice Pialat (A Nos Amours), Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, 1953) and Jean Epstein (The Fall

Of The House Of Usher, 1928), all filmmakers whose work was personal and poetic, and strove to articulate a human, personal authenticity. Alongside these familiar names, Jesse Richards Remodernist Manifesto also draws a clear comparison with the stripped down, minimal, lyrical, punk kind of filmmaking associated with the No Wave Cinema that emerged from New York in the seventies and featured filmmakers such as Amos Poe (director of, amongst others, 1977s The Foreigner, which mixed an interest in The French New Wave with a punk sensibility). Richards confesses that he was drawn to these filmmakers for their raw authenticity, but he admits that this rawness can be hard to pin down, and that there is an elusive quality that cannot be fully described by such terminology. Poor Amos got blindsided by me on that a bit, Richards confesses. He was very nice about it all really. Back before there was a manifesto, or really any kind of outline at all as to what Remodernist film was (other than just discussions between myself and a few others like Harris Smith, Peter Rinaldi and Wolf Howard), I had initiated an email correspondence with Amos where I tried to outline some of it to him probably very badly and said that we consider him an honorary member. After that, I lost touch with Amos without really explaining anything further. I wrote and published the manifesto, and then suddenly people are asking him in interviews what its all about, and so he does the best that can be done with the situation, trying to explain to them what it is. Perhaps most importantly, the manifesto recommends the short films of garage musicians and artists Wolf Howard and Billy Childish, both from The Chatham Super-8 Cinema, a punk influenced film community. Childish, alongside Charles Thomson, co-founded The Stuckists, the art group who emerged in 1999 as a response to what they understood as the superficiality of contemporary conceptual art and postmodernism. Denouncing the ego-driven artists associated with Brit-Art, The Stuckists positioned the importance of painting, self-discovery, communication and authentic, uncensored self-expression. It was the third Stuckist manifesto published in 2000 that introduced the term Remodernism, a term constructed as a response to the all-pervasive postmodernism used in art criticism. Remodernism became a banner for reintroducing authenticity and self-expression into art, and searching for what the manifesto described as a new spirituality in art. This spirituality was not understood in religious terms but, like Richards, was concerned with the struggle to understand humanity and the human experience. When questioned about the relationship between The Stuckists and The Remodernist Manifesto, Jesse Richards states, at this point, there is no real working relationship with Stuckism but acknowledges that he was a Stuckist from 2001 until I quit the group in 2006. Both manifestos shared similar concerns. My manifesto was definitely partially inspired by elements in some of the Stuckist manifestos. Billy Childish is very inspiring, and I identify very strongly with the whole self-confrontation element that goes into most of his work. Wolfs films are very inspiring as well, with his ability to capture the internal essence of what he is shooting. I am back in collaboration with some of the original Stuckists, like Joe Machine and Bill Lewis, having joined their Institute Of Collective Remodernism. Joe has been discussing with me the idea of the group writing a new manifesto to maybe broaden the aims of Remodernism, and maybe define things a little more clearly than The Stuckists were able to. Richards antipathy towards Dogme 95, which is equally as engaged in a battle for authentic filmmaking beyond the framework of the Hollywood model, albeit with very different concerns, comes from a distrust of the groups false restrictions, and an acute awareness that creating limiting rules such as the Dogme Vow Of Chastity is counterproductive to finding any meaningful answers. Moreover, Richards is also wary of the whole publicity

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