Essay: Third Cinema – A Cinema of War

[I decided to start publishing some of my better university essays here, as I feel that non-fiction writing is becoming just as important as a reflection of my writing style as my short stories and longer pieces are. This is an essay on the topic of Third Cinema, in particular looking at the four-and-a-half-hour long documentary The Hour of the Furnaces. I have kept the essay intact in its original style, complete with references in Harvard style. It’s not my best essay by a long shot (I still hadn’t got to grips with paraphrasing, for example), but it is one that I feel is a good first essay to post publicly.]

Third Cinema – A Cinema of War

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This piece looks at how Third Cinema purposefully deviated from traditional Hollywood norms so as to found a new type of cinema that could serve the people, by being in the hands of the people. It uses The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) as a case study, so as to see how Third Cinema aimed to separate itself from classical Hollywood cinema, or ‘First Cinema’ (as well as European auteur cinema, or ‘Second Cinema’). Third Cinema purposefully deviated from classical Hollywood stylings; it saw classical Hollywood cinema as “synonymous with spectacle or entertainment: in a word, it was one more consumer good”, and that “[a]t best, films succeeded in bearing witness to the decay of bourgeois values and testifying to social injustice” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) – likewise, Second Cinema, whilst seen as progressive compared to First Cinema, was seen to be limited by it still being within the bourgeois society, and as such was “doomed to wait until the world conflict was resolved peacefully in favour of socialism in order to change qualitatively.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969)

Progenitors of Third Cinema such as Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, who introduced the term ‘Third Cinema’ (Willemen, 1989) in their seminal essay Towards a Third Cinema (Getino & Solanas, 1969), wanted to consciously break away from this style, and create cinema that had the potential to emancipate the lower classes by spreading awareness of the injustices being perpetrated against the people by a corrupt system – it was to be a cinema “committed to a direct and aggressive opposition to oppression” (Gabriel, 1982).

The Hour of the Furnaces, an actively revolutionary film made by Getino and Solanas before they wrote their formative essay, first debuted internationally at the Pesaro Festival in Italy in the June of 1968, (Mestman, 2013) and was one of the cornerstones in the process of forming the concept of Third Cinema. Getino and Solanas wanted to create a piece of cinema that actively moved directly away from escapism and entertainment, and instead highlighted the plight of those oppressed in their home country of Argentina. To do this, they decided that this film would have to be totally resistant to assimilation by the bourgeois system, by making sure that it not only had nothing to offer the system, but that it was also directly setting out to fight this perceived system. (Getino & Solanas, 1969)

This approach to filmmaking is perhaps the biggest way that The Hour of the Furnaces differs from mainstream Hollywood: it was a political act, not one born of a desire to make money, or even to create art just for art’s sake. Notions of a star system and the promotion of wholesome family values had no relevance to what Getino and Solanas wanted to achieve, and instead the ‘stars’ of the film were their subjects: the people of their home country. The film could be seen as a ‘subjective documentary’ – within the film, many Argentinian people of lower class are interviewed, and speak of the troubles that they are subjected to. In showing these real scenes, the film wants to put across its beliefs of inequality, and engage its intended audience – i.e., those seen in the film as well as intellectuals unhappy with the state of the country – into a violent, armed revolution. We are shown the massive social divide in Argentina, where the wealthy of Buenos Aires enjoy a comfortable, Westernised lifestyle and the lower classes and natives live in poverty, unable to change their situation. The film argues that the time for complacency is over, and that every citizen of Argentina should take a stand: “[t]he worker who goes on strike and thus risks losing his job or even his life, the student who jeopardises his career, the militant who keeps silent under torture: each by his or her action commits us to something much more important than a vague gesture of solidarity.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) This point of view can be seen in contrast to the Hollywood system, in its utter refutation of the status quo; generally by the conclusions of the Hollywood movies of the era, the status quo would be reinstated, backing up a lack of desire for change or not seeing a need for it in the world that these films represented. With The Hour of the Furnaces, Getino and Solanas aimed to break this status quo not in fiction but in real life, by refuting the positive view of the status quo in First Cinema.

Although the film is primarily a documentary, it still tells a story: by chronicling the oppression of a native people and the lower classes, we are still being subject to a narrative. However, unlike First Cinema, it is not structured in a typical way. The use of title cards, narration and music keeps the film’s sense of flow, but the film moves from place to place and from topic to topic freely, allowing us to take in the full breadth of the environments and situations that the film is addressing. It is not characters that the film centres on, but real people – so unlike traditional Hollywood, it is not fiction that drives this film, but something genuine. This could be seen as the filmmakers wanting to show the audience a full portrayal of the oppression in the country, so as to allow those less educated on their positions to start actively questioning the parts of their culture that are oppressing them. American culture permeates the film, but not in an unconscious way – the film bombards the audience with American adverts (including one scene intercut with the slaughter of cattle, thought to be a reference to ‘Second Cinema’ director Sergei Eisenstein (Schroeder, 2007)), and displays scenes of Argentinian youth who are dressed in highly Western-styled clothing and listening to American music. “We are taught to think in English” (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968), the voiceover says – and they want to change all of this, and allow Latin America to form its own identity free from Western influence, particularly the perceived neo-colonial influence of the United States.

Again, the story they are telling is true, and they want people to pay attention to it. The mode of address in the film is indicative of this: it speaks directly to its assumed audience of the people of Argentina, imploring them to bear arms against the oppressors. Whilst Hollywood films regularly employed voiceover narration, it was never as direct or incendiary as the voiceover work in The Hour of the Furnaces. This is cinema as war – Getino and Solanas saw themselves “acting as the cinematic insurgent patrol in the armies of liberation fighting colonialism and imperialism” (Brenez, 2012). The reality presented in the film was theirs also – a far cry from the distance between a Hollywood producer or director and the fiction of their film.

Third Cinema did not attempt to achieve the perfection and mass popularity that First Cinema strived for: in The Aesthetics of Hunger (Rocha, 1965), Rocha describes it as “a project that has grown out of the politics of hunger and suffers, for that very reason, all the consequent weaknesses which are a product of its particular situation” (Rocha, 1965). In fact, it was this technical perfection and need for appreciation that it railed against: it aimed for “a new kind of distribution, outside the circuits still dominated by Hollywood products.” (Armes, 1987) As opposed to the large, public theatres that Hollywood films would be shown in, The Hour of the Furnaces was screened at clandestine meetings, where the film could be stopped and be discussed (Shroeder, 2007); something that would likely have never happened at a screening of a Hollywood film. But again, it is not for entertainment that this film was made: it was to incite revolution, and every screening of the film ran the risk of being caught by the dictatorship that they lived under (Brenez, 2012). Hugely distinct from the family-orientated appeal of the Hollywood film, The Hour of the Furnaces transformed its audience “into responsible historical subjects, not because they did or did not agree with the content of the film, but by virtue of the very decision to attend, despite the threat.” (Brenez, 2012) To Getino and Solanas, “in Latin America, the war is waged principally in the minds of men” (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968), so to allow discussion of their film during showings was a way of getting their audiences to think, which could lead to them enlisting their support to help overthrow the ‘System’. The imperfections in the method of distribution for the film were as important as the message they were spreading, even being a part of that message: the point of seeing this film was not to have an evening out with family or friends, but to take part in a social and political activity.

The production of the film, too, was in opposition to that of a Hollywood production. It was filmed clandestinely in between 1966 and 1968 (Schroeder, 2007) by Getino and Solanas, with them not only filming interviews with citizens of the lower classes and revolutionaries, but also collecting archive material and newsreels to splice into the film. (Mestman, 2008) The guerrilla nature of their filming made completion difficult, as they explained: “A lack of foresight which in conventional film-making would go unnoticed can render virtually useless weeks or months of work.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) But this way of shooting a film shows how with the right amount of dedication a Third Cinema film can be produced; through careful planning, and by using whatever you have at hand or can find, the creative limits of the Hollywood production budget can be defeated. A Third Cinema film can “be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle” (Espinosa, 1969) ­– these limitations can be used to create art that consciously deviates from the norms of the art of the bourgeois – art that is inherently and proudly imperfect. Getino and Solanas harnessed their limitations and were able to create something truly unique with it, something one likely wouldn’t have found in any of the Hollywood films of the era. In The Hour of the Furnaces, “uncompromising raw footage is transmogrified into art, just as the alchemy of sound-image montage transforms the base metals of tiles, blank frames, and wild sound into the gold and silver of rhythmic virtuosity.” (Stam, 2003)

In conclusion, Third Cinema wanted to distance itself from Hollywood because of the oppressive bourgeois society that it helped to promote in Latin America; as seen with The Hour of the Furnaces, to achieve this it utilised as many techniques as it could to distance itself from the First Cinema, from the basic format of a story and using a realist and social documentary style to convey its message, to its guerrilla production methods, to its stance as a political and revolutionary movement. It is these approaches that allowed it to succeed in it breaking away from traditional Hollywood’s norms, and allowed it to become its own, unique form of cinema, one that could be used by any oppressed group around the world to make a statement about their condition of life. Seeing the camera and projector as a gun (Getino & Solanis, 1969) – a tool of war (and of change) – was a revolutionary step to take in the advancement of cinema, and it is this aggressively revolutionary stance that helps to make Third Cinema what it is; a cinema for the people, a cinema by the people, and, most importantly, a cinema that can strive to genuinely change the world; the fact that Third Cinema films aren’t always going to achieve their social or political goals is fine – it is an imperfect cinema, after all.

 

Bibliography

Armes, R. (1987) Third World Film Making and the West. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Brenez, N. (2012) Light my fire: The Hour of the Furnaces. [online] London: BFI. Available from: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/greatest-films-all-time-essays/light-my-fire-hour-furnaces [Accessed 15 December 2015]

Espinosa, J.G. (1969) For an imperfect cinema. In: Scott MacKenzie (ed.) Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gabriel, T. (1982) Third Cinema in the Third World. An Arbor: UMI Research Press.

Getino, O. & Solanas, F. (1969) Towards a Third Cinema. [online] Documentary Is Never Neutral. Available from: http://documentaryisneverneutral.com/words/camasgun.html [Accessed 13 December 2015)

Mestman, M. (2008) The Hour of the Furnaces: Crafting a Revolutionary Cinema. [online] Vertigo/Close-Up Film Centre. Available from: https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-9-spring-summer-2008/the-hour-of-the-furnaces-crafting-a-revolutionary-cinema/ [Accessed 13 December 2015]

Mestman, M 2013, ‘The worker’s voice in post-1968 Argentine political documentary’, Social Identities, 19, 3/4, pp. 306-323, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 December 2015.

Rocha, G. (1965) The Aesthetics of Hunger. [online] Amherst College. Available at: https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/38122/original/ROCHA_Aesth_Hunger.pdf [Accessed 13 December 2015]

Schroeder, P. (2007) Violence and Liberation in The Hour of the Furnaces. [online] Senses of Cinema. Available from: http://sensesofcinema.com/2007/cteq/hour-furnaces/ [Accessed 14 December 2015]

Stam, R. (2003) Beyond Third Cinema: the aesthetics of hybridity. In: Anthony R. Guneratne and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.) Rethinking Third Cinema. New York: Routledge.

Willemen, P. (1989) The third cinema question: notes and reflections. In: Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (eds.) Questions of Third Cinema. London: British Film Institute.

 

Filmography

Getino, O. & Solanas, F. (dir.) (1968) The Hour of the Furnaces. [film] Argentina.

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2 thoughts on “Essay: Third Cinema – A Cinema of War”

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