Blesok no. 27, July-August, 2002
The Postmodernism in the Macedonian Film – Part I
This essay primarily faces a serious difficulty: to explore and study a literary style as the postmodernism is, in a cinematography defined as a small nation’s cinematography – namely, a cinematography with a modest year film production, or more accurate, with a obscure opus of films for a working material. And, in order to gain any results on the esthetic structure with an acceptable balance between the theoretical and analytical material, the working “devices” are quite a few. We can incline toward the essay form and to reduce the theory aspects, or to extend (unnaturally) the corpus of the films that presumably incline towards the postmodernism aesthetics. At the start, I must say that I’m against the over-extensive research of the films, out of the frames of their natural and actual characteristics. It always leads an unnecessary confusion within the terminology of the theoretical and poetical models and conventions, and it makes it much more difficult the work of the following researchers – in the future. So, we are going to analyze the postmodernism here upon a very few film deeds that we will pronounce as an explicitly postmodern, and we’ll mention, only fragmentarily and “by the way” – some other film works that include within itself some forms of postmodern characteristics.
The nomenclature “small nation cinematography” (I would add: poor nation cinematography) that means one or two films per year (and sometimes even less), makes any kind of a research, especially this one we enterprise. In a situation when all authors, simultaneously posses the creative potential, and in a situation when the practical conditions (the cultural politics and authorities itself) govern and divide (more or less just) the material and financial means required for making a film, it’s difficult for an author to create any kind of a regular personal opus of films, with all means required for it: all of the phases and sub-phases, with the thorough research and organization of the exchange and application of any poetic experience – more or less spontaneous – around any aesthetic form. And because of it, there exists a large disproportion within the category of time – as a chronological determinant (to create and develop an individual poetics and to make a concrete opus) and as a creative determinant (the process of creation, fluctuation, experimentation etc.). So, that’s why this text can’t be anything else (for this time being) than a sketch-portrait useful for some future researches, when the postmodern film opus will be in a more adequate amount for a real research. Also, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that doesn’t happen at all, because of the discrepancy between the world film development and the domestic film production conditions, and between the esthetical needs of the domestic audience and the real material possibilities of the domestic cinematography. Even now, talking of postmodernism in the film art, as in the other arts anyway, here is “by-gone” thing already.
Not only because of the reception effect, I’ll claim that Macedonia still awaits its first full-postmodern film. None of the existing films here can be defined as a real postmodern film in the very meaning – how we define the postmodernism in real. There is a risomatic, parallel existence of more distinctive characteristics, and by the inclusive logic – “everything passes”. That mustn’t be understood as an existence of a total anarchism and chaos, but as a convocation principle: the unity of the opposites (coincidentia oppositorum); namely, it should be understood by the negation of the principle of the “excluded third” (the known Aristotle’s’ Tertium non Datur), with the replacement of the disjunctive logic or/or with the conjunctive and/and logic. The process of the postmodern episteme (the convocation principle and/and) happened in two phases. The first one is the post-structural phase, or as we call it – the first phase, the early postmodernism of emphasized inclusion of the elements that the binary logic of the modernism use to exclude. The second phase, as we call it, is the simultaneous existence of both elements of the binary pair; namely, it presents the forsaking of that binary logic and its replacement with the deconstructive, convocative logic that, by our opinion, speaks of their simultaneous existence. That kind of an existence creates tensions and transformations, differences and paths that aren’t placed in the center of the one or in the center of the another, but always somewhere in some accidental or constructed path – concentration that is mobile and decentralized.
The Macedonian postmodern film is still in the early phase of the postmodern experimental, anti-realistic and postmodern level that in global frames happened in the 60’s and the 70’s, and in the Macedonian literature, for example – in the first half of the 80’s. The most explicit Macedonian postmodern authors: Aleksandar Popovski, Darko Mitrevski, Aleksandar Stankovski, and Milčo Mančevski are still much more subversive and destructive than deconstructive and convocative. And that’s really weird, I must say, that adolescent author’s anger within our most talented filmmakers… Especially because of the fact that they spend large amounts of our taxpayers’ money in local, and Mančevski in global frames. And by our humble opinion, the postmodern aesthetics is that magical wonder-stick for the success of the so-called small nation cinematographies. Anyway, that postmodern aesthetics is actually and primarily created to answer and apply the commercial needs of the growing western market, and secondary – to answer to the author’s needs and ideas, as a strategy to maintain the survival of the authors faced with the cataclysmic “pulp” raid of the mass-culture. In our conditions, it would be said that the convocation principle and/and could serve well in favor of the cultural politics’ goals (political fairness, state and national identity etc.), and along with it, quite subversive, and with sufficiently wise esthetical pace – to introduce the needed individual interests.
Unfortunately, such kind of a film in Macedonia – we don’t have, yet. The great success of the Mančevski’s film “Before the Rain” owed that to the over-correct political orientation of the film and to the insufficient author’s subversiveness, and his “Dust” suffers from the very opposite of that – the over-sufficient esthetical subversiveness and the insufficient political correctness, in spite of the aggressive advertising campaign that tried to blur the difference between these two categories. And, not to mention the other film authors and their films. That’s why the reception of those was so bitter, by the audience and the critics, about this few postmodern films here. Although the accent of the critics was mainly focused upon the esthetical matters, I believe that the basis of this reception revolt were exactly because of this, above mentioned specifics.
Whatever, according to all mentioned above, will look into the corpus of postmodern characteristics mostly upon the examples of the explicit Macedonian postmodern films: Goodbye to 20th Century, directed by A. Popovski and D. Mitrevski and Maklabas, directed by A. Stankovski, mostly because of the fact we didn’t analyzed them much in any of our previous texts, and in some reduced form, we’ll do some retrospectives on the films Light Gray by A. Popovski, D. Mitrevski and S. Janikievic, then Dust and Before the Rain by M. Mančevski, because we did analyzed them before in some previous texts published in the Magazine Kinopis. Also, we will look into the some of the characteristics that incline to, or contain some postmodern values, but in whole couldn’t be defined as full-postmodern films. They are Happy New ’49, Tattoo and Gypsy Magic by Stole Popov and Angels on A Dump by Dimitrie Osmanli. So, let us note that we do focus only onto long-length feature films in this case, although postmodernism is surely present within the short-length feature, documentary and television films, as well within the video-art forms and video-clip works, also. Only, those cinema and TV segments and forms aren’t subject of our analyses here.
retro, remake, replay
At the very beginnings of the postmodern studies in some global frames (as the book The Language of the Postmodern Architecture by Charles Jenks), as Postmodern’s most significant characteristics was considered the new retrospective and recalling of numerous previous models that the Modern destroyed – in its aesthetic Jihad. So, in the art of painting, that is the figuration, in the architecture it’s the ornamental style, in the literature it’s the psychological aspect and the narration, and in the film that would be – the conventional model.
By Felix Torres (1988:160), in the western society exists a trend of general retrospective and inclining toward the past: numerous quests for the roots of any kind. The first mild appearance of the postmodern film in the Macedonian film is Happy New ’49 by Stole Popov, in 1986. This film is made by the retro principles, so by the strategy of so-called neo-conservative postmodern, which was prevailing – not only in the aesthetics, but also in the world politics in the 80’s, bringing the tacherism and the reganism on the West, and causing the break of the socialism and restoring of the parliamentary democracy in the East. In the Happy New ’49 prevails this retrograde and anachronistic restoring of the ideology and the way of life in the early 50’s.
For Rastko Mocsnik (Mocsnik, 1988:118), the replay, the retro principle is the overtaking of the history again. By that, not only the style, but also the positions it originated from – is being overtaken, and it is presented in a good perspective. That is so-called revival. For the resigned Frederic Jameson, those are desperate attempts to grasp the vanishing past, a real discrepancy with the real history, a historicism that denies and annuls the history itself (Jameson, 1985:198). He analyzes the so-called nostalgia-film (la mode retro), where, at the collective and on a society level, those are attempts to grasp the vanishing past and the firm laws of the constant changes breaks apart along with the vanishing of the generation ideology. In that way, by Jameson, the result is the dramatically appeared discordance of the postmodern “nostalgia language” with the real history. But, Jameson also acknowledges that the nostalgia-film never was a matter of some old-fashioned presentation of the history contents. He acknowledges that the approach to the past is stylishly made with the maximum “polished” image of the historical contents. This Jameson’s thoughts are quite valid at the esthetical and even at the ideological level, but in their praxis, as we said, those thoughts did fulfil their society purpose.
In Happy New ’49, Stole Popov tries to create a film in retro style, evoking memory of the years right after the Second World War, namely of the historically significant 1948 and the well-known declining of the Tito’s Yugoslavia politics from the Stalin’s Soviet Union at that time. Then, for many, just as for the characters in this film’s story, just or unjust, provoked individual and/or social tragedies and disasters. Very successfully, Popov creates a film with a spectrum of expression means in a retro style. The theme, the characters, the mizanscene solutions, the choice of music, they all breathe in that time’s style. What this film presents as a retro one, as a revival, is the author’s ideology and preferences. A film where is given, that obvious, so much honor to – in that time so repressed – the urban culture, so much honor to its subversive links with the “decayed West”, and a film with so much positive emotive choice of a common smuggler as a good hero… And in contrary, in that time, the most of the victims of that time were the personalities with preferences as this author’s… That’s why this film is a replay, an attempt to invoke and resurrect the irretrievably passed historical time, this time from the position that couldn’t be expressed at that actual time. And on the other hand, exactly the possibility of expressing this author’s position crowned with laurels, speaks of the irreversibly changed historical circumstances.
The post-structuralism and the postmodernism are implementing radical re-examination on the concept of the so-called art-deeds as units of the textual praxis. Umberto Eko implies the concept of the open art-deed instead of the previous concept of the structurally circled and closed one with the firm and verifiable values. Instead of the art-deed that understands the signified sign as a constant unit of the meaning, he implies the idea of the text as that. “The text is a tissue of quotes drawn from numerous culture centers” (Rolan Barthes, 1992:116). In such a situation, the postmodern art-deed (text) is open for all possible combinations, for any disparate and inconsequent linkages, for any open frames and inter-textual relations on the plan of the diegesis and the meanings. Linda Hutchon, revealing the ideological and economical pillars that stand behind the idea of originality and lean on the concept of the property itself, says that postmodernism is interested for the concepts that re-examine the humanistic ideas of originality: copies, intertexts, parodies. Popovski and Mitrevski, signing together under the film Goodbye to the 20th Century, question the concept of the author’s originality, and with that, of the art-deed as the sacred emanation of the author’s individuality, as well.
The postmodernism deconstructs the genre system, moves the genre entities and limits, with its inclusive logic “everything passes”. The limits among the genres become fluid, the genre incline towards its bursting, of its genre characteristics and its nature, all that through the “contamination principles, the laws of the impure” (Hasan, 1987:32). Goodbye of the 20th Century functions as a catalogue of more different genre patterns and means, where no scene look like the previous one. There, the sequences of the Kuzman’s journey into the Glass City are realized as in the action science fiction film of the most commercial Hollywood-like productions, with the fairy-like, film-musical and comic segments. The part of the story from the beginning of the Century is realized in black & white exotically-historically-made documentary. The part with the moaning over the dead, there is some kind of a new-wave-like abstraction, a grotesque splatter-horror and an urban music film. The Maklabas story is built on the thriller models, pop-art-like segments and underground features with elements of science fiction. But, the thriller is deconstructed and with no suspense and firm intelligible coherence. In Angels on a Dump, in the manner of the Macedonian postmodern theater drama, the genre patterns are given in the paratext of the film by the authors themselves and it’s signed as a “realistic-moral-psychological farce, a neo-realistic tragicomic persiflage, sur-realistically-oneirically stylized grotesque”.
The multi-genre’s existence of the Macedonian postmodern film is realized through the means of the hybridization, with the applying of the rule of the combining the genres that are disparate as much as possible. Brian MacHale, for example, considers the detective genre as a pure presenter of the Modernism, because it postulates cognitive and epistemological questions (who?), and the genre of science fiction as a pure Postmodern presenter, because it postulates ontological questions (what?). But, exactly Aleksandar Stankovski with his Maklabas shows that there are no limits that art imagination couldn’t overcome, and he includes detective story together with the science-fiction one. As even more, he links the pop-art fascination with the everyday’s life with hallucinant oneirism of the Castaneda-type, along with the classical SF story of the alien invasion (The Green Crystal) and the weird creature (Maklabas) of the Mary Shellie’s kind. In Light Gray, there is a realized omnibus, in which the stories are so disparate, signed by the different authors and with the disparate genres each: the hyper-urban drama with the magical realism, horror with western techniques, urban drama with the musical and comedy. The goal of the hybridization is to emphasize the complexity and the richness, with the intention to create a different kind of sensibility. That is because of the feeling that the simple harmony is false, or simply – not interesting. The hybridization is made upon the principles of the bricollage, defined by Clod Levi-Stross. A situation that, accordingly of the contexts and the specific need and different combinations, one uses different theory “tools” from the “toolbox”. The bricollage understands one thing – what Liotar says – to move among more different discourse genres without making a synthesis, but always according the “rules of the game” of every separate discourse genre (see Liotar, 1989:71,79). Goodbye to 20th Century is built in that manner. Its authors, and this is verifiable, said that every sequence of the film is built by the pattern of some widely known film example. Aleksandar Stankovski uses his actors in the same way in Maklabas. He uses his friends as “naturschiks” (common non-professional actors), and they play different roles in the film, and also he uses inserts of his video arts and his paintings and comics, photos, script fragments, etc.
All this gives the most significant characteristic of the postmodern film by which it separates itself from the other types of films: its accented and emphasized constructivity, non-mimetic fashion and anti-illusionism. So, the main arguments of the postmodern film are: the intentional break of the action & story logic, the “alienated” actors’ performance and the anti-psychologism in the building of the characters. Both in the Light Gray and in the Goodbye to the 20th Century actors play their characters without the minimum of the personal verity and even in one sequence of the film they make so much of a character changes and overturns of their characters that are in full opposite with the narrative logic of the film. They are fully aware of the existence of the audience and of the reception’s possibilities for change, and with that, aware of their manipulative powers. The actors in Angels on a Dump are maybe closest to that our obscure understanding of the postmodernism. They stand – all the time – on the line between the mimetic verity and the emphasized fictionality. They (like) perform realistically, and actually are given as a “characters”. The strategy of the emphasized constructivism is also the relation upon the reality itself. The postmodern film strongly shows that it is art indeed, but also it shows in the same way that all of the other art and non-art practices are constructed, made, artificial. Aleksandar Stankovski in Maklabas, for example, for his chronotops (the City Museum) and for the diegesis (the political opposition protests), and also for some of the characters – uses real places and buildings, happenings and people, and by that he provokes the “ontological scandal” (MacHale). With that, he shows the constructive principle of the film, but placing it within the film itself, within the false/unreal context, shows how “thin” is our reality in its non-problematized existence. The similar play can be noted in the Angels on a Dump, where the actors play characters they are on the edge between the fictive and the real in the reality itself – especially in accordance with their private and public personality: clowns, actors, public and political figures…
The fragmentarity is one of the canonic forms of the postmodernism. Probably, it emanates from the claim that “the modern man has a fragmentary and incomplete way of understanding and viewpoints on the world. (…) The world is only receipted – and not in any other way but – fragmentarily” (Virilio, 1989:55,59). Or, as Bodriar defines the postmodern: “All that’s left, are pieces. The play with the pieces – that’s the Postmodern” (Bodriar, at Kellner, 1996:182). With those pieces plays the Macedonian film also – with fragments of the horror, western, mystery, urban fairytale, urban grotesque (Light Gray), the fragments of the “real” life and the urban pop-icons of Skopje, than the thriller, science fiction, fantasy (Maklabas), the fragments from the comics, fairy tales, myths and legends, quiz shows, actual or old legendary and commercial film world hits (Goodbye to the 20th Century). The action of these films is fragmentary, with leaps, with the inoculated sequences, often in collision with the common sense.
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski