4. The Critic’s Perspective

To gather some perspective from those who approach the film world from the point of view of a theorist, I looked into both online professional criticism of Black Swan and a published book on general film theory regarding independent film.

Film in the Aura of Art by Dudley Andrew is a set of essays in which Andrew criticizes film theory itself. In the chapter I analyzed, his approach is purely theoretical as he discusses the independent film Meet John Doe by Frank Capra. Andrew says that at the time of its production Capra was attempting to produce a film distinctive from his other works and separate from the Hollywood industry. Andrew is highly critical of this approach. He argues that any attempt to be “against Hollywood”, the concept prevalent in the way film is discussed by present-day indie film makers, is ultimately futile, and that it is impossible to create a film which does not rely on preconceived conventions established by the mainstream industry.

Andrew analyzes a film for which it is easy to make that argument – while it breaks a lot of traditions for the time period, it still uses camera shots, styles and symbols that are recognizable. I think this argument could be applied to even the most avant-garde of artistic films, though. This is because even in the strangest and most un-film-like of films, there is a purpose of contradiction. The artistic film is always working against some concept of what it means to be be less than artistic, and thus will always be a little bit dependent on that concept. I imagine that there is probably some case somewhere of somebody producing a film and having absolutely no intentions of working with or against the conventions of Hollywood, whose intentions are to merely let the film be what it is, but those intentions wouldn’t mean anything when working with a medium whose meaning and perception is so heavily already established; there are unavoidable societal preconceptions about the medium of the moving image and of the use of physical film to produce art, expectations which can only be avoided by having a void audience; and in the case where a piece has literally no attention from any eyes besides those of its creator, is it even worth considering that sort of piece in our discussion?  In the same way that indie filmmakers are at least a little bit dependent on the power of the audience by means of displaying a lack of concern for the audience’s desires, the indie film industry is at least a little bit dependent on the mainstream industry as a point of reference of what not to be.

Andrew says that because of this dynamic, it’s less productive to view the production of artistic or independent film as something which is against Hollywood, and more productive to view this kind of film as something which works to expand upon tradition. Andrew even goes so far as to say that all Hollywood films carry some aspect of the Independent film; talking about Meet John Doe, he says: “Far from vilifying this film or its type, we should see it as exposing a tension, present in every classic Hollywood film, between an authoritative voice of traditional logic and the more spontaneous tones of actors and visible technique.” (p 96) He’s saying here that the kind of oppositional dynamic which is so heavily talked about in terms of independent vs. studio film happens at a smaller scale within every film given the nature of film which will always be a balance of both tried-and-true industry and art.

By Andrew’s argument, the fact that I’m even attempting to find that exact locus of power in this discussion is unproductive and futile. His argument for the “productive discord” of the independent film community is unique among the other discussions I’ve read in that it actively vouches for an overlap in the dichotomy I’m studying, and in his view, that overlap isn’t a failure on the part of the independent film community or an exploitation on the part of the Hollywood industry – it just is what it is.

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