ArticlesDatacide 17

Unparaphraseable Life – Notes on Third Cinema

“Cinema is magic in the service of dreams”
– Djibril Diop Mambéty

When, back in the 1990s, Félix Guattari coined the phrase Post-Media Era, this was of interest to me in that it seemed to imply a kind of bypassing of the mainstream mass media, or as filmmaker Peter Watkins calls it, the Monoform – a generalized communications format.1
In some ways my musings upon Guattari’s phrase were nothing other than a re-articulation, during the winter years of the mid ‘90s, of the spirit of the underground culture that had arisen in the ‘60s and, to some degree, petered out as the post-punk moment (that had educated many people into a ‘desire to know’) reached a kind of apogee in pop: ‘selling out’ as an ironic pose. This was, in some ways, concomitant to the rise of cultural studies through which even the infiltrative intents of pop subversion were rendered into abstract signs of cultural kudos rather than into propellants of a cultural combativeness. In these depoliticized years of the ‘90s, then, there was, amidst the wider movement of the rave and techno culture, an opening towards a rearticulation of counter culture and, for me, post-media signaled once more the benefits of an independent approach that could not simply become a vehicle for the usual forms of politicization but, as a shared practice and as a mode of relation, could make ‘labour in culture’ the meeting ground for a re-imagining of a politics based upon the reappropriation of both the means of production and the means of expression.

Whilst not attending so much to the up and coming communications revolution of the internet and its eventual social media platforms, my focus back then seemed to be, in changing the emphasis of Guattari’s ‘post media era’ into that of ‘post media operators’, one of continuing a kind of mass media critique (maybe most quickly grasped via Noam Chomsky’s ‘manufacturing consent’) whilst also shifting a creative emphasis from the authorial voice of the producers to the so-called passive consumers of culture. These latter were what could form a differentiated movement just as much as they could be misrepresented as a ‘mass’; they were the context of a living culture without which independent making could not thrive. But, at the same time, by imputing ‘operational’ capacity to those deemed consumers, there was a definite challenge held out to the more or less Situationist inspired critique of the ‘spectacle’ as producing passive consumers pure and simple. Such an overdetermination of the recipients of culture, a denial of the creative and cognitive capacities of the senses of the majority of people, seemed to be part and parcel of a Leftist snobbery; a rendering senseless of those who did not necessarily seek the route of discourse and realpolitik as the mainstay of their political commitment. The yardstick of ‘intelligence’ as being to do with well versed opinion and political positioning seemed to refute the intuitive sensibility and desiring investments of the listeners and viewers who I knew.2
Post-media, then, was taken as post-mass-media both in terms of ‘outflanking’ the media conglomerates and differenting-out the ‘mass’ or the ‘silent majority’ that were the objects of a kind of technical and functional dispositif that the conglomerates passed off as entertainment.

Maybe reflecting a rise in interest in the work of Bakhtin, some of the main rhetorics of these 90s post media writings were concerned with a kind of ‘dialogical’ opening between the subject and the object, a third creative space in which the cultural message was to some degree imbibed and ‘completed’ or lingered over in an expanded temporality of enigma: one could say that with culture becoming increasingly linked to manufacture and with our subjectivity being produced by means of cultural conformity, it was a matter of choosing to be produced as subjects by means of ‘cultural commodities’ that either implicitly rejected their own exchange value or had such a surfeit of meaning as to set-off psychical energy and its capacities of desiring-perception. As grand as this sounds, I felt that when a ‘cultural commodity’ was undigested it carried with it this sense of an offer to patiently make-meaning rather than that meaning be packaged up with an explicitness devoid of mystery and foreshortened in its effects by inbuilt obsolescence. Such musings about post-media operations – as much provoked by music cultures as anything else – soon led from a kind of conscious individuation (or auto-production of subjectivity by means of the senses) to an emphasis on the context of this ‘third rail’ as an independent space of counter-cultural self-institution: the reception context (free party, sound system, exploding cinema) became a meeting point for those excluded from the potentialities of cultural creation by being deemed ‘passive’ or ‘amateur’; contexts in which the contagion of this new found creativity (desiring-energy) could lead to what Espinosa, in his For An Imperfect Cinema essay, called “the liberation of the private means of production.”3

Such a liberation (maybe not so much ‘private’ as ‘singular’) was one of the extra-cinematic intentions of what is called ‘Third Cinema’. But, before we turn to this elastic term in more depth, it is worth making a further comment about post-media in that, being led by Guattari, there was an emphasis upon the ways that cultural practice could not just be interpreted as political by means of its manifest ‘message’ but, in confronting a backdrop of conditioning and control, it was the very material of a politics of the subject and that, whereas class could be seen to have formed a ready-made subject, this cultural politics was about in-forming ourselves as subjects, as gaining the confidence to ‘singularise’. Crucial here was the way that cultural activity depended upon the passions becoming ‘theoreticians’ as well as a sense of the ‘self’ being re-perceived as collective, as socially formed. These very aspects were politicising at the level of sensibility and desire; at the level of the body and of the everyday. What is heralded here, and Guattari emphasizes this throughout his writings, is that our being produced as subjects of capital cannot simply be combatted by a reliance on consciousness and knowledge (themselves orientated by Capital), but that a micro-politics is necessary: a practice of attending to that which eludes such consciousness and which can often be brought to light by the affectivities induced by being the self-directed recipients of culture. In other words the post-media writings of the 1990s join in with a politics of sensibility whose stakes are the rearticulation of the individual as a singularity whose ‘being’ can no longer abide by “the terms in which reality is conventionally portrayed.”4
And, these terms, we must remember, are terms that have been developed by forms of knowledge and consciousness that, in shaping the form of the mass media, impose dominant notions of reality upon us; that make it impossible for us to learn to live-through and explore our own singular experiences, and from there, in the words of Luis Bunuel, begin to “enlarge tangible

Third Cinema, then, shares much with Guattari’s notion of a post-media era. That it came to light many years before Guattari’s writings on the subject is less indicative of Guattari’s lack of originality as it is of the pervasiveness of critiques of the media, and, in the case in hand, what Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino refer to in their essay as “industrial cinema”. This essay, Toward A Third Cinema, first published in 1969, has, many commentators suggest, been subject to a kind of genre defining stasis as if it was the first and last word on both refusing the terms of the western Monoform and on encouraging others to take up the camera. Perhaps its readers have skimmed over the ‘Toward’ in the essay’s title as well as their being unable to follow up on the Spanish-language re-writes and amendments this essay has had over the years. So, in some senses, Third Cinema has become something of a catch-all phrase at the same time as being, in no small part, an address to their fellow intellectuals, it is something more like an inciteful beginning informed as much by the anti-colonial struggle as it is by aesthetic standards. However, its continuing importance lies, for me, in the way that it sustains a context for debates and investigation into the dominant novelistic conventions of cinema and how it provides a space of encouragement in which others can take the confidence to work on their own terms and embark upon a “process of singularisation”.6 Indeed, Solanas and Getino refer to Third Cinema as “an inhibition removing practice” and this in some ways is brought about by Third Cinema’s insistence that all the conventions of making films (narrative, plot, drama, actors, stage sets, raising funds etc.) can be easily abandoned if the focus of the film is to make a movie as a “living document and naked reality”7 . If we take their film Hour of the Furnace as an example of what they intend by Third Cinema, then, it puts us in mind of a kind of activist cinema, a newsreel from the other side, that prefigures the coming of Indy-Media outlets. From another perspective, this film, with its didactic voiceover, is reminiscent of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, and yet unlike this latter film, the contrast between what is said and what is seen, a kind of jarring together of perception and affect, still retains a transformatory potential in that, with the visceral struggle against oppression being revealed, Solanas and Getino achieve the marked ‘dissolving of aesthetics’ that they sought.

Solanas and Getino illustrate Third Cinema as the filming of oppressed peoples in struggle, making films alongside and from within this struggle as part of what they see as a guerilla film activity. In this work they are careful not to make too many concessions to an aesthetics that can often be, for them, a means of mediation and which Clyde Taylor later referred to as a “pseudo-science” that plays a “major role in the concordance between western organization of knowledge and visually centered racism”.8
This questioning of aesthetics as a benign sphere without political ramifications is also questioned as a means of distancing the viewer from the visceral impact of depictions of suffering and oppression and figures as another aspect that Third Cinema brings to its criticisms of mainstream media practices. The latter’s slick, almost parasitical use of debilitating images of a suffering that takes place elsewhere (‘blood of others flowing from the television’) can be contrasted to such directors as Med Hondo when, back in 1978, he offered that “to depict the objective reality of people… we must live it in the first person”.9
This suspicion of aesthetics, an aesthetics that for Taylor has its roots in Man-defining physiognomic categorization and, one could add, the ethnographic ‘capture of souls’, is taken up as well by Julio Espinosa in his essay, For An Imperfect Cinema. In this manifesto, also from the late 60s, there is a challenge to the role of the ‘artist’ in capitalist society and an assertion that we are “no longer interested in quality or technique” or in “predetermined taste”. Espinosa later complained that this piece of writing of his was misunderstood as implying he was setting out to make ‘bad cinema’, but in this essay he is asserting something akin to the Situationist call for ‘the realisation and suppression of art’ when, in stating that “art will not disappear into nothingness; it will disappear into everything”, he is suggesting that cinema would become ‘imperfect’ because, as could be said of Third Cinema, it set out to meet neither the criteria of (aesthetic) perfection nor the terms of western critical maxims.

This problem of aesthetics and Third Cinema will come to be a persistent one. At the outset it was parodied by Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha when he titled an essay The Aesthetics of Hunger and in the Latin America of the late 60s (as in the ultra-left milieus of Europe) the whole notion of aesthetics chimes too strongly with notions of colonial dominance and bourgeois decadence. More than this, and echoing Clyde Taylor, it is intuited as being involved in what Rocha referred to as “the more refined forms employed by contemporary colonizer.” Such suspicions still persist and the documentary or social realist strands of cinema seem to have maintained their hold as the most accepted means to depict an ‘actually lived real’ outside of aesthetic concerns. That this reality, for Solanas and Getino, is one of a suffering and exploitation that is heavily mediated by the mainstream media, goes a long way to their articulation of Third Cinema as a cinema of (political) decolonization and (viewer) liberation: “freeing a forbidden truth means setting free the possibility of indignation and subversion”.10
However, rather than be prescriptive about what forms and concerns such a cinema should have, they choose to close their manifesto by placing an emphasis on the reception context of mobile film screenings. What they call the ‘film act’ is not so much about the act of filming, editing or post-production, but with using the resultant films as a “detonator or pretext” for the gathering together of viewers. The films themselves could be made as collaborations, footage gathered could be shared and just as this group-practice freed the filmmaker from the role of ‘director’ they also talk of the ‘disinhibiting’ effect that these gatherings can have upon the viewers: “the spectator made way for the actor, who sought himself in others”.11
They depict a kind of ribald context of viewing that does not conform to the frozen spectacle of industrially made films (First Cinema) nor to the reverence of auteurist art films (Second Cinema) but points instead toward a Third Cinema, a fluidity of interaction between filmmaker, viewer and context that Paul Willemen later summarised as a “dialectical relationship between social existence and cultural practice”.12

Whilst Third Cinema has often been generalised into denoting ‘Third World Cinema’ it has similarly come to function as a scholarly category that maybe film critics have championed more than filmmakers. So, the Third Cinema entry on Wikipedia lists many names from Argentina to Senegal, but to my mind very few of the filmmakers listed explicitly align themselves to this category. Perhaps, like many catch-all categories, people come to define themselves by riffing around them, expanding upon them, gnawing at them, singularising themselves through them whilst refusing to be mediated by them.13
So, by the late 80s, when a ‘Third Cinema’ Conference took place in Edinburgh (out of which the Questions of Third Cinema book arose) we can discover filmmaker Haile Gerima and his ‘Triangular Cinema’; Clyde Taylor and his ‘Black Cinema in the Post Aesthetic Era’; Black Audio Film Collective’s ‘Diasporic Cinema’; and Homi K Bhabha’s ‘Third Space’ etc. For me the appeal of Third Cinema lies in just this proliferation of angry denunciations of the Monoform and its “transmission of subjective models”,15
a cultural combativeness that can often be seen coming through on the screen as a melding of vivid social settings and idiosyncratic aesthetics, of untold histories and dialogic encounter, that seem less mediated by the impulse to fulfill needs that viewers didn’t even know they wanted. So, another dynamical aspect of this ‘post-media’ phrase of Guattari’s is that it could also imply a lessening of mediation – a post-mediation. In the words of critic Teshome Gabriel, Third Cinema can be seen to secrete other frames of reference than those of the mainstream media that “homogenise difference by [means of] networks of mediation.”15
Whilst singularizing differences are erased by the Monoform through the competing demands of funders, producers, actors, critics and ultimately the market, the Third Cinema classics, arising in a ‘post-mass-media’ vacuum away from the centers of taste-making and over-planned formats, are, like much counter-cultural creativity, more free to develop films that are directly affecting in that they embrace that which eludes consciousness and received wisdom (especially a consciousness that is blind to its own ‘lens flare’ by constantly being caught in the dull glare of Western narrative conventions). We have already heard how Med Hondo immersed himself in the context of his films as a producer-participant and we could reflect, too, on how Djibril Diop Mambéty, in the opening of Badou Boy, has himself with camera in shot amidst a mélange of people who could be actors, camera people, technical assistants, passers-by etc. Everything in this opening sequence seems like ‘life lived’, an unmediated mise-en-acte that, open to the possibility of scriptless alterity, seems to have dispensed with the ‘past definitive tense’ of novelistic fiction whose seeming plenitude, makes us, as viewers, incapable of imagining anything else. Yet, in that mélange, on that line between fiction and documentary, with the image attaining a polysemy irreducible to language, with the action setting off unbridled, something other than the Badou Boy seems to be escaping down the alley.

Perhaps what escapes is Espinosa’s ‘private means of production’? And, again, I don’t think that Espinosa is talking about either the freeing of private capital nor a purely individualist cinema, but rather a ‘singular’ form of filmmaking (beginning with the associative flights of the spectator!) formed by the consummation of the relationship between the social and the cultural; a consummation, between the producer and the receiver too, that makes room for ‘investments of desire’. Is it in this light that Mambéty can speak of cinema being born out of desire, not a pre-ordained desire, not a sexual desire, but a desire born from, as he put it in an interview, an encounter with possibilities? Away from the Monoform and its predictable functionalities, its way of streamlining possibilities into ‘outcomes’ and cleaning up the lens flare, there is, then, as Peter Watkins has suggested, “a potential for an almost unlimited number of varying forms and processes”.16
Such a potential is made from the encounter with possibilities (one could say, after the Surrealists and Med Hondo, that this is ‘objective chance’), and such is this encounter that it can make us respond less as ‘identifying’ individuals and more as singularities in that there is no ‘identi-kit code’ of how to respond to the ‘objective chance’ of possibility. Was it such a ‘cinema of desire’ that Solanas was hinting at in his own reappraisal of Third Cinema, when he spoke tellingly of “thirty-six different kinds of Third Cinema”?17
Some commentators seem to imply that these ‘36 varieties’ could be purely “national and local”, as if the ‘36’ were only a harbinger of a multi-cultural cinema, but the consummation between the cultural and the social (social jouissance) is perhaps what helps us grasp the ‘self’ as a singularity or a trans-individual when, instead of the reduced possibility of these separate and confining ‘spheres’, we are able to individuate regardless of category. Indeed, when we turn to Teshome Gabriel’s contribution to the Third Cinema debate we can glean how Third Cinema practices are such that they can often take leave of the protagonist-centric and drama-for-drama’s-sake devices of the Monoform. What informs this for Gabriel is nothing less than the heterogeneity of experiences (‘hetero-biography’ he conjectures) that come to light when differences and their various associational patterns are no longer mediated into non-existence by a kind of micro-management of the means of expression. Such a bureaucratization of culture is one in which the desire to imagine is thwarted and the creative possibilities are rendered senseless by ‘reality-testing’ and ‘believability’.

What seems to be at stake in Gabriel’s writing is a kind of simultaneity between the larger lessons that a non-western cultural experience can evoke for a reassessment of not just cinema but of a mainly European-led ‘political’ discourse. This, and at the same time there is, in an echo of Solanas’s ‘thirty six varieties’, a keen attentiveness to the proliferating minutiae of experience that is often captured by Third Cinema and which could, furthermore, be said to trouble the naturalism of ‘documentary reality’ and ‘fictional reality’ by appealing to a kind of singularising vernacular and micro-social poetics that includes within it the layered temporalities and improvisational qualities of music. By stating simply that “Third Cinema includes an infinity of subjects and styles as varied as the lives of the people it portrays”, Gabriel, criticised for not taking up the ‘larger’ question of national cinemas, is pointing us away from the homogenized heroes and heroines of Western Cinema, and towards what he calls ‘unparaphraseable’ forms of life that can exist outside of such categorical distinctions as the nation state and, indeed, outside the Self as it is undynamically construed (as a non-singularity) by the European enlightenment. Key here, I feel, is the disregard of what Gabriel calls the ‘multiple points of view’ that are often a feature of Third Cinema and which, as a source of poetic juxtaposition and possible encounter, are enablers of this ‘infinity of styles and subjects’, the ’36 varieties’, that I am calling singularities. So in some ways Gabriel, in his Towards A Critical Theory of Third World Films, sets up a dichotomy between the means and techniques of Third Cinema and those of the Western Monoform. This may be seen as lacking in theoretical subtlety (a form of aesthetics?) but in so doing he depicts the way that the Monoform is constantly encouraging us to introject many aspects of bourgeois culture that come to feature as means of a more ‘refined’ colonialism; a colonialism of psychic manipulation that could best be described as an ‘endocolonialism’ (“colonial models occupying our optic nerve“ says Haile Gerima) and which, in closing the often haphazard meanders of the possible, seriously hinders the political imaginary. The Monoform does not just tell us what to feel with its manifest thematic content, but evokes in us a how-of-feeling that, in turn, defines our conceptual horizon.

Gabriel is thorough in his criticisms of the Monoform and contrasts these with some of the cultural determinants of non-European cultures going back to a perceived split between oral and print forms of culture which he is suggesting have informed Third Cinema approaches to filmmaking.18
To select just a few of these which resonate with what I have already been circling, Gabriel suggests that the oral form places an emphasis on context rather than aesthetics, that it recognises a general level of cultural attainment rather than exceptions and individual ‘artistic’ achievements. Rather than a scenic presentation of a theatrical type with a clear boundary between audience and stage there is a more circular 360° setting that is more open to audience participation and extra-cinematic effects (one could mention here that such an ‘invading of the diegesis’ is one of the staple means employed by Augustus Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed). The oral culture is seen less as having a linear sequence of beginning and end and comprises instead of multi-centred concentric episodes rather than the ‘Three Act’ sequence that filmmaker Haile Gerima regretted being schooled in. This feeds into there being less emphasis on overarching interpretation and more upon an openness to the enigmas and suggestiveness of symbols and poetic constructions (desiring encounters with the possible.) On the ontological level Gabriel suggests that a ‘Third World’ individual is in closer contact to a collective sense of self and rather than changing himself through means of himself the route to singularisation is in clinamenatic consort with the wider community or counter cultural movement. Such individuation by means of the collective encourages those from the oral tradition to not feel separate from the general social fabric as an isolated ‘individual’, but to identify more with the concept of the ‘human’ than that of ‘man’. This concept of the person as ‘human’ has ramifications for Gabriel in that the common experience of alienation felt in the West is, for him, appeased by a form of consciousness that could pass by the term, species-being.19

When this is translated into differences between cinematic approaches, Gabriel mentions differences in lighting, camera angle, camera placement and camera movement that can be picked up from Third Cinema films. There is less likelihood, suggests Gabriel, for the close ups and shot/reverse shots that Bhahba scorns as a strategy of “serial enlightenment” perhaps because they establish interaction between two people that moves away from contextual possibility and into an inter-personal bubble in which, more often than not, potential perception is channeled down the aisle of narrative progression. This aspect of protagonist induced catharsis is undermined for Gabriel by Third Cinema films being often ‘hero-less’ and we can encounter in such films a cavalcade of characters and episodes, an ensemble aspect to such cinema that encourages a multiplicity of attitudes and a heterogeneity of experiences to be depicted; a kind of ‘collective human being’ where the crowd doesn’t give rise to a sole representative but becomes a ‘character’ in itself or, like the soloist in jazz, becomes one of many characters given proportionate attention. In the light of this ensemble-effect, the reality depicted by some Third Cinema films is one that takes on a documentary hue in that not only do cities like Dakar become characters, but the choice of location shooting (perhaps brought about by the lack of cinema infrastructure), in setting characters amidst social situations, also achieves a troubling of the often well-demarcated line between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’. Here too there can often be, in Third Cinema films, a deliberate use of the non-dramatic which can dispense with the ‘central conflict theory’ beloved of the Monoform.20
Gabriel offers this up as a diminution of narrative ‘thrust’ that permits viewers to linger unrushed in the space of a scene, to relaxedly take in the ‘possibilities’ without being overly pressured by the onrushing denouement. Such ‘borderline’ aspects as these are further enhanced by the deployment of non-professional actors who Gabriel describes as ‘acting out their real-life roles’ and through whom can be brought both a sense of improvisatory realism and the realism of desire.21
This use of non-actors, tellingly called ‘models’ by Robert Bresson, brings also a sense of the unpredictable in that being untrained in deliberate artful mimesis, these ‘amateurs’ bring something singular, something ‘unparaphraseable’ to the celluloid.

Remaining with Gabriel, it would be impossible for me not to mention the use of music in Third Cinema films. Whilst in a later essay Gabriel speaks of the ‘sensory evocation’ of more than just sight and sound and of “something that seems to be hovering just beyond our vision, our hearing: a ghostly presence, a material spirit which is repressed or denied in Western cinemas”,22
it could be that just as he draws attention to the sense of poetic-possibility in Third Cinema, he downplays (or is over familiar with) the way that, alongside an intertextual approach (e.g. Med Hondo’s use of animation in Soleil Ô, or Haile Gerima’s use of extraneous radio noise in Bush Mama) the music used in many Third Cinema films serves to evoke and emphasise that which escapes from the narrative whilst ventilating it with an extra-cinematic quality or with a bleed-over from other frames or action remaining undepicted. Perhaps we are familiar with the use of ‘non synchronous sound’, but as Clyde Taylor remarked of Sembene’s Ceddo (an example of a Third Cinema ‘genre’ that rearticulates history in a palimpsest of historical episodes), this can also refer to a clash of times and styles of music that problematizes our inbred reliance upon verisimilitude in the depiction of a ‘true-to-life’ reality and, thus troubled, once stimulated by the possible, this use of sound can, when aligned or unaligned with the images, encourage a passion of perception. More often than not, this kind of disjunctive approach is not even considered viable in the cinema of the Monoform. Music (and very rarely, noise) is often used there to prosaically reinforce the pre-ordained emotional responses that themselves take on a ‘naturalistic’ hue: it is ‘natural’ to feel this way when your watching is aurally-leashed. However, such a reification of the music, its being a tool used to work upon an object (the audience), seems unable to be recognised by many of us because of our desire to conform to the manipulation, or to respond in a way that is socially acceptable.23
The use of ‘unusual’ sounds or noise in Third Cinema (e.g. the electronified percussion in Soleil Ô) or the compilation-effect of many clashing genres from scene to scene (c.f Touki Bouki) not only complements the different rhythms of the shots and edits of Third Cinema directors, but lends to the films a “complexity and mixture that allows magic to take place because they [Third Cinema directors] do not try to organize everything into rational categories […] and what is magic, ultimately, but mixing and connecting things that do not seem rationally connected”.24

Here, for me, Gabriel is approaching Surrealism in that with its suspicion of rationality, its passion for perceiving and its refusal to be the slave of plausibility, Surrealism, not unknown to the black cultural world (c.f. Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, René Ménil, Ted Joans, Jayne Cortez, Will Alexander, etc.) was a movement of cultural combativeness that, even in its classical days, often held out its hand to the plight of those suffering under colonial rule. Whether it was the protest against the Colonial Exhibition of 1931 or the satirical tableau exposing colonial rule contained in L’Age d’Or, the Surrealists embraced the ‘zone of occult instability’ that Frantz Fanon saw as a necessity not just for a cultural renaissance, but for a renewed politics. Indeed it is to Fanon that Homi K Bhabha turns in his contribution to Questions of Third Cinema and it is perhaps to this essay that Gabriel has turned too. For this place of ‘occult instability’ (social jouissance?) is for Bhabha the “third space of enunciation”, an indeterminate and haphazard space in which the subject of the statement (what is said) and the subject of enunciation (who is saying it) are not married together in a seamless Monoform expression, but are undermined and rendered hybrid in a way that admits of the unconscious. There can be no certainty that what is said is said in full transparency, that what is said carries an ultimate truth, nor that the place from which we speak is stable. Much better than such self-evident certainty (often heavily manipulated even in the ‘true-to-life’ documentary form) are these disjunctive hybridities, these shifting spaces of enunciation, through which the ‘unparaphraseable’ (that which – as ‘magic’ or as ‘singularity’ – eludes the plausible), can assert itself as a breach in the ‘models of subjectivity’ and the determinants of perception that are offered by the Monform. This breach-effect, or unassignable leakage, can often be intuited in the films of Third Cinema, which seem, as we watch them, to articulate what Christian Metz referred to as the vise de conscience: as spectators we are not always reduced to passive sponges but can come to a ‘desiring perception’ that contains the intermixing of dream, day dream and real (unmediated) perception.25
This simultaneity of levels, this mixing and connecting, is, maybe, in itself a form of magic. A form of magic in which the ‘self’ diversifies itself into interactive sub personalities, in which analogy reigns over interpretation and the negative (as ‘central conflict’) is outflanked by a desire, albeit always unresolved, that seeks, not the plenitude of diegetic regression and its biased knowledges, but the possibilities for a hybrid cinema (as Third Cinema came to be known26
) that can singularise it away from a ‘perfect’ constructedness and away from the insanity of our seeking after an unattainable wholeness in places other than those that, as extra-institutional, offer the realism of social jouissance.

June 2017

1 See Peter Watkins, The Media Crisis – Foreword, 2014 at

2 In the ‘90s one could come across novelist Ronald Sukenick and the Fiction Collective offering a ‘reader liberation.’ Similarly the
Exploding Cinema phenomena of this period also functioned to breakdown the strict division between filmmaker and audience. For an in-depth history and appraisal of the latter see

3 See Julio García Espinosa, For An Imperfect Cinema, in Jump Cut No.20, 1979, p.24-26.

4 Ashish Rajadhyaksha, ‘Debating The Third Cinema’ in Questions of Third Cinema, ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen, BFI Publishing, 1989, p.171. As the reader will discover I have found this book indispensable in orientating myself within the debates of Third Cinema.

5 See Luis Bunuel, ‘Cinema, Instrument of Poetry’ in The Shadow and its Shadow, (ed.) Paul Hammond, BFI 1978, p.68.

6 “As I see it, desire is a process of singularisation, a point of proliferation and creation of the possible within an established system […] Desire is the fact that, in a closed world, a process arises that secretes other systems of reference…”. See Felix Guattari, ‘Institutional Schizo-Analysis’ in Soft Subervisions, Semiotext(e) 1996, p.273.

7 Octavio Getino & Fernando Solanas, ‘Toward A Third Cinema’ in Tri-Continental Quarterly, 1969, p.107-132.

8 Clyde Taylor, ‘Black Cinema in the Post Aesthetics Era’, in Questions of Third Cinema, op. cit, p.92. Martin Bernal tracks this back to the mid 18th Century when Johann Winckelmann, seen as the founder of the discipline of Art History, offered, when discussing Egyptian art: ‘How can we find even a hint of beauty in their figures, when almost all of the originals on which they were based had the form of the African?” See Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, Vintage 1991, p.244.

9 Interview with Med Hondo in Frameworks No.7/8, 1978.

10 Octavio Getino & Fernando Solanas, ibid.

11 ibid. Another Latin American filmmaker, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, continues this ‘spectator liberation’ theme in his 1989 essay entitled ‘The Viewer’s Dialectic’. See

12 Paul Willemen, ‘The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflections’ in Questions of Third Cinema, ibid, p.4.

13 In an interview from 1979, filmmaker Safi Faye said: “For me all these words – fiction, documentary, ethnology – have no sense”. See Frameworks No.11, 1979.

14 Felix Guattari, ‘Cinema of Desire’, ibid, p.146.

15 Teshome Gabriel, ‘Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory’, in Questions of Third Cinema, op cit, p. 61.

16 Peter Watkins, Edvard Munch DVD Booklet, Eureka 2007, p.62. Such ‘utopian’ imaginings of cinematic potential would be an interesting avenue to take. For now we can settle with Jean Epstein: “Like the philosopher’s stone, the cinematograph holds the power of universal transmutations. Yet, this secret is extraordinarily simple: all its magic comes from its capacity to vary temporal dimensions and orientations.” See Jean Epstein, The Intelligence of a Machine, Univocal 2017, p.88.

17 Fernando Solanas, cited by Paul Willemen, op cit, p.9.

18 The following draws upon Gabriel’s ‘Towards A Critical Theory of Third World Films’. See Questions of Third Cinema, ibid, p.30ff.

19 In this light Clyde Taylor makes an interesting observation about ‘post humanism’: “Is it humanism that is bankrupt and exhausted, or merely Euro-American humanism?” This latter he feels is a humanism based on individualism. See Clyde Taylor, op cit, p.94. There is also Med Hondo and his attempts to make the notion of character correspond to a “collective human being”. See Med Hondo, ibid.

20 For a critique of ‘Central Conflict Theory’ see Raúl Ruiz, Poetics of Cinema, Disvoir 2005.

21 Peter Watkins describes the non-professional actors he employs as not so much ‘playing a part’, but as “being a mixture of themselves and somebody else.” See Peter Watkins, ibid, p.23.

22 Teshome Gabriel, ‘Third Cinema Updated’. Available at

23 The reasons behind such a bewitchment are many and complex. We can be inclined to agree with Sylvia Wynter when she has it that our need for narrative is an almost innate instinct. But one wonders: what of this instinct? Is it an instinct untroubled by the vicissitudes of desire? An instinct which seeks the quickest route to satisfaction, in that, like a baby it cannot bear the frustration of its own desires?

24 Teshome Gabriel, op cit.

25 Christian Metz, Psychoanalysis and Cinema, Macmillan 1985, p.140-141.

26 See Robert Stam, ‘Beyond Third Cinema: the Aesthetics of Hybridity’ in Rethinking Third Cinema, ed. Anthony R. Guneratne & Wimal Dissayake, Routledge 2003, p.31ff.


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