Dialectics of Third Cinema

I’ve been reading Political film: the dialectics of third cinema (Wayne, 2001), particularly Chapter 5: Dialectics of Third Cinema, which is most relevant to my area of interest. Some quick notes from my first reading…

Wayne begins with a reference to Walter Benjamin:

In his social history of Paris, Walter Benjamin found this blind belief in progress – in the inevitability that things will get better, that social problems would be resolved by industrial, technological and scientific developments – to be an article of faith. (Wayne, 2001 p109)

Yet Wayne suggests that this blind faith is misplaced:

Industrial, technological and scientific developments will never deliver the utopian promises as long as they are enmeshed in the social relations of capital, with its dynamics of profit accumulation a priority and the interests of the vast majority of the human race negligible […] modernisation is not change at all. (Wayne, 2001 p109-110)

Paul Klee: <i>Angelus Novus</i>, 1920

He again quotes Benjamin and his description of the angel of history:

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he  sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin, 2011 p249)

It’s reminiscent of an animated short that caught my eye a few weeks ago, MAN (Cutts, 2013):

Wayne references Benjamin and his Angel of History to highlight the dichotomy faced by filmmakers in developing countries “[…] whether to forget the past and ‘move on’ or remember the past and demand justice for wrongs that were done (Wayne, 2001 p110)”. He also analyses the essay Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World (Solanas and Getino, 1969) and discusses the difficulty in establishing a national cinema, which requires a sense of unity, while respecting the differences within that nation. This reminded me very much of the discussions around Palestinian cinema:

[…] the privileging of ‘national culture’ does not address the way the national is fractured by other divisions, such as class, gender and religion [there is the potential] only to see inequalities between one sector (the West) and another (the rest) which represses unequal political, social and cultural relations within these sectors. (Wayne, 2001 p113)

Later he quotes postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha: “contesting subjectivities […] are empowered in the act of erasing the politics of binary opposition (Bhabha, 1999 p196)” which again connects to the binary vision found in Palestine. Wayne suggests that in the creation of a national cinema, the international becomes as space of otherness, “[they] explore the transnational as the space of translation (Wayne, 2001 p115)”. And he continues to reflect on othernness, both inside and outside of the society being represented on film:

Following poststructuralism, postcolonialism argues that meaning is generated by difference, hence the importance of the other or alterity within the theory. Crucially though, meaning is not just generated by the difference between x and y (hence bringing some definition to each), but difference is also inside the subject or object which is perpetually on the cusp of becoming different from what it is at any one moment in time and space. (Wayne, 2001 p115)


[…] the pursuit of difference can only be premised on a vulgar idealism that makes everything conform to the same basic principle and have the same basic characteristics of nebulousness. (Wayne, 2001 p117)


The ideal of autonomy which is central to the concept (and which Third World anti-colonial forces invested massively in, for understandable historical reasons) cannot admit that in practice all nations are integrated into international dynamics. […] The nation-state’s assumption of sovereignty from a global context is matched by its reluctance to address internal differences (class, region, gender and so on). […] Thus for Third Cinema, the national question is fraught with problems. (Wayne, 2001 p123-124)

The sense of otherness within a society is a key part of my investigation into the representation of marginalised groups in Middle Eastern cinema.


Wayne goes on to investigate how this binary vision is represented via the division of fiction and documentary (yet another area which fascinates me); suggesting that the merging of these two forms can begin to break down the social boundaries and the sense of otherness:

[…] openness to diverse strategies within the documentary form begins to deconstruct the fiction/documentary binary […] For an openness to diverse documentary strategies shades into the possibility of using the imagery and conventions usually associated with fiction and mass culture generally. (Wayne, 2001 p125)

And he links this to the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, a Soviet literary theorist. Wayne writes that Bakhtin was “highly critical of formalistic approaches to language and literature (Wayne, 2001 p128)”, quoting his words that this approach segregated the resulting art from “the social life of discourse outside of the artist’s study, discourse in the open spaces of public squares, streets, cities and villages, of social groups, generations and epochs (Bakhtin, 1992 p259)”.

Wayne also takes another quote from Bakhtin’s work to illustrate his point:

The living utterance, having taken meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment, cannot fail to brush up against thousands of living dialogic threads, woven by socio-ideological consciousness around the given object of an utterance; it cannot fail to become an active participant in social dialogue. (Bakhtin, 1992 p276)

The importance of art in being an active participant in social change is reflected in Wayne’s analysis of Tomás Gutierrez Alea’s essays on The Viewer’s Dialectic (Alea, 1984, 1985 & 1986), about which he writes :

Alea’s essay plays with and interrogates the concept of ‘spectacle’ and ‘spectator’. He understands a spectacle as an interruption in the “habitual image we have of reality’ (Alea, 1985 p48)”. He is of course primarily concerned with spectacle as the product of artistic work and the act of going to the cinema as a kind of ‘interruption’ in the flow of life and the film itself as a spectacle. “The artistic spectacle becomes inserted into the sphere of everyday reality (the sphere of what is continuously stable and relatively calm) as an extraordinary moment, as a rupture’ (Alea, 1984 p21)”. (Wayne, 2001 p146)

Alea is particularly interested in film at moments of social upheaval, of revolution:

[…] in the initial seizure of power and its immediate aftermath reality itself was a spectacle and it was almost sufficient to simply go out and record the deeds and events without having to think very radically about organising the footage since reality itself was visibly and dramatically changing. […] But such punctual moments are by definition short-lived. When the clash of forces subsides and daily routines return […] then the fundamental relations that constitute social reality no longer reside so visibly (if at all) on the surface of life. (Wayne, 2001 p146)


Wanye supports Alea’s opinion that film can enable a critical eye to be cast over events, both normal and extraordinary, and in doing so it can precipitate change:

Some spectacles will encourage an internalization that is critical and questioning, so that the subject acts back upon the world in a way to change it for the better. This of course is the type of spectacle and spectatorship that Third Cinema seeks to foster. So although there is no simple division between active and passive spectatorship. there is a continuum in which some modes of spectatorship are least likely to make connections beyond the hermetic world of film and others (Third Cinema) where the spectator is more likely to use film “as a mediation in the process of understanding reality (Alea, 1985 p48)”. (Wayne, 2001 p148)

And Wayne links this back to his earlier comments on how cinema relates to history as passive and closed, or active and ongoing:

The openness of Third Cinema is primarily an openness towards history as a site of possible action, which means that the film itself is only a staging post on a journey that takes place beyond the cinematic spectacle. (Wayne, 2001 p149)

This active participation is crucial to a film’s ability to awaken an audience’s questioning nature, and is therefore vital to socially active Third Cinema:

Third Cinema cannot reject emotional engagements because without passion, without a sense of anger,there can be no sense of solidarity and no desire to change the world outside the spectacle. Identification with the other on screen is also a process of self-transformation “in which spectators move away from themselves, stop being themselves so as to live within an other – in the character (Alea, 1985 p51)” […] However, to complete the dialectic circuit, this imaginary transformation of self into the spectacle must then be reconnected with the world outside the spectacle. The film, “must aid the viewers’ return to the other reality – the one which pushed them momentarily to relate themselves to the spectacle to distract themselves, to play (Alea, 1985 p53)”. It is our rational, reasoning, critical faculties that are best equipped to relativise the spectacle and return it to its proper place as one component of a wider social and historical reality into which it it making a modest intervention.  (Wayne, 2001 p150)

Wayne suggests that this emotional engagement and its connection to reality is most effectively achieved through allegory and satire:

How does Third Cinema survive when the initial revolutionary context from which it emerged has dissipated? The answer is that it adapts and one strategy which is useful in the long night of the counter-revolution is the deployment of allegory. (Wayne, 2001 p130)

And he notes that this is especially true in developing countries (he uses Latin America as an example) because:

[where] the film industry is relatively less commodified, where there is a tradition of emblematic, symbolic and non-naturalistic representations (magic realism, for example) and where there is a stronger tradition of organised social unrest, allegory may work more effectively. (Wayne, 2001 p131)

Wayne uses the South American film The Journey (Solanas, 1992) as an example of socially incisive allegorical and satirical filmmaking. He particularly highlights its use of water (and nature) to undercut the “existing shibboleths and orthodoxies and the pretensions of the powerful (Wayne, 2001 p 132)”:

Traditionally, allegory has often used nature for its own signs and meanings […] [The Journey] uses nature not to naturalise the social world, but to point to its absurdity and thus to denaturalise it. (Wayne, 2001 p134)

This use of water links back to the use of the sea as a non-place representing the outsider status of many marginalised groups as identified in The Non-Places of Migrant Cinema in Europe (Ponzanesi, 2012 p675–690).



Alea, T.G., (1984), The Viewer’s Dialectic, Part One, Jump Cut, 29

Alea, T.G., (1985), The Viewer’s Dialectic, Part Two, Jump Cut, 30

Alea, T.G., (1986), The Viewer’s Dialectic, Part Three, Jump Cut, 32

Bakhtin, M. M., (1992), The Dialogic Imagination, Austin: University of Texas Press

Benjamin, W., (2011), Illuminations, London: Random House

Bhabha, H. K., (1999), The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of Agency, The Cutural Studies Reader, London: Routledge

Cutts, S., (2013), MAN, [film]

Ponzanesi, S., (2012), The Non-Places of Migrant Cinema in Europe, Third Text, 26 (6), pp. 675–690

Solanas, F., (1992), The Journey, Cinesur (Envar El Kadri), [film]

Solanas, F. and Getino, O., (1969), Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World, Tricontinental

Wayne, M., (2001), Political film: the dialectics of third cinema, London: Pluto




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