Björn Ægir Norðfjörð:From the European Avant-Garde to Global Art Cinema: On the Difficulty of Applying the Concept of Modernism to Film
The concept of modernism is a notoriously slippery one when it comes to the arts, but particularly so with regard to cinema. This essay traces and delineates four different uses or definitions of the concept in film criticism/theory. First, silent European feature filmmaking influenced by art movements, primarily French Impressionism, German Expressionism and Soviet Montage (Constructivism). Second, the European avant-garde movements of the 1920s, including dada, surrealism and cubism. Third, the mostly European and Japanese art cinema of the sixties and seventies. And, finally, the global art cinema of today as mediated through film festivals and home video formats. In what follows, the author debates whether these four different definitions are inherently contradictory or whether some synthesis can be brought about as regards modernism in cinema. The conclusion is that from a historical perspective the definitions must remain incongruent. From an aesthetic perspective, on the other hand, a broad synthesis is possible, if one allows for closer ties to the visual arts as regards the earlier two definitions but to literature when it comes to the latter two.
Keywords: Avant-garde cinema, film festivals, global art cinema, modernism, parametric narration