Kino-Pravda, Kino-Musik, Kant-Kino
The IT girl has two curious views on film, which she is more than willing to express in company in a forthright manner. One is that sound cinema was a disastrous idea, and that essentially the medium reached a total summation of all its possibilities with Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera, and should have stopped there. The other is that film (presumably in its non-Constructivist form) is nothing other than theology. These positions might be easily mocked, and I'd like to stress I do think interesting things have happened in cinema since 1928 (as does she, secretly) but there is something to them.
Particularly with reference to how the estimable Voyou Desoeuvre pokes popistesque at Adorno and Horkheimer's seemingly curmudegeonly and cantankerous views on the Talkies. The problem with extracting the likes of Adorno from their historico-aesthetic context is that views like this can seem somewhat silly. I'd suggest first reading Eisenstein/Pudovkin/Alexandrov's 'Statement on Sound-Film' and Adorno/Eisler's Composing for the Films before rushing to this conclusion, however.
The silents that were slain by Al Jolson had reached a peak of technical, emotional, formal radicalism - think of Buster Keaton, King Vidor's The Crowd, the Weimar sachlichkeit directors like Ruttmann or Pabst, and most obviously the Soviet experimentalists, Vertov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Shub, Kuleshov, Room. What is so key here is that cinema as a medium is explored to its limits, while constantly being conscious of its own construction and artificiality, and importantly, while at the same time being completely unashamed at its emotionally and aesthetically manipulative power: no arid formal experiments here. And then some racist stands up and sings for a bit and the medium is back as nothing more than filmed theatre.
The line suggested by Eisler and Adorno or the Soviet directors for dealing with this - creating a contrapuntal montage of sound and image, stressing disjunction and avoiding representation - was never quite followed up after 1930-2, a few masterpieces like Vertov's Enthusiasm, FEKS' Alone, or Brecht/Dudow's Kuhle Wampe (or for that matter Sagan's Madchen in Uniform) falling by the wayside in the US and USSR'S return to Stanislavsky.
Naturally by the time Dialectic of Enlightenment was written there had been great advances in the American sound film that they do seem oblivious to. Having said all this, and despite attempting to repudiate the rep of the Frankfurters as transcendent miserablists, the value of their critique still lies in the force of its negativity, and it seems to be this that makes people rather uncomfortable rather than being nasty about jazz or Busby Berkeley. It's also something entirely absent from another recent attempt to radicalise the discourse of film, Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy. Rather than being cf IT Theology, cf Bergman, in his cantankerous memoir The Magic Lantern, the Dreamwork, or cf early Eisenstein shock and agitation, or naturally cf Vertov or Godard, Truth, for Frampton Film is Philosophy.
Which is as maybe, and he argues convincingly and wittily against static, Cognitivist models of film-interpretation centring on the film's alleged reality, and the view of film as a director-based medium. His prose is sharp enough, though suffers somewhat in comparison with the Eisenstein quotes he uses in his section on 'Film Neominds'. What I had assumed was a long kicked-around corpse, the analysis of film via narrative, gets a few deserved kickings too. The problem comes when he employs the methodology he so carefully outlines to his own readings. If film-is-philosophy (and has he points out, a bad film is just bad thought) can really open up a new way of seeing, then why do his readings contain such trite generalities? The Dardennes and Mike Leigh don't use many camera tricks. Pulp Fiction has a structure which seems difficult but is easier on second viewing. Haneke can make you uncomfortable.
What is missing is the Critical, and the detachment that comes with it. In one passage Frampton discusses where he sits in the cinema: never at the back, so the film can be properly immersive. This seemingly innocuous observation implies why his project falls short, simply because there's no room in his schema for negation. Nor indeed is there in much film theory and discussion (hence why I felt like applauding at Sight and Sound's recent demolition of Almodovar's Volver, because it felt so bloody rare) and what is worth salvaging from the miserly old German Kino's Kultur-Kritik.