Academic Standstill

“[W]hat has been peculiar about this recuperation of art’s relation to film is that, in terms of the ‘film’ or ‘cinema’ part of the equation, it has consistently sidelined the kinds of film that would on the face of it appear most relevant to late-modern and contemporary artistic practice – that is, the various forms of avant-garde, experimental, poetic, materialist and structuralist cinema that have eschewed the conventions of the narrative feature.” (Barry Schwabsky, Art, Film, Video – Separation or Synthesis?)

Schwabsky’s point illustrates the very obstacle I’m facing at this moment. There are several aspects to this.

Slow Cinema, no matter where you look for information, is repeatedly said to be part of arthouse cinema. Main reason being that the films don’t comply with anything that popular movies make us believe is “normal”. I’m not keen on using this age-old opposition, but it serves to make a point here. It is striking that the terms art filmarthouse film, etc haven’t triggered an academic interest in the very aspect that characterises these films: art. This is not only true for Slow Cinema, mind you. There is a general lack of research into the connection of (art) films with art forms, which essentially make up cinema as the Seventh Art. Instead, there is an abundance of literature on aspects that make art films not popular. All this is written from the POV of film critics, film academics. Their focus lies in film, and reading one piece of literature after the other makes me wonder why the term art film is used if we focus on film only, and not on art.

In 2003, Michel Ciment coined the term “cinema of slowness”, a year later Jonathan Romney surprised with the term “Slow Cinema”. It’s said that the 2000s have resulted in a renewed interest in slow films, perhaps, I would guess, because it coincided with the beginning of major digital expansion, ergo a major increase in speed via technology, which in turn made us more aware of the alternatives. It’s been a decade that the topic was picked up, but there has been no development in the area. If you gathered material on Slow Cinema written on blogs, for magazines, for conferences, and put all of them next to each other, you’d get a sense of how little has been done. Rather than exploring the phenomenon of Slow Cinema, it is treated shallowly according to its surface structure. The result is, ironically, that you don’t learn anything about Slow Cinema if you read on Slow Cinema. I get the feeling that everyone wants to jump on the slow train, no matter how, but people forget that they actually need to work for the train to move. It doesn’t move all by itself.

And while the world of film (critics, academics) attempts an explanation of the slow phenomenon, the real progress is made, and has been made for a long time already, in the arts sector. You have to trust me on this for a little while, as I have to hold my horses here. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, because I intend to include some of it in an article for publication in a few months.

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