Feb 9, 2014

"Discovering Form, Inferring Meaning"

by Rebecca Hernandez-Gerber

"’For us’ is the caveat that allows for a level of authenticity, to use that existential vocabulary, at the same moment as it guarantees a lack of finality. To what extent does the humanist framework encouraged by film festivals and the popular press not only steer our readings in selected directions but also obscure alternative readings or discourage their active pursuit?”
            Bill Nichols' "Discovering Form, Inferring Meaning" is focused on Iranian cinema, but many of the lessons taken from the piece apply equally to all forms of cinema foreign to us. Oftentimes, I have found it difficult to relate to the works of Western writers commenting on cinemas outside their own views. This is simply not my world, and the attitudes within it as as foreign to me as Iranian cinema is to Nichols. However, I was pleased and intrigued to find that Nichols’ worked posed a series of fascinating questions on how interpretation crosses borders, and I found myself attempting to answer these difficult questions.
            What first struck me was the question of a humanist framework. Can we say that all film festivals and the popular press steer the viewer in a particular direction? I’m unsure I agree with this framework. Within the press are a range of opinions and emotions that, while unified in their overall Western-viewpoint, remains fragmented in their own unique experiences. It is possible that this framework draws the viewer in a particular direction, but I would argue that they do not discourage active pursuit. Quite the contrary, when the viewer encounters a viewpoint contrary to their own, they are given pause and consider how their own viewpoints relates to this dominant theory. The dissonance creates the possibility of difference, one that all viewers may not choose to utilize but which nonetheless remains open to all.
            Looking at this question in a different light, I begin to wonder at what, exactly, we define as a level of authenticity. Interpretation of art never carries authenticity, no matter how certain critics or institutions may attempt to stamp their own opinion as such. It is fluid, transformative, influenced by culture and the moments that shape our artistic temperament. To be confronted by festivals and press that attempt to teach us what is or is not authentic, my response is never to take such authenticity at face value. It is, instead, to question, to wonder, and to search for a new truth that is only true for myself.

            Perhaps this is the purpose of divering form and inferring meaning from those cultural cinemas so foreign to us. It is not a question of interpreting differences but at discovering commonality, yet always reminding ourselves that this commonality holds only as much authenticity as our own opinions: that is, paradoxically, both everything and nothing at all.

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