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Reviewing The Definition Of Third Cinema Film Studies Essay

Third cinema is not necessarily hard to define, however, it is hard to place many films in to the concept and be satisfied with labelling it with that terminology. Therefore, this essay will define and break down the term of ‘Third Cinema’, with comparison to First and Second cinema. It will also explore how and where the concept was developed. This will be done through the analysis of two films; Battle of Algiers (Dir: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) and La Haine (Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) and the modern collective group of ‘Dogme 95’. Finally, it will explore how Third cinema is perceived by the audience and critics. This essay will then conclude; ‘What is Third cinema?’

Within the film system there are three types of cinema; First, Second and Third. First cinema is primarily about consumerism, it is argued to be bourgeois and capitalist. [2] Therefore it is about money and the number of people buying tickets to watch the film. This is primarily dominated by Hollywood, Bollywood and Egyptian cinema. Usually, the film allows the audience to be a ‘passive’ spectator rather than be an ‘active’ one, so it becomes a route of escapism and light entertainment.

Second cinema or otherwise known as ‘art house’ or ‘auteurist cinema’ and is a type of cinema that is not necessarily dominated by money but it does very little to address the problems with undeveloped countries. It is more concerned about the visual aspects, mainly cinematography; “was it beautiful?” and less about the typical Hollywood codes and conventions, for example big name stars and large budgets. [3] 

Third cinema on the other hand was coined in 1969 in Argentina by Fernando Solanas and the Spanish Octavio Getino, they had previously published ‘Hacia un Tercer Cine’ (‘Towards a Third Cinema’, Tricontinental no.13, October 1969) . This led to a manifesto written by Cuban Julio Garcia Espinosa titled ‘For an Imperfect Cinema’ (written in 1969 and published in Cine Cubano no.66/67, 1970). This argued that films should be made by the people for the people, so that there is an end between art and life. [4] 

Third cinema wants to allow the audience to be an ‘active’ spectator rather than first cinema, which is about being passive and is a quick route to escapism. It is considered to be complicated and challenging. These films are usually politically and historically motivated and were made primarily around the fifties, sixties and seventies. This is due to the end of the two World Wars and post-colonialism and is therefore consequently about newly found nationalism amongst its people and the fighting to gain back territory. Thus, it shows the motives for Third cinema; war, nationalism, destruction between society and classes. However, it may be political but it is not propaganda, it is not subversively telling people what to do, it is merely reproducing events which have happened over the course of history and what is considered to be very important to the people and the country itself. “It is a crucial component of Third cinema to expand our political and cultural horizons, to imagine alternatives to what is and refuse to accept what is as conterminous with what can be.” [5] Mike Wayne.

Another key point to the definition of Third Cinema is how the films are physically made. They don’t use the ‘classic’ system which involves there being a designated director and producer, with people working below them, which is how the First and Second cinema work. Third Cinema makers like to work as a collective, so that there is no hierarchy within the system and thus, people do not belong to a certain sector and it becomes a film that is made ‘by the people, for the people’. Third cinema has been considered to be linked to realism. It is quite often made like a documentary by the way it follows the narrative structure and the characters.

A good example of Third Cinema is Dogme 95’s Idioterne (Dir:  Lars von Trier's, 1998); a collective Danish group of film makers, who had made this film with in four days as a part of their manifesto. [6] They believe in using hand held cameras, having music playing in the shot rather than it being added in and also improvisation of the dialogue and of the acting are key examples of how films should be, in their opinion. They want to push the boundaries, like the originally manifesto, they want to bring art and life together. [7] They push the boundaries of political correctness, rather than portraying historical events, like the Battle of Algiers and La Haine.

In the last few years there has been very little activity concerning Third Cinema, except for Dogme 95. This can be argued that there is a lack of political and historical movements like colonialism and world wars to comment upon. On one hand there is the war in Afghanistan but it is not over- yet and therefore, the cinema audience may not want to watch and listen about the war on the news anymore then they have to and therefore not want to currently watch it in the cinema. If you examine Battle of Algiers and La Haine you see that these films were not made until a few years after its peak of crisis. This can therefore suggest that Third Cinema is not common at the moment, due to the public demand for escapism.

An interesting example of what could be considered as Third cinema is; La Haine and Battle of Algiers; La Haine hasn’t necessarily been argued as a Third cinema film, but I do think that it ticks a lot of the boxes that can define what Third Cinema is.

Firstly, the subject matter, it is political; the French police against the lower class youths and how this has affected the French society from the perspective of the teenagers. Also, the entire film has been made in black and white, with the narrative structure telling a story of what happens in twenty four hours. The story is loosely based around of a seventeen year old, Makeome M’Bowole who was killed by French police officers in the 1990’s while being held in custody. [8] This gives the film a documentary sensation, because we can all relate to or remember a serious event that has happened in a short period of time because we have witnessed it on the news. In addition, the opening credits is made up of clips from the news over time concerning French riots and protesting, while being played with the song by Bob Marley, whom is well known for spreading reggae music across the world, which is easy to listen to, yet it is very political. This gives the documentary style opening credit scene the appearance that the whole process of the French against the lower class pointless and that there is no need for such brutality.

The opening establishing shot is of a news reader, explaining what has been happening in the area, this therefore re-enforces the tension and the feature of realism; a key point to Third cinema; that it is portraying a historical and political event and backing it up by using real footage, thus, it can lead to attempting to rewrite the indigenous cultural history of France.

Although La Haine was not made in a collective work force and has a specific director, we could argue that Lars Von Trier is the director and creator of the modern Third Cinema Dogme 95. To re-enforce the aspect of realism Kassovitz had spent six weeks living with real members of the housing estate which they filmed on. Also, he used improvisation within the film, for example, when Said is throwing stones at the younger boy when they are waiting on the concrete bollards. This would have been done because he can get a real reaction from the younger one, re-enforcing the aspect of realism. [9] 

The 1966 film Battle of Algiers, has had mixed reviews concerning whether or not it should be considered as Third Cinema, it is often referred to being a mix of First, Second and Third cinema [10] . While taking into consideration that it was not made by a collective film making group but by Gillo Pontecorvo, however, it is about the attempt to gain back Algeria from the French during the colonisation period. Thus it re-enforces the realism aspect because it was based on true events that had occurred 3 years earlier, with the Algerians winning the battle for independence, thus, this re-enforces the attempting to rewrite the indigenous cultural history of France.

This therefore ties in with the feeling of revolution in the original manifesto, especially as Pontecorvo is an Italian communist and anti-fascist, who had previously fought against the German’s during the Second World War, when they attempted to gain control of Italian territory. [11] 

The film was shot in black and white partly with a hand held camera, however, neorealist critics believe that the narrative structure is too complicated to be considered a Third cinema film. I would like to argue that it has the political and historical drive to create an exciting and challenging form of cinema that was not made for public consumerism in the sense that it was not just about making large amounts of money. It won several awards, but this would help with the message of revolution to be spread amongst people, especially the Algerians. It is documenting their struggle and conveying their need to celebrate their independency.

When looking at the system of cinema and what Third cinema is, it is important to look at the marketing and advertising scheme, for example, does it make a difference on how the film is perceived by the spectator? A good example is La Haine’s marketing. They wanted to appeal to many different classes, who were in different countries across the world. To appeal to the bourgeois spectator there was an display of photographs from the production with a book by Gilles Favier and Matheiu Kassovitz entitled Jusqu’ici tout va bien (so good so far). For the teenagers and people in their twenties it was music that would capture their attention; an infusion of reggae, from the artists Bob Marley and French rap artists. For the specific part of the audience that knew a lot about films could receive a ‘directors’ cut edition. Finally, the American audience could receive the film that had subtitles that would refer to even more American gang culture and violence, for instance LAPD assaulting Rodney King in 1991. [12] This conveys how advertising the film so that it appeals to different audiences, yet it is the same product, can make a large difference on making it a success. Therefore, it can be Third Cinema because of the aesthetics of how it was made, how it actively engages with the spectators and is politically motivated, but it has reached a larger audience and is commercially wide spread and thus a successful Third cinema film.

It can be seen throughout this essay that it is hard to specifically define films that fit with the ideology of Third Cinema and thus why it has been argued that it no longer exists; it is revolutionary, anti-colonialist and addresses the needs of Cubans, Argentineans’ and Africans. This could be because of people not wanting to pay attention to more about the troubles going on in the world, for example, the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps they want a route of escapism.

Or maybe a different view point could now be taken up; perhaps, Third Cinema has simply evolved. Third Cinema can still be an exciting and challenging mode of film making, with a concept that challenges the idea of how films should be made, along with how it should be perceived by the audience; the spectator should not leave having the opinion that it was dull but should be thinking about the political or historical topic that has been depicted in the film. I think this can be true for Battle of Algiers and La Haine which they have evolved into a new type of Third Cinema, so that they can be more widely distributed and thus, their message can be spread to the people.

In conclusion, Third cinema challenges the typical codes and conventions of making films, with the use of hand held cameras, no extra lighting or music- it must be simple yet effective, like real life. However, I personally think that Third Cinema is about depicting historical and political history, as well as social struggle that has changed a country and its people, through the means of film, thus allowing them to create an exciting and challenging film.

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