Expanded Cinema: A Cinema of Liberation!
By Rébecca Mamane
In my opinion, the “expansion” of cinema relates to the novel and innovative use of all elements which pertain to the moving image, including the manipulation of the physical medium, the method of public presentation, the palette of filmmaking techniques applied, and even the literal expansion of the cinema beyond the screen through the juxtaposition of live performance with image projection. Expanded cinema is about liberating the filmmaker from the shackles of rigid conventions and rules, and in parallel, it is also about liberating the audience. The possibilities for artistic expression through the moving image are endless and have yet to be more widely explored.
The need for an expansion of the art form arises from the problem of representation: every filmmaker who attempts to display some kind of truth encounters a problem with its expression. Rendering a more complete picture of truth with its intricacies, contradictions and external points of view may prove to be quite a daunting task, particularly when working within the realm of traditional cinema which often rests upon a decidedly literary foundation. Consequently, it has tended to take on the general structure of classic theatre with the presence of a narrative, a coordinated succession of events, clear causal relationships, coherent temporal and spatial progression, and characters with set personalities. But it is precisely by moving away from this rigid literary form that it may become possible to expand the meaning of film.
In recent years, filmmakers have attempted to reproduce the unique quality of human experience by partaking in the creation of unique cinematic exhibits which change upon each screening. This cinema of the present-tense exists as a unique hyper-realistic event which can never be revisited outside of one’s own distorted memory. Peter Greenaway’s Writing on Water is an example of this sort of present-tense cinema. His performance incorporates live music and a gigantic selection of film loops from which he can choose from on a television screen. In many cases, this type of non-narrative cinema does not give solutions to the public, nor does it aspire to propagate moral, ethical or philosophical absolutes: it often leaves things inconclusive without pre-supposing a causal relationship between events depicted in film. It is thus faithful to the incertitude and vagueness of life.
As a filmmaker, it is quite possible to hand over a bit of control to the audience by allowing it to play an active role in the construction of a film, thereby providing the audience with an opportunity to derive new meaning and to expand upon the filmmaker’s original proposition. Polar life by Graeme Ferguson (1970) is a multi-screen film which reproduces a panoramic view of the Earth’s poles. During screenings, the audience sat on a central rotating plate surrounded by eleven fixed screens. The viewer would rotate, allowing him to view three screens at once. The sequences presented on the screens would sometimes form coherent relationships and would sometimes be fragmented. Each viewer would therefore have quite a different experience as he would be piecing the film together in a completely unique way.