Foundations

In Peter Wollen’s 1972 essay “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d’Est,” he differentiates dominant cinema from counter-cinema in terms of seven features:

Narrative transitivityNarrative intransitivity
IdentificationEstrangement
TransparencyForegrounding
Single diegesisMultiple diegesis
ClosureAperture
PleasureUn-pleasure
FictionReality

Click here for an elaboration of these terms and distinctions.

Take note that European cinema is NOT synonymous with counter-cinema. Even our selected films, as odd as some of them might be, are better described as pointing toward Wollen’s idea of counter-cinema rather than actually exemplifying it.

That said, it may be useful to keep Wollen’s distinctions in mind as a way of accounting for the strangeness we may feel when watching films which don’t work in the way mainstream Hollywood cinema does.


Another way of accounting for what difficulties we may encounter when we watch films in class is George Steiner’s essay “On Difficulty.” While Steiner talks about poems, we can apply his ideas to other works of art, including films.

In particular, what helps is the way he distinguishes between four types of difficulty, arranging them according to increasing degrees of abstraction.

  1. contingent difficulty
  2. modal difficulty
  3. tactical difficulty
  4. ontological difficulty

Steiner’s essay itself is worth reading, and I feel it can be helpful even for your other classes. After all, if you have Steiner’s terms, you have a critical vocabulary to use in describing what kind of difficulty you’re encountering when you go through, for example, your assigned readings for your philosophy courses.

For a quick summary of Steiner though, you may click here.

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