Correlation Between Social Formation and Text

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By 2017-08-13

By Indeewara Thilakarathne

In this continuing series on the cinema and digitalization of moving image, I further examine the evolution of fantasy and how, over the years, it has emerged as a sub-genre of commercial cinema, the backbone of the film industry. Paul Willemen argues that there is a correlation between social formation and a text's substance of content. Citing Brazilian Literary historian Roberto Schwarz, he points out that artistic form emerges out of dependent conditions of its production.

In an academic article titled 'Fantasy in Action', Paul Willemen further observes these aspects as; "The main vectorial point for film theory that Rosen's work indicates is that it should now become a major task to unravel exactly how and where in specific texts the 'allegorical' dimensions play which connect that text, not only to a specific history of production, but also to different social strata's dreams of what they would like to see happen, their respective social imaginaries, which is not at all the same as their ideologies (although these two discursive registers are connected. By and large, those allegorical connections have been established based on an analogical-mimetic correlation between a social formation and a text's substance of content. The Brazilian literary historian and theorist Roberto Schwarz provided an excellent example of the analogic-mimetic approach when he commented that when an artistic form emerges from the contingent conditions of its production,

'This form retains and reproduces some such conditions- it would make no sense if it did not-which then become its literary effect, its 'reality effect', the world they represent. The vital point is this: a part of the original historical conditions reappears, as a sociological form, first with its own logic, but this time also on the fictional plane and as a literary structure. In this sense, forms are the abstract of specific social relationships, and that is how . . . the difficult process of transformation of social questions into properly literary or compositional ones—ones that deal with internal logic and not with origins—is realised.'

What is noteworthy is the fact that in such productions the original historical conditions would reappear on a fictional plane as a literary structure. It is this aspect which renders some movies such as Doctor Zhivago some features of a documentary. He further observes; "Schwartz's comment pertains to the indexical and the symbolic aspects of a substance of the content to a configured set of ideas (possibly an ideology) from which—or against which—a particular 'form' of content is fashioned. Barthes called this combination 'an encyclopedia, 'an anthology of maxims and proverbs about life, death, suffering, love, women, ages of man, etc. . . . a nauseating mixture of common opinions, a smothering layer of received ideas' that 'turns culture into nature' and appears 'to establish reality, 'Life'. Interestingly this process has gradually been changed with the financial capitalists taking in charge of the film industry.

He observes; "This hypothesis is based on recent historiography: the ascendancy of finance capital in Hollywood from the 1970s onwards is demonstrated extensively by David Cook's account of the way the Los Angeles-based sector of the industry was restructured under the control of personnel drawn from the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector of the US economy. Cook astutely observes that the representatives of finance capital now in charge of Hollywood also brought the stylistic and marketing practices of exploitation cinema into the mainstream. During the neoliberal surge of the 1970s and early 1980s, company managers no longer had to account to their backers based on annual production schedules and profit plans. Now, finance capital put its own henchmen in charge of each individual production decision, resulting in the much-lamented rule of the accountants who restructured the business.

From the mid-1970s onwards, the "run-clearance-zone" system of distribution was changed into the simultaneous blanket release of "blockbuster" films enabling a major increase in ticket prices. In 1975, the release of Jaws extended the pioneering "blanket-release" efforts made by Tom Laughlin in the late 1960s (Born Losers, 1967; Billy Jack, 1971) in California to a national exploitation strategy with a saturation release including suburban shopping mall cinemas, preceded by eight months of marketing. This was followed by The Deep (Peter Yates, 1977) while, in the same year, Star Wars consolidated the "franchise" approach pioneered by the James Bond series in the early 1960s, with sequels and a marketing strategy designed into the very fabrication of the films. As finance capital's gambling syndicates took over the film business, costs exploded (between 1972 and 1979, they increased by 450 percent) which is one important reason why individual films were replaced by 'franchises' (such as the Exorcist franchise in 1973, followed by the Star Wars franchise, the Rambo franchise, the Jurassic Park franchise and so on), consisting of a series of films acting as the central advertising engine for a wide variety of business ventures."

What is significant in this process is that the movies after franchising began to act as advertising engines for diverse business ventures such as souvenirs, toys and garments.

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