Ecocinema: Notes on Chapter 2

This week I asked you to read Ecocinema Theory and Practice, Chapter 2 “the aesthetics and ethics of eco-film criticism” by David Ingram pp 43-61. As usual I am responding to sections that most students were interested in or wanted explained, am working through the chapter chronologically, and putting names of students next to sections they asked about. At the bottom I have responded to some reactions to the Oligarchy Postmortem.

To start with I want to note that David Ingram is surveying a number of scholars of eco-criticism in this chapter. As you read you need to keep clear when he is making points for himself and when he is summarizing the position of others. He wants to make a point that the aesthetic and ethical assumptions of some eco-critics may blind them to effective media-making tactics.

By allowing such small events to unfold at length, Koppel’s camera and editing decisions construct a sense of animal agency. Koppel explains his use of such long, static takes as an attempt to place human beings within the larger context of their environment.” Page 45. Marissa T. and others.

  • The small events are some sheep walking in long shot. Koppel, the film-maker, allows the sheeps’ movements to dictate the pacing of his camera work.
  • animal agency – agency here means being able to make decisions. The sheep rather than Koppel dictate the shot.
  • Koppel chooses to use these long, unmoving shots to give the audience the sense of simply being there in the field with the sheep.

Assumptions about spectatorship are crucial to the cognitive effects that Willoquet and MacDonald impute to eco-films. Writing of Larry Gottheim’s Fog Line (1970). A film made up of an extended single shot of rural landscape, MacDonald responds to the negative reaction of some viewers ranging from boredom to mild annoyance to even anger. …” p 47 Alex and others.

  • Willoquet and MacDonald are proponents of a kind of eco-film that will change the way the audience perceives (you will read a chapter by McDonald in two weeks).
  • Aesthetically these eco-films are the antithesis of the slick and fast-paced editing styles of blockbuster action movies. They are designed to make the audience slow down, appreciate small events, reflect.
  • The tactic of using one single shot, comes from avant garde film-making with the idea of shocking the audience out of their expectation of cinematography.
  • Ingram argues that, even if such films work as suggested, audiences have to be especially trained to understand them. Regular consumers of culture may fail to notice the ecological message and just be bored or even angered by the way the form defies all their expectations.

… ecocritic Lynne Dickson Bruckner, who shows how the environmental messages in Disney films are mixed, contradictory, and often problematic from the perspective of radical environmentalism. … Bruckner gives as an example the use made of Finding Nemo by groups such as the Ocean Futures Society to promote environmental debate.” p 49 Barbara and others.

  • A major criticism of Disney films about animals is that they effectively turn the animals into people, denying them any agency as animals.
  • Human stories and concerns crush any real information about the animals.
  • Bruckner balances her arguments about the problems of Disney films with her assessment of their popularity – put into a proper context perhaps they can be part of education about the environment.

The aesthetic risk of such sentimental moralism in film is a tendency towards kitsch. What are the implications for the activist ambitions and aesthetic tastes of eco-film criticism if “bad” art inspires people just as much, if not more than, the “good?” As Matei Calinescu observes, even kitsch can have a positive pedagogical effect, by generating aesthetic debates which can lead to knowledge of what he considers more genuine art.” p 53 E Noah M, Dominic V and others

  • In art and film criticism there is the concept of high and low –
    • high meaning sophisticated, thoughtful, carrying complex ideas, appealing to the elite
    • low meaning simple, black and white, emotional, sex, violence, appealing to the masses
  • sentimental moralism is typically something to be found in low art, instead of letting the audience reflect on a moral position, the moral position is laid out clearly.
  • kitsch –  poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality
  • The kind of eco-films that many of the media activists Ingram mentions approve of, fall into the high art category
  • Here Ingram poses the question: what if a low art aesthetic with a simple moral message is more effective?
  • As his argument continues, Ingram will want to take a more nuanced position that questions the usefulness of the high v. low art binary.

A slow-paced art film can be an invitation to take pleasure in looking and in the contemplation of ideas, in a way that can have ecological implications, with all the provisos about audience predisposition already mentioned in this essay. As we have seen, such films work by emotion, affect, and cognition in tandem.” p 58

  • Part of Ingram’s summary, bringing the ideas of emotion, affect and cognition back into dialog with concerns about different genres of film.
  • He wants to argue for “a pluralistic eco-aesthetic” in which the value of many kinds of film are acknowledged. At the same time he wants critics to take account of audiences as well as films as part of their critique.

Molle Industria – Oligarchy Post Mortem

“… we argue that game design is never an ideologically neutral process: games, as every other cultural product, reflect the designers’ beliefs and value systems. And this is particularly visible in games that claim to “simulate” actual non-deterministic situations. We want to stress this idea by proposing a sort of politically informed post-mortem in which we describe the odd challenges of producing social commentary into a playable form.

  • Molle Industria use the term ideology in the same way as Andrew Hageman (week 5). They acknowledge that the game will be bathed in their beliefs and value systems.
  • Even though they are making their simulation reflect the real world as much as possible, it is not neutral – because they choose how to abstract their model based on their own ideological position. (see discussion of models in week 4)
  • In their post-mortem they want to discuss the processes which led them to make the choices they did, so that their audience can become aware of their assumptions, and the ways in which these assumptions effect the simulation.
  • This attitude is very different from the stance taken by many makers of computer models that influence our lives (health, insurance, criminal). They are often black boxes and do not offer this kind of transparency!