Image, Cinema & Politics: the Avant-Garde Dilemma in the Interwar Period (1918-1936)

After WWI Walter Benjamin pointed out that the communication of experience had deteriorated, lacked authenticity. War, with its overload of propaganda images for those on the home front and terribly real for those on the actual front, dulled ordinary discourse overwhelmed by the scale of the progress-driven destruction. Visual language was forced to find new directions once the conflict ended.As part of that effort, the dawn of avant-garde movements and the confirmation of cinema as the media of mass society emerged in the interwar years in industrialised countries. Political conformism denounced by Charles Maier, who identifies instead bourgeois conservatism and corporatism, found in the culture industry and consumer society an important ally after the revolutionary turbulences of 1917. While in the United States D.W.Griffith fixed the basis of a particular cinematographic grammar with his controversial Birth of a Nation(1915), European avant-garde artists turned their curiosity distrustfully towards the moving image: it was in fact with the première of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1920) that cinema obtained a new legitimacy as the seventh art.A profoundly self-reflexive period opened in cinema, a quest for visual patterns (models) that led to ‘talkies’ and the definitive triumph of Hollywood’s canon in the 1930s. Flaherty, Kuleshov, Vertov, Man Ray, René Clair or Val de Omar in Spain questioned, experimented and defied narrative procedures in a dialogue with the avant-gardes that resulted in new genres and formats consecrated in Nanook of the North, Le retour à la raison, Battleship Potemkin… Likewise in 1927 Berlin, Symphony of a Great City was premiered by former painter Walther Ruttman in a dialogue with Manhattan, Sao Paulo and others,defending a cosmopolitan culture that he himself renounced hand in hand with Leni Riefensthal. It was precisely in 1927 that another German, Fritz Lang, released its urban dystopiaMetropoliswarning of the totalitarian menace that technological development made possible.

Lang showed global city, just like Vertov in his Man with a movie camera, ignoring the tensions between nationalism and cosmopolitism which were tempting artists and producers in those years of corporatist reaction. In that sense the inauguration of Cinecittá, Lenin’s Directive on the Film Business or the censorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship showed the authorities’ awareness of the powers of these new media. Fabrice D’Almeida therefore warns of the transformation of art in propaganda with the brake of the Spanish civil war in 1936. The same year Benjamin confirmed the defeat of human beings by the machine in his “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. The same yearagain, the Little Tramp became a proletarian who refused to talk a decade after the premiere of Alan’s Crossland The Jazz Singer. In this publication we would like to explore the relation between the post-1918 crisis of the liberal system and the use of art and image as political media including its nationalist, gender and class discourses since they reflect the political and economic transformations of the post-war years.Art and cinema allow us to observe processes such as accelerated urbanisation, electrification and the automobile revolution, the incorporation of women into the waged-labour market or class struggles, all of which fed the insecurity and anxiety of industrialised societies which sought shelter in growing protectionism and corporatism.Contributions in English or Spanish are invited for a special issue of the journal Hispania Nova to address the following facets of the period 1918-1936 in the West:-Dialogues between visual arts and cinema-Society and mass spectacles-Politics and cinema-Reception and reach of audio-visual discourses-Representation, gender roles and popular culture-Nationalism and cosmopolitism in cinema and/or artProposals in English or Spanish of no more than 400 words and a biography of 100 words should be submitted to before Wednesday 30th September 2020.

The deadline for full articles will be Friday 30 th July 2021.We look forward to reading your ideas,

Javier Jurado (University of Lille) Virginie N’Dah-Sekou (University of Paris Est – Créteil)

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