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Self-referencing: When the cinema speaks for itself

Self-referencing in cinema – The West Avenue 1950

As a phenomenon, self-referencing is not something new in cinema. From “Man with a Movie Camera” by Dziga Vertov-Jiga Vertov to “la nuit americaine” by François Truffaut and by “The artist” by Michel Azanavisus (Michel Hazanavicious) as Tom Dillillo’s “Living in Oblivion”, the story of the movie is full of examples. Each of them starts with different motivations and develops different aspects of the cinema. Everything, however, explores the relationship of narrative and reality and the boundaries of both. As the audience and creators mature, they are increasingly focused on the medium. The stories that arise from this reflection are becoming more and more complex … more and more interesting … more and more entertaining. It is worth asking at this point: why does the cinema attract both reflection and self-referencing?

Self-referencing in art

Art throughout her history expressed her personal concern and gave a social, even pan-human meaning to her creations. Sometimes she turns to herself, seeking inspiration and answers to the concerns of her actors. Already in antiquity the Rhapsody invokes his muse – a divine entity outside of him, which nevertheless symbolizes his own art. This was theoretically the first self-referential mention in poetry. Respect for the gods and the return of every good to their own generosity was something common in ancient Greece. At the same time, the artist’s call to inspiration defined the communication framework and directed the audience’s attention to the artistic mystery.

Over the years, people have gained unlimited access to information and past work. The history of art is no more than a long list of records, but also of the occasion for the contemporary artist. More and more artists are inspired by, reconstruct or compose parts of works of the past. For reasons of economy, we will only mention some well-known samples from the field of painting.

A typical example of the above-mentioned practice, which for many viewers of the time was considered vandalism, is Mona Lisa with painted whiskers by Marcel Duchamp. The Manifesto of the Historical Pioneer of Dadashism demanded the overthrow of what is “polite and right, beaten up by the worm of morality, Europeanized”. That is why the acts of sacrilege were the most legitimate act. Fewer reactive works were created later by other artists, from Salvador Dali, to the extreme corner of the Crucifixion as Francis Bacon and his nightmarish studies on Picasso and Velasquez.

Living in Oblivion (1995) Theoretical context: self-referencing in the rectum

Sociologist Niklas Luhmann, studying self-referencing in the media in general, came to some conclusions about their reality. It is of course unwise to include in the debate on the reality of information and entertainment organizations and cinema. The triptych of truth – philosophy, religion and art – has gained in the modern age another part, information. Perhaps it was never accepted in the Republic of Plato, since it is a complete representation and not a pure Idea. However, one can not question its contribution to social development and, consequently, to the formation of new ideas and consciousness. Thus, the patchwork of information, news and language loans make information and entertainment agencies, as well as the various forms of art, a public speech, vulnerable to this multidisciplinary and multidimensional reality. It is no coincidence that self-referencing has found its way into the TV narration of the series “Curb your enthusiasm” and “Louie”.

According to Luuman, therefore, reality can not be understood as a totally pragmatic unity. It is not simply the set of persons and responsibilities. It is the work, the interdependence of means, events and representations, but also the persona. In other words, the reality of the media is defined by the opinion of others about it itself. This is, as a matter of fact, less real, less objective and clear. In the case of cinema it is filtered through the star system, advertising and the personal experiences of its people.

The phenomenon: Sunset Boulevard

The critical attitude that developed silently in the circles of the people of the cinema, and in their tortured souls, was often expressed by the press and the critics. Surprisingly, only when cinema judges its institution, protest voices cut. A brilliant example of self-referencing from the time of classic Hollywood is “Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard – 1950”. Written in the noir and melodrama films, it lit with its brilliant stars the darkest sides of the spectacle industry.

Second Screen Screenwriter, Joe Gillis, is accidentally acquainted with forgotten now Norma Dessmont (Gloria Swanson). To escape the usurers, he is hiding in the villa of the star of the cinema. Their cohabitation is for Pyto tyrannical, but also necessary evil and as the weather passes, a guest becomes a zigolo. The lonely half-starred star is his only companion and survival hope until the young scriptwriter Amanda enters his life. His hopes of love and professional success are revived.

“The Avenue of the West” reinstated the illustrious cinema’s iconography through Swanson’s hypocritical style, on the verge of pantomime. The character of Norma enjoys all the attractive features of melodramatic evil – ambivalence, charm, critically superior attitude towards society. The real star of the 1920s performs a fantastic star of the 1920s in a film that reminds of the films of the 1920s. Although Swanseon was not Walzer’s first choice, the role seems to be written on it . To be honest, the award-winning director has dismissed several big names, such as Fola Negri, Greta Garbo and Mary Pipford, before finishing his top star.

Self-referencing in cinema – The West Avenue 1950 Erik von Stromheim and Gloria Swanson

This is not the only self-referential addition to the actors’ squad. The role of her butler is the great film director Erich von Stroheim. The choice of the particular filmmaker, of course, was not accidental. As revealed towards the end of the film, Norma’s loyal butler was one of the most well-known directors of the era of shitty cinema and her ex-husband. The two-star relationship was in fact turbulent. Stroham had directed Swanson’s last big success. Scenes from their film are also featured during “Sunset Boulevard,” when the big diva portrays one of her great successes to screenwriter Joe Gillis in her salon.

The episodic collaboration, Stroham-Swanson, had left some bitter bitterness for many years, especially since this film had marked the end of the career for both. But until their reunion for the shooting of “Sunset Boulevard” the old bad days were forgotten. Two more legendary names in the movie, comedian Buster Keaton and director Cecil B. DeMille. The latter included in the narration the actual shooting of the film Sampson and Dalida that were taking place at that time in Paramount’s studio.

Self-criticism or atonement?

“The Avenue of the West” deals with the sensitive issue of its celebrity and ephemeral character. Obsession with publicity and recognition goes to some extent to all the characters of narration. The culmination of absolute dedication to the persona is the tragic anti-heroine Norma. The same wavelength moves the most recent and especially bold “The Player”. Self-referentiality and criticism are united in a narrative starring the absolute anti-hero, a Hollywood cynical producer. The awareness of competition and the need to preserve wealth and power will lead him to the perfect crime. The two above-mentioned examples use self-referencing and boxed narrative as basic narrative tools.

Playing in the Blind (2002) different narrative and conceptual styles

It is truly admirable that just 20 years after the movie was eliminated, cinema could think of itself. This kind of self-referencing, ie the negative criticism towards itself , has unexpected results. Instead of tarnishing the image of the spectacle industry, he strangely regrets him. The introspection and self-criticism of the instrument legitimizes the established order and rather perpetuates it.

The ethical attitude of artists towards the institution of cinema has been captured in other ways. A more light-hearted tune was offered by Wooydy Allen’s Hollywood Ending. In her a neurotic director – Allen speaks clearly about himself – he is preparing for his great film return. Shortly before the shooting begins hysterical paralysis and blindness occur. When it completes the blind film blindly, it is deposited in the European space. Similar ups and downs lead to the award of two young Greek filmmakers to the “Strictly Right” comedy of Papathanassiou-Repa. With this film we will deal more closely with the next part of our self-referencing cinema. Let’s say briefly that in this category of films the institution of the prizes and the artistic hypocrisy of the festivals is paralyzed.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning in yet another category of films that turn attention to the cinematographic medium. Self-referencing in the case of films such as “8 ½” by Federico Fellini and “Adaptation” by Charlie Kauffman aim to promote artistic creation. Creative effervescence and lack of inspiration lead to generalized anxiety. The profession of filmmaker becomes existential fear. Fellini’s dream is shattered, and Kaufmann’s artistic arrogance is dismantled. Does the artist finally find his way? If he leaves his selfishness and autistic endoscopy aside, yes.

Ralph Glover

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