The Politics of Cruelty: Artaudian Cinema and Dialectics
Antonin Artaud’s concept of a “theatre of cruelty” and his scarce writings on cinema have profoundly influenced film scholarship, especially in view of the large number of contemporary European films which employ images of extreme violence and utilize an aesthetics of visual unpleasure. But is the politics of the Artaudian aesthetic to be reduced to the reproduction of gore images of revolting violence? This question provides the starting point for this paper which explores the politics of Artaudian cinema by going back to his writings on the medium and compares them to Brecht’s writings on film. Although, in theatre and performance studies the work of practitioners, such as Robert Wilson, Heiner Müller and The Living Theatre have helped us comprehend and analyze the signs of connection between the two thinkers, film scholarship has not sufficiently theorized the dialogue between the Artaudian and the Brechtian aesthetic. The focus of this article is twofold: the first part goes back to Artaud’s writings and investigates the politics of the cinema of cruelty, while the second one uses as case studies Jonas Mekas’ The Brig (1964), and Costas Zapas’ The Rebellion of Red Maria (2011). The first film is a screen adaptation of a performance renowned for reconciling the theatre of cruelty with a political context, while the second object is a contemporary paradigm of a film that draws on the Artaudian and Brechtian tradition, with the view to responding to the political concerns of the present.
Angelos Koutsourakis is a UQ postdoctoral research fellow. He is the author of Politics as Form in Lars von Trier (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013, paperback 2015) and the co-editor of The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos which has just been published (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015). His work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Cinema Journal, Film Criticism, Monatshefte, New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, Film-Philosophy, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, Studies in European Cinema and in many more journals.