Investigating Kracauerian Cinematic Realism through Film Practice and Criticism: Life-world Series (2017) and Selected Films of Lino Brocka
by Jose Gutierrez III
Note: This is an excerpt from my PhD dissertation, ‘Investigating Kracauerian Cinematic Realism through Film Practice and Criticism: Life-world Series (2017) and Selected Films of Lino Brocka’ (2018), which is available for download from the institutional repository. In 2020, my book chapter — Cinematic Contemplation Online: The Art and Philosophy of Life-world Series (2017) — based on this dissertation was published in: Kung K.WS. (ed.) Reconceptualizing the Digital Humanities in Asia. Digital Culture and Humanities (Challenges and Developments in a Globalized Asia), vol 2: 31-52. Singapore: Springer.
This final section presents the summary of the findings and conclusions of the study in three major aspects: (1) a prospective model of cinematic realism that resulted from the project’s phenomenological approach in investigating Kracauerian cinematic-realist film aesthetics; (2) an account of reckoning the Husserlian notion of the Lebenswelt which Aitken (2006) specified to be ‘a key to understanding Kracauer’s assertion that “physical reality” can be redeemed through cinema’ (Wils, 2016, p. 76); and (3) the implications and findings of using film practice and criticism as tools in examining Kracauerian cinematic realism (KCR). Lastly, this section will propose recommendations for further research into the subject using both written and film-based means.
Summary of findings
This section summarises the discussions of results and analyses of findings conducted in Chapters 2 and 3 with particular emphases on:  the way that Kracauerian cinematic-realist tropes (first row of Fig. 31) are exemplified (third row) in the ten short films in Life-world Series (Joni Gutierrez, 2017, 118 minutes) and selected Brocka films (second row); and  their corresponding implications on the dissertation’s study on cinematic realism (fourth row).
Life-world Series elucidates the quotidian by turning spectatorial attention to the concrete presence of the objects that form the matrix of everyday life – see the ‘quotidian’ column of Figure 31. The meditative mode of these experimental documentaries promotes for the spectator a contemplation of surface phenomena that offers a potentially transformative realignment of consciousness away from preconceived ideas that mechanise the daily routines and towards, as Husserl and Kracauer put it, ‘the things themselves’ (Russell, 2006, p. 18; Kracauer, 1960, p. 170).
This contemplative rendition of the quotidian offers for the modern subject a way to interpret his or her experience based on a life-world that corresponds with his or her lived experience and not the instrumental discourses imposed by the modern condition. It affirms that this sort of realist film practice has a pronounced affinity for the non-anthropocentric worldview and optimises film techniques that bring out the revelatory power of the ordinary pro-filmic objects to ‘re-set’ consciousness of the everyday from an auto-pilot to a reflective-critical mode. This illuminates what Kracauer believed as cinema’s potential – with its gravitation towards physical reality – to redeem the modern subject from the manipulative tendencies of the modern condition.
The next KCR trope, the fortuitous (Fig. 31), is rendered by foregrounding chance events and encounters using deep-focus photography and a series of long takes. These cinematographic techniques prime the spectator to be keen on perceiving objects outside the camera frame which serves only as a provisional limit to the much larger realm of physical reality. The direct implication of this is that the ‘continuum of physical existence’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 63) is a major theme in studies in cinematic realism in general. The modern condition, however, abstracts the experience of the modern subject and since this tends to dismiss the individual’s immediate experience of the concrete, the overall human experience of the modern condition becomes fragmented. Drawing from this, it is proposed that an essential feature of the realist film – and in line with Kracauerian thought, film’s redemptive potential – is its capacity to render the complexity of fragmentation of the experience of the modern subject. By foregrounding this fragmentation, the realist film overtly recognises an invariant feature of the modern experience. This, in turn, serves a springboard on which to question the conceptual discourses that deny the inherent contradictions of the prevailing ideologies. For the spectators, this marks the beginning of an intuitive understanding on how these abstractions legitimise themselves by claiming to provide the structures which attempt to standardise how life ought to be lived within an orderly society. Certainly, the realist aspect of the realist film is enriched by claiming as its source of power the essences of modern life, the condition that made the very existence of the cinematic medium possible.
The indeterminate (Fig. 31) is rendered in Life-world Series by being principally composed of shots that cannot be conveniently pinned down by conceptual and instrumental rationality. This kind of cinematic imaging runs counter to that of dominant, commercial cinema which works primarily through the conventions – including genre, character archetypes, conventional narrative patterns, stars, etc. – with which the audience is assumed to be familiar. Since the shots in Life-world Series are largely indeterminate, the spectator is pushed to engage another mode of intentionality or conscious action, that is, feeling that results in intuitive understanding. This feeling-oriented route to understanding the cinematic work, as noted in Chapter 1, is outside the pleasures generated by the audience from emotionally categorised genres (e.g., comedy, horror, etc.). Another way that Life-world Series depicts indeterminacy is through its affinity with experimenting with a variety of perceptually-rich pro-filmic (e.g., natural formations) or formal (multi-media, multi-screen, etc.) cinematic elements. Taking these into consideration, it is therefore asserted that indeterminacy is a key ingredient of cinematic realism; indeed, parallel with this is an invariant feature of human experience, which is the multiplicity of meanings formed within the intersubjective life-world.
The flow of life (Fig. 31) is cinematically executed by Life-world Series by being keen on Kracauer’s idea that life is a continuous flow of ‘psychophysical correspondences’ (1960, p. 72). The ten short films presented the spectators with images from physical reality that serve both as psychological stimuli and as phenomenological objects of reflection that are intuitively recognised as patterns in our shared life-world and invariant features of human experience. This supports two things: Kracauer’s claim that the flow of life is a major motif of realist cinema; and that intersubjectivity is a key concept in understanding KCR and cinematic realism in general. The KCR trope that is the spiritual life itself is brought into play by Life-world Series by factoring in an invariant feature of human experience, that is, our insatiable curiosity in our constant search for meanings. The perceptually-rich and indeterminate shots in the short films bring the spectator into a state that inspires them to engage in what Husserl termed as ‘eidetic seeing’ (1982, p. 7) of the invariant features of the matrices of objects within the life-world and the workings of the intentional consciousness of the spectators. This leads one to contemplate his or her place within the intersubjective life-world and when he or she reaches critical awareness, the intuitive understanding that he or she can question and change the order of things comes into view.
The KCR trope of the refuse (Fig. 31) is depicted by selected films of Lino Brocka by confronting the spectators with the actual state of disorder and crisis in Martial-Law Era Philippines. As made explicit in Chapter 3, Brocka films did not merely function as exposés of the abuses during the Martial Law-Era Philippines; instead, these cinematic works used physical reality – the objects (and subjects) themselves – to make the Filipino audience critically aware of the damaged life-world which is domineered by prevailing positivist and instrumental abstractions. As also made clear in the previous chapter, an important critical insight that the spectators reach by watching the Brocka film is that their life-world, or as Husserl put it, ‘everyday lived experience’ (Russell, 2006, p. 184), has been corrupted by instrumental abstractions such as the modernising project of the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) during the Marcos dictatorship. Through the Brocka film, the spectators begin to reach the critical insight that in the Marcosian domain, the poor and the weak are associated with garbage that are part of the refuse of modern society (Fig. 27). The spectators become critically aware about their place in the life-world through the Brocka film that offers an underlying questioning of the status quo. The real strength of the Brocka film ultimately lies in this ability to lead the spectator to reach the intuitive understanding that the shared, intersubjective life-world should not be highjacked by the will of the rich and powerful. The critical observer that emerges from the film viewing experience of the Brocka film is a step towards what was noted in Chapter 3 as Brocka’s advocacy to create of ‘the Great Filipino Audience’ (Hernando, 1993a, p. 19). The implication to the KCR trope of the refuse discussed here is that when the realist film ‘holds up a mirror to nature’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 305), the spectators are potentially transformed to becoming conscious observers because of the ability of the cinematic experience to enhance our perception so that we can see the things, like the refuse, that are normally invisible to us.
The seventh KCR trope, the transient (Fig. 31), is illuminated in selected Brocka films by having a propensity for the fleeting images whether experienced in masses (Fig. 30) or in solitude (Fig. 29). As stated in Chapter 3, the contemplation of these transitory images – ‘free-hovering images of material reality’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 71) – advances an intuitive understanding of the malleability of the life-world and opens the possibility for collective action amidst a renewed insight on the power of the critically-aware and intersubjective consciousness of the people. The implication of this to cinematic realism is that that the transitory images are the very essence of not just the realist film but cinema itself. This is in line with Kracauer’s observation in Theory of Film that ‘the motion picture camera seems to be partial to the least permanent components of our environment’ (1960, p. 52). It follows that transience is the very essence of the realist film; indeed, impermanence is an invariant feature of not just cinema but also the human experience of the modern condition, life, and reality itself.
Towards a model of cinematic realism
Since KCR tropes such as the fortuitous, the indeterminate, and the flow of life are ‘aspects of reality’ (Aitken, 2001, p. 175) and the project’s study on KCR took a principally phenomenological approach – particularly through the notion of the Lebenswelt – these tropes were identified within a matrix involving concepts along the lines of the aforementioned. Figure 32 presents the seven KCR tropes – (1) the quotidian, (2) the transient, (3) the refuse, (4) the fortuitous, (5) the indeterminate, (6) the flow of life, and (7) the spiritual life itself – in relation to a prospective model of cinematic realism based on the investigation of KCR carried out in this dissertation. This model is set out here using a quadrant format referred to as an ‘integrated quadrant model of Kracauerian cinematic realism’ (IQMKCR).
The first part of the IQMKCR, ‘the everyday’ is the phenomenal dimension that is characterised by the ‘rich complexity of immediate experience’ (Aitken, 2001, p. 178) as perceived by the brain. The second quadrant, ‘the world’, is the psychological dimension wherein the physical reality of the Lebenswelt, defined as the ‘the surrounding ever-changing world of our everyday experience and perception’ (Aitken, 2016, p. 15), is apprehended from the point-of-view of the ego, the conscious thinking subject. Quadrant III (life) features the phenomenological dimension that accounts for the Lebenswelt in the ‘thick’ sense, which denotes ‘the entire world given to us in immediate experience that is bound up with sensuous fullness, cultural richness, and manifold practical meanings that surround the intersubjective experience’ (Russell, 2006, p. 194). The ‘stream of material situations and happenings’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 72) in the physical reality of this realm, when rendered by the cinematic film, ignites for the film spectator a ‘continuous influx of the psychophysical correspondences’ (p. 72) which suggests ‘a reality which may fittingly be called “life”’ (p. 72). Within this context of the Lebenswelt in the thick sense, human beings are ‘caught up’ (Russell, 2006, p. 184) in what ‘Husserl called everyday lived experience’ (p. 184).
Quadrant IV (Nature) highlights phenomenology as a ‘science of essences’ (Russell, 2006, p. 22) since this dimension emphasises the Lebenswelt in the ‘thin’ sense, a notion employed by Husserl ‘to denote that narrower set of phenomena, belonging to the world of experience, which are invariant from culture to culture’ (Russell, 2006, p. 194). An example of these phenomena is the invariant feature of human experience to have a constant concern for a cluster of concepts that revolve around home; the German word, Heimat, is one of the closest to capture the core of this phenomenon which comes in different linguistic forms across diverse cultures around the world, but all point out the same essence of home. As mentioned in Chapter 1, this Lebenswelt in the thin sense houses the essence of ‘Nature’ – capitalised to indicate its difference from the conventional definition of nature – that includes – but is not limited to – the entire realm of ‘physical reality’ which Kracauer defined using a variety of terms, including ‘material reality’, ‘physical existence’, ‘actuality’ and ‘camera-reality’ (1960, p. 28). This notion of ‘Nature’ is far-reaching since it includes both Kracauer’s notion of physical reality and Husserl’s notion of ‘reality’ (Russell, 2006, p. 22) as ‘the totality of individual objects that could possibly be experienced’ (p. 22) and extends farther to the yet unknown, unchartered and unimagined indeterminate totality of the absolute. As the ‘I’ in the IQMKCR and the arrows at the centre of the figure indicate, the quadrants are integrated: within the physical reality of the human experience, the phenomenal, psychological and phenomenological dimensions co-exist; as a corollary, cinematic realism can be defined as a cinematic experience of these interweaving dimensions as grounded in physical reality. A major implication of this is that the totality of Nature is inscribed in the particularity of the phenomenal experience of the everyday.
The Lebenswelt and film’s redemption of physical reality
This section continues the discussion on the IQMKCR and now focuses on the seven KCR tropes – positioned at the corners of the diagram (Fig. 32) – as used in this study, and on how they contribute to an understanding of the Lebenswelt as a potential route towards, following Kracauer’s lead, the redemption of physical reality. Within the realm of the everyday (Quadrant I), ‘the quotidian’ (employed in the discussion of Life-world Series in Chapter 2) and the refuse (used in the discussion of the films of Lino Brocka in Chapter 3) KCR tropes are aspects of reality that tend to be invisible. As Kracauer put it: ‘Strange as it may seem, although streets, faces, railway stations, etc., lie before our eyes, they have remained largely invisible so far. Why is this so?’ (1960, p. 299). The reason behind the ‘invisibility’ of the quotidian was ascribed in Chapter 2 to the propensity of the modern subjects to close their eyes to ‘the “blind drive of things” (Laffay, 1948, p. 13)’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 58) as they are ‘caught up’ (Russell, 2006, p. 184) in the Lebenswelt in the thick sense; as for the refuse, its ‘invisibility’ is imputed to the averseness of the modern subjects to see ‘the waste they leave behind’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 54). The combined effects of the foregoing, bolstered by the domination ‘by systems of technical and conceptual rationality’ (Aitken, 2006, p. 154) within the modern condition, produce a prevailing state wherein the ‘immediate experience of the physical environment as a possible object of contemplation for the modern subject has become sharply abridged, and therefore more “abstract” (Kracauer, 1960, pp. 291-7)’ (p. 154).
Given this diagnosis of the damaged modern condition brought about by the predominating state of abstraction, Kracauer’s prognosis is that film, by promoting for the spectator ‘the experience of things in their concreteness’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 296) – in other words, ‘a return to the “concrete density of things”’ (Aitken, 2001, p. 178) – can ‘provide the way forward for the modern subject’ (p. 178) through physical reality as an object of contemplation. This cinematic meditation on everyday life was the core and driving force of Life-world Series that attempted to investigate the possibility of realising the double purpose of foregrounding the quotidian as a trope and an aspect of reality and fleshing out the ten characteristics of the Lebenswelt – as (a) expansive, (b) multi-layered, (c) flowing, (d) in the process of becoming, (e) resonantly intersubjective, (f) a thing of beauty, (g) relating to essences, (h) cyclical, (i) transcendent, and (j) meaning-laden. As the intuitive awareness of the nature of the Lebenswelt come into the spectators’ view, they are potentially transformed through their ‘concrete mode of apprehending and understanding’ (Petro, 1991, p. 138) the cinematic objects of contemplation before them; ultimately, what they take away from the encounter with the cinematic images is a sharpening of their perception of an expansive, multi-layered, flowing reality that goes beyond but also co-exists with their everyday routines that are dictated by instrumental rationality within the modern condition. This cinema of perspicacity also applies to the films of Lino Brocka, with their unflinching look into the refuse wherein the cinematic experience goes beyond an exposé of poverty and extends towards ‘transforming the agitated witness into a conscious observer’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 58) as the film reveals for the spectators the possibility of seeing themselves as the refuse of the modern world, along the lines of Kracauer’s idea of ‘the homelessness of the individual in the modern world’ (Elsaesser, 1987, p. 70).
The ego, within the psychological realm in Quadrant II (the world) [Fig. 32], construes for the conscious subject its own conceptualisation of a ‘self’ that is reasonably ‘solid’, stable and consequential. The principal task of this ego is to ensure the survival and structural integrity of the so-called ‘self’ by monitoring reality, the aspects of which include the transient and the fortuitous. The ego’s sensitivity to changes in the environment (phenomenal transience) and the balance of happenstance (chance) in relation to the ‘others’ (other sentient beings, particularly humans) is there to ensure the continuance of the centrality of the ‘self’ in recognising the world as knowable and governable. This pre-eminence of the human point-of-view, often at the expense of ‘Nature’ within the modern condition, is one of the main configurations that Life-world Series and Chapter 2 seek to address; Study Seven: The Street, for example, is built up of a multitude of manifestations of the fortuitous through multiple screens that veer away from the perspective of any single protagonist. The result, as derived in part from the film, was a fostering for the spectator of the intuitive understanding of the fortuitous as an aspect of reality – a part of Nature – that is beyond the concerns of a single ‘self’ that is imagined to be detached from the larger web of things: the Lebenswelt. As regards the study’s exploration of the transient KCR trope in Chapter 3, the drifting away from the illusion of the all-powerful ‘self’ was observed in the potentially transformative experience of the Brocka film that promotes for the spectator an intuitive understanding that change is within reach, perhaps through mass action or other creative possibilities that tap into the power of the self as part and parcel of the Lebenswelt to which the ‘others’ are also organically connected.
This brings the discussion to Quadrant III (Life) wherein the reality of the ‘flow of life’ as a KCR trope is established through the intersubjective experience of it. Within this phenomenological realm, the Lebenswelt in the ‘thick sense’ becomes a source of shared familiarity for human beings, thereby fulfilling Kracauer’s notion of the redemptive potential of cinematic films that ‘virtually make the world our home’ (1960, p. 304), the intuitive awareness of which was one of the ultimate insights to emerge out of Life-world Series. Finally, in Quadrant IV (Nature), the KCR tropes are engaged in a manner that recognises the indeterminate aspect of reality – ‘nature in its inscrutability’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 20) – and opens the possibility for the ‘spiritual life itself’ to lead on to the path of fathoming the chartered and unchartered, known and unknown, visible and invisible, determinate and indeterminate universe; indeed, this is in line with Kracauer’s conviction that at the core of the ‘cinematic film’ (1960, p. 72) – determined by its propensity to ‘penetrate the external world’ (p. 191) – lies its capacity for ‘reading the book of nature’ (p. 302). This curiosity for the nature of reality is in line with another invariant feature of the human experience, that is, the insatiable search for meaning. This accounts for why ‘suggestive indeterminacy’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 71) is a key feature of the cinematic film that gravitates towards images that invoke a ‘sustained inquiry’ (p. 279); indeed, this completes the major set of characteristics investigated by this dissertation and the Life-world Series films in an effort to understand how the Lebenswelt contributes to the redemptive potential of film as regards the spectator’s engagement with physical reality as an object of contemplation.
Implications of investigating KCR through film practice
As demonstrated in Chapter 2, the use of Life-world Series as a tool to examine KCR film aesthetics shaped an investigation of the latter in terms of the Lebenswelt, which is central to both KCR and Husserlian phenomenology. In this thesis project, the use of film practice as a means of studying cinematic realism probed the KCR tropes as ‘aspects of reality’ (Aitken, 2001, p. 175) and also ‘aspects of the Lebenswelt’ (2006, p. 166). This prompted the construction of the prospective model of cinematic realism discussed in the preceding parts of this conclusions section of the dissertation. A major implication here is that realist film practice is an interrogation of reality and – especially if the film-making process is intuitively cognisant of this – the production of the cinematic work can also serve as a tool in developing new understandings of cinematic realism.
Aside from its theory-building project, Kracauerian cinematic realism is also essentially about seeking what kind of ‘film practice succeeds best in utilizing the aesthetic possibilities of the cinematic medium’ (Hansen, 1997, p. viii). In this light, this section proceeds by explicating Kracauer’s idea of the film artist’s creative process, practice and role in an intersubjective life-world. This is linked to the research questions set out in the Introduction section of this dissertation, particularly about film practice as its primary means to investigate KCR.
Kracauer supported ‘forms of avant-garde film-making which deploy the impressionistic style’ (Aitken, 2006, p. 166), a particular form – what can be named as a contemplative experimental documentary of wandering about or the floating flaneur film – of which was exhibited in Life-world Series. Although Kracauer devoted a chapter on the ‘Experimental Film’ (1960, p. 175) in Theory of Film, he also found this impressionistic style – as he searched for the ‘pristine and unadorned moment’ (Armstrong, 2007, p. 66) – in ‘The Film of Fact’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 193) and ‘The Theatrical Story’ (p. 215). A distinguishing characteristic of the Brocka film, for example, as elucidated in Chapter 3, is its proclivity to let the Kracauerian ‘fugitive moment’ (Armstrong, 2007, p. 66) interject along the main dramatic arc. These definitively Kracauerian moments in the Brocka film – masses on the streets (Fig. 30, the transient), contemplative walk in the park (Fig. 29, the transient), and documentary-style rendition of life in the slums on landfills (Fig. 27, the refuse), etc. – organically serve as focal points in Kracauerian readings of the works of the Filipino auteur. These ‘poignant configurations of camera-life’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 277), exhibited by Life-world Series and the Brocka film, ‘have an individuality and a glamour all their own; they spur our imagination, attuning it to the tales still half-enshrined in them’ (p. 277). Ultimately, the film artist’s role is to go back ‘the things themselves’ (Russell, 2006, p. 18; Kracauer, 1960, p. 170) by drawing on the power of physical reality to redeem the spectators from the prevailing abstractions in modern society. Kracauer believed that this realist project would help us reclaim the life-world of our concrete, immediate, and lived experience and not that of instrumental and manipulative discourses. Only when we intuitively understand this do ‘we stand a chance of finding something we did not look for, something tremendously important in its own right – the world that is ours’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 296). Finally, this implies a film practice that is also impressionistic and open to the emergence of new paths and possibilities for contemplation of the essence of things:
The true film artist may be imagined as a man who sets out to tell a story but, in shooting it, is so overwhelmed by his innate desire to cover all of physical reality – and also be a feeling that he must cover it in order to tell a story, any story, in cinematic terms – that he ventures ever deeper into the jungle of material phenomena in which he risks becoming irretrievably lost if he does not, by virtue of great efforts, get back to the highways he has left.(Kracauer, 1960, p. 255)
The film-making process of Life-world Series responded in part to the above statement by Kracauer. To illustrate, the original idea for Study Five: Rain was for it to be a remake of Regen (Joris Ivens, 1929), which was ‘one of Kracauer’s favourite films’ (Aitken, 2016, p. 34) – see Figure 33. In the process of shooting Study Five, however, the project, as it covered the physical reality of the milieu – Hong Kong in 2016 – was driven by the story of the cyclical nature of the natural phenomenon of rain vis-à-vis the human experience of the city. As the project delved deeper into the ‘jungle of material phenomena’ (Kracauer, 1960, p. 255), the original idea of making a shot-by-shot remake of Regen was transformed to let the subject matter, rain, indeterminate as it is, to materialise the ultimate form and content of the experimental film. The result was Study Five: Rain – made 87 years after the film that inspired it – that echoes the very essence of Regen, that is, the contemplative potential offered to the modern subject by the natural phenomenon of rain.
The project benefitted from using film practice as a principal component in its investigation of Kracauerian cinematic realism, particularly in regard to its general objective to understand how the Lebenswelt contributes to the redemptive potential of film as regards the spectator’s engagement with physical reality as an object of contemplation. The construction of Life-world Series as a sequence of short film experiments allowed the study to identify salient patterns and formations that resulted from the project’s phenomenological approach – specifically hinged on the notion of the Lebenswelt – in examining KCR aesthetics; to illustrate, at the end of each component short film that sought to gain insight on a characteristic of the Lebenswelt – i.e., as (a) expansive, (b) multi-layered, (c) flowing, (d) in the process of becoming, (e) resonantly intersubjective, (f) a thing of beauty, (g) relating to essences, (h) cyclical, (i) transcendent, and (j) meaning-laden – questions and new directions on the use of KCR aesthetics arose and led to the design of the subsequent films. This emergent design that resulted from using film practice as a means to investigate KCR – true to the spirit of the phenomenological method – opened the project to a wide range of possibilities that it could not have encountered if it limited itself to applying a particular theory as a framework in doing film criticism of pre-existing works. A salient manifestation of this is that since the film project chose to have the Lebenswelt as its subject matter, the model of Kracauerian cinematic realism that was ultimately proposed in the dissertation featured the interweaving of the phenomenological notion of the Lebenswelt – in both its thick and thin senses – with KCR film aesthetics as anchored in the KCR tropes used in this study, namely, (1) the quotidian, (2) the transient, (3) the refuse, (4) the fortuitous, (5) the indeterminate, (6) the flow of life, and (7) the spiritual life itself.
The specific objectives of the thesis project, identified as the research questions (RQs) of the study in the Introduction section of the dissertation, contributed to the fulfilment of its aesthetic and phenomenological investigation of Kracauerian cinematic realism. Chapter 1 defined Kracauerian cinematic realism and the film aesthetics that it entails (RQ-01), contextualised by KCR’s intellectual background as a subset of the ‘phenomenalist-realist’ (Aitken, 2016, p. 34) film (RQ-04) and, as discussed in the Introduction section, Kracauer’s earlier writings on abstraction and distraction (RQ-02). Chapter 2 explained how KCR appropriates the phenomenological notion of the Lebenswelt and how this fosters Kracauer’s assertion of the redemptive potential of film amidst the modern condition (RQ-03); further, it described how the research-based production of a KCR film can be designed as a method in systematically inspecting KCR (RQ-05). Chapter 2 also discussed the findings and conclusions that were generated by investigating KCR tropes – namely, the quotidian, the fortuitous, the indeterminate, the flow of life, and the spiritual life itself – using Life-world Series (RQ-06), a KCR film which that chapter positioned in terms of the cluster of genres of the avant-garde, poetic and experimental documentaries (RQ-07). As for the supplementary part of the examination of KCR tropes, that is, through film criticism of selected Brocka films, the dissertation, in Chapter 3, discussed the findings and conclusions that were gained by examining KCR tropes – the refuse and the transient – through film criticism of selected Brocka films (RQ-08). Finally, this Conclusions section has summarised how the project’s phenomenological approach in investigating KCR fostered the construction of a prospective model of cinematic realism (RQ-09) and identified some implications and prospects of using film-making practice as an instrument to investigate Kracauerian cinematic realism (RQ-10).
As can be recalled early on the manuscript, in Figure 3 under the Research Questions section, at the core of the dissertation is the productive project of expanding the inventory of KCR tropes. This is afforded by their being much larger than their original place in Theory of Film for they are aspects of reality and characteristics of the Lebenswelt and as such, as epitomised by the entire thesis project, are also central in the larger phenomenological sphere. Figure 34 illustrates that the dissertation covered the essence of KCR as a realist film theory that relates the redemptive potential of the film medium – via KCR tropes and their implied aesthetics, film practice, and spectatorial experience – vis-à-vis the modern condition.
Through the aesthetic examination of KCR and the phenomenological investigation of the life-world which are both located, intertwiningly at the core of the thesis project, the dissertation also identified as among its findings the characterisation of the life-world as a by-product of the primary investigation of KCR. These characteristics of the Lebenswelt – e.g., three out of twelve of which shown in Fig. 34 – were used by the dissertation to expand the possibilities of our understanding of KCR; indeed, the phenomenological notion of the life-world contributes to our continuing effort to grasp not just KCR, but the very essence of cinema. Figure 34 further illustrates the realms of the modern condition (KCR) and the Lebenswelt, the former a subset of the latter. As consistently noted in the dissertation, both are subsets of the larger realm of Nature, which was affirmed in Chapter 2 as covering the entire realm of physical reality in both senses of: the chartered and unchartered; known and unknown; visible and invisible; determinate and indeterminate universe. The KCR tropes as ‘aspects of reality’ (Aitken, 2001, p. 175), as shown in Figure 34 are but a few instances of the universe of aspects of realities under Nature, which, as emphasised in the figure, covers both the known and the unknown. To conclude, as long as we human beings are physical entities who are insatiably curious about the nature of reality, the film medium – which gravitates towards physical reality as Kracauer invariably affirmed – will continue to be a means for us to investigate Nature that forms the very base of our physical existence.
To complete the discussion of the current study, let us identify some recommendations that have resulted from its project of investigating KCR through a written dissertation and a film practice which seek to take further and enhance what is covered in that dissertation. As already noted, the film practice component, Life-world Series, used the phenomenological notion of the Lebenswelt as the locus of its examination of KCR film aesthetics. For other researchers who would also be interested in investigating KCR through film practice, it is recommended that rather than interrogating profoundly a key conceptual anchor of KCR, as the current study did with the Lebenswelt, they focus instead on other notions that surround KCR, for example, those of abstraction and distraction as found in Kracauer’s earlier writings; with these as anchors, the resultant study may have more implications on the ‘social, gender and other mediations’ (Aitken, 2016, p. 37) that were ‘left out’ (p. 37) by the ‘approach adopted by the major realist film theorists’ (p. 37) – which includes Kracauer – who followed the phenomenalist-realist route. In addition, it is recommended that the prospective film of the future researcher-filmmaker may, instead of the experimental documentary used in the current study, experiment with the narrative fiction film – while still having phenomenalist-realist aspects and KCR tropes as with the Brocka film – and feature ‘characters and stories constructed in terms of social position, race, gender, age, ethnicity, psychological make-up, and so on’ (Aitken, 2016, p. 37); this direction is anticipated to widen the possibilities of using film practice as a method in probing KCR and potentially expanding or redefining the boundaries of realist film theory, practice, criticism and discourse.
The dissertation took the path of extending the KCR tropes through the larger realm of the Lebenswelt; consequently, the resultant characteristics of the life-world (e.g., multi-layered, resonantly intersubjective, cyclical, etc., as shown in Fig. 34) become prospective additions to the inventory of cinematic-realist tropes. Other researchers can also explore other routes such as: (1) other possible keys to KCR, e.g., other phenomenological notions such as intersubjectivity, intentionality, etc., instead of the Lebenswelt; and (2) existential phenomenology, e.g., that of Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, etc., instead of the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Throughout the thesis project, it has been observed that the study was moving towards this but it, in the interest of managing its scope, the dissertation stayed within the realm of Husserlian phenomenology. To illustrate, the titles of the seven analysis sections (corresponding with the seven KCR tropes) from Chapters 2 to 3 – daily matrix, internal currents, immanent patterns, eidetic formations, insatiable curiosity, conscious observation, and call to action – can further be clustered in phenomenological terms, i.e., intentionality, authenticity and freedom, that are, though well within the domain of Husserlian phenomenology, also salient in existential phenomenology.
It is also recommended that future research be conducted on the pedagogical applications of the phenomenalist-realist film (PRF). The research project has found that the PRF forms not just the basis of the KCR film but also of cinema itself. Students can be assigned to make short films such as those in Life-world Series and in the classroom, they can be engaged in discussions about film aesthetics, cinematic-realist theory, and philosophy. Film exercises such as these are good starting points in documentary and experimental film courses; in addition, since discourses on realism are located at the very essence of cinema, even introductory courses on film can also benefit from this type of realist film-making activities.
As noted in Chapter 1, the seventh trope, the spiritual life itself, is special. In the interest of balance, however, the dissertation did not give it special treatment in terms of number of pages although it did deliberately present this trope last so that it could serve as a sort of culmination of the other tropes involved in the thesis project. For subsequent researches on KCR, it is recommended that this trope be given more attention for it can stand on its own and deal with critical research on film philosophy, cineaste groups, film festivals, etc. It is also suggested that future researches be conducted to assess how the KCR aesthetics and theory that emerged during the age of celluloid applies to the age of the digital. This kind of interdisciplinary study that intersects film theory and media studies will definitely enrich the larger study of cinematic realism as an important research thread in film studies. Another suggestion is to use film-making as a tool in phenomenological investigations in the social sciences. While video recording has been used in ethnography and visual anthropology, its purpose has been relegated to that of documentation. Drawing on the case of Life-world Series which investigated the Lebenswelt – in both disciplines of film studies (humanities) and philosophy – film practice can also be used by social scientists who study social theories or cultural phenomena and their intersections with philosophy.
Lastly, it is recommended that future research be conducted on Kracauer’s phenomenological investigation on the film spectator – Kracauer devoted an entire chapter on it in Theory of Film. While the dissertation considered the responses of the spectators of Life-world Series to enhance its phenomenological analysis in Chapter 2, the thesis project as a whole was not principally a study of the film spectatorship. Doing a study that focuses exclusively on the phenomenology of the film spectator, with an expanded take of Kracauer’s ideas on hand, would be a productive way for Kracauerian film studies to branch out to other seminal endeavours. In this spirit, this manuscript concludes with the following passage on the film spectator in Theory of Film:
Through its very concern for camera-reality, film thus permits especially the lonely spectator to fill his shrinking self – shrinking in an environment where the bare schemata of things threaten to supersede the things themselves – with images of life as such – glittering, allusive, infinite life. Evidently, these loosely connected images, which he may of course interweave in many ways, are so profoundly satisfactory to the dreamer because they offer him routes of escape into the mirage-like world of concrete objects, striking sensations, and unusual opportunities.(Kracauer, 1960, p. 170)
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