In the early nineteen seventies materialist experimental film was cogently rejected by feminist theorists for its inability to deliver a feminist counter-cinema addressing its political agenda. The concomitant development of feminist psychoanalytic readings of “dominant cinema” against its grain also discounted such work. This split is marked by Peter Wollen’s formulation of “two avant-gardes”, one narrative and explicit about its political position and the other non-narrative and focusing directly on implicit perceptual processes. Materialist film’s fixation on structure jettisoned content, and extended post-war painting’s essentialist move to pure abstraction manifest in abstract expressionism and minimalism. The emergence of trauma theory and the recent explosion of moving image digital media with its non-linear bias and the complex layering of “technical images” have created a new situation opening up alternate readings of such discounted materialist practices. As well as a historic precursor for digital media, it is suggested that a materialist cinema, represented here by the found footage films: Alone: Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Arnold 1998) and Dreamwork (Tscherkassky 2001), signposts a belated return for materialist film within the context of trauma studies. This materialist turn rescues such experimental film from its traumatic excision and extends an understanding of what has been termed a “trauma cinema” by Janet Walker. Rather than pure, abstract or visionary such practice is read here through trauma theory as performing implicit mechanisms of denial and erasure.
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