The theme of these columns over the last two years has been the need for an internationalised understanding of films -where they come from, what they deal with, how they mean to affect us. So it might come as a surprise to regular readers that this month I argue that the flow of movies outside their own country should be stopped. Dead.
Yet this argument is, in fact, a rational proposal to stimulate world cinema. It would work like this: for two years, say 2008 and 2009, no country would export its films or import any foreign films. The mutually agreed closure of borders would be fixed five years in advance in order to allow national film industries to plan for the drastic change in domestic market circumstances. Two years of closure should be enough time to change the way producers think. It would be a period of inwardness-a detox. By 2010, after this voluntary isolation, world cinema would be immeasurably better.
It’s obvious why this won’t happen, but here are three compelling reasons why it should: Germany in the late 1910s, Russia in the 1910s and 1920s, and Iran in the 1980s and 1990s. Only when Germany isolated its film production between 1916 and 1921 did its filmmakers begin to become distinctive. Unable to rely on new aesthetic models from abroad, they took a think tank approach to their own work, and within a few years, world-class talents such as Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene, FW Murnau, and GW Pabst emerged. Faced with empty screens, they were forced to invent.
Despite the coercions of Bolshevism, that is what Russian and Soviet directors did too. Before 1914, Russian cinema was dominated by French products. When the country entered the first world war, most international film companies closed their Moscow offices. Almost immediately, the country’s filmmaking became more distinctive. After the revolution, a group of now famous directors-Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin-answered the question: “How can we make our national cinema different from others?” by changing the way films are edited. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iranian directors saw few western films. The most innovative of them drew on the traditions of Persian poetry and philosophy-not cinema at all-and came up with a unique paradocumentary approach and some of the great films of the 1990s.
The idea of isolationism makes many people bristle, but I am proposing…