Journal Article

The Cinematic Essay as Adaptive Process

Rick Warner

in Adaptation

Volume 6, issue 1, pages 1-24
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online September 2012 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI:
The Cinematic Essay as Adaptive Process

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Though it stubbornly resists classification, the essay in cinema still tends to be approached as a genre or quasi-genre constituted through recurring structural traits. This article develops an alternative view by stressing the adaptive principles of the form, specifically as they concern citation, self-portraiture, and an implicit running dialogue with a spectator who potentially shares in the intellectual labor of montage. I offer a pointed discussion of the Essais of Montaigne in order to draw attention to the activity of essaying over time, in and across multiple works. Then, while extending this conception to several of the cinema’s most prolific essayists, I focus on how Jean-Luc Godard takes up a Montaignian sense of the practice in his late endeavors of self-portrayal, most notably in his film JLG/JLG: Autoportrait in December and in his video series Histoire(s) du cinéma. Ultimately I argue that what distinguishes the most capable essayists working with sounds and images is a “pedagogical” mission to pass on to the spectator not simply ideas and arguments but a particular way of seeing, a means of investigation to be incisively replayed and re-tested.

Keywords: Essay Form; Michel de Montaigne; Jean-Luc Godard; Inventive Citation; Literary; Cinematic Self-Portraiture

Journal Article.  11611 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature ; Film ; Television

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