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On the "New Proletarian Cinema"


At The New Inquiry, Kaila Philo reflects on what she terms the “New Proletarian Cinema” of a handful of young indie directors in the US. Philo’s piece focuses on The Florida Project (2017), directed by Sean Baker, but also mentions Baker’s previous film, Tangerine (2015), as well as Moonlight (2016), directed by Barry Jenkins, and Good Time (2017), directed by Ben and Josh Safdie. What all these films share, according to Philo, is that they “serve as a farewell to dreams.” Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Rather than postponing the hyperconsumerist dystopia to a few years down the line (as in Blade Runner) or arguing that technocratic utopia is right under our noses if we just worked hard and believed in ourselves (as Tomorrowland does), Baker grapples with the loss of this 20th century dream by distilling it through our reality, via children who’ve ceased to dream and started making do with what’s right in front of them.

This New Proletarian Cinema serves as a farewell to dreams the way the old Proletarian Cinema of post-WWI Germany served as, as described by Lotte H. Eisner, “a collapse of the imperial dream.” Moonee appears too content to dream in this life she’s always known; while in the old house, she admits to her new friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) that she wants a home all to her mother and herself, but does so with the insouciant tone of play, as if dreams are to be dabbled with rather than taken seriously. Alexandra meanwhile spends all of Tangerine advertising her show to friends, clients, and passersby on Hollywood streets, all while pressing her friend Sin-Dee to attend, only to perform to an emptying bar.

Image: Still from The Florida Project. Via A24 Films.


Surely real “proletarian cinema” has to be a lot more stirring than this?
Perhaps it is not possible to get cash and distribution together at this time in the West to make the modern-day equivalent of Eisenstein films, and we haven’t yet made our own Revolution so that we can make our own “HMS Potemkin” or “October 2020” but that should always be the direction.
See the recent art exhibitions and cinema events celebrating the 1917 Revolution to see what an explosion of creativity and colour can be unleashed.
Too much of what passes for “proletarian cinema” has been like Alan Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Blackstuff” - hopelessly defeatist about the working class’s prospects to end capitalism.
But see the Soviet works and for example the Cuban film “Clandestinos” to see that exciting and truly revolutionary films can be made.
Films that just show workers lost in delusions and befuddled are not “proletarian”, since the proletariat is both its exploited and brainwashed present and its enlightened and liberated communist future.
And if years ago in the Philippines such films as “Manila in the Claws of Darkness” can be made, then truly proletarian (revolutionary) films can be made here.
Just don’t expect them to be shown in the Odeon or to win you Oscars.