Alternative Cinema
The term alternative cinema has certain connotations. To many, it is not
alternative, instead it is the way cinema was meant to be viewed, in that the
viewer should be able to define the film in their own personal terms. In the
following essay, I will firstly examine what the term alternative cinema means,
and secondly how Brecht’s theories are evident in many elements of the films
that have been pigeon-holed as alternative cinema. The word alternative is
described in Collins English Dictionary as: "Denoting a lifestyle, culture,
art form, etc., regarded by its adherents as preferable to that of contemporary
society because it is less conventional, materialistic, or institutionalised,
and, often, more in harmony with nature."(Makin, 1992) This is an extremely
useful definition, as the word ‘alternative’ has been used to describe a
form of medicine or therapy, and even forms of energy. ‘Alternative
medicine’ examines the persons physical well-being, and uses acupuncture,
feng-shui, massage, and many others, as techniques to alleviate disease.
‘Alternative energy’ is energy created from what surrounds us, such as,
wind, the sea and the tides; it is energy that brings us in alignment with
nature. The word ‘alternative’ in these forms looks at natural processes
found in nature. A number of films from around the world can be pigeon-holed as
alternative cinema, that is, the cinema that rejects the mainstream approach of
filmmaking. It is not a particular method of making films because many of these
films are very different from each other and use differing approaches.
alternative cinema does not look at a particular way of doing things but a
particular way of not doing things. the Brechtian aspect of making films centres
largely on the theoretical and creative side of film-making, therefore, many of
the films said to be alternative, in terms of production, cannot be discussed in
terms of the work of Bertolt Brecht. Bertolt Brecht was born in Germany in 1898,
and has been cited as the driving force behind what is commonly known as the
‘epic theatre’. Brechts’ ethos centred around bourgeoise theatre, which
through the elaborate sets and acting style helped to allow the audience to
consider what they are seeing, rather than a simple attempt to create reality.

The bourgoise theatre did this by presenting storylines and characters that the
audience could empathise with and not presenting a simple construction of
reality. The audience were pushed to evaluate the piece and no longer treated it
as simple entertainment. I once stood, with a friend, in front of a painting by
the Italian painter, Gustave Cailebotte. The painting was called ‘Paris: On A

Rainy Day’, and to me the painting’s use of drab colours and suffused light,
plus the details of Cailebotte’s characters, distinct in the foreground yet
blurred in the background, gave me a sense that I was a Parisian walking through
those streets. I could not focus on what lay beyond, and was just
single-mindedly getting to where I was going. The rain had turned Paris into a
city that conflicts with the Paris that we all know, a Paris that welcomes you
with open-arms, a friendly Paris full of sunshine. This to me was the
anti-Paris. In short, my belief was that Cailebotte was attempting to express
the wonder of Paris through challenging what Paris is not. My friend on the
other hand believed that Cailebotte was destroying the notion of Paris as a city
where the sun always shines, where the scenery is beautiful and the streets are
full of friendly faces. This to him was the back-end of Paris, where the locals
never wore smiles and walked about their daily business unaware of how the other
half lived. This to him was the real Paris. This incident perfectly illustrates
the essence of alternative cinema, enabling the consumer to personally interpret
the film. It should be possible for two people to walk out of the film with
totally differing views on what they have just seen. It is up to the audience to
unravel the film, not the film to unravel itself. Brecht himself remarked that

Epic Theatre: "turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his capacity
for action, forces him to take decisions... the spectator stands outside,
studies." (Brcht, 64) When the Hollywood studio system started in the 1920s,
certain techniques and standardised operations grew from this. Up until this
point most film-making was said to be experimental. However, with the advent of
the major five studios (Paramount, MGM, RKO, Warner, Fox) and the minor three
studios (Universal, United Artists, Columbia),