Direct Cinema, the documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s, and the more reflexive works of the period triggered a burst of interest in the history and practice of documentary cinema. Wiseman generated an enormous amount of attention, while certain films—Salesman, A Married Couple, Gimme Shelter, Hearts and Minds (1974)—became focal points of controversy. Alan Rosenthal's The New Documentary in Action (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971) and The Documentary Conscience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) present interviews with influential practitioners. Rosenthal's anthology, New Challenges for Documentary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), gathers useful essays.
As documentary practice was changing from pure Direct Cinema to a more synthetic form derived from the work of De Antonio and others, film academics turned their attention to matters of style and structure. Scholars built taxonomies, distinguished trends, noted rejections of tradition, and explored questions of practice (reenactment, continuity editing) and ethics (the exploitative dimensions of Direct Cinema). For examples, see Bill Nichols, Ideology and the Image (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), and Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Thomas Waugh, ed., "Show Us Life": Toward a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1984); Noël Carroll, Theorizing the Moving Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 224–252; and Willem De Greef and Willem Hesling, eds., Image Reality Spectator: Essays on Documentary Film and Television (Leuven: Acco, 1989).
THE IDEA OF STRUCTURE
Structural Film was one manifestation of a growing interest in film form during the 1960s and 1970s. But the label Structural has diverse sources in the social sciences and the fine arts.
The wide-ranging intellectual movement known as Structuralism originated in France in the 1950s. Its proponents, such as the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and the linguist Émile Benveniste, argued that human thought was patterned somewhat as languages are. Consciousness and all its products—myth, ritual, and social institutions—were traceable not to individual minds but to collective "structures" manifested in language or other cultural systems. Although as a philosophical position Structuralism had largely collapsed by the late 1960s, its influence in the arts grew. Structuralist studies led film theorists to examine mythical patterns in Westerns and other genres. Examples of this approach are Jim Kitses, Horizons West: Studies of Authorship within the Western (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970), and Rick Altman, The American Film Musical (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).
At about the same time, the issue of structure was broached by a competing tradition stemming from experimental music. Serial composition, as initiated by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton von Webern, posited that the artist could control all "parameters"—melody, harmony, rhythm, and so on—by devising a single generative system. This serial conception of structure was elaborated more generally in Umberto Eco's La Struttura assente (1968) and was applied to film in Noël Burch's Theory of Film Practice, translated by Helen R. Lane (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973; originally published 1969). Whereas the mythic approach emphasizes the organization of social meanings, the serial approach stresses the "purer" process of sheer pattern making.
So by 1969, when Sitney dubbed certain American films "Structural," the term had already taken on several meanings. He added yet another. In the Structural film, "the shape of the whole film is predetermined and simplified, and it is that shape that is the primal impression of the film" (P. Adams Sitney, "Structural Film," in Sitney, ed., The Film Culture Reader [New York: Praeger, 1970], p. 327). Here "structure" means neither deep organization of meaning (the French Structuralist concept) nor serialist control of part-whole relations. Other critics found other terms (minimalist film, literal cinema) more apt, but Sitney's formulation crystallized the movement in the minds of viewers and filmmakers. Many later films owe as much to his definition as to any films he was describing.
Important recastings of the idea of Structural Film can be found in a 1972 essay by Paul Sharits, "Words Per Page," in Richard Kostelanetz, ed., Esthetics Contemporary (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1978), pp. 320–32, and in two anthologies: Annette Michelson, ed., New Forms in Film (Montreux: 1974), and Peter Gidal, ed., Structural Film Anthology (London: British Film Institute, 1976). Malcolm Le Grice's Abstract Film and Beyond (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977) tells the history of experimental film from the standpoint of British Structural aspirations.
THE AVANT-GARDE AND POSTMODERNISM
Postwar experimental cinema, like the international art cinema, operated under the auspices of modernism in the arts (Film History: An Introduction, pp. 357–359). Frampton, for example, often invoked James Joyce's Ulysses as a model for his Magellan project. But the rise of Pop Art led many art historians toward a new tolerance of mass culture and a rejection of the grand ambitions of "high modernism." Artists in all media began to draw upon popular culture, to emphasize fragmentation, to acknowledge the power of the art market in the creation of trends, and to regard all styles of the past as equally available for parody and pastiche. These were some of the traits identified as postmodernism. The term itself, initially applied to a new style of architecture, spread quickly to the other arts and even became a name for the postwar era of "finance capitalism."
Russell Ferguson et al., eds., Discourses: Conversations in Postmodern Art and Culture (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990) includes interviews with many filmmakers, some of whom work under the postmodern label. Noël Carroll argues that postmodernism in film is better understood as "post-Structural Film." (See "Film in the Age of Postmodernism" in Interpreting the Moving Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 300–332. For other views, see Millennium Film Journal 16–18 (Fall/Winter 1986/1987) and J. Hoberman, Vulgar Modernism: Writing on Movies and Other Media (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991). The literature on postmodernism is voluminous, but one of the most accessible accounts is Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New (New York: Knopf, 1981), pp. 324–409. See also Margot Lovejoy, Postmodern Currents: Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992). An important statement is Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).