Film Hierophany: Analysing the Sacred in Avant-garde Films from the 1920s to 1950s - PhDData

Access database of worldwide thesis

Film Hierophany: Analysing the Sacred in Avant-garde Films from the 1920s to 1950s

The thesis was published by Nilubol, Lalipa, in September 2022, University of Stirling.


I am focusing my dissertation on the concept of ‘hierophany’ as established by Mircea Eliade
in order to formulate a theory of the ultimately cooperative relationship between the sacred
and the avant-garde. On the outer surface, the relationship between the two seems intensely
characterised by contention and conflict, due to the sacred being bound to the timeless,
mythical dimension and the avant-garde being conventionally defined as a modern
movement. However, I intend to re-theorise the avant-garde as being much more than a
historically and culturally constrained phenomenon, that avant-garde — much like the sacred
— is an inherent predisposition within the consciousness with transhistorical and
transcultural qualities. And even though the sacred is normally associated with the archaic
while the avant-garde is defined by a constant newness, I am setting out to establish that the
archaic can indeed exhibit avant-garde aspects, and this is where my study of Antonin
Artaud’s theoretical material enters to help resolve such difficulties. Apart from upholding a
dream cinema that detaches from (modern) conventions of aural narrative, Artaud proposes a
revival of a mythical theatre, especially in his romantic idealisations of the Balinese theatre
where the playing out of images and gestures is as he posits a process of transmutation
channelled by the gods. Correspondingly, with a mechanical assemblage such as a work of
cinema revealing mythical images and symbols, such an idea of radically mixed connotations
goes to show that film may not be exclusively modern afterall. Film may in fact be essentially
aligned with the primitive tendency to seek divine meaning and empowerment in everyday
objects, places, and events — that through the cinematic medium, objects that are normally
considered inanimate and even ordinary would come to possess sacred significance, acquiring
a life force that magnifies the object’s relationship with higher dimensions. Ultimately, my
attempt to show that film inherently possesses such animistic qualities would lead to a
dismantling of the dichotomy between the sacred — which Eliade so insists is a separate

dimension completely alien to this world — and the profane — which predominantly
characterises modernity, of which both the avant-garde and the cinematic medium are
considered by conventional standards to be two of the main components. The films I focus
upon either express an idealisation of Eastern philosophy — regardless of whether or not
such an idealisation is directly articulated — or provide an answer, or rather a replenishment,
for a vision of higher fulfillment that the modern Western cultural attitude is severely
missing. My original contribution is — not exactly to play one cultural attitude against
another, as that would be the greatest fallacy — but to discern, by way of the intrinsic film
form, the nature of those themes, images, and symbols that profoundly resonate with the
mythical/sacred imagination, so much so that such operative patterns within the
consciousness can be considered universal. In that connection, I set out to examine those
aspects of the sacred that are inherently predisposed towards expanding creativity, which is
that intense area of hybridity where the sacred and the avant-garde converge. Apart from
analysing some interpretations of Germaine Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)
in Chapter 2 — or more precisely, Artaud’s ideas of this film that is based upon his original
scenario — I discuss in detail specific scenes from the following films, all of which break
open modern secular norms and enter completely uninhibited into the mythical realm where
conventional definitions of reality become radically challenged:
1.) Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
2.) Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950)
3.) Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff (1954), Ugetsu (1953), Utamaro and His Five
Women (1946), and The Life of Oharu (1952)

Read the last PhD tips