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Conceptual Film According to Radovan Ivančević

Perspectives, I-VI, series of single-concept films, Filmoteka 16, Zagreb, 1972

In the preface of the text the author asks himself whether a film can ask theoretical questions and give reasoned conceptual explanations? Traditional film theory and critique implicated negative answer, in spite of spectacular work by A. Astruc and S. Ejzenštejn. Even the modernist feature films (Godard, Antonioni, Rohmer...) were dominantly narrative. But, lately theory has begun to notice a type of educational, scientific films that exited since the beginning of the media; N. Carroll, P. Messaris and Turković himself have written extensively about it. Short films from the series Perspectives by R Ivančević express high degree of visual-conceptual thinking, belonging to the genre of »conceptual film«, in English often called single-concept film, ’a film about a single concept’ used for education, in Croatia known as »element film«. The equipment consisted of a small projector into which you would insert a transparent plastic cassette that contained a coil of mute 8-millimeter film up to five minutes long. Accompanying leaflet suggested possible teachers commentary of the film, but the lack of sound set required primarily visual organization of these films. Ivančević was a master of visual explanation of theoretical concepts and of their possible application.
The author lists Ivančević’s strategies of explanation. Ostensive explanation is the explanation by example, visual illustration and demonstration of meaning of concept, so that, for example, »geometrical perspective« was explained by pictures of real environment in which you can perceive parallel lines that converge into the distance. The result of this explanation is development of ability to identify the actual phenomena it refers to. But pictorial examples are usually very rich and can illustrate several concepts, so the focusing of attention to exactly those characteristics that the explained expression refers to becomes necessary. Explanation has to be made efficiently illustrative, explanatorily efficient, and the author then analyzes methods that Ivančević so skillfully used. The first is the choice of appropriate sample (that has a required property), the second is the choice of good, pure sample in a standard position (a sample where the characteristic is a conspicuous), the choice of good point of view, as well as repeating and showing of variants (showing good but also different examples). It is then important to narrow the area of attention. This is achieved by typical descriptive analysis, a succession of closer, isolating shots, but also by narrowing the picture with a mask in order to highlight the important parts of the scene.
Other important techniques are schematization (eliminating of irrelevant details) and diagramming in which the key descriptive property is presented by abstract graphics in which the analogy with original scene is lost. Ivančević often used animated adjustment (for example, in full picture, quick animation turns characters into schematized forms), and animation transformations and adjusting enable visual tracking of the schematization and diagramming process. Although single-concept films are silent, verbalization and live comments of the teacher that will help focus the viewers’ attention is envisioned. The titles of Ivančević’s films verbally indicate the concept, for example, ’Geometric perspective’.
The author then analyzes other types of explanations in Perspectives, pointing out that exemplification was so far used as a basis for additional level of structural explanation, then functional, nomological, taxonomic and historical. Each type of explanation is illustrated and interpreted by author.
In the following part of the study, the author explains what is actually done by ’explaining’. We explain a phenomenon or a concept when we connect it with other phenomena and concepts, when we put it in the context of wider knowledge and experience. For example, ostensive explanation connects the general idea (concept, word) with individual objects that the concept refers to; structural explanation connects general characteristics with subordinate characteristics and with ostensive aspects of phenomena, nomological explanation indicates general conditions in which certain phenomena are formed, etc. Ivančević’s Perspectives demonstrate obvious possibility to activate almost all types of explanations in primarily visual sequence. The author specifies procedures of conceptual exposition as a series of explanations in Ivančević’s case, one explanation is elaboration and addition to the previous one. Although in some cases one type of explanation may be sufficient (for example, ostensive definition may be sufficient for general orientation to what the concept of geometric perspective is going to be applied to), it is basic human need for understanding to be comprehensive, and to have a whole range of explanations.
Ivančević’s approach is unmistakably, but not pronouncedly — polemical. It seems to have an argument with our implicit, unconscious certainty that we know how to watch, and that we know why we see as we see. Single-concept films are in that sense organized as some kinds of debates, disputes. Film presentation may have a unique discursive power because it is graphical, but also because this graphicness enables particularly powerful illustrative, argumentative connection of most elevated conceptual features with the most abstract thinking. Visual factuality is not an obstruction to abstract thinking, but it is the most natural starting point and support, says the author, and its surpassing is the primary experiential task of abstract thinking. The study is accompanied by the filmography of Ivančević’s single-concept films, and in the appendix the entire Ivančević’s filmography can be found.

Hrvoje Turković

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