Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

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snapper
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Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Thu Feb 23, 2017 3:10 am

I've been thinking a bit about how to define a certain kind of film that I really admire and always have, but the qualities of which I've found somewhat hard to pin down with a single comprehensive definition.

I'm gonna call this genre "zeitgeist film"

I'd say this kind of film sets out to do some specific things, most prominently to draw a comprehensive portrait of a society, culture, state or body politic at a specific time (or, occasionally, in broader terms), largely through the use of allegory, in order to "explain" the identity of x society at x time

It may focus on:
[*] national, social or cultural identity and the historical or contemporary tensions informing, shaping or threatening it
[*] the effects of a geo/political climate on a body politic
[*] national, cultural or social value systems
[*] national, social or cultural history and its effects on a society

most often in response to:
[*] a specific, often acute, political crisis
[*] an oppressive regime
[*] a war
[*] historical political or cultural tensions within or without the society in question
[*] economic concerns
[*] tensions between ethnic groups
[*] a generational change or demographic shift
[*] another major political, economic or historical event or atrocity, or a natural disaster

They share some formal tendencies:
[*] tend to be long (2-2.5hrs+), with exceptions, and tend to be broad in scale
[*] tend to be heavy on narrative, densely structured, often with a literary approach to structure
[*] different from political film in that they are less stylistically inclined and tend to eschew radical formal innovation or the expression of specific manifestos for a more storytelling-heavy approach (as an example of this, I would disqualify many Nuberu Bagu and New Wave directors such as Oshima or Godard, or Soviet Montage directors like Eisenstein or Pudovkin as representatives of this genre, though Oshima for example used a lot of allegory). this does not preclude formal engagement or a specific auteurial voice in the slightest, but in this case the politics of the film are not embedded in the formal aesthetic itself
[*] tend to be ensemble-driven or, if they are character-driven, almost always examine the character through their response to events and situations within the narrative as opposed to other characters within the narrative
[*] generally refrain from analysing the psychology and motivations for individuals and their actions, focusing on analysing the psychology and motivations for groups and their actions
[*] approach real-world events and history through allegory, usually in microcosm, while retaining some overt political imagery, text or theme
[*] tend not to retell the stories of real individuals involved in historical events, more often editorialising real-world events or situations through the introduction of or juxtaposition with fictional characters and stories, though this is variable
[*] seek to summarise the specific political or social experience of a group of people as opposed to summarising the human condition as a whole with regards to more abstract concepts of spirituality, morals or relationships
[*] are not exclusive to 2nd and 3rd world cinemas but tend to be produced more often by these industries

I would say that the quintessential American zeitgeist film is Nashville, seeking to understand America during the Nixon presidency and Vietnam war. This film would be my model for the zeitgeist film in general.

Others I would propose:
Most if not all Kira Muratova from the 80s on (Zeitgeist: Glasnost, dissolution of the Soviet Union and its economic effects on post-Soviet states)
Anything by Theo Angelopoulos (Military junta in Greece)
A Brighter Summer Day (political and cultural tension in Taiwan, specifically as a result of opposing forces from mainland China and the West)
A City of Sadness (Taiwan during the White Terror)
Peppermint Candy (Korea under the Chun Doo-hwan regime, specifically surrounding the Gwangju uprising and massacre)
Stars in Broad Daylight (Syria as a police state during the Hafez al-Assad regime)
Platform (China after the Cultural Revolution)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (British cultural identity as mediated by three successive wars)
Reconstruction & The Oak (Romania during Ceaușescu)
Salo (Fascist Italy)
The Conformist (Fascist Italy)
The White Ribbon (rise of Nazism in Germany)
Perfumed Nightmare (postcolonial Philippines)
Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba post-revolution)
Xala (corruption in postcolonial Senegal)
Z (military junta in Greece)
Sur (military junta in Argentina)
Touki Bouki (postcolonial Senegal and a nationalist movement)
A lot of the more sober entries of cinema novo (Brazilian military dictatorship), though I feel like movements such as Third Cinema and neorealism don't necessarily fit here

I'd even extend this definition to subcultural cinemas:
Nighthawks (gay male experience during the legalisation process of homosexuality in Britain)
The Living End (gay experience during the AIDS crisis)
Nothing But a Man (Black American experience during the Jim Crow period - may not qualify as too small in scale)
Moonlight (Black masculinity and sexuality in America during the BLM age)

And some that I might term zeitgeist films on a good day, but which are debatable:
Naked (Poverty in Thatcherite Britain, though almost certainly too much of a character study to meet my own criteria)
By some of these standards, I would consider some Ozu to satisfy the requirements of a 'zeitgeist film', as most if not all of his later work focused on symbolic narratives outlining the ruptures in value systems amid a growing generational divide in postwar Japan, though critical approaches to his work are diverse and often polarised and I'd rather seek a more clear-cut representative for this genre.

Any other thoughts or recs? Do you guys know what I'm talking about? Lol. Haven't seen a real definition for this kind of film before, though they're common - I know this style of filmmaking is not well-liked here but shoot me some recs if you're getting my gist.
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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Stu
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Stu » Thu Feb 23, 2017 4:09 am

Cool thread so far, snaps; I'll see if I can write something for it on my day off work coming up.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Beau » Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:31 pm

Well, Kusturica's Underground, obvs.

Martel's La ciénaga is pretty suggestive of pre-2001 social and economic malaise in Argentina.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Shieldmaiden » Thu Feb 23, 2017 9:21 pm

Beau wrote:Well, Kusturica's Underground, obvs.
Good one.

First one that occurred to me: The Marriage of Maria Braun. I'll keep thinking.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Eminence Grise » Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:59 pm

Something in the Air?
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Shieldmaiden » Fri Feb 24, 2017 2:15 am

snapper wrote:Most if not all Kira Muratova from the 80s on (Zeitgeist: Glasnost, dissolution of the Soviet Union and its economic effects on post-Soviet states)
And of course The Asthenic Syndrome is an intentional example of this.

How about trilogies? I think Roy Andersson's Living trilogy qualifies.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Fri Feb 24, 2017 4:37 am

ooo, I like this idea.

would The Swimmer be acceptable for post-WWII, pre-Vietnam, suburban America? even though that doesn't specifically connect to an specific event or administration. nor is it as sprawling as Nashville.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Colonel Kurz » Fri Feb 24, 2017 11:51 am

snapper wrote: A City of Sadness (Taiwan during the White Terror)
And The Puppetmaster too, spanning Taiwan history from 1909 to 1945.
And Good Men, Good Women, taking place after WWII.
Both deal as much with Taiwanese identity and how the meaning of it changes over time as much as City of Sadness.

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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Joss Whedon » Sat Feb 25, 2017 1:23 am

I wonder if Being There may fit some of the criteria, while it's much shorter than what you're after it showcases some things about public personalities seem incredibly accurate.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Mon Feb 27, 2017 12:59 pm

Shieldmaiden wrote:And of course The Asthenic Syndrome is an intentional example of this.

How about trilogies? I think Roy Andersson's Living trilogy qualifies.
I've only seen Songs from the Second Floor and judging by style it could count, I didn't really delve in deep to see what it was of though. Will do some reading
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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snapper
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Mon Feb 27, 2017 12:59 pm

Colonel Kurz wrote: And The Puppetmaster too, spanning Taiwan history from 1909 to 1945.
And Good Men, Good Women, taking place after WWII.
Both deal as much with Taiwanese identity and how the meaning of it changes over time as much as City of Sadness.

Al
Yeah I definitely think most Hou fits the bill. Especially Dust in the Wind
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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snapper
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Mon Feb 27, 2017 1:02 pm

Oxnard Montalvo wrote:ooo, I like this idea.

would The Swimmer be acceptable for post-WWII, pre-Vietnam, suburban America? even though that doesn't specifically connect to an specific event or administration. nor is it as sprawling as Nashville.
Yeah I was going to list The Swimmer but didn't know if it fit my own criteria - but it follows a very similar antihero's journey track as, say, Peppermint Candy does, and while the different stages aren't as allegorical and referential as in the latter film the entire thing is definitely a potent portrait of late-60s disillusionment with the "American Dream".

Underground is a good rec, thanks. I'd say that The Marriage of Maria Braun is a bit too interested in its character's psychology. While I don't like it very much as a film, I think Lili Marleen definitely sets out to be something of a zeitgeist film, though.
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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snapper
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Mon Feb 27, 2017 1:02 pm

Shieldmaiden wrote:And of course The Asthenic Syndrome is an intentional example of this.

How about trilogies? I think Roy Andersson's Living trilogy qualifies.
Yeah I think The Asthenic Syndrome is a near-perfect example of this kind of filmmaking. It's like a Bosch painting. Melody for a Street Organ too.
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Shieldmaiden » Mon Feb 27, 2017 2:28 pm

snapper wrote: I'd say that The Marriage of Maria Braun is a bit too interested in its character's psychology.
I'm pretty sure her psychology is meant to be Germany's psychology. Actually, you could make the case that a lot of Fassbinder's women are sort of Mother Courage figures.
snapper wrote:I've only seen Songs from the Second Floor and judging by style it could count, I didn't really delve in deep to see what it was of though. Will do some reading
I don't know much about Swedish history, but he seems to imply they're in some sort of identity crisis, with WWII/colonial acts still not dealt with.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Tue Feb 28, 2017 11:10 am

Oh sweet, I'll have to rewatch Maria Braun with that in mind. To me the... god, hate to use this word, but the character's "pluck" / grit/moxie what have you didn't seem like such a German thing that they'd use her in a figurehead sense but it makes sense as a bildungsromany thing
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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snapper
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Tue Feb 28, 2017 11:11 am

i'll throw in there that a LOT of the films that seem to match this description that i haven't seen this far are from former Soviet states and other Eastern European states
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Colonel Kurz » Tue Feb 28, 2017 11:22 am

snapper wrote: The Conformist (Fascist Italy)
Surely then also 1900. And Il Gattopardo and La meglio gioventù?
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:01 pm

Surely - but I haven't seen them :o
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Colonel Kurz » Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:47 pm

Do a marathon of all three and you've basically got the whole history of Italy as a nation, from the 1860s to the 1990s. With 1900 literally spanning the first half of the century and the La meglio gioventu the second half.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Gort » Thu Mar 02, 2017 2:18 am

Going on your thorough list of "criteria" I thought of three that may or may not fit:

Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)

Shoeshine (De Sica)

Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)

It could be argued that the latter pair are political films, but they truly do capture the experience, narrow as it may be, of people in post WWII Italy. The story is upfront, but the background is the time after the war.

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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:23 am

I haven't seen Barry Lyndon so I can't say there, but I'd think a lot of the neorealist output of the 40s, while definitely recording as you said a snapchat of economic and social reality at the time, do it in a much more parabolic way than most of what I'd consider zeitgeist film personally, but it's definitely up for debate. i'd think Bicycle Thieves would qualify much more than Shoeshine, though I'm not a fan of it
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by Colonel Kurz » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:30 am

Heimat is a tv show, but otherwise fits this to a tee.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by MadMan » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:15 pm

The Host comes to mind.
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Re: Help Me Define: Zeitgeist Film

Post by snapper » Fri May 05, 2017 10:50 am

I recently saw Munk's Bad Luck which is perfect for this as a study of interwar Poland.
Latest notable first-time viewings:

* The Sun in a Net / Uher
** The Seashell and the Clergyman / Dulac
The Tales of Beatrix Potter / Mills
* A Flood in Ba'ath Country / Amiralay
Times and Winds / Erdem
Most Beautiful Island / Asensio
* Japanese Girls Never Die / Matsui
* Birth Certificate / Różewicz
Bush Mama / Gerima
** Paris Is Burning / Livingston


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