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Utopian Television

Rossellini, Watkins, and Godard beyond Cinema

2017
Author:

Michael Cramer

Utopian Television

The first book on three great filmmakers’ efforts to transform television

In Utopian Television, Michael Cramer examines works of the great filmmakers Roberto Rossellini, Peter Watkins, and Jean-Luc Godard, all of whom looked to television as a promising new medium even while remaining critical of its existing practices. Cramer reveals the extent to which television inspired and shaped hopes of a better future as well as of better moving image.

Both theoretical treatise and intellectual history, Michael Cramer’s intervention matches the utopian vision of its subject as he efficiently and astutely navigates us through the thorny politics of art cinema.

Karl Schoonover, University of Warwick

Television has long been a symbol of social and cultural decay, yet many in postwar Europe saw it as the medium with the greatest potential to help build a new society and create a new form of audiovisual art. Utopian Television examines works of the great filmmakers Roberto Rossellini, Peter Watkins, and Jean-Luc Godard, all of whom looked to television as a promising new medium even while remaining critical of its existing practices.

Utopian Television illustrates how each director imagined television’s improved or “utopian” version by drawing on elements that had come to characterize it by the early 1960s. Taking advantage of the public service model of Western European broadcasting, each used television to realize works that would never have been viable in the commercial cinema. All three directors likewise seized on television’s supposed affinity for information and its status as a “useful” medium, but attempted to join this utility with aesthetic experimentation, suggesting new ways to conceive of the relationship between aesthetics and information.

As beautifully written as it is theoretically rigorous, Utopian Television turns to the writing of Fredric Jameson and Ernst Bloch in treating the three directors’ television experiments as enactments of “utopia as method.” In doing so it reveals the extent to which the medium inspired and shaped hopes not only of a better future but of better moving image art as well.

Utopian Television

Michael Cramer is assistant professor of film history at Sarah Lawrence College.

Utopian Television

Both theoretical treatise and intellectual history, Michael Cramer’s intervention matches the utopian vision of its subject as he efficiently and astutely navigates us through the thorny politics of art cinema.

Karl Schoonover, University of Warwick

Michael Cramer's fine book explores those paths not taken that define a genre, that interplay between film and TV pioneered by Rossellini in service of a now utopian social pedagogy. Peter Watkins' understudied work, along with Rossellini's experiments—unfamiliar to those who only know him through the early masterpieces—throw a wholly new light on Godard himself, and Cramer's luminous readings of the works are as stimulating as his overall theorization of this new, or perhaps missed, form.

Fredric Jameson, Duke University

Utopian Television

Contents
Introduction. The Land beyond Cinema: Television and Utopian Method
1. The Promise of Television: Making Utopia Possible
2. Television as Enlightenment: Roberto Rossellini’s History Lessons
3. Inform, Educate, and Aestheticize: Peter Watkins at the BBC
4. Radical Communications: Jean-Luc Godard on and around Television
5. Utopia after Television: Media Mutations and Transplantations
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index