Saturday, May 26, 2012



The accusations against [Sidney Lumet] of opportunism, eclecticism and a taste for hybrid styles were in fact precisely his values and a testament to his pragmatist philosophy of filmmaking. Pragmatism has long been the great American philosophy, figures like Dewey, Peirce and William James arguing that the experimentalist imagination should take the place of all philosophical givens and a priori certainties, and that thinkers should focus on the problems facing them on a daily basis, here, now, on things in the making. They favoured chance associations and arrangements in the process of construction over fixed programs and the belief in permanent functions and set goals. Lumet's astonishing New York films are in line with the New Pragmatism that has developed in architectural theory in the USA since the 60s, his films too "don't start from an ideal [humanist or otherwise] vision of the city as a constant territory with permanent functions and a predictable progressive act, but diagnose the city, taking as its starting point in the actual conditions of the city...revealing new possibilities latent in a given field simply by framing the issues differently" (The Landscape Urbanism Appendix). Their characters' alliances and filiations are usually based on desperation or misguided loyalty (even families aren't safe havens, "the right to do irreparable harm is a blood right" says a character in Daniel [1983]). Rather than the naive Humanist he is so often portrayed as, Lumet's films belie a belief in the human being and in human values as constantly changing, open to forces beyond human society. There is no Common Humanity and, in these terms, what we have in common wouldn't be a fixed essence but, on the contrary, an openness to novelty, to change and to new filliations wherever we find ourselves in space and time. Our Humanity is a process, always in the making. Lumet's belief in process is most obvious in his police procedural films, but the interest of the non-police films is also often related to this problem of an open future the conditions of which have to be discovered.

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