Brechtian Cinemas

Montage and Theatricality in Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Peter Watkins, and Lars von Trier

By Nenad Jovanovic

Subjects: Film Studies, Aesthetics, Drama
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9781438463643, 276 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438463636, 276 pages, March 2017

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Table of contents


1. Introduction: Revisiting Brecht and Cinema

2. Brecht the Filmmaker: The “Great Method” Adjusted

3. Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet: The Caveman’s Avant-Garde

4. Peter Watkins: Intuitive Brechtianism

5. Lars von Trier: Brechtian Cinema in the Postmodern Era

6. Whither Brecht?

Works Cited

Explores the influence of Bertolt Brecht’s ideas on the practice and study of cinema.


In Brechtian Cinemas, Nenad Jovanovic uses examples from select major filmmakers to delineate the variety of ways in which Bertolt Brecht's concept of epic/dialectic theatre has been adopted and deployed in international cinema. Jovanovic critically engages Brecht's ideas and their most influential interpretations in film studies, from apparatus theory in the 1970s to the presently dominant cognitivist approach. He then examines a broad body of films, including Brecht's own Mysteries of a Hairdressing Salon (1923) and Kuhle Wampe (1932), Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's History Lessons (1972), Peter Watkins's La Commune (2000), and Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2013). Jovanovic argues that the role of montage—a principal source of artistic estrangement (Verfremdung) in earlier Brechtian films—has diminished as a result of the technique's conventionalization by today's Hollywood and related industries. Operating as primary agents of Verfremdung in contemporary films inspired by Brecht's view of the world and the arts, Jovanovic claims, are conventions borrowed from the main medium of his expression, theatre. Drawing upon a vast number of sources and disciplines that include cultural, film, literature, and theatre studies, Brechtian Cinemas demonstrates a continued and broad relevance of Brecht for the practice and understanding of cinema.

Nenad Jovanovic is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Wright State University.


"This book opens up one of the most vaguely and often ill employed terms within film theory for extremely detailed discussion, providing the most thorough analysis of Brechtianism available to film scholars. It will become a standard reference. " — R. Barton Palmer, coeditor of Invented Lives, Imagined Communities: The Biopic and American National Identity