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Against Originality

14/10/2022 | 17:00

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Conversation between Pedro Costa and Carlos Muguiro

Among the least-noticed effects of the emergence of the so-called “digital audiovisual content platforms” is the use of the term “original”, taken as a mark of ownership: it is used to announce “original content” by such and such a platform, leading the viewer to understand that these images have an owner and are protected against any imitation or copy. Praise for the original and its derivative, originality, as endorsement of its cultural value is, as Giorgio Agamben warns, one of the most complex aesthetic dilemmas since the emergence of modernity. Far from being outside this debate, in contemporary film this conflict is revealed in a particularly striking way. The concept itself hides a paradox within it. Originality refers to the connection with a first principle and therefore implies affiliation to a tradition; but it can also mean quite the opposite, i.e. the emergence of something unprecedented. Richard Sennett writes in The Craftsman, concerning the use of the concept during the Renaissance, that originality “denotes the sudden appearance of something where before there was nothing, because something suddenly comes into existence, awakening emotions of awe and veneration in us.” It is not surprising that this meaning of the original linked to absolute and sometimes self-engrossed subjectivity should often have become, at a time when the history of film appears to be subject to reassessment and rewriting, a justification for film vocations, careers and work. At a lecture given at the Japanese university of Sendai in 2005, Portuguese film maker Pedro Costa warned students, “You, directors, (…) must work as if you were making the first shot ever filmed, the first sound ever heard. This doesn’t mean originality or anything like that. At the very least, the truth is exactly the opposite. It is a matter of working with the oldest sentiments, as Chaplin would have done.” Between the “Netflix Original” and the unshareable originality of the I, where does this leave the heritage of film, the sense of genealogy out of which a film-maker conscious of their origins creates their work?



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