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Rethinking Brechtian Film Theory and Cinema

Angelos Koutsourakis

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A comprehensive re-examination of Brechtian film theory

Making a compelling argument for the continuing relevance of Brechtian film theory and cinema, this book offers new research and analysis of Brecht the film and media theorist, placing his scattered writings on the subject within the lively film theory debates that took place in Europe between the 1920s‐1960s. Furthermore, Angelos Koutsourakis identifies key points of convergence between Brecht’s ‘unfinished project’ and contemporary film and media theory. With case studies of films ranging from Robert Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà to Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing amongst others, this study challenges many existing preconceptions about Brecht’s theoretical position and invites readers to discover new ways of apprehending and making use of Brecht in film studies.

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Part 1: Brechtian Film Theory

Chapter 1: Key Concepts

The Dialectic

The Individual as a Nexus

The Gestic Principle: Between Brecht, Eisenstein, and Deleuze

Gestus and Cultural Techniques

‘Humour is a Sense of Distance’

Chapter 2: Photography and Film

The Photographic Image

The Apparatus and the Agency of the Machine

Chapter 3: Modernism as Realism

Brecht, Bazin, and Lukács

On Sound/Music

Some Thoughts on Brecht and Genre

Chapter 4: Brecht in Film Theory

From Close Up to the Grand Theory

Noël Burch

The Cognitivist Critique

Rancière and the post-Brechtian

Part 2: Brechtian Cinema

The Revisionist History Film

Chapter 5: Re-visioning History

Defining the Revisionist History Film

Totality is history: Szegénylegények (The Round-Up, 1966) and Allonsanfàn (1974)

Chapter 6: Revisiting National Traumas

Dealing with Fascism: Professor Mamlock (1961), Das schreckliche Mädchen (The Nasty Girl, 1990)

Epic Cinema: Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), 1900 (1976)

The Essay Film

Chapter 7: Beyond Auteurism: the Dialectics of the Essay Film

The Disappearance of the Subject in Writing

Representation as Unfinished Material: Thomas Heise’s Material (2009)

Chapter 8: Pedagogical Essay Films

Agitprop and the Crisis: Brecht die Macht der Manipulateure (Break the Power of the Manipulators, 1967), Fascism Inc. (2014)

The Lehrstück on Film: La Commune (Paris, 1871) (2000), The Act of Killing (2012)

Cinemas of Cruelty

Chapter 9: Brecht and Artaud

The Politics of Cruelty: Brecht and Artaud

From Theatre to Film: The Brig (1964), Marat/Sade (1967)

Chapter 10: Cruelty as Anti‐commodity

Everyday Fascism: Import/Export (2007), The Rebellion of Red Maria (2011)

The Postdramatic on Screen: Katzelmacher (1969), Die linkshändige Frau (The Left‐handed Woman, 1978)




About the Author

Angelos Koutsourakis is a University Academic Fellow in World Cinema at the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures, University of Leeds. He is the author of Politics as Form in Lars von Trier (2013) and the co-editor of The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos (Edinburgh University Press, 2015).


Brecht's experiences with film were not always happy, but the Brechtian influence on film and its theory is colossal. Koutsourakis’ book masterfully sets out the wide scope of Brecht's aesthetics, from his 1923 venture with slapstick to the Brechtian footprints in the essay film, Realist and post-Deleuzian cinema theory and contemporary media archaeology.

- Prof Esther Leslie, Birkbeck, University of London

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