Richard Porton teaches cinema studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). His previous books include Film and the Anarchist Imagination (Verso, 1999). He has written on film for a variety of publications and is on the editorial board of Cineaste.

Arena One: On Anarchist Cinema by Richard Porton

In the wake of the end of the Cold War and worldwide protests against corporate globalization, anarchism continues to attract new adherents among both aging leftists and new generations of young radicals. Arena aims to tap into this revived interest in libertarian ideas, culture and practice by providing a dynamic focal point: a journal that brings together good, stimulating and provocative writing and scholarship on libertarian culture of all kinds.

Designed for a general, intelligent, popular readership as well as for scholars and aficionados working in the area, the first issue of Arena focuses on film and video—historical and modern—and future issues will cover the entire spectrum of the arts: film, theatre, and art criticism as well as political theory and practice, reportage, letters, reviews, and unpublished fiction and nonfiction.



  • "The essential publication for everyone interested in radical ideas, culture, and new writing."

    – Stuart Christie




Richard Porton

Attempting to sum up the relationship between film and anarchism is as challenging as pinpointing the affinities between painters, musicians, novelists, poets, playwrights, and the anti-authoritarian tradition. If we speak of "anarchist cinema," are we referring to films about the historical experience of anarchists and anarchism or films with an anarchist impetus that might have been made by non-anarchists? Just as anarchist motifs permeate the work of both the realist painter Gustave Courbet and the modernist Pablo Picasso, is an anarchist cinematic aesthetic more visible in the documentary reportage of newsreels produced by the CNT during the Spanish Revolution or in the surrealist films of Luis Buñuel — clearly an anti-clerical and anti-authoritarian director, if not precisely anarchist from a literal-minded political perspective? (He supported the Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War and once told Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler of the Pacific Street Film Collective that he didn't consider himself "good enough" to be an anarchist.) In fact, even Stuart Christie, our publisher and a man with a profound knowledge of, and empathy for, the anarchist tradition, admitted to Duncan Campbell in The Guardian that "many films made by anarchists are boring" and that he was fond of many anti-authoritarian films made by non-anarchists.

Similar questions bedeviled me while I was working on Film and the Anarchist Imagination some years ago. While films celebrating heroic anarchists were unquestionably well intentioned, they were also occasionally dull and plodding. Subversive masterpieces such as Jean Vigo's Zéro de Conduite (Zero for Conduct) were rare exceptions. The singular beauty of Vigo's film resides in a seamless fusion of style and content. This lyrical ode to revolt is both stylistically and thematically incendiary; Vigo doesn't need to advocate anarchism in a dry, didactic fashion — the film itself embodies anti-authoritarian fervor with unparalleled brio and humor. Given the difficulty of sorting out the many paradoxes that arise from an assessment of film and the anti-authoritarian tradition, certain critics gave me a hard time for claiming that the anarchist aesthetic is not monolithic and remains, to a certain extent, "elusive". Although it rather astonished me that some anarchists were, in effect, chiding me for not advocating a more prescriptive, or arguably "authoritarian" aesthetic stance, I would only argue that, despite disparate styles and political origins, most "anarchist films" (however defined) — promote self-emancipation and derive inspiration, whether consciously or not, from the tradition of decentralized anarchist pedagogy. Although pedagogy often has unsavory, coercive connotations in the context of mainstream education, it is clear from the writings of the proto-anarchist utopian Charles Fourier, as well as his consciously anarchist progeny, that pedagogy can be anti-hierarchical while fusing pleasure with instruction and edification.