Both a history of film theory and an introduction to the work of the most important writers in the field, Andrew's volume reveals the bases of thought of such major. MAJOR FILM THEORISTS. Henri-Louis Bergson (French: [bɛʁksɔn];. 18 October – 4 January ) was a French philosopher, influential especially in the. No doubt my predilections are readily discernable to the critical reader of The Major Film Theories, but there I struggled to let the figures I selected betray their.
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Towards the Formalist Dimension of War, or How Viktor Šklovskij Used to Be a nvilnephtalyca.ga Levchenko - - Studies in East European Thought "This history of film theory will enrich our discipline and remain an important source of both information and understanding for some time to come."--Quarterly . Film Aesthetics; Sections 1, 2 and 3 are by Lisabeth During; section 4 Article ( PDF Available) in The Year s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory . aesthetics and ontology are not dismissed; they are just not the main event.
Humanities divisions, moreover, are also notorious hiding places for radical cultural critics, some of whom saw in film study an opportunity to help shift the ground of the whole realm of humanities.
These were the scholars who received their strength in part from European models made available to them at conferences and in scholarly journals. Be- cause of their training, humanities professors are equipped to learn from foreign language texts. Popular essays by Levi-Strauss, Barthes, and Eco and the extension of their insights by continental cultural critics had the effect of giving shape to a rebellious American sub-profession and of turning that rebellion onto new objects of culture.
Film was a major recipient of this attention throughout Europe, a logical focus for the energetic disciplines of semiotics, psychoanalysis, and ideological analysis.
Many American radical scholars eagerly turned to film as an open set of texts where new theories appeared even newer, and where there were as yet no traditional ways of dealing with the subject. Film study became a regular offering in many comparative literature de- partments, for instance, and was an integral part of radical journals such as Diacritics and New Literary History born at the end of the 's and of Enclitic and Sub-stance coming out of the 's.
This subver- sive induction of film into academia aroused great hostility among tra- ditional humanities scholars and drew fire as well from both film buffs and critics. All felt that cinema was being "used" for questionable purposes by people who knew little about it. The jargon associated with continental criticism was deemed most inappropriate for a fresh art like the cinema. While such complaints were to a varying degree justified, the discipline of film theory made great strides in this atmosphere.
Such advances would have been unthinkable were film a part of the social sciences, for in this country professionals in communication study, sociology, and so forth have exhibited comparatively little interest in the scholarship coming from other countries.
Indeed, they have not been eager even to link themselves to the conservative tradition of American film criticism. After all, film criticism in this country has appeared mainly in middlebrow journals and has concerned itself with popular narrative genres.
Few fine arts professors have had the inclination to descend into this discourse. Only the humanities have been sufficiently eclectic and outward looking to benefit from the various strains of thought that have become important to the field of film. And so cinema seems to have been most logically and happily housed in departments of English, theater, speech, and foreign language. Still, this location has deprived film studies of the research strategies and goals routinely pursued in non-humanities disciplines.
We can lament the plight of communication theory in re- lation to film study, for a start. During the 's and 's numer- ous empirical studies of audience response were conducted leading to some promising generalizations concerning the aesthetic and rhetorical effects of the medium; yet today this brand of work, when it appears, seems almost haphazard and without context even though the field of communication research has grown into a highly sophisticated disci- pline, completely bypassing its early flirtation with cinema.
Unfortunately American rhetoricians have in the main neglected or ignored the expanded notion of rhetoric de- veloped by structuralists such as Barthes, Todorov, and Genette and have thereby failed to rendezvous with the mainstream of modern film theory. Aside from occasional essays on isolated films and individual genres, rhetoric has made very little contribution to film theory.
This will change. With the growing awareness of modern philosophical tra- ditions in the field of rhetoric, and with the publication of books such as Berger and Luckman's Social Construction of Reality as well as the key translations of the work of Habermas, Schutz, and Barthes,2 there is certain to be a a wave of interest by rhetorical theorists in the con- cerns of continental cultural criticism and hence in cinema.
Neverthe- less, because of their tardiness, any theories that may develop are nearly bound to retrace a familiar scenario: Un- fortunately, the more focused studies are of greatest use now: It will be a long time before the "sociology of cinema" gets around to treating such questions. The lack of input from the fine arts has had even more regrettable consequences. Not only has the avant-garde film received scant atten- tion, but the theory of narrative cinema has until recently been de- prived of key concepts in art theory.
We would expect art and music theory to play a crucial role in the search for a modernist alternative to popular narrative film, yet Duchamp and Schoenberg are called upon far less than Bertolt Brecht and Robbe-Grillet, no doubt because even in this "alternative arena" it is the literary critics who control the dis- course about film.
Equally damaging has been the retardation of a purely formal theory of film. Had film theory grown up in music or art departments, there might have been far more attention given to the properties of the me- dium, more experiments done in the classroom on editing rhythms, color, film syntax, and so on.
Slavko Vorkapitch 4 emphasized precisely this sort of research and a number of East Europeans have contributed modestly as well, 5 but a film theory along the lines of music theory seems very far away.
In sum, the direct, scientific impulse in film study, whether testing audiences or testing aspects of films, has not attracted much following. Such study dominates television research, on the other hand, no doubt because networks, advertisers, and government agen- cies hope to predict the effects of the medium. Even Hollywood, cin- ema's largest economic force, is no longer large enough to support such research, though it did so in the 's.
Besides, Hollywood has ac- cess to its own empirical data, box office receipts, a type of evidence unavailable to the broadcasting industry. Still, some research generated by sociologists of television has spilled over to film study, particularly the type of theory known as "visual literacy.
Both the psycholinguistic, Chomskyan approach, and this art historical approach proceed as though direct analysis of films and of their effects is possible, using empirical data. This work goes against the norm for it is symptomatic of the humanities that dominant film theory has not only neglected empirical studies of all sorts but has erected a rationale for this neglect.
The psychoanalytic impulse in film theory, for instance, based on the founding concept of the unconscious, can allow for no alliance with communication re- search which depends on the tool of audience questionnaires, where conscious attitudes of subjects provide the data for generalization. This is but one example, although a privileged one.
All in all, the film the- ory born in the world of the humanities has been one based on the efficacy and import of metaphors about the film phenomenon. Since metaphors are more readily generated than are computerized analyses of audience questionnaires or minute descriptions of hundreds of ob- scure films, the discourse of film theory is destined to remain in this literary world.
Empiricists are quick to point out that many of the metaphors de- vised by humanists are open to testing and verification, that a carefully constructed film sequence shown in controlled circumstances to var- ious audiences might substantiate or disprove statements routinely ad- vanced about the effects of editing for instance or the relation of sound to picture.
Similarly, Bordwell and Thompson implicitly question cur- rent notions of the classical Hollywood film in their statistical sam- pling of thousands of such films. Those humanists who are willing to admit such "help" from empirical sources are likely to do so, how- ever, only under the rule that speculative theory leads to empirical testing rather than the other way around.
The humanities approach to film the- ory has, in other words, developed a tradition that is virtually self-suf- ficient. The name "humanities" con- notes something of the immutable when it is pronounced. Those who study the humanities are connected to the Renaissance and through the Renaissance to classical antiquity. Some theorists have emphasized this relation, claiming that film ought to be studied as the modern evoca- tion of the human spirit that in other days produced the Oresteia tril- ogy, the miracle play, and the Elizabethan tragedy.
The most prestigious seat of such spec- ulation has been the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, that re- fined organ of philosophers of art and beauty, which in its very first year of publication eagerly incorporated cinema as a subject de- serving its attention.
Since that year no fewer than fifty-three articles on the cinema have appeared there by philosophers and art critics, with more than half published in the past six years. True, certain philosophers coming from the tradition it represents, most notably Stanley Cavell and Arthur Danto, have begun to publish in film journals 10 and at least one film theorist, Noel Carroll, has lately called for the redirection of film theory along the lines of dominant strains in American aesthetics;11 nevertheless, in the main, film theory, criticism, and critical theory have been un- touched by these "timeless" speculations.
Whether because of its novel subject the cinema or because of the epoch of suspicion to which we belong, serious and progressive film theory has taken root and flour- ished primarily as cultural criticism. Discussion about the medium and its properties which is always "essential," or timeless discussion has fallen to concern over the function, impact, and context of the cinema as a "practice. Some may proclaim this orientation to be anti-humanistic, yet few scholars, especially modern ones, have ever considered the humanities to be immutable.
Not only has the extent of their domain constantly grown for example, to include cinema but their ruling approaches and methods, in short their ideology, have a history. In an important sense film theory came to life by burying a work that was representative of all earlier film theory: His efforts are representative in another sense as well, for their encyclopedic range is organized according to a logic which claims to ensure for the work its totalizing aspirations. Nearly all earlier theorists wrote under an ex- plicit or implicit urge to totalize the field; in this sense most theorists up to were Aristotelian.
They sought to divide the "film com- plex" into a series of hierarchically related questions and to conquer this complex with consistent propositions.
The modern era in film theory began in reaction against these as- pirations in a way that is modest and haughty. The modesty arises from the refusal of the encyclopedic tone of much early theory. Metz and his followers are content to isolate particular theoretical issues and to shed light on these without recourse to lofty overall principles. In this way they see themselves more in the line of modern science than of Aristotelian science.
Modern theorists lord it over their predeces- sors, however, by pointing to the range of sophisticated disciplines whose intersection in the cinema was never felt to be problematic before Whereas no one can hope to master the anthropological, psychoana- lytic, linguistic, rhetorical, and ideological theories to name only the most evident now considered crucial to a full understanding of the field, all modern theorists can smirk at the naivete of an era in which full understanding was considered attainable by means of direct reflection.
One of the obvious duties of modern theory is to place more clearly the propositions of traditional theory. If older theories suffer from a type of naivete, modernists can reconstruct the intellectual context within which these thinkers so confidently wrote.
More than being simply a history of film theory, such studies would help us save older theories by specifying, in a way they themselves were unable to do, the man- ner in which they must be read. Traditional theory would then no longer be something to be defended or discarded.
It would be used with pre- cision and with neither reverence nor apology. Naturally it assumes that its more modest ambition, especially its re- fusal of a totalizing view, protects it from the excesses of idealism. In addition, self-consciousness is integral to its method. Largely due to this cultivated self-awareness, modern theory has been closely tied to developments in the general intellectual community.
Whereas in the past a theorist might ground his views in whatever phi- losophy or movement personally interested him Neo-Kantianism for Munsterberg, Marxism and the behaviorism of Pavlov for Eisenstein, and so forth , the inevitably partial scope of current work necessitates a view of theorizing which is communal and in which theorists see their work as part of cultural thought in a given historical moment.
Opponents of the current trend readily label this impulse as fad- oriented, mocking its predictable itinerary from structuralism to semi- otics to ideological analysis, psychoanalysis, deconstructivism, and the study of cinematic "ecriture. The alternative is to strike out on one's own guided by some illusory glimmer of truth. But few of us believe truth is available in this way to even the heroic or Quixotic searcher. Meaning is seen in our era as something constructed, tested, decon- structed, and adjusted.
The critical attitude prevails. Hence it is not only predictable but appropriate for film theorists to learn from the other master critiques of culture, from linguistics, psychoanalysis, ideologi- cal analysis, and critical philosophy. In sum, film theory today consists primarily in thinking through, elaborating, and critiquing the key metaphors by which we seek to un- derstand and control the cinema complex.
This can be done only in public, discursive events, in classrooms, journals, and conferences. It can be done only collectively. When Charles F. Altman tried to ex- plain the importance and impact of psychoanalytic thought in relation to cinema,14 for example, he correctly noted that the old notions of spectatorial relations to the screen had been dominated by an interplay or synthesis of the metaphors available: Bluntly put, Eisenstein and Arnheim conceived of the spectator as being be- fore a framed image as a painting ; Bazin claimed he sat before a window; and Mitry intertwined the notions finding that cinema's spec- ificity lay precisely in the oscillation between window and frame.
The impasse apparent in the Bazin versus Eisenstein arguments ar- guments that filled countless film theory papers into the 's was broken by the entry of psychoanalysis. This inspired metaphor gave rise to the elaboration of it in film theory from studies concerned with ideology and technology in perspective views, to the analysis of the spectator's identification with the basic cinematic apparatus and in film criticism readings of films in relation to spectator position and to identification.
But this metaphor too must be criticized. Altman explicitly attempted such a critique when he countered the myth of Narcissus a central psycho- analytic scenario stemming from the mirror with that of Echo, and thus turned his attention to the soundtrack, an aspect of the film com- plex scandalously neglected up to that time.
Soon after, he was able to edit a full issue of Yale French Studies No. Thus goes film theory and thus, in my mind, should it go: The genesis and development of the modern approach to film theory has not been so haphazard and bound to fad as its opponents often claim.
First of all a consistency of attitude and goal binds the various ap- proaches even when they seem to overthrow one another. Then, just as important, the state of film theory from , from which all these "critical" projects launched themselves, has had a controlling effect by delimiting the terms of its own critique.
In , a single representation of the film complex dominated the field—Jean Mitry's. Not only is his range encyclopedic, but his books form a compendium of quotations from the classic era of film theory. Mitry goes beyond those he quotes by demonstrating the dialectical in- terplay between realism and formalism. Where earlier theorists empha- sized one aspect of cinema over the other, Mitry contends that a full theory of the medium must see these terms in dynamic interrelation, and this is what he provides.
Mitry's position in the short history of film theory is like Hegel's in the history of philosophy.
It is in its very effort a summation and reconciliation of all earlier views. It is a his- tory of theory as well as a theory itself. It is grand, comprehensive, and idealist. It sees itself as an endpoint.
Mitry never enjoyed, even on a proportional scale, anything like Hegel's popularity or the general acceptance of his views. But, like Hegel, he quickly attracted critics bent on dismantling his edifice. Those coming after him would, by historical necessity, need to develop a critical the- ory. The fact that this moment, , coincided with the fall of phe- nomenology a synthetic approach to cultural experience to which Mi- try's work owes great debts and the rise of materialist critical approaches only made the break seem wider.
Christian Metz, certainly aware of this, composed a review of Mitry's second volume which ran to forty pages. Mitry's synthesis deals essentially with the twin experiences spec- tators are given in every film: Corre- sponding to realism and formalism, respectively, this tension between recognition and construction operates at every level and in every film, although according to varying ratios.
Though remaining staunchly neutral regarding the ultimate domi- nance of either "construction" or "recognition," Mitry nevertheless demands interaction between these two activities. This is where he lo- cates the uniqueness, the specificity of the cinema, and this is what gives him the criteria for the evaluation of given films.
The sheer re- cording of an event for ethnographic reasons, for instance, or in the case of certain static adaptations of plays and ballets fails to attain the level of cinema just as do, from the opposite direction, avant-garde films which, in their concern with abstract rhythm and shape, refuse to offer a recognizable signified.
This criterion applies not only to determining a canon of legitimate films, but can be used to evaluate specific cinematic strategies within any film as well. Here we encounter head on Mitry's conception of levels or thresholds. The spectator must move from the perception of objects presented in a certain way to an understanding of a state of affairs story, argument and finally to a comprehension of its poetic and rhetorical significance.
This trajectory is controlled and guaranteed by the poetic movement of the well-made film. At each of these levels image, narrative, poetic the tension between the real and the abstract must be operative; in great films it is creatively operative. Now Mitry's essential conservatism in taste, indeed his very audac- ity in making value judgments, has been enough to convict him in the eyes of his more critical and "scientific" successors.
Nevertheless the categories of formalism, realism, image construction, narrative, and figuration have proved to be the key areas for contemporary theory as well.
More important, Mitry's intuition that a theory of film would have to deal with both its language and its psychology could not have been more precocious, even if what he meant by cinematic language and the psychology of the film experience were quite different from more cur- rent attitudes about these concepts.
Modern theory, then, may be seen as an interrogation of Mitry's key concepts, driven by a desire to get beyond them so that they no longer exercise their infatuation over us and no longer lock together in a way that makes both the theory and the cinema it supports seem so unal- terable.
This operation of criticizing the concepts of traditional theory begins with a rewriting of the names of those concepts. For instance, instead of a study of cinematic realism we now have a critique of realism via a study of "representation" and "verisimilitude,"17 terms much less value-laden and much more open to the investigator. Similarly, the formerly pristine notion of the "objectivity" of the image is broken apart in a study of the work of film technology, the cultural effort to create machines whose operations will return to that culture an image constructed in such and such a way.
In the arena of modern film theory, meaning, signifi- cance, and value are never thought to be discovered, intuited, or oth- erwise attained naturally. Everything results from a mechanics of work: The formalism and realism of the first stage of the cinematic experience are joined in analysis by a general science of signs.
Their more abstract patternings correspond to Mitry's formal- ism; their particular analogical arrangements creating representations and illusions of things correspond to his realism. Currently the semi- otic aspects of film technology are becoming more and more the locus for a theory of the image, including the "sound image" which is re- ceiving special attention. This debate involves the question of history as it affects, or even controls, semiotics and technology.
For all their concern to document the ideological underpinnings of the lens and its perspectival image, for example, the Cahiers du cinema theorists, and Jean-Louis Comolli in particular, can be indicted for their own brand of idealism, since they have essentially reified technology for all time. Recent work in America has tried to show the complex interplay of historical con- text in the invention and use of new technology. At the second level, that of narrative, the great advances in struc- turalism have allowed the modern theorist to build the rules for the "natural" sequence of events.
Once again verisimilitude is shown to be a complex construction of signs, not a privileged mode of knowl- edge connected to the nature of things. If anything is natural, it is the psychic lure of narrative, the drive to hold events in sequence, to tra- verse them, to come to an end. Here a structural psychoanalysis has been instrumental in laying bare the workings of identification, teleol- ogy, spectator positioning, especially in sexual difference, and point of view. These are the new names for concepts struggling with narrative in cinema.
Here cinema's relation to the other narrative arts, to paint- ing, theater, and the novel is provoking speculation; yet once again this speculation is riddled with debate over the historical dimension of the question. Surely the culture's idea of "What is Cinema? The same is true of studies of point of view. Bordwell and Thomp- son's essays on Ozu, Branigan's work on point of view, and Burch's discussion of alternate cinemas suggest that Metz's early optimism about a semiotics of the cinema has been replaced by the sober realization that there is no semiotics of the cinema but only a semiotics of this or that cinema during this or that epoch.
Modern theory, especially in its most recent turnings, has interested itself in this level, not to find some non- mechanical ultimate realm in film, but precisely to detail the mechan- ics of cinematic expression.
The concepts of enunciation and filmic ecriture the work of writing are here examined with special focus on the study of figures, those physical constructions of meaning which become the locus of special value and, later, the vocabulary of the me- dium. Most important to note here is the dependence of modern theory on the detailed analysis of well chosen films or segments.
The relation between the events of history ac- tual films and generalizations about our experience theory could not be closer than in this interdependence. At all levels, then, from the technology of the medium to the basic units images and their concatenation in moments of discourse where signification is forced upon a set of conventions, the film complex is seen as a set of multiple, interlocking systems inflected by work. This is its analytic base, and this its materialism. I hope to show, however, that despite its very different attitude toward the medium and toward research itself, modern theory as critical theory has taken off from the elaborate constructions of the past.
The break, which I locate in , is not so much a break as a turning of theory around upon itself.
The Major Film Theories an Introduction
The questions named by the terms perception, representation, signifi- cation, narration, adaptation, valuation, identification, figuration, and interpretation have always been with film theory. Yet these new names are not merely the product of pretension and fad. Film the- ory has not only profited from that reconstruction, but has actively contributed to it by recognizing itself as a social practice in picturing and repicturing our understanding of film, of society, and of art.
This is the basis of its growth and of its pride. In effect only two positions have been available throughout the era of classical film theory: Bazin and Kracauer represent the realist camp finding little essential difference between perception in the cinema and in the world at large.
Mitry, who always tries to give every issue and every side its full due, believes that cinema's quasi-natural perceptual base distinguishes it from all other art forms.
Psychologically, cinema does indeed af- fect us as a natural phenomenon. Viewers employ their eyes and ears to apprehend visual and aural forms corresponding to things, beings, and situations in the world.
The full machinery of cinema, the cinema as an invention of popular science, ensures that we can see anew, see more, but also see in the same way. Most important, this naturalness suggests an attitude for spectators that involves curiosity and alertness within a "horizon" of familiarity. In no other art form are these nat- ural attitudes toward the art material so present.
The mind, he feels, interacts with visual phenomena in ways that take him several chapters to explain. This forces him to attend to the crucial differences between cinematic and standard perception. Like Arnheim before him, Mitry finds in the distance between these modes of perception space for the artistry of film.
Without such dif- ferences cinema would truly be a re-presentation of visual experience, whereas perceptual deviation in cinema makes possible the conferring of value on this or that aspect of perception, the filtering here and en- larging there which makes a representation significant. Mitry has deftly threaded his way between the two classic positions of film theory, the realist and the formalist.
He has used realist argu- ments to help differentiate cinema from the other, purely conventional artistic systems like painting and literature; and he has used formalist arguments to redeem cinema from the servile task of mere reproduc- tion to separate it from tape recording, for instance.
Thus he has nodded at the evident importance of questions of perception in film theory only to quickly dismiss them; perception is a necessary process which be- comes interesting only insofar as it is made significant through artistic re-working. Mitry's film theory is centered on that re-working, not on perception.
Since the publication of Mitry's formulations in the mid's, perception itself has become far more an issue, and it is the artificiality of cinematic perception, not its alliance with normal vision, which has been stressed and studied. Theorists were uniformly impressed with the labor required to produce Mitry's "natural" threshold of perceiving the filmic image.
The medium represents the referent only by a certain articulation of those elements, while the elements themselves need not be con- nected in any way to the referent being represented. Like the elementary particles of other semi- otic systems spoken language and music these blotches are articu- lated via position and opposition to form fragments of recognizable se- mantic forms triangles, vectors, and so forth which are themselves articulated into iconic forms such as arms, legs, and trees.
Thus only after two transformations can we speak of the represented objects as being "given" on the screen. Just as a newspaper photo is an array of dots of varying degrees of light and dark, none of which by itself stems from reality, so at its base cinema is a flow of grain organized into codes of iconic representation.
The non-representational films of Paul Sharks and Peter Gidal support Eco's views by manipulating film grain in non-objective patterns. Eco's argument seeks to win cinema over to the master discipline of semiotics, depriving it of any privileged status in relation to reality.
Cinema is a seductive, but ultimately conventional language like paint- ing, poetry, stained glass, or Morse code. It can be used to commu- nicate known truths or it can serve the aesthetic function of question- ing and expanding itself as a code; but in no case can it ever engage us directly with the world.
Its ability to construct untruths, to lie, seals this point as far as Eco is concerned,6 because the world itself never lies; it is only lied about by humans who represent it. Cinema is just such a human means of representation, despite the adage that "the camera never lies. Although it is evidently possible to rede- scribe all behavior semiotically to understand sight, for instance, as neurological communication, or to think of genetics as functioning by means of the semiotic codes of the DNA molecule , Eco's insistence on the category of "truth and lying" ought to limit semiotics strictly to intentional behavior.
We may mistake the implication of some nat- ural symptom taking a mirage for water , but in such cases nature is not deceiving us in the way a person may when lying with signs.
No one would deny that cinema mediates reality for us. The dis- agreement hinges on the degree of intentionality behind such media- tion.
Eco and his fellow semioticians insist on the fully intentional character of all cinema. Perkins contends that beneath the semiotic language of film lies a perceptual "manifold" which is never fully exhausted by the film's message. The cinematic signifier differs from all other artistic signi- fiers in its quasi-natural existence.
We are permitted to look at it not only for what it explicitly says but for what our scrutiny can discover in it. Morin finds this split between reading and scrutinizing the film sign to be peculiar to cinema from its inception. Hence the fascination with slow and fast motion, with extreme close-ups and un- limited repetitions giving our eyes access to the world of nature. The importance of the "cinematographe" to biologists and physiologists is a matter of record.
At nearly the same instant, this very machine also began to function within an entertainment industry catering to a voracious public appetite for "curiosities. Here cinema disseminated what were already highly organized cultural rituals. At first this function might seem to be equivalent to the scientific function in that the cinematographe ex- tended perception, bringing to light things formerly unavailable or dif- ficult of access.
Soon, however and perhaps immediately, if we recall the case of Georges Melies , this machine started behaving like a lan- guage, reorganizing what it presented, abstracting and operating on the world through its images. Thus the cinematographe quickly became that phantasmagoric language we know as the cinema. But for Morin, Bazin, and many others the phenomenon of the movies is incompletely described unless this tension between perception and signification, be- tween the cinematographe and the cinema is maintained.
The cinema may be a language, but as Bazin said, "it is also a language," 8 that is, not entirely language. Its other dimension, which he lodged in the psychology rather than the semiotics of the image, separates it from all other arts and gives to it the fascination which has engendered so many claims about its connection to the world.
Eco would surely debate this distinction between the cinemato- graphic device and the language of cinema, between perception and signification in motion pictures. A certain culture with specific needs went to great trouble to invent it. The complicated history of the de- velopment of this machinery must dampen the sunny idealism of Morin, Bazin, and all others who are tempted to speak of film images as quasi- natural products springing from the earth "like a flower or a snow- flake.
The lens which permits the formation of a representational image, for instance, stems from the camera obscura and Renaissance optics. The cinema thus inherits the desire of Renaissance culture for the cen- tered representation of any visual field.
The mechanisms satisfying this desire are hardly innocent. Indeed Marxist theorists see them as the products of a nascent capitalism that needed to replace the represen- tations of cosmic and religious space the feudal era with a space of cultivated landscapes ruled over by proprietors who, in other pictures, are figured in rooms cluttered with objects of wealth.
Bazin often spoke about perspective as a "Fall" from sacred to sec- ular space, an original sin which necessitated a later cinematic re- demption. But for the Marxist, cinema did not so much redeem the world by bringing art down into the flesh of the earth; instead it reified and naturalized these framed and centered images as though the world itself were thought to exist as so many rectangular cut-outs presented for our knowledge and delectation.
The spectator is master of the uni- verse when it is presented this way. The supposed scientific base of cinema guarantees the permanent rights of individuals to rule the world with their eyes just as science itself rules it with knowledge and a bourgeois class rules it with capital. The tendentiousness at the base of the filmic system also directs the kinds of subjects that system has repeatedly treated: Even if we question this hypothetical relation between the machine of cinema and its products as many do, including dissenting Marx- ists , 12 we cannot deny the central thesis that the technology making possible the perception of images in cinema is a product of labor and of history.
Where labor and history command, "nature" and "natural activity" become terms designed to mystify. The cinematographe as a machine is a willed transformation of nature for purpose and profit. This analysis of the cinematic apparatus supports Eco in that it strives to explain how the conventions underlying cinematic perception go un- noticed and function ideologically.
As a master concept "ideology" always implies the hiddenness of its operation. A vast outlay in capital and genius produced this machine to perform a central function, that of supporting a belief in the mastery of the eye over a scene tanta- mount to the mastery of capital over labor and of the individual over larger social orders.
For Eco, too, a perpetual labor quietly and sur- reptitiously adjusts human "subjects" to the machine of cinema and, through this machine, to a cinematized version of reality.
While ad- vertising itself as fully open to the visible world, cinema is a highly delimited, conventional emitter of messages about how things look and how they should be treated. Labor is the notion that directly joins Eco's work to that of the the- orists of the machine of cinema, for labor is at work in this tool of perception just as it is in the operation of communication.
This is an important discovery, going beyond Mitry for whom film theory proper begins with "given images. Far from overwhelming further investigation, this realization must push our analysis of the functioning of cinema toward a kind of sub- tlety that has been sorely lacking from Marxist critiques. Even if we do not perceive with an innocent eye through the cinema, it is crucial to find out just how we do perceive through it.
The question remains even if the stakes of the response have changed. Each member of the culture organizes his or her experience through this mechanism; thus cinema works on the subjects of culture.
But there is a prior work required first, that by which subjects learn to use the mechanism; here the question of perception presents itself unmistakably. Succinctly put: What sort of labor is required to learn to watch cinema? How does this learning differ from that required for the other media?
How does it differ from that which enabled us to perceive in our daily life, if we can speak of this as labor at all? When Metz declared that we must "go beyond analogy"13 he meant that we must not let the striking quality of the film image overwhelm us or keep us from analyzing it.
The Major Film Theories an Introduction
We must examine not just the codes that add themselves to the image, cultural codes seeking to naturalize their messages through realistic presentation; we must examine first and foremost those codes which permit an image to appear at all, the codes of resemblance. The discovery that resemblance is coded and therefore learned was a tremendous and hard-won victory for semiotics over those upholding a notion of naive perception in cinema. Every moment of cinema is now at the mercy of the analyst.
We must theorize the very perception of images. But saying that they function by learned codes of resem- blance is only a beginning; for how does natural perception work? We need a tentative theory of perception to undergird any useful theory of film perception. We can no longer afford to treat natural perception as a zero degree. The labor involved in bringing film stimuli into recognizable images is not a unique or special labor. Something like it must happen in every perceptual case.
So too, the corollary that we must learn to perceive film images is a corollary that must apply in some way to all visual life. This at least has been the opinion of most scholars since "nativ- ist" arguments fell to the growing empiricism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nativists had claimed that brightness, size, and most critical form were qualities immediately seized by every viewer.
In this way retinal stimulation leads to fully formed images. One of the classic for- mulations of this process goes: Perception is a complex act involving presentative and representative elements. After discriminating and identifying a sense impression, the mind supplements it by an escort of revived sensations producing an integrated percept, an apparently immediate apprehension of an object in a particular locality. Foremost among these, and foremost in the history of film the- ory, was the Gestalt theory.
Originating modestly as a way to explain certain specific visual phe- nomena unaccounted for by the empiricists,16 Gestaltism quickly de- veloped into a full-fledged psychology, nearly a metaphysics. Essen- tially the Gestalt view downplays the individual element or atomic unit in favor of the field of configuration of which it is a part. Certain forms at the base, these are invariably geometrical are innate, structured into the physiology of the eye and the neural arrangement of the brain.
We cannot help but see certain patterns in the world when stimuli bring these patterns into play. The Gestalt theory is of the nativist variety for it denigrates the im- portance of both experience and learning.
Indeed, its experimental method is close to a phenomenology in employing naive subjects or ridding experienced subjects of their preconceptions. Thus Gestaltists hope to arrive at the basic structures of perception operative in all cases, though these are often hidden from us by clouds of habit and learning.
The fact that this theory became popular just as the first film theo- ries were born helped seal a bond between film theory and Gestalt psy- chology which has never really been severed. Hugo Munsterberg and Rudolf Arnheim explicitly invoke it while many other theorists are tac- itly under its sway. The Gestalt position has been especially attractive to aestheticians in all the arts for reasons that are easy to understand.
First of all, art plays an important role in the theory as a diagram of the perceptual patterns at work in ordinary perception. Art is an activ- ity that directly pictures the formal predispositions that we bring to ex- perience.
Even when the Gestalt view began to lose its hold on the field in the 's, its antagonists frequently recognized its fertility for aesthetics. The functionalists invoke the phrase "act of seeing" as an in- tentional act that differs according to the life situation of the organism at any given moment. Functionalism would describe the contexts of vision and the operations of the ocular system within those contexts.
Obviously for the functionalists seeing is very defi- nitely an acquired skill; indeed it is a series of skills based on the need for action or orientation. Functionalism effectively blends the nativist and empiricist impulses in the psychology of perception by altering the definition of seeing, refining it into many subclasses of acts search- ing, recognizing, gazing, and so forth.
Such acts are both natural na- tive and acquired in experience. In broadening their concern to the contexts of perception, recent psychologists have tried to bypass a strictly neurological study of seeing. No doubt the brain operates by means of geometric and digital patterns of stimuli and response, but "perception," it should now be clear, in- cludes many aspects, only one of which is, strictly speaking, neuro- logical. The breakthrough made by functionalism in dissolving the cluster of questions that have been lumped together under "perception" has been much advanced by certain philosophers of language eager to ana- lyze the precise meanings of "perception names.
Some of these are: If we accept the image as a "denotation" or "signification," for in- stance, we treat it as something to be deciphered and we attend far more to its motivation than to its detail, or rather, as in a caricature, we look at detail only for its motivation for the black tooth in Richard Nixon's smile.
If we treat the image as a depiction or representation of reality, on the other hand, we may be encouraged to study its details for them- selves and for what they may reveal as when an image sent back from Mars is scrutinized by scientists. Thus the depictive powers of the transmitted television image share a relation to perceptual reality closer than that maintained by caricature, for we search the television image as we search fields of vision, whereas we look at a caricature only to recognize its subject and message.
The relation between cognition and re-cognition differs in these cases. Even this brief inquiry proceeds on the assumption that we know what "ordinary visual perception" consists of. Yet the most cursory linguistic analysis of the issue brings into relief the differences we sense not just between cognition and recognition but between perception and cognition, sensation and perception. Let us begin with sensation. Is it coded and must it be learned? When certain semioticians insist that all vision is coded and that there is no direct access to things as they are, what does this imply?
Surely sen- sations come to us naturally. We have sensations in the normal course of events when vibrations stimulate our nerve endings.
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If in its first encounters it takes some time as it seems to for our organism to learn to organize sensations so that they can be distinguished by shapes, col- ors, sizes and brightness, once this rudimentary skill is learned, it ap- plies universally and unprogressively. An infant may at first have been unable to distinguish triangles from squares, but by two years old it can do this as well as a sixty-year old.
Similarly, all optically endowed animals receive sensations, so that to speak of sensations as having to be learned defeats the cultural thrust of the notion of learning and of codes. If animals also must learn to see, then we must talk about a supplementary learning for humans; otherwise the term has lost all power to discrimate. Now if we equate the perception of a situation with an ability to distinguish and thus potentially name objects and events making up the situation, then learning pertains to perception just insofar as it per- tains to the elaboration of a specific cultural world.
Indeed it may very well be semantically coded in that Eskimos have some seventeen terms for snow, presum- ably because they are able to sensorially discriminate this many gra- dations. Belonging to a different cultural world, these gradations are invisible to the rest of us. Doubtless, perception, no matter how denned, is in league with cognition and even with language.
Why else would feminists lay such stress on altering the dictionary, unless they believed that with a new vocabulary our culture would perceive women differently and thereby would form a different reality altogether.
But surely some of the trans- formations by which sensation becomes perception stem from human physiology the configuration of rods and cones and from universal features of earthly existence day and night, the horizon line, and so on. Not all perception is culturally specific and alterable. To speak of learning to see is to speak of attaining very early a threshold after which vision becomes a source of orientation and action. Even if we point to the distance of vision from reality optical illusions, the "con- stancy" principle, and other effects proving that what we see is a pro- jection made from limited cues , it is clear that vision is in no sense arbitrary.
Subjects who were fitted with glasses inverting everything they saw had difficulty negotiating their visual worlds for only several hours, after which they perceived everything in a normal manner. Vision, then, is a skill involving our experience, language, other senses, and perceptual apparatus. If it is not in any strict sense the world internally given, but instead is the transformation of stimuli, the reg- ularity of this transformation permits a consistent world to be consti- tuted, one generally in harmony with our other senses and with the experience of other people.
So much is this the case that vision is our main source of new information about our environment.
We use it to search perceptual fields when recognition breaks down or when other people report or predict a discrepancy in "their" constituted worlds.
Arguments about unidentified flying objects are excellent exemplifica- tions of this. Without involving ourselves further in the issues of veridical per- ception, we can now make some comparisons between it and the per- ception of images in the arts and in cinema.
The artist works to make the marks of the system equivalent to the distinguishing marks of the perceptual field he or she hopes to rep- resent. The viewer works to decipher the marks, using his experience with the system and interpreting the strategy of the artist to interpolate a complete scene. The tasks of constructing such images and of deciphering them re- quire sophisticated training, far beyond the basic threshold of percep- tual learning that we noted for natural vision.
Whole schemas must be internalized, together with a sense of their use in history. It makes sense in this case to talk of "learning" a visual language for only the sus- tained reinforcement of a particular capability by a particular environ- mental need or pressure could produce the skill of transforming marks on a flat surface into the legible representations of three-dimensional objects and scenes.
Even if we insist that all human perceptual activity in distinction from passive functions such as sensation or emotion re- quires learning, we would do well to reserve a special category for those perceptual practices which are fostered by particular types of needs and are thereby cultural rather than universal activities. Everyone physically fit will necessarily learn to see, but not everyone will learn the codes of representation operating in Japanese ukiyo-e prints.
Nat- ural languages are those which necessarily emerge in any environment; this would include a spoken language. But cultural learning develops only in the context of a specific pressure and reinforcement.
This would include written language, ancient languages, and the languages of vi- sual representation. The process of learning may be structurally similar in every case for acquiring spoken language as for acquiring a driv- er's license , but cultural learning occurs only in a restricted milieu whereas natural learning occurs anywhere on the globe and at every time in human history.
To cite our subject at hand, viewing a repre- sentational painting seems natural to us because we live within a mi- lieu of painting. It seems less natural to a baby, a backwoods child, or an adult aborigine, all of whom nevertheless have learned to per- ceive the world around them just as readily as have we, and to equal effect.
Perception 31 Evidently the terms cultural and natural are inadequate in distin- guishing human activities and learning; nevertheless, the overall thrust of our inquiry demands that we strive to discriminate amongst types of learning, no matter how we label these types.
In the case at hand, we can say that the kind of learning required to decipher artistic paintings is of a different order still from both natural vision and picture view- ing. Artistic vision demands continual attention through a lifetime of refinement, but object recognition in pictures is a skill once learned, never forgotten. Like the use of a simple tool reading a scale, for in- stance object recognition depends on the invariable application of an automatic process. The production of representational pictures, unlike that of artistic paintings, often depends on an apparatus to ensure this automatism.
The camera obscura by which painters from as early as the fifteenth century facilitated the reproduction of likenesses is only the most obvious of such apparatuses. The geometrical schema on which perspective rests is equally an apparatus, a by-product in fact'of the geometrical tools developed for projective mapmaking, some argue, to aid the booming maritime exploration industry of the pre-Renaissance.
This is why, despite its cultural devel- opment a product of Western Europe at the birth of capitalism , per- spective was quickly and easily taken over by other cultures such as the Japanese, to coexist with native forms of representation. This in- trusion of the West into other cultures was not like the adoption of English or French by those with time and money to learn it; it was more like the introduction of a new machine or tool, the rifle or the telescope.
Minimal instruction was necessary for its proper use, but once used properly it immediately produced its promised effects. Far from struggling to learn a complicated language, we traverse mechanical representations so smoothly that we must rather learn the halting of them.
In Gombrich's terms it is "the limits of likeness" which must be recognized if we are to keep from misapplying or overapply- ing this tool. We must learn when the laws of representation are in effect and where they run up against their boundaries.
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This article has no associated abstract. Film Media in Aesthetics categorize this paper. Applied ethics. History of Western Philosophy. Normative ethics. Philosophy of biology.Cinema would seem to exist between these two extremes as an interplay between "the real and the image.
Maverick thinkers, some perhaps of lasting importance, are perforce left unheard in such a sur- vey of recent trends. More important, the structure of cinematic representation from beginning to end is one of process, where fragments are ruled by the wholes they add up to, and where belief and unbelief keep our eyes on the screen while our mind glides into the world of the represen- tation.
More generally theorists and the average spectator have cut off from ordi- nary life the world that exists within the movie theatre. In these cases we understand more then ever that making visual sense is a labor and a risk in cinema. We are given over to the world, yet we are given over to signification. Nevertheless the categories of formalism, realism, image construction, narrative, and figuration have proved to be the key areas for contemporary theory as well.
Modern theorists lord it over their predeces- sors, however, by pointing to the range of sophisticated disciplines whose intersection in the cinema was never felt to be problematic before Even this brief inquiry proceeds on the assumption that we know what "ordinary visual perception" consists of. To shift to the imaginary is to move, as in daydream, to another "realm" while still adhering to many of the phenomena associated with our reality state.