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 sinrizimacirc.gq 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.
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. 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.
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. Trompe I'oeil paintings and illu- sions of all sorts trade precisely on the ease with which recognition works. We apply the tool in a milieu where it is uncalled for; or we apply the wrong tool. Actually mistakes made in viewing images are not unlike mistakes we are prone to make in so-called normal viewing situations when we try or need to adjust perception to extended domains.
If we put on sunglasses, for instance, our perception is "like" normal viewing but "limited" in respect to hue and brightness. If we peer through a key- hole, we must adjust our sense of object arrangement to the unaccus- tomed angle we have adopted and to the limited field provided by the frame. Learning has to do not just with the transforming of sensations into percepts but with adjusting those percepts to achieve a continuity of visual life.
Otherwise each moment would have a hallucinatory quality, whereas "hallucination" is a word we reserve for those per- cepts to which we are unable to adjust. Today even the most empirical psychologists hold that learning to see should mean the acquisition of connections among perceptual ele- ments rather than the reception of those elements themselves.
Although the mechanism of the tool is complex including photochemical, opti- cal, and mechanical aspects , its operation is relatively simple, requir- ing minimal instruction. This is particularly so for the viewer. Learn- ing to watch a film image is like learning to use a periscope. Similarly, while the cinema transforms an open, three-dimensional, colored field into a framed, flat, often colorless image, it does so with an automatism so regular that we can adjust to it and then use it as an extension of veridical percep- tion.
The security policeman scanning fifteen closed-circuit television monitors is actually viewing the full perimeter of the bank it is his job to protect. He can respond correctly to information coming from any screen once he has learned the appropriate adjustments called for by this tool of his trade.
In this way cinematic reproduction is first of all a fact, not a code, of visual life. If we insist on considering the constant adjustment we make to it as reading a code, then we must extend the domain of the coded to cover most of visual life. Whenever we see something as something else a portrait as a representation of someone, an actor as a character, a flower as a sign of spring, a piece of paper as a dollar's worth of labor or goods, a woman as a sex symbol we would then be employing a code.
Many theorists contend just this, that we see noth- ing except through the cultural codes which continually regulate our perception and present us with just this certain world. Such an exten- sion of the term to all our visual life makes it ineffective, however, when applied to a particular form of perception like the cinematic.
Yet such an extension makes an important point beyond even its political thrust: Cinema is one of these. It must be distrusted like all such skills for it fails to present us with reality itself; yet it can be trusted as much as other skills for it stands in some definite relation to the real. Cinema thereby takes its place in our visual life, a place of perception not of language. Admittedly, of course, language is inti- mately involved in perception,26 especially in such modeling percep- tual activities as the cinema.
Current perceptual theory validates this place in many ways, by de- moting stimuli in favor of organization. Whereas empiricism held that stimuli become percepts on the basis of earlier, recollected stimuli, theorists today in the main describe the formation of percepts as in- volving not the mechanical replay of past experience or of timeless Gestalt patterns, but other categories of visual and non-visual infor- mation which we put into play in given contexts.
The world is elaborated within each perceptual act or moment. Merleau-Ponty described this process in terms which, while trouble- some for many perceptual psychologists, nevertheless remain true to this modern post-Gestalt view and play neatly into the hands of film theory as well.
Because every perception occurs within a given horizon or project, there can be no single master law providing the key to organizing per- cepts. Instead we find an exchange between the body together with its projects and a material world which is pregnant with form. Hence it is impertinent to decompose perception into elements of sensation or to analyze an image into atomic parts of a code the dots of a photo, for instance.
For perception is an experience of totality even when, as always happens, it incorporates lacunae the back side of the lamp I am focusing on. Nor do we accord the status of "the real" only to present stimuli. Instead I project myself into another myself and stand before a scene as socially given, not as known or deciphered.
Bazin, Morin, and Mitry. We view a scene which has been socially pointed out. This is certainly not a matter of simply viewing reality, as Kra- cauer seems naively to have thought; on the other hand, neither does it consist in the deciphering of a code.
How can we describe more clearly cinema's peculiar relation to per- ception? The term "image" can help us here, for cinema is a proces- sion of images, and images are basic units of veridical perception too. No image, not even the normal, veridical image can be considered fully real, for perception as we have seen is a construction, not the end point of neural stimulation. Perception 35 Since our constructions are so easily tricked by illusions and since images can be produced electrically without recourse to direct ocular stimulation, it is clear that there is no perfect rapport between eye, mind, and world.
But there is surely some rapport, for the images we live with achieve a kind of trustworthiness, if not solidity, when verified by further encounters, by the other senses, and by reports from other observers.
The distance between stimulation and image requires a transforma- tion that we can think of in terms of psychic work. Whatever the mechanism and neurophysiologists have theories and evidence of all sorts there would seem to exist three levels, tiers, or stages of visual organization to describe this distance and this work: The space separating each level from the others allows for errors, misjudg- ments, and values to enter; and the work that permits passage from stage to stage may be related thereby to a mechanism of ideology.
Nevertheless, such workings are in an important sense "natural," au- tomatic, and consistent. Cinema replicates this process of vision.
It depends on bridging the gap between a steady stream of optical stimuli and the organized fields and forms we call film images. Further, it routinely insists on the im- portance and stability of certain images.
Thus cinema is above all things a representation of visual life itself. It mimics the continual work of seeing by means of its own work technological, psychological, and sociological, respectively. As a representation of this process it can also pose questions about seeing, permitting us to reflect on the pro- cess as we undergo it. It can play with the relation of stimuli to visual fields as in the experimental films of J.
Murphy and Paul Sharits ; it can play with the relation of perceptual fields to solidified images as in Michael Snow's work ; and it can insist upon or interrogate the cultural form of stable images Bruce Conner and Kenneth Anger come to mind here.
All of this allows the simple generalization that in both cinematic and veridical perception, an image is any visual unit that sustains itself as a unit. Static images are already endowed with "significance" for us, frozen as they are in the flux of changing fields and amidst the stimuli which race perpetually behind and beyond these fields. The publicity still, the artful snap- shot, the composed longshot—these photographic forms have their counterparts in those key percepts of our daily perception which Pa- solini termed "im-signs," 29 percepts which permit us to feel at home in a fluctuating visual world.
But images may have a temporal component too as they present an entire gesture, action, or scene. Here we can feel a perceptual flow working toward a significance which is conferred only when the wholeness of the fragment is sensed. Images are holding places in vi- sual life: In these cases we understand more then ever that making visual sense is a labor and a risk in cinema. At the same time, we sense it as a labor and a risk in life generally.
Hence, in spite of all recent at- tacks, cinema remains tied in a special way to the perception of real- ity. In an important sense, it is a real mode of perception. In contrast, the issue of representation which stands be- fore us now as the next level to be treated has never been thought of as simple by anyone and has been an explicit battleground for com- peting theories of the cinema. It will be even less possible here to pre- sent a satisfactory summary of views and arguments surrounding this issue, so vast is it, touching even upon the nature of thinking itself.
But we can highlight and isolate the special conditions of representa- tion which govern the cinema and the peculiar questions which the cinema raises as questions of representation. Amidst all the varying types of experiments with perception, barely outlined in Chapter 2, there dominates a nearly univocal belief in the importance of "attention" in visual life.
Only acts of cognitive expec- tation permit our eyes to move and focus in such a way that we see images. Hamlyn, berating all mechanistic discussions of per- ception, including even Gestalt psychology, demands that we study not just the eye, the stimuli, and the neural patterns of the brain, but the general conditions at play in any moment of perception. We enter a theater and stare in front of us at a two dimensional screen for two hours.
Yet within this strait jacket our eyes expect to coagulate film grain into shapes, objects, ac- tions, and scenes; more important they expect to do so in ways which mimic the nearly unlimited viewing circumstances of life in the world. Cinema perception is a mode of "seeing as" wherein we see an array of light and shadow as a particular object and we see several hundred fragments of a full film as a particular world.
Far from being a rare occurrence in perception, or a particularly devious one, cinema here joins myriad other instances of "seeing as," instances in which we notice an oscillation between what our senses deliver to us and how we identify this. Certainly the most startling cases of this involve il- lusions, but as E. Gombrich, Nelson Goodman, and others have stressed, this structure of experience is ubiquitous.
If this is the case for veridical perception, how much more pervasive is "seeing as" for explicitly judgmental vi- sual acts which organize percepts into coherent wholes. We identify a set of varied stimuli not only as human beings, but as a group we call "the class" and oppose it to another blend of stimuli which we name "the teacher.
Goodman has pursued the consequences of these observations to the end, arriving at a pluralistic and nominalist philosophy which makes explicit use of art. There is no primary real world which we subse- quently subject to various types of representation, he contends. Worlds are comprehensive sys- tems which comprise all elements that fit together within the same ho- rizon, including elements that are before our eyes in the foreground of experience, and those which sit vaguely on the horizon forming a background.
These elements consist of objects, feelings, associations, and ideas in a grand mix so rich that only the term "world" seems large enough to encompass it. Goodman is fond of using art as an explanatory model for his notion of "world. The plot may surprise us with its hap- penings, but every happening must seem possible in that world be- cause all the actions, characters, thoughts, and feelings represented come from the same overall source.
That source, the world of Dickens, is obviously larger than the particular rendition of it which we call Oliver Twist. In fact, it is larger than the sum of novels Dickens wrote, existing as a set of paradigms, a global source from which he could draw. Cut out from this source are anachronistic elements like telephones or space ships, and elements belonging to other types of fiction blank verse, mythological characters, and even accounts of the life of royalty.
It should be clear that even such a covering term as "The World of Dickens" has no final solidity or authority. A young reader of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist might consider these texts to be versions of a world of education and family relations which concern him out- side of literature. The Dickens scholar naturally would consider these texts to be part of the complete writings of Dickens. What they rep- resented for Dickens himself, who lived within them during the years of their composition, no one can say.
One goal of interpretation has always been to make coincide the world of the reader with that of the writer. Although not a futile enterprise, the difficulties of accomplish- ing it, or of knowing that it has been achieved, are obvious. Artworks are indeed suitable examples of worlds and worldmaking, for they are cut off in time and space from our everyday life.
Not only is "The Woman Weighing Gold" a world within a frame which can hold a viewer's entire attention, so also is the Vermeer room in a mu- seum featuring his work.
The museum itself is a kind of world that we enter and leave bringing with us expectations, memories, particular codes of behavior, and a very special type of perception. But out on the bustling street we likewise live in a world divided by comprehensive types of interest.
For most of us the world of politics exists as a separate sphere to which we occasionally attend. This is an immense world frequently represented for us on the news or in papers.
The New York Times editorial on "detente" is a version of part of this world as is the rebuttal of this version printed the next day in Pravda. Whatever encompasses our attention is a world we have constructed to live within. Whatever organizes our sense of that world or of some portion of it is a version; and versions we call representations.
The first statement fits into his domestic world and the sec- ond into his professional world. Nor can we say that one statement is truer than the other, if both are in fact true to the worlds in which they belong. The philosophical issues here go back centuries and can hardly be solved in this chapter.
Does the Eskimo actually live in a world of multiple cold, white substances that we identify grossly and simply as snow? Goodman refuses to accord priority to the world of the chemist for whom such substances are particular definable states of the H2O molecule. Fortuitously, the relevant issues that crys- tallize around the notion of "world" derive not just from Anglo- American language philosophers like Goodman but from continental phenomenology. Sartre's writings on the imagination, Alfred Schutz's sociology of "life-worlds," and Mikel Dufrenne's "Phenomenology of the Aesthetic Experience" give weight to the common parlance of film critics who have always been comfortable with phrases like "Chaplin's world" or "The World of Citizen Kane.
More generally theorists and the average spectator have cut off from ordi- nary life the world that exists within the movie theatre. Instead of being a catalogue of things appearing on the screen as in the Chaplin and Kane examples "the world of film" is a mode of experience, rather like "the world of imagination. Now the first elements of cinematic representation are perceptual. Earlier we discussed the tension of belief and unbelief in cinema as equivalent to the oscillation between looking and seeing or seeing and recognizing which is the integral structure of perception in general.
It is this equivalence that permits the casual, though philosophically na- ive, claim that "reality" is rendered in cinematic perception. More ac- curately we should say that the structure of cinematic perception is readily translated into that of natural perception, so much so that we can rely on information we construct in viewing films to supplement our common perceptual knowledge which is also, as we have often noted, constructed knowledge.
This explains the confidence that ju- rors place in cinematic records submitted by a lawyer, or that astron- omers have in video images sent back from Mars, or that ethnologists have in footage brought back by explorers to distant lands. In all these instances cinematic information supplements what we know about one or another of the worlds we inhabit. To some degree the tension between belief and doubt operates in every iconic sign system: In each of these an image strives to produce the effects of natural perception through a process quite different from nat- ural perception.
We effectively recognize our friend in an image pro- cessed by Kodak.
If cinema heads our hierarchy of such sign systems, so that the jury accepts a filmed record of the murder but rejects a drawing by an eyewitness and even a still photograph, it is due to cinema's mechan- ical and temporal aspects.
The automatic registration of light on cel- luloid involves us in squinting at the image to "make out" the object in the glare and the grain whereas a drawing could be much more clear.
And the temporal flow which throws us from one image to the next demands that we adjust our recognition of what we see to the overall image which organizes itself gradually before us. But it is just this work that makes us assent to the film image, for ordinary perception in- volves precisely the same types of work even if the actual visual cues the stimuli are somewhat different. But cinematic representation is more than a sequence of photographs, for the thousands of photogrammes meld into pictures of scenes enduring over time.
Instinctively we strive to put disparate scenes together so that the entire projection coheres. Thus, from the automatic operation of the phi phenomenon which pro- duces movement out of static and separated photogrammes to the clas- sification of an entire film, the mind actively constructs images from the light that stimulates it. At the first level the percepts we identify in the flowing grain depend in a major way on our expectation that they will contribute to the larger representation which is at stake in the film.
These still images then become animated and begin to pull us through the film along what Bela Balazs called a current of induction6 toward a final representation. It is this ultimate sense of a developing repre- sentation that makes the individual photogrammes readable and that likewise assures their smooth linkage in montage.
Yet what is this fi- nal representation other than a construct built up of the individual frag- ments it supposedly makes comprehensible? Just as the basic percept of cinema is a unit constructed out of light and shadow on film grain, so the entire cinematic representation is a major unit our mind puts together.
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. Quite simply the oscillation at the heart of all instances of "seeing as" becomes in the cinema a vacillation between belief and doubt.
The cinema fascinates because we alternately take it as real and unreal, that is, as participating in the familiar world of our ordinary experience yet then slipping into its own quite different screen world. Only an un- usually strong act of attention enables us to focus on the light, shadow, and color without perceiving these as the objects they image. And, on the other side, only an equally strong hallucinating mode of attention can maintain from beginning to end the interchangeability of what we perceive and the ordinary world, negating all difference of image and referent.
Cinema would seem to exist between these two extremes as an interplay between "the real and the image. Representation 43 Contributing to the sense of reality of immediate apperception and non-mediation are at least four elements, some of which Christian Metz outlined in his earliest writing. Experimental preconditions, such as the darkened auditorium.
Analogical indices such that the image of an object shares actual visible properties with its referent. The psychological imitation which cinematic flow provides of the actual flow of reality. Importantly, movement in the cinema is ac- tual movement, not represented movement, and our mind is brought alive by it. Finally, the lure of sound, which establishes a second sense to ver- ify the first and which analogically is more exact than image rep- resentation.
What keeps us from ac- cepting the image as life is a fissure which we sometimes leap, some- times refuse to leap, and most often straddle.
Consisting of such ex- periential counters as bodily immobility, of nonanalogic aspects such as foreshortening, and of the more basic fact that the scene has been put before us by another, these anti-illusionistic elements lead us to treat the film not as life but as an image in the Sartrian sense, as a presence of an absence. Reality is here taken to be a type of consciousness characterized by certain indices of ap- pearances and a certain mental activity. 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.
The crucial marker of this particular experience of oscillation is the frame itself. I must attend "there" to the frame and not elsewhere. Classically stated, the screen as "window" is a place of perception; as "frame" or border it delimits and organizes perception for signification.
Jean Mitry saw this long ago. We search the screen as we search any perceptual field, yet we feel the force of "this particular" dispo- sition of objects and shapes.
We are given over to the world, yet we are given over to signification. Nor is this the end of it, for the image changes before our eyes; both the film and the world move on. The fact of movement introduces the category of narrative or, at least, its possi- bility. For while the framed image dissolves before us and the vibrant life of perception is reaffirmed, this flow engages a narrative intention- ality marked by reframing and shot changes. Although we perceive the dissolution of every scene, we group scenes into events that are not allowed to fall away but are held together as on a chain.
From the angle of phenomenology, narrative refers to a type of con- sciousness into which audiences lock themselves when attending to the chain of movement in a film. It involves a particular form of image processing wherein sensations are read as significant in their temporal and causal interrelation. The study of narrative in cinema ought there- fore to begin with a determination of our relationship to the images and to the current of induction which runs through them, pulling us after it.
Such determinations would amount to genre studies if we for- malized their results, since they would name and describe the custom- ary relation into which spectators lapse or against which they strug- gle with regard to the filmed material and its organization. If every film is a presence of an absence, we are still obliged to differentiate the types of imaginary experience possible within various ratios of this relationship.
A filmed image may be considered the pres- ence of a referent which is absent in space live TV coverage or in time home movies. It may also be taken to be an image which is non-existent or whose existence is not in question one way or the other. Consciousness immediately makes decisions about the status of the image and from these decisions it processes the filmic flow in different ways.
If the absent referent is deemed nonexistent we attend to the peculiarities of the image, necessarily striving to give existence to an unknown.
If, on the other hand, the absent referent has solidity for us as a friend or a public figure in whose existence we believe , we may utilize our recognition of the image to launch our consciousness into a state which calls up a mise-en-scene of the imaginary, producing nos- talgia, desire, and the like.
We wish to transcend the home movie by means of one or two of its images and attain a more private state. In other words, the intention of "conjuring up the past" lords it over the basic intentionality of "movement," using the life of movement to restore the dead past. Our frequent recourse to still-frame and creep-speed projection techniques certifies this hierarchy.
Since in most cases we know and believe something about the referent and its world, the documentary can sometimes serve the imaginary function already described in relation to home movies. We use and discard a hundred minutes of the Rolling Stones in order to recognize those five minutes that are sufficient to launch us into a reverie.
The sound track in such a film already guarantees this sort of response. But if the film is about an obscure woodcutter of the North- west, we must attend to the specifics of the image and try to build a sense of a world about which we know little even though we may have "faith" in it. Every documentary relies on our faith in its subject and, more important, utilizes our knowledge of it. Barbel Schroeder's portrait of Idi Amin' l summarizes a good deal of data through voice- over narration in its first five minutes, but otherwise forces us to pro- cess the images of Idi within a field of consciousness already full of the Idi story.
Indeed like many documentaries, Schroeder's film was under little compunction to achieve formal closure since his subject would continue to survive and his spectators would in fact have a greater understanding of the denouement of his film than he possibly could have had in , not knowing Idi's final atrocities. Every fictional film likewise relies on some substratum of spectator understanding of the type of world that becomes the subject of the film.
We bring our own sense of boxing to Rocky and of the strictures of bourgeois life to any Douglas Sirk film. But the fictional film, at least in most of its genres, quickly transfers our interest to the world of the image, calling on, but not playing to, our knowledge of its referent.
In the fiction film all moments become significant as we construct a referent whose absence is determinant, not merely accidental or logis- tical. Movement in fiction film is coterminous with the film itself. The viewer is asked to swim in a time stream, and he cannot look away without the fiction threatening to disappear. Whereas the tech- niques and codes that construct the illusion of the continuity of move- ment in the fiction film may be the product of history and labor may change from era to era , the mode of consciousness by which specta- tors have always participated in the construction of a fiction is ahistor- ical and transcendental to the degree that it stems from certain condi- tions of perception and cognition operating in the everyday life world conditions such as retention, protention, filling in, and so forth.
It is for this reason that those filmmakers who break the cinematic flow Godard, for instance need to labor to do so, for they thwart the mind in its act of seizing something that seems to disappear for it when stopped.
Among fiction films themselves we can categorize different ratios of perception to signification and begin to list genres and styles as we do so. Nashville and Paisa affirm an overbrimming perceptual flux out of which certain stories have eddied. The Third Man and Rosemary's Baby, on the other hand, construct tight networks of signification which wither all but certain perceptual possibilities. In all fictional cases we appro- priate the situation of the narrator by succumbing to the film flow in the proper way.
Propriety varies from genre to genre, from Paisa to The Third Man, but the demands of narrative consciousness remain— demands that include its drive toward totalization, identification, ex- planation—even while these demands operate in different ways for each genre. Some of the differences amongst genres and films can be catalogued as functions of the imagination.
The supplying of background infor- mation is negligible in the standard Western for our minds instantly fill the horizon of these films with the appropriate atmosphere, landscape, and props.
But in a film like Wind Across the Everglades or Dersu Uzala, both of which depend crucially on the relation of atmosphere and landscape to character and both of which are set in landscapes un- familiar to most filmviewers, the filmmakers must continually offer background shots, through composition in depth, pans away from ac- tion, and descriptive exposition. The film noir, to take another genre and another aspect of film con- struction, frequently employs both voice-over narration and returns to past action.
The viewer is asked to gauge the action represented on the screen in relation to an overall judgment which is, so to speak, simul- taneously present with the action. The film noir hero, on the contrary, not only appeals to us through first person address, but speaks from a point where the action has reached its end. By taking our powers and aspirations for explana- tion, totality, and identification to the limit, such films bring out into the open the value, the labor, and the fragility of representation in the cinema.
The film that gratifies this attempt, the most satisfyingly representational film, we call realist. Such a film will cut up the world of appearances into perceptual images organized into patterns that make sense to us because these images and patterns exist in our culture.
Without effort we can identify in the film something we have identified already in our culture as important. Thus the film reinforces the world we have con- structed. Recent critics of realist cinema have shown all too clearly that this mapping of cinema on life is hardly natural at all but is the product of enormous technical resources and traditional knowledge. The cinema reproduces identifiable parts of our world by framing, focusing, and juxtaposing aspects of the visible in "acceptable" ways.
The history of the cinema is usually measured as the progressive ad- equation of the rules of cinematic organization to the habitual ways by which we organize life in our culture. This and other codes of representation are meant to disappear as we grasp identify and assent to the representation itself. In other words, realism in the cinema is driven by a desire to make the audience ignore the process of signification and to grasp directly the film's plot or in- trigue; for most filmviewers, the plot is precisely and fully what a film represents.
In this way realism stabilizes the temporal dimension of film, turning the flow of pictures into a single large picture whose process of coming into being has been hidden behind the effect of its plot. While the semiotic work of such theorists as Metz and Barthes14 has dis- closed the cleverness of the realist system, it has simultaneously pro- vided an impetus for both the critic and the filmmaker to go beyond realism.
This modernist ideal is in harmony with Gombrich's celebrated Art and Illusion. Plot in narrative is analogous to design in graphic art: The other elements in narrative, we believe, flesh out the plot, just as texture, color, and ornament op- erate on design.
Like designs, plots can be more or less intricate; they can be produced by continuous line, broken line, or successive ap- proximations. In the classic or as Barthes has called it, "readerly" narrative, action has been organized for a reader-viewer which places him or her just as definitely as perspectival painting situates its viewer in relation to a vanishing point. The scene is intelligible only through the complicity of the spectator, a task we take on every time we read a classic story or see a classically built film.
We exhaust such realist works once we have successfully identified what they are about, once we have, for example, arrived at the final clue which makes the entire detective plot clear to us. The solidity of such plotted films puts us at ease before the fictional world, but it greatly restricts the possibilities of art.
First of all, it as- sumes that every work wants to express precisely what it represents. This is why we find so many "still lifes" in painting, all of which may represent a bowl of fruit but each of which expressing a different mode of vision or feeling, a different way of painting. The narrative or the design in art ought really to be thought of as one element in a mobile system. Roland Barthes is the prophet of this view of artistic texts urging us to escape the trap of narrative, a trap that naturalizes conventions by re- lating the "view" of the story to views we have of the world at large in our non-literary experience.
He calls these aspects codes and he lobbies for a free interchange between codes instead of the domi- nance of one of them, narrative. This entry has no external links. Add one. Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver.
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