341 Week 5

December 14, 2010

In 1962, film critic Andrew Sarris espoused the auteur theory – that a film is the director’s personal creative vision or that the director is the author (auteur is French for author) of the film. As the original premise was stated in France, it was rather an indictment on American filmmaking and an apologia that dictated that American Film making was worth study and consideration. (Wollen) Early on in the annals of the auteur theory, it was concluded that “American Hitchcock” was not the equivalent of “English Hitchcock” since the studio driven, collaborative methodology of American cinema was not as conducive to the “personal creative vision” that characterized the European director. (Wollen)
Sarris contends that the director of a film – even if the film is a flop – must possess the technical competence as the first criterion of becoming the author of the film. The second premise is that the director must have a “distinguishable personality” as another criterion. (Sarris 451) In short, the director and his or her work must be recognizable as far as style, thematic content, visual treatment and an ability to make his presence known through a wide range of materials. The final aspect of defining an auteur is that the director and material must work towards resolving the interior meaning of the work or as Sarris proclaims “interior meaning is extrapolated from the tension between the director’s personality and his material.” (Sarris 453) Even when the director was under the studio system, his own creative authority would prevail according to Sarris’ retake on the French theory. The director’s personal stamp on the film that make it his own and is what attracts the audience.
Many times the director as auteur was limited by the studio system that prevailed in Hollywood throughout much of the twentieth century. Often it was difficult for the personal vision of the director to overcome the material he was presented to direct. For instance, Howard Hawks was noted for his heroic dramas and over-the-top comedies. (Jewell)
While these may seem as if there is no cohesion or vision in these seemingly dissimilar genres, the underlying vision promulgated by Hawks was a system of opposition between conflict, sexes and other opposites that created his vision for drama or comedy. (Wollen) Similarly, John Ford, despite restrictions of the studio system was considered an auteur in his films. Ford’s personal vision is between the “wilderness and the garden.” It also lies in the system of opposites – whether it is rich vs. poor, man vs. woman, European vs. Native American (The Searchers, Cheyenne Autumn) civilization vs. savagery – and to turn the expected outcomes over so that new truths are revealed. (Wollen) Film critics and others found that the auteur theory was an unnecessary and useless concept, however it has remained a viable theory when it comes to analyzing the personal influence that a director has on the outcome of a film.
Alfred Hitchcock was an archetypal auteur throughout his long and distinguished career. Just as Hawks and Ford were masters of transposing opposition, Hitchcock’s personal vision introduced chaos and disorder into the ordinary, or the mundane. As Peter Wollen suggests, the “spectator has to work at reading the text”. (Wollen) This means that the viewer must not only see what the director is showing on the surface but delve into the subtext to get a clear understanding of what is the director’s vision and personal point of view.
Hitchcock was always interested in the scholarly engagement of his work (Kolker 3). As such he was the perfect candidate for the critic’s auteur theory, that would study his work and take it seriously as a personal statement rather than mere popular entertainment.
A very telling exchange occurred between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock as part of a series of interviews conducted between them. Truffaut was one of the originators of the auteur theory and in Hitchcock, he essentially found his perfect exemplar as far as stylistic sensibilities, vision, recurring themes and film technique and capability.
In these interviews Truffaut was able to get Hitchcock to reveal much about the structure of his films, the love he held for the medium of film itself and of course his own love of order. Hitchcock remained cagy when revealing his own personal interpretations and feelings. However, in one exchange, Truffaut reveals an aspect of Hitchcock’s auteur-ship that is prevalent throughout his films. (Kolker)
Truffaut: …By depicting the isolated man who’s surrounded by all sorts of hostile elements and perhaps without even meaning to, you enter the realm of the dream world, which is also a world of solitude.

Hitchcock: That’s probably me, within myself. … I’m never satisfied with the ordinary, I’m ill at ease with it

Truffaut: … I believe you film emotions you feel very deeply – fear, for instance.

Hitchcock: I am full of fears and I do my best to avoid difficulties and any kind of complications.

(Kolker 5)

This in essence was the personal aesthetic vision of Alfred Hitchcock. His own love of orderliness however was confined behind the camera. Each shot was storyboarded and defined so that the cameraman knew exactly where to place the camera and the performers knew exactly what marks they had to hit. Hitchcock left nothing to chance in his planning process and that suited his own sense of order and perfectionism. (Kolker) While Hitchcock himself remained elusive in person, rarely revealing the depths of his vision, he nonetheless put all of his fears, doubts, and recurring themes on the screen. (Caugie)
Hitchcock’s vision plays itself out in several films – and did so twenty years before there was a name to auteur theory. Hitchcock does not provide clues or “red herrings” in his films, he goes straight for the jugular. The audience knows or suspects the identity of the killer or villain and can only watch in horror as the innocents in the films are confronted with evil and must courageously confront it. Hitchcock’s theme of an isolated man (or woman) confronting his or her own fears, and overcoming them, reflect his fears and his needs to confront and conquer them.
In his 1943 film Shadow of Doubt, Hitchcock plays with the audience’s suspicions and fears – reflecting his own abhorrence of disorder and chaos being introduced into life. The viewer knows at once this is a Hitchcock film since from the start, evil is introduced into the banal and changes the way the protagonist sees the world forever.
A bored young woman, Charlie wishes for excitement. It arrives in the shape of her Uncle Charlie, whom the audience has seen earlier in a seedy hotel being watched by two men. Uncle Charlie represents sophistication, intrigue and worldliness, which Charlie wants in her life. However as Hitchcock shows in some carefully small but pertinent actions, there is something amiss with Uncle Charlie. (Hitchcock, Shadow of Doubt)
Through his inimitable style, Hitchcock lets the spectator and Charlie discover that Uncle Charlie’s dark side is never far from the surface. Cutting remarks about widows, clenched hands, wrenching a wrist, cutting a clipping from a paper and angry outbursts make Charlie heed the warnings of the FBI agents that her uncle is the killer of several widows. All these actions are Hitchcock’s subtle and the suspense builds because the audience “knows who done it.” (Hitchcock, Shadow of Doubt)
Hitchcock’s dichotomy has Charlie caught between trying to protect the innocence of her family especially her mother and ridding the family of her uncle’s evil presence. His technique is to stylistically change the physical appearance of Charlie as she changes from a callow young girl wearing pastels and happily anticipating life to a strong determined woman (wearing black as she escorts her uncle to the train)who rids her family and her town of the evil that her uncle represents. (Hitchcock, Shadow of Doubt) Although no one else knows (except the detectives) of her uncle’s nefarious life and mourn his death, Charlie has restored order out of chaos by the film’s end. (Kolker)
One aspect of a Hitchcock film that is repeated throughout all his films is the link between sex and violence. While Hitchcock remains reticent about this link and even tells Truffaut that he never has erotic dreams. (Kolker 5) Yet somehow on the screen, these twin themes are inextricably linked until they culminate in Psycho. (Hitchcock, Psycho) There is an underlying sexual tension between Uncle Charlie and Charlie. It comes through when Uncle Charlie caresses his niece with a gift and the statement that they are the same person. If this is the case, then Uncle Charlie’s propensity for violence also belongs to Charlie. Hitchcock again plays with the dark side to a person and reveals his own fears of that dark side. (Hitchcock, Shadow of Doubt)
Hitchcock as auteur retains his personal vision and his unmistakable presence in films throughout the remainder of the 1940s and 1950s. Strangers on Train, Rear Window, Vertigo and many others bear his directorial stamp and style. Two films however, are excellent examples of Hitchcock’s development as far as the auteur theory is concerned North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960).
In North by Northwest, Hitchcock’s protagonist, Roger Thornhill is an isolated innocent man, caught up in circumstances and events that are beyond his control. He is hapless, helpless, and confounded as he is kidnapped, mistaken for a mysterious government agent/spy and betrayed by a beautiful woman. No one believes him, and when he tries to prove his story, he is framed for murder and pursued across country.
In his efforts to survive, he also discovers his own personal outrage and sense of justice. Summoning his courage, he faces those who have created the chaos in his life. He is an innocent, much like Charlie, who has to confront the real perpetrators of the crimes in order to save not only his own life but that of his love interest Eve Kendall. Not only has she betrayed him earlier, but has saved him as well, only adding to Thornhill’s confusion and sense of isolation.
Thornhill’s adversary, Philip Van Damme is smooth-talking, and highly intelligent. His face of evil, like that of Uncle Charlie is sophisticated, worldly and world weary. While his henchman is crude and angry, Again, Hitchcock uses violence and sex, subtly to advance the story and create a suspenseful bond between the audience and the subject. (Hitchcock, North By Northwest)
Hitchcock’s films are rife with paranoia that reflect his own inner fears yet again. He has little respect for authority figures or even parental ones. Charlie’s family may be loving, but in the face of Uncle Charlie’s evil, they are helpless and clueless. Thornhill’s mother never believes him and nearly gets him killed when she asks the killers if they want to kill her son. Her insouciant laugh reveals that she neither believes or supports her son in his attempts to find the truth. Like Charlie before him, Thornhill has to solve his own mystery, and reach his own conclusions; all the while knowing that Hitchcock has the audience squirming in their knowledge of what is just around the corner that will only cause him more difficulties. (Hitchcock, North By Northwest)
Still eminently recognizable as a Hitchcock film and what has come down as one of the scariest films of all time is 1960’s Psycho. Here Hitchcock as auteur turns his previous conventions all around and created a new suspense genre that not only covertly incorporates sex and violence in the stories but demonstrates it on the screen. (Thomson)
Psycho took the concept of voyeurism, as Hitchcock depicted it in Rear Window and sent it into overdrive. From the very name, it was evident that this film was going to be an over the top experience. The audience, as the voyeurs were going to see something that bordered on the psychotic, after all it was in the name. (Thomson) The film is divided into two stories, Marian’s and Norman’s. Hitchcock deliberately encourages the audience to believe that Marian’s theft of $40,000 is somehow going to be integral to the ‘psycho’ aspect of the film.
From the start, the audience is watching – as the lovers are forced to be together only during the lunch hour, and discover that Marian Crane is tired of her illicit affair with Sam Loomis. The sense of voyeurism is again repeated when Marian is undressing at the Bates Motel and Norman Bates is watching through the peephole. (Hitchcock, Psycho)
Marian Crane is the isolated woman in this film, however, her isolation is due to her own actions – both by having an illicit affair and by stealing her boss’s $40,000. Her reasons for both are murky. Unlike Roger Thornhill or Charlie Newton, Marian is an unsympathetic character as she drives her way to Sam in California. She is guilt ridden, self-obsessed and oblivious as to how she is being seen by others. When she is confronted by the suspicious policeman, her actions are nearly panicked and her abrupt behavior when exchanging her car cause suspicion in both the car dealer and cop. Her face is like a mask that hides her identity and her understanding. (Barthes)(Hitchcock, Psycho)
Marian is completely unaware of how she is being perceived until she is eating her sandwich at the Bates Motel. When talking about Norman’s mother, Marian realizes that she has gone a little mad and comes back to her senses. Hitchcock allows the audience to see that she is actually a nice person who has decided to return to Phoenix and make amends. For the first time in the film, there is audience sympathy for her.
Then with his first overt mixing of sex and violence, Hitchcock ends Marian’s story with a brutal attack in the infamous shower scene. He turns his fears of vulnerability in the bathroom (Kolker) up to a whole new level. The audience’s sympathy for the girl, which had just been building since she was deciding to make things right is turned to horror at the brutality of her death. It was even more unusual for the director to kill a major star in the first third of the film as he does Janet Leigh in the shower scene. Hitchcock’s reasoning was that it would make the killing more “unexpected”. (Kolker)
There are surprise twists at each turn in Psycho. Norman, that nice young man at the motel, has been a mass murderer for years. His deceased mother still lives on in a fashion – the ultimate authority figure in his life, and has taken Norman. The police (including the private detective) are ineffectual, until the sister and Sam Loomis confront and solve the mystery of all those disappearances. As Hitchcock told Truffaut “I was directing the viewers. You might say I was playing them, like an organ” (Kolker 16)
With Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock turned cinema onto a new and more dangerous path. As an auteur, he revealed in this film, that his personal vision of the darker side of human nature was ready to be revealed. Throughout his film career, Hitchcock provided audiences a glimpse into the deeper recesses of his own fears and questions. The film critics who created this theory, like Sarris, Jewell, Barthes and Truffaut, would be thrilled to know that over fifty year after the auteur theory was begun, Hitchcock’s personal vision, his thematic approach and his unique directorial style have stood the test of time.


341 Week 8 # 1

December 14, 2010

Peter Wollen would say that you have to separate John Ford the man and the John Ford the idea, defined by structural analysis. The beginning of The Searchers shows how the master antimony relates to semiotics. In the first scene of the film a women opens door of the cabin exposing the interior of the cabin to the exterior. Here idea of the interior vs. the exterior is the master antimony, but it’s also paradigmatic and syntagmatic because there is a conflict in the film between the exterior harsh environment and the safety of inside. This is a permutation of the ongoing theme of conflict between nature and civilization. Nature is inside and civilization is outside. These opening shots position the viewer within the confines civilization represented by the inside of the cabin. The women opening the door is really her exposing the audience to this larger cultural story of the settling of the west and the historical conflict between settlers and the natural environment. Later scenes represent the historical conflict between civilizations, more specifically between European immigrants and Native Americans that live in the west. This first scene is really just a sign that contains all this meaning in its cinematography. Metz would agree that it takes several sentences of verbal language to describe all this meaning found in the image. This meaning relates to an ongoing underlying theme that is more profound in terms of being culturally or historically significant than just a mere surface reading, which would simply explain the narrative: a women has opened a door and a figure is outside.
From the very beginning of the film the audience is confronted with this lone figure coming up riding out of the environment. Throughout the movie the main character is a symbol of the west, he literally emerges out of nowhere from the landscape. He is this American icon of masculinity. It is this person of the west the is both part of but not part of the family. He is really part of the landscape both literally, because that’s the way he is framed in the film, and figuratively because he represents the west. Here are all these signs that take so many verbal sentences to explain that summed up in seconds by the language of the film. There is this famous shot of them. Each person is a symbol of something and not just a character in a story. A purely Metz analysis would give you a syntagmatic interpretation referring to the characters and the stories. This would conclude that the story is about the family as a unit of civilization. The family under threat becomes one of the themes. This family unit is being established gradually against the elements. Geoffrey Hunter is a pivotal character- half European and half Native American. He is introduced in a similar but slightly different way from Ethan Edwards- He is framed from inside as coming out of the landscape, but the viewer will notice that there is less open space behind him because he is closer to civilization even though he is part of nature. He represents this compromise and this meeting of two cultures. Another subtle thing that Ford does is frame Ethan with Martha whenever he is in a two-shot. Everyone else is in a larger group. This signfies that he is too much a part of nature to be with her. In this way Ford uses constant visually interplay. They are visually framed differently, meaning different from the way the rest of the family is framed because there is something interesting about their relationship. Syntagmatic analysis of the characters and stories says they were in love, they didn’t get married, and he went off and fought in the war. The paradigmatic is what they represent. Martin was shot by himself outside on the porch. He is not part of the family but has been adopted by them because his family was killed but he is outside the family; this is what he and Ethan share. They are visually compared so that the ideas that they represent will be compared and you’ll be asked to contrast them as symbolic of something. In a reverse shot you see the family shot is really outside and isolated as the local posse is riding up. A paradigmatic analysis would notice when Ethan makes two biblical references: he says he didn’t turn his saber into any plow share and he is the prodigal son. These are paradigmatic notions, which refer to cultural codes. A lot of people are symbols rather than characters and this how one uses semiotics to analyze them in terms as of what their particular signs mean. Notice the color of the hat that Ethan wears. Normally the villain wears the black hat in the western. He is mixing the idea of the hero and the villain. Here the viewer uses codes, which are conventions that they learn over time, to interpret the sign that represents how Ethan is somewhere between a good guy and a bad guy. Ford is interested in this question of the hero and the villain. Ford presents the preacher who is also the law man, someone who lives by the bible and the gun. This relates the idea of settling the west through both cultures such as religion and law and order in a single figure. Another symbol- Martha and Debbie- are deliberately left in the distance. They represent civilization and stability and they are under threat, a threat which the men are riding off to go deal with. Wollen talks about this typical landscape that ford uses. This topography of the southwest dwarfs the people inhabiting it to illustrate how they are powerless against nature. It then becomes a struggle to develop or maintain some sort of stability of civilization or order amongst this empty space. A Syntagmatic analysis of famous shot in the desert, where Ethan is both figuring out what’s going on and thinking about the fact that Martha and the family is in danger, would interpret all the meaning that is summed up in this single image. There is no dialogue but there is more than enough meaning provided by the visual signification contained in this shot. This meaning through signification is all accumulated throughout the movie by the structuralist process of decoding. It is all a system of signification.


341 Week 8 #2

December 14, 2010

In his work, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, Peter Wollen examined three major ideas of film study- autheur, genre and semiotics and put them all together to find some common ground. His objective was to bridge the gap between contentious theories and to come up with a singular great theory of film from the ways his predecessors had been discussing it. He discusses, analyzes, compromises and combines the arguments of scholars including Levy Strauss, De Seusseur, Saris, Eisenstein.
Wollen doesn’t want to limit his theory of authorship to celebrating the director as auteur theory does. For him finding great directors and separating them from ones that are just mediocre is a process of decoding based in structuralism, that reveals a true cinematic artist in films that were not previously recognized as the work of an auteur. The whole idea is to find great directors in what appears to be just an anonymous cultural product, like a western. He does this first taking the auteur approach, which involves assuming that there is a director who acts as a guiding force. Then he takes a structural approach, which is based on the active interpretation of the viewer, and uses the framework of genre to define the work of the auteur. His theory states that the viewer finds the recurring patterns of story in their thematic oppositions (the idea of binaries taken from semiotics is the structuralist component). Wollen takes this further by identifying them across different films by that director (this is the auteur component) and finally within this larger structure of genre. By pulling all these things together, he is essentially unifying two very different theoretical approaches.
This hybrid theory of authorship is valuable because the viewer has to study each film individually, see them as part of an oeuvre, and also as a part of a culture. Wollen would argue that the auteur is someone who is not just a great artist but a product of their times. Auteur theory studies tend to focus on just one film or another film or one director versus another. Wollen says the viewer needs to examine a wider spectrum of meaning. He focuses on John Ford and Howard Hawks because they are two studio directors who work in various genres. He argues that regardless of the genre they worked in, they have an underlying structure, which can be analyzed in terms of binary oppositions or what he calls “master antinomies”. John Ford’s westerns are about the battle between nature and civilization and so are his combat films and melodramas. What differentiates one director from another is these deep-rooted structural binaries and how they are repeated across genres. This “auteur structuralism”, as Wollen called it, allows the audience or critic to look at these master antinomies, which reveals a whole other level of meaning apart from just the narrative. These are ideas that can only be understood on a profound structural level. Wollen examines how the patterns evolve over the course of a director’s career. It is these deep structures that mark a director. Hitchcock, for example, makes films with a story about a man being accused of a crime he didn’t commit, but Wollen sees this narrative pattern as uninteresting and superficial. What is interesting to Wollen is the deeper idea or theme, the question of guilt vs. innocence for example, that consistently underlies Hitchcock’s work: that is the master antimony. The plot device is a larger superficial component or a vehicle to convey the theme or idea of guilt vs. innocence, where no one is truly guilty and no one is truly innocent. It’s not the plot device but this deep structure that makes Hitchcock an auteur according to Wollen. An inferior Auteur is one whose films don’t really vary over time. They don’t examine this deep meaning and just keep making the same movie, with the same superficial narrative structure.
He tries to move away from the idea of the romantic artist that Saris postulates to an artist that is revealed in the process of decoding. He goes on to say that there should be a distinction between Hitchcock the individual and Hitchcock idea, the idea meaning the structure that we identify as characteristic of a Hitchcock film, whether the director was aware of all the elements of the structure or not. Thus Hitchcock is separate from “Htichcockian”, a term referring to the director using Wollen’s master antimonies and deep structural structural analysis.
Wollen would say that you have to separate John Ford the man and the John Ford the idea, defined by structural analysis. The beginning of The Searchers shows how the master antimony relates to semiotics. In the first scene of the film a women opens door of the cabin exposing the interior of the cabin to the exterior. Here idea of the interior vs. the exterior is the master antimony, but it’s also paradigmatic and syntagmatic because there is a conflict in the film between the exterior harsh environment and the safety of inside. This is a permutation of the ongoing theme of conflict between nature and civilization. Nature is inside and civilization is outside. These opening shots position the viewer within the confines civilization represented by the inside of the cabin. The women opening the door is really her exposing the audience to this larger cultural story of the settling of the west and the historical conflict between settlers and the natural environment. Later scenes represent the historical conflict between civilizations, more specifically between European immigrants and Native Americans that live in the west. This first scene is really just a sign that contains all this meaning in its cinematography. Metz would agree that it takes several sentences of verbal language to describe all this meaning found in the image. This meaning relates to an ongoing underlying theme that is more profound in terms of being culturally or historically significant than just a mere surface reading, which would simply explain the narrative: a women has opened a door and a figure is outside.
From the very beginning of the film the audience is confronted with this lone figure coming up riding out of the environment. Throughout the movie the main character is a symbol of the west, he literally emerges out of nowhere from the landscape. He is this American icon of masculinity. It is this person of the west the is both part of but not part of the family. He is really part of the landscape both literally, because that’s the way he is framed in the film, and figuratively because he represents the west. Here are all these signs that take so many verbal sentences to explain that summed up in seconds by the language of the film. There is this famous shot of them. Each person is a symbol of something and not just a character in a story. A purely Metz analysis would give you a syntagmatic interpretation referring to the characters and the stories. This would conclude that the story is about the family as a unit of civilization. The family under threat becomes one of the themes. This family unit is being established gradually against the elements. Geoffrey Hunter is a pivotal character- half European and half Native American. He is introduced in a similar but slightly different way from Ethan Edwards- He is framed from inside as coming out of the landscape, but the viewer will notice that there is less open space behind him because he is closer to civilization even though he is part of nature. He represents this compromise and this meeting of two cultures. Another subtle thing that Ford does is frame Ethan with Martha whenever he is in a two-shot. Everyone else is in a larger group. This signfies that he is too much a part of nature to be with her. In this way Ford uses constant visually interplay. They are visually framed differently, meaning different from the way the rest of the family is framed because there is something interesting about their relationship. Syntagmatic analysis of the characters and stories says they were in love, they didn’t get married, and he went off and fought in the war. The paradigmatic is what they represent. Martin was shot by himself outside on the porch. He is not part of the family but has been adopted by them because his family was killed but he is outside the family; this is what he and Ethan share. They are visually compared so that the ideas that they represent will be compared and you’ll be asked to contrast them as symbolic of something. In a reverse shot you see the family shot is really outside and isolated as the local posse is riding up. A paradigmatic analysis would notice when Ethan makes two biblical references: he says he didn’t turn his saber into any plow share and he is the prodigal son. These are paradigmatic notions, which refer to cultural codes. A lot of people are symbols rather than characters and this how one uses semiotics to analyze them in terms as of what their particular signs mean. Notice the color of the hat that Ethan wears. Normally the villain wears the black hat in the western. He is mixing the idea of the hero and the villain. Here the viewer uses codes, which are conventions that they learn over time, to interpret the sign that represents how Ethan is somewhere between a good guy and a bad guy. Ford is interested in this question of the hero and the villain. Ford presents the preacher who is also the law man, someone who lives by the bible and the gun. This relates the idea of settling the west through both cultures such as religion and law and order in a single figure. Another symbol- Martha and Debbie- are deliberately left in the distance. They represent civilization and stability and they are under threat, a threat which the men are riding off to go deal with. Wollen talks about this typical landscape that ford uses. This topography of the southwest dwarfs the people inhabiting it to illustrate how they are powerless against nature. It then becomes a struggle to develop or maintain some sort of stability of civilization or order amongst this empty space. A Syntagmatic analysis of famous shot in the desert, where Ethan is both figuring out what’s going on and thinking about the fact that Martha and the family is in danger, would interpret all the meaning that is summed up in this single image. There is no dialogue but there is more than enough meaning provided by the visual signification contained in this shot. This meaning through signification is all accumulated throughout the movie by the structuralist process of decoding. It is all a system of signification.


341 Week 9 #1

December 13, 2010

Robin Wood’s theory of repression from “An Introduction to the American Horror Film” seems to be rooted in Freudian ideas of psychoanalysis. Freud believed that Western society had too much surplus repression and because of this it was beginning to self-destruct and cause problems. He warned that this repression was becoming mass scale and would cause society to rip apart at the seams unless it was dealt with. Repression is internalized to learn to act a certain way to appease the forces of society and will inevitably wind up being channeled in different ways. Wood says that anything that can no longer be repressed ends up being projected in some other way and become oppressed.
The principle of surplus repression deals with sexuality. There are four aspects of sexuality that get repressed: sexuality in general, bisexuality, homosexuality, and child sexuality. These things get repressed in society because they pose a challenge to the social structure of a patriarchy. Patriarchal ideology would argue that the only purpose of sex is to procreate and the only acceptable method for procreation is monogamy. Freud said the libido is a form of energy, a force that is essentially creating all the surplus repression. This energy is channeled into other more productive things for life to run smoothly in Western culture. It was understood that the most productive way to channel your excess energy was to work. This is one reason why Western culture places so much value on work. This gives some insight as to why people Western society are workaholics: there are probably other issues that are beneath the surface causing these people to drown there repressions in work related gratificaiton. Western society dictates that the ideal person under a social system is a person who can channel sexually based energy into activities that produce a social good. The libido is usually creative so this type work is more creative than anything else. Bisexuality refutes the idea of only having sex for the purpose of procreation; it refutes the idea of the soulmate. If it was acceptable in society to sleep with anyone anytime, it would goes contradict what society says is moral. Homosexuality often involves oppression by a homosexually repressed society because these individuals are actively discriminated against. With homosexuality, sex is obviously not for procreation but for personal gratification shared between two people. Feminine sexuality gets repressed and as a result so do feminine creativity and independence. This type of sexuality is seen as most threatening in Western culture, as evidenced in the female gender roles portrayed in film noir. The women who is sexual and assertive gets punished in a very overly determined way. Feminine sexuality is repressed to ensure that women won’t challenge the patriarchal social structure of the Western world. Child sexuality is repressed because children are supposed to be innocent. However, Freud augments this by saying: children become aware of sexuality when they are about five, and people have never been able to accept that idea because of their firm belief that children are supposed to be innocent. These ideas about sexuality are all associated with surplus repression because how they are represented has nothing to do with life or death, but instead with how society is organized according to Western cultural values. Wood believes that Horror films are not really about life and death or violence but about the repression of these aspects of sexuality. They are almost always about gender and sexuality on some level.
Repression can’t make things go away, it can only make them highly unconscious. As Freud said, they have to be released projected in some way. Because the libido is creative they are projected in cultural products through symbols. These cultural products, such as horror films, contain suppressed issues that our collective society cannot deal and these issues are projected outward in a symbolic form. This is what is called the “other”. The other provides a way for society to release all the problems that it can’t deal with. Wood agrees with Freud that the other is inseparable from the concept of repression. Sexual problems are projected on other people, specific people, people who represent something other than ourselves. Wood uses the example of the Puritans to illustrate repression in Western society. Puritans have a rigidly structured society that is extremely egalitarian but also patriarchal. They don’t believe in sexuality in any form, including singing and dancing, or any kind of pleasure. The Native Americans the they encountered were a more sexually liberated people, who were free to sing and dance and wear revealing tribal regalia in hot weather. Puritans can’t deal with there own issues so they are dressed head to toe in heavy clothing. Instead of trying to get along with the Native Americans and understand them, they condemned them as savages, children, or of the devil, and persecuted them because of their fear of what they themselves repressed. Every problem that they had, they projected onto the Native American. They defended their beliefs with the ethnocentric rational that god had sent the Native Americans to test the puritans, and since they had failed the test, the only way to pass the test was to shoot and kill them off. In this example the Native American take on the role of the other. In a way the Puritans saw them as the first horror film subjects, the first horrific character. Killing that group was a way to get rid of their own problems. Repression creates the other and sees the other as an expression of their own problems. There is almost always a sexual component to that. The puritans saw the NA as an extension of themselves, as if they only existed in the perception of a puritan mind. Concurrently, Native Americans are argued to be the first monster of American literature. In horror films the repression is redirected toward the other and other is a monster or a killer. The monster is the return of the repressed in symbolic form. That which people can’t deal with inevitably returns as a symbol, and that’s what Wood says the monster is. Typically, the monster has some relation to the society but usually has some foreign elements. There are 8 primary others in horror films: 1. Anyone who is foreign to us: so in the context of American society, for example, the other might be represented symbolically as communists like in The invasion of the body snatchers. This is really a science fiction film but it has horrific elements that are metaphorically communist. 2. Women: in a patriarchal society men project onto women their own insecurities and anxiety, especially their own fears about masculinity. This might explain why in so many horror films, the sexually empowered female who is not a virgin has to die. Woods talk about the idea of “the final female”, which is the last female standing at the end of the horror film. She represents female strength and independence that is not supposed to be feared but supposed to be embraced by society 3. Poor people: If a society is predominately controlled by the elite who have wealth and power, that society will suppress the people in the lower classes to keep them from subverting the status quo. There are class elements represented symbolically in the Texas Chainsaw Masacre by portraying lower class people, who lost their jobs, killing people with chainsaws. That’s why in a lot of horror films it turns out that the slasher is the janitor. 4. Other cultures or foreigners 5. Ethnic groups within a culture. 6. Alternative ideologies. 7. Sexual deviance: homophobia is always an example of a clash with ‘otherness’. The people who are most homophobic are the ones who might be homophobic are the ones who can’t handle it in themselves. They project it on other people. Horror films are about what we are afraid of as a society and what we can’t collectively deal with. The monster is a symbol of the repressed, or the other. Wood famously states that, “The true subject of the horror film is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses. It’s reemergence dramatized, as in nightmares, as an object of horror, a matter of terror”
Wood says that the other is an extension of the self, of the society, it is not something that comes from outside. What we can see is that horror films, which had been accused of scaring people into accepting things the way they are should really be validated for trying to criticize society. When viewing horror film the audience must take into account what is supposed to be normal in society, what is the monster depicted in the film. Only then can the audience analyze what the relationship is between what’s considered normal and what’s considered monstrous in society.
Wood examines the recurring themes of 1960s 1970s horror. The first theme he notes is how the monster is depicted as a human psychotic, like Normal Bates in Psycho, or Mike Myers in Halloween. The next theme involves the revenge of nature. Satanism or the devil child was another popular theme, as seen in The Exorcist. Cannibalism was a popular theme tackled by zombie films like Night of the Living Dead. In these recurring themes there is a common thread which is usually the threat to the family. The family is sacred and good. The other is the accidental importation of a foreign element into a good American family. The Omen is good example of this. The film seems to be about the end of the world because it’s about the antichrist but it’s about the end of the patriarchal family. The Omen is what Wood would call a conservative horror film because the things that are threatened are the institutions of society, including the state the government, the family, and the church. Most horror films are very ambivalent. They can be critical of society or they can be in support of society, but they always see things as falling apart on some level, just like Freud did when he wrote about surplus repression. The Omen might be about the threat to these values but the viewer gets a sense of vicarious pleasure from ambivalently watching them get destroyed. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead are what Wood would classify as liberal progressive horror films because they question the foundation of society and portray society as disintegrating under the weight of surplus repression. Horror films can be the most critical about problems in society and most effective in pointing out the problems with the way society is structured.


341 Week 9 #2

December 13, 2010

Metz is interested in the idea of the imaginary and the notion of infantile narcissism. He explores why watching movies allows us to regress to an early stage of psychological development. This is his attempt to explain why film as a medium works so well for us. Why is it so fascinating to us; it addresses us on the level of before we became adults with all of out problems and issues. The idea of the imaginary, as Lican means it, and as Metz is referring to it, means something that is part of the psychological process of development that deals with things like maturity, growth, and symbolism. Not imaginary in the sense that Vampires are imaginary beings. Vampires work in the imaginary because they symbolize a dangerous sexuality. The imaginary and the symbolic are stages that everyone goes through; they are universal. That’s how you get a sense of yourself. Metz starts out by saying there are two machines within the cinema: the industry (putting the film together), which he doesn’t care about and then there’s the spectators mind and subjectivity. He is only interested in perception; he doesn’t really care about genre or auteur or anything like that. Film is experienced by us to fill a lack, so we keep going back to see the same kinds of movies. It’s getting to things that are hard to articulate like the things in our subconscious. Metz says that film is able to give us this sense of fullness more than any other art form because it appeals to all of your sense; it gives you sounds vision space and time. It gives you a fully visualized world, but instead of sitting in the theatre watching concrete human beings, you are a concrete physical human being watching something that doesn’t really exist. You are watching a reproduction of other human beings. It doesn’t unfold before us. The film before us is a retrospective record or reflection of the world. It is an art form that feels real based something that isn’t really there. The physical object is the signifier and the idea it represents is the signified. The abstract idea behind the signified is the signifier. What Metz says is that signifier is imaginary; it does not exist but we perceive it like it does. We imagine that it is there in the sense of the imaginary. The signifier, the thing that appears to be physical and generate all the meaning appears to be there but it is absent it is in your imagination and in the imaginary that lies in you subconscious. It is in that part of you that was formed when you were an infant. It is compelling because it is a reflection of the development of yourself. When you are looking in a mirror what see isn’t real but you perceive it as real. You perceive it as a reflection of the world that is accurate, when it is not and you perceive that there is a physical element to it that doesn’t exitst. Metz contends that film does that same thing; it’s like looking in the mirror. You understand it as if you were a child. That’s why it’s so compelling and why it fills a sense of lack. It doesn’t even matter what the content/comment/meaning of the film really is. It’s all about the experience of film. This is a departure from people like Bazin, because the idea here is that film is compelling because it mimics how we develop our own subjectivity. It addresses us in a subjective manner. It’s this contradiction that defines what film is. It’s this absence that feels like presence. Metz would argue that it doesn’t matter if film respects an object in the real world because it’s not there no matter what the object is.
Metz is arguing something that echoes Lican’s idea- that film mimics psychological development. The plot of film echoes how we grow as human beings. The classical narrative makes the film very compelling but that violates the idea that content doesn’t matter. The film has a normal state, then a crisis, and a resolution that brings the film back to normal. This is what the infant does when confronted by an issue that it can’t solve, like when a baby feel fine, then gets hungry, then gets fed and returns to a normal state. There is a need for a romantic subplot in movies because it mimics the Oedipal formation of the love triangle between the mom, dad, and baby. He then says cinema works in fours upon your subconscious. These are the processes by which subjectivity is built: identification (seeing youself as related to the camera and the characters on screen), voyeurism, narcissism (inflated sense of self that you get from seeing a better version of yourself portrayed on screen- confirming your awesomeness) , and disavowism/voyeurism (getting exciting sexually by viewing people form a distance). All reality TV is based on voyeurism or exhibitionism (somebody knows they’re being watched and performs for their pleasure). Hitchcock obsessively investigates the idea of voyeurism- mostly to make you feel bad about it. In Psycho we spend so much time looking at Marion Crane thinking she’s so beautiful and desirable and then Norman takes this position of narcissism and identification (you’re supposed to identify with him) and then he kills her. Hithcock is trying to confront you with you own objectification of other people; his point is that it leads to violence.
Metz is most concerned with identification and narcissism. He says it’s tempting to look at these experiences of watching films as repeating the mirror stage, but it’s more complex. It’s based upon how the mirror stage works but there are other elements to it: there is no body image at all- when you look in the mirror you could touch yourself to verify it. If you look in the mirror and your hair is out of place, you could go and fix your hair. So there is a component where you can touch what’s there; you can’t touch what’s in the movies. You can’t touch what’s in the film to adjust or fix something. You can see an imperfection and you might want to adjust something but you can’t. The people on the screen are not looking back at you. In Annie Hall, when Woody Allen is addressing you directly, it’s really just an illusion. He isn’t looking at you. In order to understand how movies work you have to have had gone through all of these stages of psychological development. You have to know the rules and laws of society and be familiar with the symbolism. The spectator identifies in looking at the screen with looking at themselves not by identifying with the people in the movie. What you see on the screen really a reflection of yourself. You identify with this active perception, this active creation of subjectivity. That’s the power of the imaginary signifier. It can be anybody doing anything and you identify with it as an extension of youself and your subconscious and desires; not an extension of them. He reaches this conclusion: the spectator in the theatre knows that what they’re seeing is imaginary regardless of what’s happening on the screen, it doesn’t pose a direct threat to them; they may want to experience certain elements of it (excitement, happiness, danger, laughter) but they are aware that they are outside or the film. In other words you are aware that you are a voyeur. A the same time, the spectator knows that the films don’t exist by looking at them. There’s two aspects to the sense of subjectivity: being a voyeur and knowing that it’s all a matter of perception. This dual aspect, this knowledge that you have in the sense of subjectivity allows you to identify not with what you see but with your experience of watching the film. The experience is so appealing or compelling because you identify with the process of watching the movie, that is with your own act of perception, not with what you’re seeing. This confirms that you are subjective and have subjectivity.
For Metz the second part of this idea is that you don’t identify with the characters, you identify with is the camera itself. The camera looks at something and records it passively. The camera lens acts in the way that painting works through perspective. You have a sense of being subjective in an active and passive way at the same time. You are looking which is active but you are recording which is passive. You are both active and passive when you watch a movie. Both confirm your subjectivity. It temporarily gives us a fulfillment of lack because there is this process that is both active and passive. In order to get that fulfillment of lack, you have to misunderstand the way things are. You feel like you are both active and passive but that’s only because it’s all imaginary, meaning it’s all an illusion. In this experience your subconscious mind deluding you. So, for Metz, film depends upon an act of radical delusion.
The film has to be perceived. It is entirely subjective which is why two people can see the same movie and have different ideas about it. The reason it appeals to people is because it is entirely subjective. Metz says the theatre is objective and the film is subjective. He contrasts film and theatre a lot because he thinks theatre is the closest reference point. He argues that the theatre is objective because the play will go on with or without you. The performers perform it the same way each night. The film as an art will only exists when you are watching it because when it is put together it is how you see it. There is always going to an objective component to theatre because it exists in a physical space whereas film is an illusion. There is going to be a perceptual component to film, because as Metz says it’s being assembled in the mind of the viewer. Metz talks about the idea of the universal mind, which states that if the creator can perceive something then it really exists. The physical film exists but the film as an art form only exists in your mind; it needs to be perceived to have meaning.
One of the things that they didn’t do in naturalist theatre, which was governed by time restraints, that they did with film with film was to have two things happening at the same time. This was called the “meanwhile back at the ranch”. The Great Train Robbery for example, cuts back and forth between the outlaws who are robbing the train, and the police tracking them down. The viewer knows that the two events are happening at the same time and the viewer never gets confused; Munsterberg would say that the film is manipulating two different spaces and times and the theatre couldn’t do that. In Munsterberg’s view, theatre has to stay as true to the conventions of our day to day experience of reality as possible. Because of that, he says the mind doesn’t perceive theatre and film the same way, even if the story is identical. Theatre is like the real world in how it treats space and time and film is not, so film doesn’t have to deal in realism. Arnheim and Munsterberg both agree that because of film’s ability to stray from realism and experiment with different styles, it can be elevated to a higher art form, separate from theatre. In dealing with reality in a way that theatre does not, film as an art form appeals to different kind of perception than theatre does. So there is a dynamic between realism as a strategy or style, and realistic as perceived by the viewer. Realism allows special effects in films to makes sense, or feel real or believable in terms of telling the story, no matter how fantastic they may be. Perception, which allows this all to happen, is accentuated by three specific principles: attention, imagination, and emotion.
When Munsterberg talks about attention, he’s referring to something like the close-up, how film can focus your attention on an object that has no meaning by itself, has meaning in the context of the film. The mind then makes sense of this object in light of all the other information it has received before and after. A close-up of a gun means nothing in and of itself, but takes on special meaning when the rest of the film is taken into consideration. Munsterberg say the close-up sums up how we perceive film; it focuses you attention on a detail, that requires your mind to be active in order for that detail to be recognized as significant. Film is compelling to us because it works the way your brain works in terms of sorting all information that we perceive. So framing and close-ups and other camera techniques, mirror the way our brains, make connections, sort things out, edit out what details are not important, and make sense of the world.
Imagination refers to a process by which we understand moving around in space and time. This idea relates to the unrealistic devices that films use, like dissolves, superimpositions, split screens, dream sequences etc. Memory and imagination are what allow us to keep our understanding of meaning from one shot to the next because meaning accumulates as you watch the movie. You memory retains the information that came before a shot and your imagination allows you to put these things together as you get more information.
For Munsterberg emotion is the end result of perception, meaning it follows attention, memory, and imagination. Film activates you emotions in a way that theatre cannot, because the objective is illustrating and directing emotion. Film allows us to access to this intense emotion that we are not always cognizant of, by tapping into your subconscious. Munsterberg says that films are more like dreams than any other art form in the sense that dreams are also expressions of the subconscious mind. As a psychologist, Munsterberg believes that it is because of these elements of perception that makes film so appealing to people. A film can be completely unrelated to reality and still elicit a response from the viewer. An animated film like Spirited Away the viewer is not responding emotionally to something that exists in a physical reality, they are responding to light being projected through and image on celluloid. The film, the art form the elicits a response from the viewer only exists is created in the viewers mind. The film as an art form relates to us through the way we understand the world, because it is created and understood through the innate processes in our minds. Munsterberg made it acceptable to study and theorize film according to a set of criteria unique to film itself, without relating it to other arts. Also he first proposed that notion that it is perception, how we perceive film differently, that makes film interesting. Finally, he emphasized that this film was worthy of study as a high art form simply because people liked it due to how it spoke to them on a subconscious subjective level.


341 Week 10 #1

December 13, 2010

The first film theories we looked at were those of Arnhemin and Munsterburg. Their film theroies focused on perception in terms of either cognitive or gestault psychology. They said movies speak to desires because they are like dreams. Freud says dreams have two kinds of content, that which manifests and the latent. He said dreams have a surface meaning and a hidden meaning. Saying a film is a lot like a dream doesn’t really explain much about film and most you don’t even usually remember your dreams nearly as well as you remember films that resonate with you. After initial attempts to apply psychology to film, it was dropped for a long time. It comes back in the 60s after semiotics doesn’t appear to explain things as thoroughly and absolutely as scholars like Jean-Baudry would like. Baudry, another writer for Cahier du Cinema, developed a psycholanalytic approach to film called Apparatus Theory. What Baudry is trying to do is merge cognitive psychology with ideology and look at how cinema conveys ideological messages regardless of text and narrative. He wanted to move away from studying film in terms of genre and auteur theory.
To do this he examines renaissance painting, which involved a change in the way images were conveyed and received. Before the development of renaissance painting, which incorporated the vanishing point, perspective, and three dimensional composition, the stories were always religious in nature. The content began to become more reflective of peoples lives rather than just depicting scenes from the bible. Renaissance painting not only changed the way the image looks, but it changed the stories it what kind of stories it tell. With renaissance painting came the introduction of realism which utilized three dimensional space. By this point there was a greater emphasis on the individual artist who put their signature on their work. Their personal style became important and started to distinguish one artist from the next. Before Renaissance painting there were different schools that taught artists to paint using the style of that particular school. These changes in the world of art were all cultural reflections of the growing power of the merchant class. This rising middle class, so to speak, needed an artform that represented their perception of the world and the stories they were interested in. The new ideology of this emerging class of people was individualism and with that individual rights. The component of renaissance painting that was most influencial Baudry in his examination is perpective, meaning reflecting the space of the real world. Perspective works because there is a vanishing point. The process relies on there being a space outside the painting that mirrors what’s inside the painting in terms of perception of space. This gives the spectator of the work an understanding of everything, or what Baudry calls omnipotence, or a godlike all-knowingness. This school of thought was rooted in the renaissance painting ideology of individualism, and therefore complemented Baudry’s idea of perception, which makes the viewer out to be like God. When you’re watching a film you know more about all the characters than they do; you see all and know all that happens in the diegetic world giving you a godlike inflated sense of self.
The camera is even better than a painting at capturing an image and reinforcing the idea of an outside vanishing point, which reflects the individual’s perception. Like painting, film creates a two dimensional image that the viewer perceives as having three dimensions. Boudry says this makes the spectator feel like they’re in control of what they are viewing. They get the sense that they are in control of knowledge, and therefore in control of the meaning of the film. They are active in terms of analyzing and determining character psychology, narrative, and ideology. The viewer is in a fixed position relative to the vanishing point, the same fixed position they would be in if they were viewing a painting in a museum. Here viewer acts as one vanishing point in the world outside the painting and stares at the other vanishing point inside the world of the painting.
The spectator doesn’t see the film as a series of images spliced together but rather as a refection of reality because of the reproduction of the spatial relationships like Bazin said and also because of our processes of receiving reality like Munsterburg said. Baudry is trying to combine and compare the ideas of those two scholars. Baudry says that just as the spectator doesn’t see recognize the process of editing the film together, they don’t notice that there’s an ideological process at work. This makes the spectator feel like they are all knowing and reinforces their subjectivity which is in agreement with what Metz theorized. Just like the experience of viewing a painting is mostly mental, viewing the film abstracts the viewer from their body. When you’re in the theatre an absorbed in the movie you tend to lose body consciousness; the activity of viewing the film becomes all about your brain and mental perception and leaves out your body. One argument about horror films is that they remind you that you have a body because makes you feel anxious and give you a somatic response. There is a deeper metaphysical concept at work here. In a sense the viewer is able to go beyond the limitations of the body, whereas God has always been the only being ever known to transcend the physical form. This produces a subjectivity that is not just your view of society or the world, but a transcendental subjectivity that gives you a sense of being all knowing and all seeing. After all in western culture there are only two transcendental figures: Jesus and Mary. Baudry concludes that this god-like omnipotence that you feel is not actually real; this is a subjectivity that’s based on misunderstanding the world. According to Baudry, Subjectivity is not a function of your mind, but a function of the apparatus: the camera, the projector, and the mechanism of light, in other words the machines of the filmmaking process. This sense of subjectivity that you have, the transcendental sense of omnipotence, is a misunderstanding of what’s really going on; your brain thinks it can transcend the body, but this is just an illusion created by the machanics involved in making the film. The cinematic apparatus makes us think subjectivity is something we produce in our minds when it’s actually produced by the way the film is constructed. The film simultaneously encourages us to believe the opposite is true, so we perceive things incorrectly. Baudry famously says “the spectator is an effect of the text.” He says that we think we are the creators of meaning, when in fact, the film literally creates us. The apparatus creates a kind of Interpolation, a deception that makes you think you’re the source of meaning when in fact you are surrounded by things that produce you as the subject.
Baudry said that spectators in a movie theatre are watching a screen just as the people in Plato’s cave story are. The shadowy portrayal of the world is limited in that it is just an ideological illusion of reality. The prisoners in the cave see a shadowy portrayal of the world that seems real because it’s all they know. For Baudry, Plato’s story is about enlightenment and gaining more knowledge beyond our subject perceptions about how the world really is. Because of their subjective perceptions spectators get an impression of reality that is like a dream state. Baudry says that in Platos story, the freed prisoner goes back into the cave to denounce the system that has kept them all imprisoned. Baudry says this system is the apparatus. When Plato talks about the apparatus, he means the ideological structure of society. Baudry relates this to the apparatus in the cinema, which is the system that functions to produce that subjective perception on a screen. The subjective reality that is produced will exist regarless of what the story is. In cinema the apparatus is a total system that includes the film, the camera, the projector, the screen, the spectator, and the film industry. Baudry is concerned with how this subjectivity is controlled by the ideology of society. Baudry uses Plato’s cave story to illustrate how the ideology of the apparatus is so fixed. He notes how the prisoners choose to stay in their prison because the false reality that they are used to speaks to the unconscious and satisfies their desires more fully than the real wold does. This apparatus is so compelling because it speaks to your subconscious. It’s away to escape reality but you’re only escaping into an ideological illusion of reality.
Baudry is Merging the philosophy of Plato with the psychoanalysis of Freud and adding ideological criticism to create an all inclusive theory that serves to explain why film is so compelling and also why it’s also ideological. He say the reason we don’t see it as ideological is because it speaks to us on a subconscious level. The apparatus addresses your subconscious and that’s why the process is so all encompassing. By using Plato’s idea about the shadows being projected in the cave as evidence, Baudry also agrees with Bazin about how film fulfills a centuries old desire to reproduce reality (albeit dictated by social ideology) as closely as possible. But Baudry say that the illusion in a cave is a way to speak to our subconscious needs and desires; this is compelling because the impression of reality that it gives is more real than real because it’s ideological.
This apparatus conception also confirms what Metz refers to as a regression to infantile narcissism, which is based on Freudian concepts. Freud says that when you dream (which is similar to the effect of watching films) your mind retreats to an earlier infantile stage of development. In this stage the mind has a difficult time distinguishing reality from perception. In this state of infantile narcissism subjectivity excludes reality and the infant may misperceives dreams as reality. Here there is no difference between the self and perception and the infant mind things it’s perceptions are real. This stage narcissism was a time when we were whole and most satisfied because we didn’t see any difference between ourselves and the real world. This explains why a regression to this stage is so appealing. Baudry says that the impression of reality given by films is similar to this impression of reality given by dreams at this early developmental stage of perception. Films, like dreams, allow the unconscious parts of our minds to enter the conscious parts; this is essentially the return of the repressed.


341 Week 2

December 13, 2010

The film has to be perceived. It is entirely subjective which is why two people can see the same movie and have different ideas about it. The reason it appeals to people is because it is entirely subjective. He says the theatre is objective and the film is subjective. He contrasts film and theatre a lot because it is the closest reference point. The theatre is objective because he play will go on without you or not. The performers perform it the same way each night. The film as an art will only exists when you are watching it because when it is put together it isn’t how you see it. There is always going to an objective component to theatre because it exists in a physical space whereas film is an illusion. There is going to be a perceptual component to film, it’s being assembled in the mind of the viewer. The idea of the universal mind; if the Creator can perceive something then this proves that it really exists. The physical film exists but the film as an art form only exists in your mind; it needs to be perceived to have meaning. One of the things that they didn’t do in naturalist theatre which was governed by time restraints that they did with film with film was to have two things happening at the same time. This was called ’the meanwhile back at the ranch”. The Great Train Robbery for example, goes cuts back and forth between the outlaws who are robbing the train, and the police tracking them down. The viewer knows that the two events are happening at the same time and the viewer never gets confused; Munsterberg would say that the film is manipulating two different spaces and times and the theatre couldn’t do that. Theatre has to stay as true to life as possible with concerns toward to our day to day experiences. In Munsterberg’s view, theatre has to stay as true to the conventions of our day to day experience of reality as possible. Because of that, he says the mind doesn’t perceive theatre and film the same way, even if the story is identical. Theatre is like the real world in how it treats space and time and film is not, so film doesn’t have to deal in realism. Arnheim and Munsterber both agree that because of film’s ability to stray from realism and experiment with different styles, it can be elevated to a higher art form, separate from theatre. In dealing with reality in a way that theatre does not, film as an artform appeals to different kind of perception than theatre does. So there is a dynamic between realism as a strategy or style, and realistic as perceived by the viewer. Realism allows special effects in films to makes sense, or feel real or believable in terms of telling the story, no matter how fantastic they may be. Perception, which allows this all to happen, is accentuated by three specific principles: attention, imagination, and emotion.
When Munsterberg talks about attention, he’s referring to something like the close-up, how film can focus your attention on an object that has no meaning by itself, has meaning in the context of the film. The mind then makes sense of this object in light of all the other information it has received before and after. A close-up of a gun means nothing in and of itself, but takes on special meaning when the rest of the film is taken into consideration. Munsterberg say the close-up sums up how we perceive film; it focuses you attention on a detail, that requires your mind to be active in order for that detail to be recognized as significant. Film is compelling to us because it works the way your brain works in terms of sorting all information that we perceive. So framing and close-ups and other camera techniques, mirror the way our brains, make connections, sort things out, edit out what details are not important, and make sense of the world.
Imagination refer to a process by which we understand moving around in space and time. This idea relates to the unrealistic devices that films use, like dissolves, superimpositions, split screens, dream sequences etc. Memory and imagination are what allow us to keep our understanding of meaning from one shot to the next because meaning accumulates as you watch the movie. You memory retains the information that came before a shot and your imagination allows you to put these things together as you get more information.
For Munsterberg emotion is the end result of perception, meaning it follows attention, memory, and imagination. Film activates you emotions in a way that theatre cannot, because the objective is illustrating and directing emotion. Film allows us to access to this intense emotion that we are not always cognizant of, by tapping into your subconscious. Munsterberg says that films are more like dreams than any other art form in the sense that dreams are also expressions of the subconscious mind. As a psychologist, Munsterberg believes that it is because of these elements of perception that makes film so appealing to people. A film can be completely unrelated to reality and still elicit a response from the viewer. An animated film like Spirited Away the viewer is not responding emotionally to something that exists in a physical reality, they are responding to light being projected through and image on celluloid. The film, the art form the elicits a response from the viewer only exists is created in the viewers mind. The film as an art form relates to us through the way we understand the world, because it is created and understood through the innate processes in our minds. Munsterberg made it acceptable to study and theorizxe film according to a set of criteria unique to film itself, without relating it to other arts. Also he first proposed that notion that it is perception, how we perceive film differently, that makes film interesting. Finally, he emphasized that this film was worthy of study as a high art form simply because people liked it due to how it spoke to them on a subconscious subjective level.
Arnheim is often compared to Munsterberg because of consistencies in there approach to film theory. Like Musterberg he was a perceptual psychologist and a gestault psychologist. His specialty was the study of visual perception. The main the idea of gestault psychology is making sense of the world by perceiving things as sums of their parts. Arnheim took the idea of perception and applied it to the study of art, or more specifically how do people perceive art. Arnheim doesn’t particularly like realism because to his German tradition. He examine how this perception of art or film as an active process because your mind has to put different concepts together and compare them. Arnheim as an art historian also looked at the idea of perspective and vanishing points. In film, as in all arts that use this idea of perspective there is an illusion. So in film, your brain receives a visual image and instead of seeing it exactly the way it’s layed out in (as a two dimensional image), it understands depth.
Whereas Munsterburg didn’t care about the artist (or the content or ideology) Arnheim did, and he really like Chaplin, which is odd because Arnheim didn’t like realism and Chaplin’s movies are very realistic. Arnheim wrote Film is Art in 1931, when the first German sound films were coming out. Arnheim believed these films were compromised visually because of the limitations of sound. He saw sound and color as obstacles to making creative films, because according to him, what made films great were their use of space and time and their visual nature (as opposed to theatre). Sound films bound filmmakers to the dialogue and the action instead of conveying information visually. He didn’t like how the plot and the dialogue made the visuals and the style secondary. He also opposed how sound made filmmakers obligated to reproduce reality more exactly or more like the theatre, which relies on dialogue to drive the action. Arheim celebrates the things about film that are criticized by others for making film less realistic; reproducing reality was something film was incapable of and trying to do so would degrade film as an art form. Arnheim thought that filmmakers should move away from realism as a style by emphasizing the qualities of film that make it less real, and try to use them creatively. These qualities that made film unique are the things that make film unrealistic; He lists seven of these. Projection is the illusion of depth, but if film is committed to reality it is not concerned about the illusion of depth that it is creating. It projects a 2 dimensional image onto a screen to make 3 dimensions. Arheim would say that the filmmaker should emphasize this illusion instead of trying to reproduce this real 3 dimensional space. Whereas the use of sound restricted the framing of space, Arnheim thought space should be used creatively by varying the depth and distance of shot. He thought filmmakers should emphasize the ability to manipulate lighting. He preferred the absence of color because, since the world is in color, black and white made the film an unrealistic form. He thought the manipulation of time, through creative editing, should be emphasized, because the idea of playing with space and time is unique to film. He believed in the reliance on vision with the exclusion of the other senses. Films should visual more than sonic and get back to an emphasis on visual composition. For Arnheim, framing is key, because this device organizes all of the visual information, and manipulates time and space. As a gestaul psychologist, Arnheim is concerned about the way you mind puts together all of the visual information. These are the things that make a film an art form, because it is not the film’s ability to reflect the world and reproduce reality, but to heighten our experience of reality by not being bound to reality. This gives you more intense emotions that are based in your experiences, by producing artistically heightened versions of that reality. Arnheim believed that film as an art form needed to be more of a comment on reality. He said it should be an interpretation of reality, and not a reproduction of it, that gives you some insight about real life. Arnheim identifies a paradox: by being unrealist, films more accurately speak to our experiences and perceptions.
Arnheim is reacting to Munsterberg’s theories and developing a theory based on what he liked about Munsterberg’s ideas. Munsterberg’s theory is a little more radical because his approach is more objective in trying to figure out why film is different and how people perceive it. He says that everything about film is subjective and it’s not connected to the world in any meaningful way. Arnheim says that the viewer creates the film in their mind as reflection of what exists in the real world; this is why we will all see similar films in similar ways. Although Arnheim thought film should be a version or reflection of reality, he argued against realism as a philosophy.
Arnhein appreciated The Gold Rush because it was not compromised by sound and color and was therefore more free to use space and time creatively. Arnheim was interested in the way Chaplin could convey ideas indirectly through visual images. In the scene where he eats his shoe, Chaplin is able to convey a complex analogy about class through his visual performance. Arheim praises Chaplin’s performance because it produces the illusion of a reality as it gives the audience ways to think about abstract ideas without dialogue. Chaplin used pantomime instead of dialogue to express emotions and drive the plot. By avoiding spoken word, Chaplin would concentrate the spectator’s attention more closely on the visual aspect of behavior. He does not say that he is pleased that some pretty girls are coming to see him, but performs the silent dance, in which two bread rolls stuck on forks act as dancing feet on the table. What Arnheim especially liked about The Gold Rush was how it is only loosely associated with reality, even though it was very realistic in terms of its approach to film style and story. As a director, Chaplin is communicating all these kinds of ideas through visual imagery to give the viewer an imaginary idea of what life was like in that particular time and place. Although it’s based on some kind of reality, a real space and time, it’s more of a comment on and a version of it. This works because Chaplin emphasizes the seven elements that Arnheim sees as being artistic in film. He creatively employs these seven elements that Arnheim says distinguish film from realism and make it unique as an art form.


341 Week 7 #2

December 13, 2010

The star image of Valentino is a text, something you can read and interpret (not Valentino the actual actor). He became a text for the discussion of the acceptance of different ethnic groups into American society. The star image was related to changes in society and in particular, the changing roles of women in society. Valentino was being objectified the way women had been in movies before. He offered women this new desire for romance, sexual gratification etc. that was outside of previous standards for what a women was supposed to be. There were new ideas in the 20s and the studios figured out how to play to those desires. This allowed women to think of themselves as being something beyond the family and what men wanted. Women were becoming more independent, suffrage, marrying for love etc.
Valentino was identified by his ethnicity. He could be thought of as a text for discussing an ethnically changing society. Hansen says that even though he doesn’t seem like it to us today, he was very subversive (not the guy who happened to be a very good acting) in that he represented the major hot button social issues of the day: feminism and immigration. What he symbolized makes him a star. He was famous for his image and not necessarily because he was a better actor or better looking than his contemporaries.


341 Week 7 #1

December 13, 2010

Like the director in Auteur Theory, the star image is a text, that comes to represent certain sets of ideas. The image is a series of stories, and pieces of information put together to create a public persona. They are very carefully constructed. The star is an image, distinct from an actual person. For example, we don’t know Brad Pitt, the flesh and blood man who lives his day-to-day life, what we know is a series of stories constructed about him. When we look the star image we examine how it’s been structured by studios or publicists and how it has been interpreted by critics and audiences. This is why Allen is interested in Joan Crawford. Dyer said the stars are structured from a group of signs. The fact that they are structured means that the elements that make them up take precedence. A star has multiple of stories, and what makes someone like Marilyn Monroe, or Rudolf Valentino an iconic star is that many of those stories contradict on another or do not make sense by themselves. This helps to make them all things to all people. The Star image of Valentino, for example, meant something very different to men than it did for women.
Stars tell us about societies values, and this makes the stories of their texts more interesting to people. In this way the star image is ideological. Dyer says that stars function to make something that is artificial become common sense or seem natural. As products of their times, stars images contain the ideological contradictions of a society’s value system. Stars reconcile opposites and contradictions in the ideological values of a society.
Stars are a paradox. Dyer notes that stars are intriguing to us because they have no actual political power, yet the manage to be very influential in our society. Just like Marilyn Monroe crafter her own star image around being sexual, because she thought that her society in the 1950s was too sexually repressed, and revolutionized the way people viewed sex. She gets away with it by adding another persona to character, one that was innocent and naïve. Dyer says that stars are like us but not like us. They are talented but not famous for their talent; they are famous for being on screen. They have to embody the success myth because it has to be believable that anyone can be a get discovered and become famous. Stars are a text for society to discuss issues and value deemed important in society. Marilyn Monroe becomes a discussion of sexuality and women’s roles in the 1950s. In one sense she is traditional because she is defined by her looks, and in another sense she is untraditional because she is willing to be sexual. The contradictions that she embodies are that she is simultaneously very traditional, and very modern, very sexual and very childlike. Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino, allow us to focus on issues beyond their movies, that have a greater meaning in our society. Through irreconcilable opposites, the image of Joan Crawford tells audiences about the American success myth and the role of women and their struggle to be independent.
Dyer outlines four categories that are used to construct a star’s image. Promotion is deliberately produced by studios to create the star persona. This include things like magazine photos and movie posters. Joan Crawford is an important example of this. Because her real name was too ethnic sounding, Columbia studios decided to change it to fit an image of an all American girl. There was a magazine contest, to name the new star, and the winning selection was Joan Crawford. This form of promotion was deliberately designed by the studio. Joan Crawford is the star image in a nutshell. She is essentially just an image that wasn’t even a real person. Her persona was intentionally created by a studio that wanted to promote someone popular, made from the raw material of the life of the real person, Lucille Fay LeSueur. This image was carefully constructed the studio according to the times. Publicity is distinct from promotion because it the PR that doesn’t appear to be produced by the studio, but really is, like articles in magazines and newspapers. Interviews in magazines and newspapers with stars are cafefully controlled by the publicists. In the past, studios would pass on stories to gossip columns that would enhance the star’s image. Maybe they would make up a story about Joan Crawford and another one of their actors being spotted on a date when they really had never even met. Publicity made Joan Crawford’s image one that said she was a self-made success. There would be all these interviews in magazines about her tough childhood, how her father abandoned her when she was young, how she came from nothing, and how she was sick and wasn’t able to walk for a while. This might all be fabricated by the studio. Columbia had an idea for a kind of image they wanted to create and when they picked Joan Crawford, because she had the look they were going for, and more or less the right personal story or background. Her personal background enforced her star persona as she kept appearing in movies about people who came from nothing and made themselves successful. This relates to dyer’s idea of contradictions because she while she is a creation of the studio system, she is supposedly self made. This reflects the contradictions of capitalist society that says anyone can be a success if the work hard and play by the rules, when the fact remains that you need a lot of help and luck. Like all stars, she became famous because of star making machinery.
Stars are about the myth of American success. There are four components to this myth: the star is ordinary, talent and ability are rewarded, luck matters but anyone can get lucky, and hard work and devotion to you craft are necessary. Any star profile will probably address some or part of these components. This purveys the ideology of our society in that it reflects the idea that anyone can succeed by working hard and playing by the rules, and that success is governed by the individual. The star machinery was all about picking films for the stars very carefully and the studios picked the ones with the stories that supported the image of what the star was. This is why Joan Crawford only plays self-made independent women to reinforce the myth that Columbia invented for her.
Criticism and commentary by fans and critics was one layer of the star image that was not generated by the studios. Because Joan Crawdford only appeared in Melodramas, the general opinion of critics was that she wasn’t a very good actress. The studio had to change this opinion of her to justify the contract they gave her so they rallied for her to win an Oscar for Mildren Pierce. The studio and her manager, agent, and publicist generated the publicity campaign and the Oscar buzz to get her that award. When she one the Oscar, the public perception was that she was finally being rewarded for all her hard work and talent.
Films used to be called star vehicles called star vehicles because they were often tailored for the star. That’s why it often appears that they play the same roles. Stars always play at type and sometimes they are cast against type to prove their acting chops.


341 Week 11 #1

December 13, 2010

Laura Mulvey argument about visual pleasure is centered around the idea of Scopophilia, which is the desire to look at people for pleasure. In the scenerio of looking at films for pleasure, women are presented as an object of the male gaze that is most pleasurable to look at. There are three components to this concept of scopophilia. The first is the identification with the male protagonist as he is trying to win over the female in the film. The second is fetishism, which is to look at the women and objectify her for her body her appearance. Voyeurism is the component, which is characterized by distance and possibility of violence. This can include viewing a female in a sexual way that involves a sadistic thrill because it victimizes the women who doesn’t know she is being looked at. Mulvey says that voyeurism creates a situation where women are punished for eliciting desire. In Psycho, Norman Bates kills Marian Crane because on some level he wants to punish her for instilling a sexual desire in him that he cannot fulfill. Hitchcock comments on this in Psycho in the sense that the female protagonist is objectified, fetishized, and an object of voyeurism. When she meets someone who is a literal voyeur in the film, she is killed by that person. Hitchcock sets up a scenerio where the audience can become aware of how they derive pleasure from voyeurism, fetishism, and identification as the film forces them to identify with the killer. Mulvey ideas are rooted in Freud’s theories about repressed castration anxiety. This theory would say that in order to deal with this anxiety you can choose to devalue women, who represent this fear of being castrated, because they are incomplete. The other way to deal with this anxiety is to pretend it doesn’t exist and substitute something else for it. It would then get repressed and return as a symbolic fetish and manifest itself in the objectification of women. In light of this theory we can say that Norman Bates chooses to punish a women who he subconsciously views as incomplete or castrated so to speak, and therefore less valuable.
Mulvey believes that a man facing castration anxiety has two ways of dealing with it: either disavow the women who represents this fear of lack or over-glamorize and objectified. This is how females become objectified for their bodies; men substitute a lack of one body part by over-emphasizing other female body parts. Mulvey calls this excessive fascination with bodies, this seeing them as purely objects for sexual desire, fetishistic scopophilia. She see scopophilia through the male gaze as particularly dangerous because it treats beautiful women in Hollywood films as objects to be controlled. In her opinion, it’s sexual in nature, in that it uses these women for sexual stimulation through the act of looking. She believes that film by nature is voyeuristic because you’re looking at people who cannot look back; this feeds into the idea of narcissism, like in Lican’s mirror stage. Here the viewer misrecognizes themselves in relation to the people on screen. This creates a problem for women, because in this way women are asked to identify with the male gaze that wants to objectify and punish women. Female viewers are forced to participate in scopophilia or voyeurism, both of which function to punish women. She uses this as evidence for her argument that women exist in film solely to be looked at in a sexualized and controlling way by men.
According to Mulvey cinema has moments and narrative, which are active and male, and moments of spectacle, which are passive and female. The problem with this relates to scopophilia, fetishism, voyeurism, and narcissism because women are shown as passive objects to be looked at and desired, and female viewers are forced to participate in their own objectification. There are moments in film, when women appear for the sole purpose of being desirable and glamorous, that have nothing to do with the narrative. Hitchcock tries to make the audience aware of these moments of spectacle, by including isolated segments where Marian Crane is just standing in her underwear just for the sake of being objectified that have nothing to with the plot. This is one way that Hitchcock manipulates the audience into feeling guilty for participating in this act of cinematic voyeurism; he intentionally makes the viewer aware of voyeurism in order to criticize it. In light of these ideas it’s interesting to note how in the beginning of Psycho the camera searches for a story or something to focus on in a voyeuristic way until it finds Marian in her underwear; here she is presented as a sexualized object for Sam and for the men in the theatre. Mulveys would say that she needs to be punished for being a sexualized women and for the rest of her time in the film she is objectified by men. This can be understand as an example of scopophilia, because every man she meets looks at her wants to control, or dominate her. When the cop looks at her through his sunglasses- this represents the idea of voyeurism in movies because she is being looked at and can’t look back- it’s as if he knows she’s guilty of something, and that crime is being a sexualized women. Marian is objectified until she encounters the man who is insane that uses voyeurism and scopophilia. Instead of objectifying Marian as a way of dealing with the sexual desire that she represents, Norman Bates punishes Marian by killing her. Mulvey would say Psyhco is about objectifying women, and Norman takes scopophila to the psychotic extreme. This is how Hitchcock criticizes scopophilia, and makes the audience aware of how it’s a kind of violence against women. The male gaze of Norman attempts to control Marian, but because of his disavowal of women, he has to punish her for being sexual. Then he blames another women, his mother, for the murder, which comes back to his castration anxiety.


Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar