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.

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