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.

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One Response to “341 Week 2”

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