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.

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