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Film Reality

February 15th, 2010 by btrachtenberg100

The psychological implications of film are far greater than that of any other form of art. It goes without saying that our mind processes concepts in visual terms and associations. To remember a name of someone you just met, it may pay to create a mnemonic to create meaning from a name. Otherwise it will drop off your head to the tip of your tongue and embarrass you when you are at a loss for pairing your classmates face with a label. Film is surely the synthesis of a variety of different art forms as Eisenstein would suggest. At face value it’s easy to see the differences between film and early forms of art such as pictographs (hieroglyphics) and Japanese theatre. The Japanese used a very expressive form in the theatre, creating masks that were caricatures of normal human expression to convey the emotion of the character in the context of the pantomime. The process of mental conceptualization, transforming these figures into meaningful interpretations, is the root of all cinematic art.

The distortion of faces by use of masks would seem to be the same function of the film lens, specifically the close-up, which emphasizes and sometimes embellishes the character’s emotive behavior. It goes without saying that film functions as a more direct method for conveying emotion and certainly more powerful as it is the product of montage. Jean Epstein is convinced that the power of the cinema is derived from its ability to orchestrate emotions by reading the wrinkles on a person’s face; i.e. the close-up. Eisenstein argues that cinemas psychological poignancy is derived from the film as a whole starting with the individual shot, which he refers to as a cell. This analogy of comparing the smallest of film elements with the basic component of the human body, illustrates his associative logic regarding the power of film. A close-up is meaningless by itself without a context to derive meaning from. Just as a POV shot requires a cut back to the subject for a reaction, so to any other sequences of shots in a film derive their power by fusing two shots, each with their own individual meaning. When two shots are put together, just like a series of individual pictographs, an abstract concept arises from their juxtaposition that requires the mind of the observer which is forced to create meaning out of the discrepancies in the shots. An interesting comparison Eisenstein makes is comparing the differences in the images to retinal disparity which provides reason for depth perception that we experience unconsciously. The difference in the two shots (color, geometrical shapes, ect.), on right on top of the other, provides a kind of mental disparity which characterizes abstract thought, in order to reshape the way we think about the world around us.      

It’s almost hard to imagine a world solely of realist cinema as imagined by leaders of the Soviet Union, who only saw film as the reorganization of the world; they saw the propagandist potentials of the medium. On the other end of the spectrum, the formalist view, its rise was inevitable. These artists saw the film as a celluloid canvas. I see it as capable means of filling in the gaps in the understanding of human nature and exploring themes relevant in our lives. Even when I watch a film that is supposed to be of realist intentions I find a deeper subtext and find myself asking questions to satisfy my starving mind. Anything that is transposed on screen, despite its original intentions, assumes greater meaning when displayed within the frame.

 Film is a culmination of the evolution of the arts. It contains elements of painting, theatre, and poetry, yet it is more of a concentrated dose of these intellectual mediums. It’s far more complicated and direct. Whereas a painting is a single frame, film is multiple. The mind works in a series of images. We know that smells and particular tastes arouse feelings of nostalgia. This is a complex abstract feeling that taps into our psyche so we can remember a past event as well as the possible emotions that accompanied them. Film serves as a similar cue. A visual stimulus that directs the mind, suggests it to not only tap into emotions because we empathize with the characters in the film but construct new higher form of thinking that like Plato’s cave, film allows us to leave the confines of our personal caves to see the world in a whole new light.

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7 Responses to ' Film Reality '

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  1.   msbeatty said,

    on March 3rd, 2010 at 2:12 am

    Cool post. But I think your assertion at the end that “film is the culmination of the evolution of the arts” is a bit problematic for a few reasons. First, by calling it the culmination, you seem to imply that the evolution of art has reached its terminus. Which, I bet, it hasn’t (also: I really hope it hasn’t; cuz, you know, boring). Also, by referring to the history of art as an evolution towards a pinnacle of complication and immediacy, you’re kinda saying that the further you go back in time, the less complicated and less immediate art gets. And Manet or Mozart or Milton might take issue with that (were they not dead white guys, of course).

    And as for film being the most direct medium, there’s that Richard Whitehurst guy that built an installation piece and claims that if you crawl into it, he’ll try to rape you (no one’s really sure about this dude, apparently. Here’s a link: http://tinyurl.com/yaplbhb). I don’t know if that’s art, but it sure seems more direct than film.

    But don’t take this the wrong way. I totally love this post. I just think your conclusion is a little too broad.

  2.   msbeatty said,

    on March 3rd, 2010 at 2:17 am

    Oops, I misquoted you. You ACTUALLY said, “film is A culmination of the arts,” which is a totally different statement than the way I read it. So, instead of reading the post above, feel free to dismiss me as the idiot I am, apparently.

  3.   Vincent Li Sun said,

    on March 6th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    great post! i agree with your point “A close-up is meaningless by itself without a context to derive meaning from.” Indeed, as we read in previous readings, it is editing that gives the meanings to the film. but rather than using “giving”, i think “brings out” is a more appropriate description. close ups can certainly show the emotive behavior of character’s face, but without the context, the expression would be meaningless. However, if we take another thought differently, is it true for all films? in my opinion, it must be true for continuity editing system, but for soviet montage, which uses editing as a tool to bring out audience’s attention instead of minimize their attention, i am not sure if that would be totally true. we can see in those films, shots, scenes may come out of nowhere, so in this way, i will not be surprised if a close-up comes out of nowhere with no connection to the other things, and i would say this close-up may have the meaning of bringing out our attention but without context. However, as i said in my post, this meaningless montage could also be interpreted as having the meaning of bringing out attention. well, looks like it is a paradox. but i am on the continuity editing side!

    and also, Film is definitely the art form as a combination of all other art forms, it is necessary for the filmmakers to know about other forms of arts. i may not say it is superior to all other arts, because each art form has its own power, but no doubt film is amount the bests.

  4.   Vincent Li Sun said,

    on March 6th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    i don’t know if you can see my screen name other than “justselina” (that’s what i see), but just in case, it’s Vincent Li Sun.

  5.   Adell Rutland said,

    on January 4th, 2011 at 10:25 am

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  6.   Onno Vocks said,

    on April 8th, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    There is certainly a lot to know about this issue. I love all the points you’ve made.


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