University of California Week 7 Film and Media Theory Discussion: Film Answers 2021

University of California Week 7 Film and Media Theory Discussion: Film Answers 2021

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University of California Week 7 Film and Media Theory Discussion

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Film Th eo ry
An Introduction Through the Senses
2nd Edition
Thomas Elsaesser
and Malte Hagener
!l Routledge
I.. Taylor &Frands Group
Second edition published 20 IS
by Routledge
71 I Third Avenue, New York, NY I00 17
and by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX 14 4RN
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an inform a
? 20 IS Taylor & Francis
The right ofThomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener to be identified
as authors of this work has been asserted by them In accordance
with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted
or reproduced or utilised In any form or by any electronic,
mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter Invented,
Including photocopying and recording, or in any Information
storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publishers.
Introduction: Film Theory, Cinema, the ~ody,
and the Senses
Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be
trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for
identification and explanation without intent to infringe.
Cinema as Window and Frame
First edition published by Routledge 20 I 0
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
(Leo Broudy) ? Classical Cinema ? Cenual Perspective ? RudolfArnbeim ? Seroei
Elsaesser, Thomas, 1943FIIm theory :an Introduction through the senses I Thomas
Elsaesser and Malte Hagener.- Second edition.
pages em
Includes bibliographical references and Index.
I. Motion pictures. I. Hagener, Malte, 1971- II. Title.
PN 1994.ES3 20 IS
Constructivism ? Realism- Open and Closed Film Forms
Eisenstein -Andre Bazin ? David Bordwell ? Cinema as Shop Window
and Display
Cinema as Door- Screen and Threshold
Entry into the Film ? EtymoloBY cif ?Screen?- Thresholds cif the
Cinema ? Beoinninos: Credits and Credit Sequences ? Neciformalism (Bordwell/
Thompson) ? Poststructuralism (Thierry Kuntze]) ? Mikhail Bakhtin ? Door and
ISBN: 978-1-138-82429-4 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-138-82430-0 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-74076-8 (ebk)
Screen as Filmic Motifs in Buster Keaton and Woody Allen
Typeset In Perpetua
by Apex Co Vantage, LLC
Cinema as Mirror- Face and Close-Up
Bela Balazs ? Close- Up and Face ? Foce as Mirror cif the
Unconscious- Christian Metz ? Jean-Louis Baudry ? Apparatus Theory ? Ear!r
Cinema and the Close-Up (Tom Gunnin9) ? Reflexive DoublinB in Modern (Art)
Cinema ? Mirror Neurons ? Paradoxes cif the Mirror
Printed and bound in the United States of America by Publishers Graphics,
LLC on sustainably sourced paper.
Cinema as Eye- Look and Gaze
and Passive Eye -The Mobile Eye cif Ear!r Cinema ?
Dzioa Vertov- Apparatus- Theory- Suture- Continuity EditinB ? Laura
Mulvey- Feminist Film Theoriescif Modes
if Perception- Reoimes cif the Gaze- The ?BiB Other? (jacques
La can) ? Slavoj iizek ? Panoptic Gaze (Michel Foucault) ? Niklas Luhmann
and Self-MonitorinB
Chapter I
Cinema as Window and Frame
Cine.m a as Window and Frame
A man, immobilised in a wheelchair, observes through a rectangular frame ? as
a way to pass the time and entertain himself ? the human dramas that unfold
before his eyes. He is capable of alternating his visual field between a wide panorama and a closer view for detail. His position is elevated and privileged, while
the events seem to unfold independently of his gaze, yet without making him
feel excluded. This is one way to summarise the basic tenets of Alfred Hitchcock?s REAR WINDOW (US 1954), which has become an exemplary case study
in film theory precisely because the film?s premise is often held to figuratively
re-enact the specific viewing situation of classical cinema: 1 Having suffered an
accident, photographer L.B. Jefferies Qames Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair with his leg in a cast. A pair of binoculars, as well as the telephoto lenses of
his camera, allow him to switch between long shots of the back yard onto which
his window opens and close shots of individual apartments and their residents.
Two basic principles, according to the school of theory that considers the cinema as window/frame, can be derived from this situation: first, Jefferies? seeminB!J privileged perspective as onlooker and (to a lesser degree) as listener, and
second, his distance from the events. The film even provides an answer to the
question formulated in the introduction to this book- whether the film is outside or inside in relation to the spectator: As long as Jefferies maintains his distanced role of observe.r, the events cannot harm him. Not until he- or, rather,
his girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), instigated by him- transgresses
this threshold does the world ?outside? pose a threat to the one ?inside.? However, REAR WINDOW does not resonate in film-theoretical space solely through its
emphasis on visibility and distance:
The title REAR WINDOW, apart from the literalness of its denotation, evokes
the diverse ?windows? of the cinema: the cinema/lens of camera and projector, the window in the projection booth, the eye as window, and film as
a ?window on the world.? 2
These and some other key aspects of our first ontological metaphor will be
examined and discussed in this chapter.
As we will be arguing, the concepts of window and frame share several
fundamental premises but also exhibit significant differences. Let us start with
the similarities: First of all, the cinema as window and frame offers special,
ocular access to an event (whether fictional or not) ? usually a rectangular
iew that accommodates the spectator?s visual curiosity. Second, the (real)
two-dimensional screen transforms in the act of looking into an (imaginary)
three-dimensional space which seems to open up beyond the screen. And,
third, (real and metaphorical) distance from the events depicted in the film
renders the act of looking safe for the spectator, sheltered as s/he is by the
darkness inside the auditorium. The spectator is completely cut off from the
film events, so that s/he does not have to fear his/her direct involvement in
the action (as in modern theatre) nor does s/he ffel any moral obligation to
intervene (as in real life). In other words, the cinepta as window and framethe first of our seven modes cif beinB (in the cinema I world) ? is ocular-specular
(i.e. conditioned by optical access), transitive (one looks at something), and
disembodied (the spectator maintains a safe distance, ?and his/her body is neither acknowledged in the space nor directly addressed).
Even though both concepts meet in the compound ?window frame,? the metaphors also suggest somewhat different qualities: one looks throueh a window, but
one looks at a frame. The notion of the ?\indow implies that dne loses sight of
the framing rectangle as it denotes transparency, while the franle highlights the
Figure /. / REAR WINDOW: space cropped and at a safe distance.
Cinema as Window and Frame
Cinema as Window and Frame
content of the (opaque) surface and its constructed nature, effecth?ely implying
composition and artificiality. While the window directs the viewer to something behind or beyond itself- ideally, the separating glass pane completely vanishes in the act of looking ? the frame draws attention both to the status of the
arrangement as artefact and to the image support itself: one only has to think of
classical picture frames and their opulence and ornaments, their conspicuousness and ostentatious display. On the one hand, the v.indow as a medium effaces
itself completely and becomes inisible, and on the other, the frame exhibits the
medium in its material specificity.
Both window and frame are well-established notions within film theory, yet
when seen in historical context, their differences become more pronounced.
Traditionally, the frame corresponded to film theories called formalist or constructivist, while the model of the window held sway in realist film theories. For
a long time, the distinction between constructivist (or formalist and formative) and realist (or mimetic and phenomenological) theories was believed to
be a fundamental distinction. Siegfried Kracauer elaborated it in his Theory if
Film, and as taken up and refined by Dudley Andrew, it has proven to be widely
influential. 3 In such a classificatory scheme Bela Balazs, Rudolf Arnheim, and
the Russian montage theorists stand on one side, contrasted with Bazin and
Kracauer on the other. The first group focuses on the alteration and manipulation of filmic perception, distinct from everyday perception by means such as
montage, framing, or the absence of colour and language. The second group
defines the essence of cinema in terms of its ability to record and reproduce
reality and its phenomena, including aspects which are invisible to the naked
human eye.
There exist, however, a series of links between these two seemingly opposed
poles. Both tendencies aim at enhancing the cultural value of cinema, that is, to
put it on a par with the established arts. The idea of window and frame is helpful
in this respect, because historically it answered to a felt inferiority complex of
film vis-a-vis its older and more established siblings- theatre and paintingthat rely upon the assumption of a spectator distanced from the object and
scene. The humanistic, Renaissance ideal of art appreciation ? marked by individual immersion and contemplation of the work as opposed to the collective
and distracted experience of early cinema ? requires distance and therefore
framing. For constructivists as well as for realists, perception is limited to the
visual dimension: the sense and data processing are thought of as highly rational,
while the primary goal is to consciously work through what is being perceived.
In this respect Balazs and Bazin, Eisenstein, and Kracauer all conceptualise the
spectator-film relationship along similar lines, even though Kracauer and Eisenstein were sensitive to the ?shock? value and somatic dim~:;nsion of the film
experience. 4
Figure 1.2 REAR WINDOW: Jefferies as spectator.
A further affinity between the metaphors of window and frame has been
identified by Charles F. Altman: ?Though the window and frame metaphors
appear diametrically opposed, they actually share an assumption of the screen?s
fundamental independence from the processes of production and consumption.?5 Both models, frame and window, postulate the image as; given and view
the spectator as concentrating on how most fully to engage with the work and
its structures, making wholeness and (assumed) coherence the focus of the
analysis. If only by default, they tend to overlook the potentially contradictory
processes of production (be they technological or institutional) that are also
leaving traces on the films, nor do they give due weight to the freedom as well as
constraints which differences in human perception, cultural conditioning, and
cognition bring to the reception of films. The spectator thus conceptualised is
not only disembodied, but exists mostly for the benefit of the theory he or she
is supposed to exemplify.
The distinction between ?open? and ?closed? forms of cinema allows for
another perspective on the window/frame divide. 6 Following Leo Braudy,1 the
term ?closed? refers to films in which the universe depicted in the film (its diegesis) closes in upon itself, in the sense that it contains only elements which are
necessary because internally motivated: Georges Melies? films, which experiment with cinematic techniques and trick shots while constantly referring back
to themselves, belong in this category, as do the carefully constructed worlds
of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Anderson, and Michael Haneke, in which
everything seems to have its predetermined place following the dictates of some
Cinema as Window and Frame
Cinema as Window and Frame
invisible but omnipresent hand or elaborate master plan. 8 Furthermore, whatever exists ?on-screen? stands in a relationship of mutual dependence but also
tension with what lies outside the frame, creating a potent dynamic between
on-screen and off-screen space. 9 By contrast, open films offer a segment, a snapshot, or a fragment from a constantly flowing and evolving reality. The films of
the Lumiere brothers have often been cited (not always convincingly) as the
prototypical example for this type of cinema. Other important cases are the
films of Jean Renoir, with their long, flowing camera movements and large cast
of characters, the neorealist films of Roberto Rossellini as well as the Dardenne
brothers? recent works balancing the fine line between documentary and fiction. Filmmakers of the so-called ?contemporary contemplative cinema,? often
from the global south, such as Lisandro Alonso, Carlos Reygadas, Pedro Costa,
Lav Diaz, or Jia Zhang-ke, have exhibited similar tendencies towards highlighting the contingent and complex nature of everyday reality. 10 The diegetic world
in their films appears as if what it depicts might continue in much the same way
even if the camera were turned off, and life would continue to ebb and flow
beyond the limits of the (time)frame set by the filmmaker. The closed form
by contrast is centripetal, oriented inwardly; the totality of the world is contained within the image frame (which, by definition, includes off-screen space).
The open form, on the other hand, is centrifugal, oriented outwardly. Here
the frame (as mobile window) represents a changeable portion of a potentially
limitless world:
The difference may be the difference between finding a world and creating one: the difference between using the pre-existing materials of reality
and organizing these materials into a totally formed vision; the difference
between an effort to discover the orders independent of the watcher and to
discover those orders the watcher creates by his act of seeing. Voyeurism is a
characteristic visual device of the closed film, for it contains the proper mixture of freedom and compulsion: free to see something dangerous and forbidden, conscious that one wants to see and cannot look away. In closed films the
audience is a victim, imposed on by the perfect coherence of the world on the
screen. In open films the audience is a guest, invited into the film as an equal
whose vision of reality is potentially the same as that of the director. 11
The difference between closed and open film form can thus also be seen as a
reformulation of the difference between window and frame: the window offers
a detail of a larger whole in which the elements appear as if distributed in no
particular way, so that the impression of realism for the spectator is above all a
function of transparency. By contrast, foregrounding the fraq1e shifts the attention to the organisation of the material. The window impli9? a diegetic world
that extends beyond the limit of the image, while the frame delineates a filmic
composition that exists solely for the eyes of the beholder.
The concepts of window and frame, based as they are on managing the
complex relations of distance and proximity between film and viewer, come
together in a cinematic style generally known as ?classical.? Classical cinema
keeps its disembodied spectators at arm?s length while also drawing them in. It
achieves its effects of transparency by the concerted deployment of filmic means
(montage, light, camera placement, scale, special effects), which justify their
profuse presence by aiming at being noticed as little as possible. A maximum
of technique and technology seeks a minimum, of attention for itself, thereby
not only masking the means of manipulation, but also succeeding in creating a
transparency that simulates proximity and intimacy. This paradox, namely that
the effect of an unmediated view (the Vlindow) requires elaborate means and
codified rules (the frame), may be what makes this specific style so dominant,
which is to say, so attractive to viewers and so e?Pensive to producers. For
those film industries that could afford it, this classical style, perfected for the
first time in Hollywood in the late 1910s, remained internationally prevalent at
least until the late 1950s. 12 Although the terms ?Hollyvood? and ?classical? are
often used interchangeably, most forms of popular cinema i:o whatever country
and whatever period have broadly adhered to its rules, sometimes with local or
national modifications: we find its norms upheld in the films of the Nazi period
and those of Socialist Realism, even in many films of Italian Neorealism and
of British ?kitchen sink? realism. Most contemporary made-for-~elevision films
are still classical, at least in the sense that they try to make the medium and its
artificiality disappear.
In the classical cinema the spectator is an inisible witness ? invisible to the
unfolding narrative that does not acknowledge his/her presence, which is why
neither direct address nor the look into the camera are part of the classical
idiom, and instead, as in the French Nouvelle Vague, signal a deliberate departure or break from its normativity. Interestingly enough, the same tension arises
within the different styles of documentary, where the notion of cinema as window and frame can also be found, and where certain styles of documentary
(direct cinema, or the ?fly on the wall? approach in which crew and technology
try to stay invisible both to the spectators of the film and to the subjects being
filmed) offer the spectator a seemingly transparent view on an unmediated reality, while other styles, notably dnema verite and performative documentaries,
want to get close to the world (and traverse the frame) without trying to create
the illusion of transparency (the window) by consciously utilising the camera as
a catalyst to provoke (re)actions. The spectator figures either as an invisible witness, or is invited as a virtual participant in events taking place independently
of him/her, yet happening in a shared world (outside the cinema). 13 There is
Cinema as Window and Frame
Cinema as Window and Frame
This tradition of visual representation characterised by managing distance
and privileging apperception principally through the disembodied eye did not
emerge with the cinema but originated in the central perspective used in classical painting since the Renaissance. Stephen Heath, along Y.ith many others, has
traced the development of camera perspective in cinema back to the discovery
of central perspective in fifteenth-century Italy:
What is fundamental is the idea of the spectator at a Y.indow, an ?aperta
.finestra? that gives a view on the world- framed, centred, harmonious (the
?istoria ?) . . . The conception of the Quattrocento system is that of a scenographic space, a space set out as spectacle for the eye of a spectator. 14
Yet, there remains a tension between perspective as technique and perspective
as symbolic form . As technique, the single vanishifig point and the respective
implications of size and scale ensure that a three-di:qtensional reality is reduced
to a two-dimensional surface, which is organised in such a way as to simulate
another three-dimensional reality. This might be experienced either as another
world (an imaginary universe) or as a continuation of the spectator?s own
three-dimensional world: a persistent legend claims that Lumiere?s film of the
arrival of a train caused panic in the audience, for people allegedly imagined
the locomotive was about to enter the auditorium space, while George Lucas?
introduction of Dolby sound in STAR WARS (US 1977) gave spectators the sense
that they occupied the same (aural) ?space? as the spaceship (~ee Chapter 6).
As symbolic ?

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