Film, Theory, and Philosophy

Film, Theory, and Philosophy: The Key Thinkers

Edited by Felicity Colman
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Film, Theory, and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    An ideal introduction for students, Film, Theory and Philosophy brings together leading scholars to provide a clear, detailed overview of the key thinkers who have shaped the field of film philosophy. From continental philosophers to analytical philosophers, film-makers, film reviewers, sociologists, and cultural theorists, the essays reveal how philosophy can be applied to film analysis and how film can be used to illustrate philosophical problems. But most importantly, the essays explore how cinema has shaped contemporary philosophy and how philosophy has led to a reappraisal of film. This collection will prove an invaluable reference and guide to readers interested in a deeper understanding of the issues and insights presented by the philosophy of film.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9482-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Felicity Colman
    (pp. 1-16)
    Felicity Colman

    What is film-philosophy?Film-philosophy begins with the moving sound-image. Definitions of the topic require more than academic and mechanical experience. The moving image generates screen forms and cinematic conditions for things outside those forms. Screen-based forms provide an everyday medium for information retrieval, communication, distraction and entertainment. Film, television, Web services, data repositories, gaming screens, mobile screens and art-based and non-commercial screen-related forms materialize the issues and ideas of the content provided in their situated medium and in the mediation of the content they produce: global news, sports events, the natural world, imaginative worlds and so on. Whether commercial or...

    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 17-19)

      This section contains ten examples of practitioners from the first half of the twentieth century, whose various systems and approaches are taken to address the question of the cinema as ontology, phenomenology and situated production of a physical ontology.

      As articulated by film critic André Bazin, the very form of the question “What is cinema?” is ontological. That is, the question itself asks about the ways in which the cinema can bring together quite disparate parts, expressions, technologies and events and produce a whole unit: a film. Ontology is understood philosophically to be the study of being but, as with...

      (pp. 20-30)
      Robert Sinnerbrink

      Dedicated film enthusiasts might imagine that philosophical interest in film is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to Stanley Cavell’s work in the 1970s or perhaps to the heyday of French film theory in the 1960s. It might be surprising, then, to learn that philosophical reflection on film was flourishing already in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1916, Hugo Münsterberg, Harvard professor of psychology and philosophy, and close colleague of William James, publishedThe Photoplay: A Psychological Study, a book that many regard as the first work of film theory and the first to take seriously the...

      (pp. 31-39)
      Adrian Martin

      Of all the great philosophers whose work has brushed against cinema, Vilém Flusser may be the purest in his activity of theorizing. In fact, this is a constant of his work in almost every domain. Whether speaking of film, still photography or the design arts – among the very many fields he addressed in his prolific output – Flusser eschews virtually all reference to specific works, artists, genres or movements. This can disconcert first-time readers of his texts, as it seems so odd in an era of connoisseur–aesthetes such as Gilles Deleuze (1986; 1989), Santos Zunzunegui (1989) or Jacques...

      (pp. 40-50)
      Drehli Robnik

      With Siegfried Kracauer, the relationship of cinema to philosophy is peculiar. From his reviews and essays on modern culture to his books written in America, Kracauer’s cinema theory is not primarily about films, film-makers, cultures or media technologies. Rather, cinema is itself something comparable to philosophy; as Kracauer describes, it is “an approach to the world, a mode of human existence” (1960: li). He conceives of cinema as a never entirely normal mode of perception, sensation, thought – and sometimes enlightenment. “All that remains of the ‘art with a difference’ in late Kracauer is the subjectivity which constitutes it” (Schlüpmann...

      (pp. 51-60)
      Julie Kuhlken

      A telling indication of Adorno’s relation to film lies in the fact that it is mentioned a mere eight times in the voluminous body ofAesthetic Theory(2002), his primary work of philosophical aesthetics. In this dense book of interpretation and philosophical analysis, the only cinematic technique that is deemed worthy of extended consideration ismontage, and it itself is quickly dispensed with as a “cultural-historical curiosity”, whose “assemblage … becomes merely indifferent material” once its initial “shock is neutralized” (Adorno 2002: 156). In fact, it is quite easy to conclude that Adorno’s relative silence about cinematic aesthetics is symptomatic...

      (pp. 61-70)
      Anna Powell

      Joan of Arc has condemned herself to burn at the stake. Massieu, a young monk, is sent to prepare her for death. Stone arch, pale robe and black tonsure frame a vivid face with glittering eyes, hollow cheekbones and strongly chiselled lips. Massieu’s face is striking in its formal aesthetic beauty, but even more powerful in its mobile affects, as ascetic rigour struggles with passion, spirit with flesh. The angst-ridden face of Antonin Artaud, the actor, is a moving plane of compassion, spiritual hunger and despair. The diagonally skewed close-up of Massieu’s face is match-cut with the previous image of...

      (pp. 71-80)
      Dorothea Olkowski

      For philosophers and film theorists today, there can be no innocent account of the philosophy of Henri Bergson, and especially no innocent account of Bergson and film. The latter is due in large part to the two books on cinema written by Gilles Deleuze,Cinema 1(1983; 1986) andCinema 2(1985; 1989). Both books acknowledge Bergson’s rich and inventive notion of the image, but simultaneously seek to circumvent Bergson’s own so-called “overhasty critique” of cinema, a critique that apparently arises when he characterizes the medium as a model for the forces of rationality that immobilize and fragment time (Deleuze...

      (pp. 81-90)
      Helen A. Fielding

      Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote only one essay on film, yet his phenomenological approach informs problems of perception central to film. Taken up by some theorists as a welcome counterbalance to Marxist and psychoanalytic theories that tend to consider the film as text, a phenomenological approach provides a methodology for thinking through the perceptual experience of viewing (cf. Sobchack 1991: xvi).

      In a lecture given in 1945 at I’Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques, titled “The Film and the New Psychology” (1964), Merleau-Ponty turns to film as evidence that perception is linked to bodily comportment rather than either unmediated sensation or cognition. By...

      (pp. 91-99)
      Sarah Cooper

      Emmanuel Levinas is among the least obvious of twentieth-century philosophers to feature in a volume devoted to philosophy of film. From a philosophical grounding in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger that remained an important influence throughout his career, Levinas’s work traverses the fields of religion, aesthetics, politics and, most crucially, ethics. Levinas articulates his ethics in dialogue with the Western philosophical tradition principally in his two major works:Totality and Infinity: An Essay on ExteriorityandOtherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Western philosophy, for Levinas, has for the most part been an ontology, by which he...

      (pp. 100-108)
      Hunter Vaughan

      Bazin has received one of the most systematic drubbings in twentieth-century cultural studies. Noël Carroll, among others, challenges the extravagance of Bazin’s metaphysical notion of cinematic essentialism, while purer structuralists have lambasted Bazin’s idealism for what they claim to be a lack of historical or material criticism.¹ This is not an uncommon reaction to Bazin’s work, a body of writing that is summarized by Bill Nichols as “a dual and perhaps contradictory approach of transcendent spiritualism and sociology” (1976: 151). But how could an approach so replete with sensitivity and humanism, and bearing such a positive influence on film history,...

      (pp. 109-118)
      Colin Gardner

      Given Roland Barthes’ deep distrust of bourgeois myths and their attendant orthodoxies, as well as his committed belief that the ostensible author of a given work is merely the contingent effect of a braid of separate texts, any attempt to systematically define his writings on film as a coherent body of work is inevitably doomed to failure. For better or worse, Barthes was an intellectualflâneurwho persistently “wrote” (and “rewrote”) his often “erotic” passion for literature, theatre, music, advertising, pop culture and photography into a unique phenomenonology of both textualandsomatic excess whereby he reversed the syntagmatic order...

    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 119-121)

      Are you a theorist or a philosopher? Is it film-philosophy or film theory? Both areas have developed into heterogeneous disciplines. There are multiple ways in which these disciplines are conceived of and practised. Can you actually define and categorize the practice of engaging with screen forms and cinematic conditions? In Part II, a selection of philosophers and theorists who have been integral to providing accounts of twentieth-century cultures engage with the metaphysical account of what numerous theorists have referred to as the cinematic century (Daney 1991a; Godard & Ishaghpour 2005). As Garin Dowd reminds us in his chapter on legendary film...

    • 11 SERGE DANEY
      (pp. 122-133)
      Garin Dowd

      Serge Daney was not a film theorist; nor was he a film critic in any ordinary sense of the term. Rather, he was engaged from the beginning to the end of his career, as Jacques Rancière asserts, in writing about “des actualités du cinéma”(“current cinema events”) (Rancière 2001b: 142).¹ In the course of this project, which generated a substantial output, Daney would attract philosopher readers, invoke philosophical referents and make a significant contribution to the canon of philosophically minded writing on cinema. Daney’s preferences in terms of philosophers are clearly signalled in his disdain for thenouveaux philosophesof his...

      (pp. 134-144)
      Zsuzsa Baross

      The most prodigious and prodigiously creative among theauteursof the New Wave, if not in the whole short history of the cinema, Godard, or rather his cinema, is also the least known, seen, screened and, perhaps, understood. “I am an exile from the world of the cinema”, he says of himself in one of the many films in which he appears in person (1982b). Yet his rich body of often difficult works constitutes a cinema – and I use this term as Godard himself prefers it, inclusive of writings, works on paper, the innumerable projects never to be realized,...

      (pp. 145-153)
      Rex Butler

      Cavell describes himself in interviews as an “ordinary-language” philosopher. He recalls that the decisive event in his intellectual life was his encounter with the English philosopher of speech acts J. L. Austin, when Austin came to Harvard in 1955 to deliver the William James Lectures. Cavell was at the time attempting unsuccessfully to complete his doctoral thesis, but it was only after hearing Austin that, as he says, “I found the beginning of my own intellectual voice” (Conant 1989: 36). The subject of Cavell’s thesis, early versions of which formed his first book,Must We Mean What We Say?, is...

      (pp. 154-163)
      Claire Colebrook

      The “and” of “philosophy and …” is never a simple addition: never a question of having a fully formed philosophy and then proceeding to produce a philosophy “and politics”, “and art” “and mathematics” or “and cinema”. However one defines and practises philosophy will depend on how one creates links or relations to other modes of thinking. If one regards philosophy to be an enquiry into the universal, rigorous and formalized possibilities of thinking, then one will place formal knowledge and mathematics at the very heart of philosophy, and then establish relations with other manifestations of thinking and (possibly) doing (Badiou...

      (pp. 164-178)
      Louise Burchill

      Derrida’s scene of cinema is haunted, its every nook and cranny host to a pandemonium of phantoms, ghosts, shadows and spectres whose ethereal proliferation and enigmatic traces plot the space–time coordinates of not only the cinematic spectacle but its very “apparatus” as a repeated rerun of the (non-)living (non-)dead. Declaring the “cinematic experience” to partake, in its every aspect, of “spectrality”, film in its very materiality, as projected on the screen, to be a “phantom”, the screen itself to have a “structure of disappearing apparition” and the cinematic image a structure that is “through and through spectral”, Derrida gestures...

      (pp. 179-189)
      John Mullarkey

      Of all the film-philosophies of the twentieth century, it is perhaps Deleuze’s that is mostofthe cinema. By that I mean that it attempts tobelongto cinema rather than simply beaboutit. It shows us film thinking for itself. The magnanimity Deleuze shows to film’s conceptual power is seen most clearly at the very end of his two-volume work on film (Cinema 1: The Movement-ImageandCinema 2: The Time-Image) when he writes that “cinema’s concepts are not given in cinema. And yet they are cinema’s concepts, not theories about cinema.” Still, at every point and turn...

      (pp. 190-200)
      Tom Conley

      Towards the end ofRue Ordener, Rue Labat(1994), the terse and elegant autobiographical fiction she wrote just before terminating her life, Sarah Kofman inserts a brief episode relating her admiration for Alfred Hitchcock’sThe Lady Vanishes(1938). How or why Hitchcock’s film appears in the fiction is uncanny.Rue Ordener, Rue Labatwas the last book (of about twenty-five) the author had written prior to her suicide. The following year (1995) there appeared the posthumousL’Imposture de la beauté, a book of essays that the author had been crafting from six earlier articles or book chapters dating to 1990....

      (pp. 201-211)
      Felicity Colman

      Virilio brings to the critique of screen-based and visual forms a polemic of how the developments in military and media technologies have radically determined forms of the body, and directed and contained the perceptual capacity of humanity. “It is thus our common destiny tobecome film”, he argues (Virilio 2001b: 158). Through this process of “becoming film”, Virilio describes a humanity that is driving itself to destruction. The spectacle of death is providing the ultimate trip. Throughout his work, Virilio describes a humankind that is the conduit of what he refers to as theaccident(in its fullest etymological sense):...

      (pp. 212-221)
      Catherine Constable

      This chapter will chart the diverse roles of cinema in the philosophical writings of Jean Baudrillard. This involves tracing Baudrillard’s presentation of cinema as both a variant of pre-modern cultural forms and a gateway to the postmodern. American cinema plays a crucial role in Baudrillard’s conception of the postmodern as nihilistic, underpinning key concepts such as simulation and the hyperreal, as well as major arguments such as the death of history. I will show that the comments on cinema also open up a positive way of reconceptualizing the hyperreal.

      Unlike a number of his contemporaries, Jean Baudrillard does not provide...

      (pp. 222-232)
      Lisa Trahair

      Given the immensity of Jean-François Lyotard’s contribution to understanding postmodernism and his many essays on art and aesthetics, it may be surprising to some that his comments on cinema are relatively scant. The two essays that explicitly address cinema derive from early experiments that attempt to reconfigure philosophical aesthetics by referring artistic practices to the psychoanalytic theory of the drives. “L’Acinéma” (“Acinema”) was first published inRevue d’Esthétiquein 1973 and inDes dispositifs pulsionnelsthe same year. It first appeared in English in 1978 in the American journalWide Angle. “The Unconscious as Mise-en-scène” was published in 1977 in...

      (pp. 233-242)
      Scott Durham

      Fredric Jameson is among the most prominent theorists of postmodernism and one of the foremost Marxist critics of his generation. InPostmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism(1991), film occupies a central place in his account of the formal features of postmodernism and in his analysis of the relationship of postmodern culture to the social and economic forms of “late capitalism”. In other works, such asSignatures of the Visible(1990) andThe Geopolitical Aesthetic(1992), film is the focal point of his reflections on the fate of critical and utopian thought in postmodern culture, and of his...

      (pp. 243-252)
      Gary Genosko

      Félix Guattari’s most sustained coniments on cinema consist of several interviews and occasional pieces dating from the 1970s gathered together in the Encres editionof La Révolution moléculaire(Molecular revolution) under the title “Cinema: A Minor Art” (Guattari 1977, reprinted in Guattari 1996b: 143–87). For Guattari, cinema is a privileged medium for minoritarian becomings that show a specific orientation towards the progressive goals of anti-psychiatric social and political practices. Guattari’s approach to cinema through the minor is generally consistent with Deleuze’s (1989: 221–4) deployment of the anti-colonialist, revolutionary Third Cinema; yet Guattari did not adopt this approach wholesale...

    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 253-255)

      The choices afforded by the praxes of thinking and creating have occupied philosophers for centuries, and cinema provides a new dimension to this practice: adding another perspective; articulating another configuration of “reality”; engaging a questioning of systems of science, judgement, knowledge and life. The instance, the vector or moment of conceptual choice (the technological and event epistemology) works on and off screen, creating new models that become the subject of study under film-philosophy.

      Practices of film-philosophy have revived an interest in the technical epistemology of classical philosophers in a way that no other popular, commercially driven medium has been able...

      (pp. 256-265)
      Michael Goddard

      The image of the cinematic thought of Raymond Bellour in English-language contexts is an incomplete one, still framed to a large extent by the essays collected in the volumeThe Analysis of Film(Bellour 2000). There is a more limited awareness of Bellour’s more recent work on cinema, owing to the translations in film journals of the research Bellour conducted into the relations between still and moving images as well as of his role as a key interlocutor of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.¹ This is not to mention Bellour’s considerable reputation as a scholar of Henri Michaux, evidenced by...

      (pp. 266-275)
      Richard Rushton

      Christian Metz was a pioneering film scholar. For many, his writings are the first rigorous examples of film studies in an academic sense, and the questions posed by his writings, especially those concerning the language of cinema and cinema spectatorship, are ones that are still central to film studies. Metz’s writings on cinema can be separated into two strands, although these strands are closely related. On the one hand, most of his writings are directed towards issues of the semiotics of cinema derived predominantly from Saussurian linguistics (Metz 1968, 1971, 1972, 1974a, 1977a, 1991). On the other hand, Metz’s most...

      (pp. 276-285)
      Patricia MacCormack

      It is tempting to transplant Julia Kristeva’s work on language to the language of film. Kristeva’s work emphasizes that the semiotic and the space of corporealjouissance(joy/ecstasy) are not bound within the text as the work but come from between the text and reader relation, as process. The content of art as transcendentally meaningful or signifying dissipates into its affective potential. Art is not an object of analysis or transmission but an ignition ofjouissancein the subject. Kristeva sees cinema as the central place of the imaginary in modern culture (2002a: 68). The question is not to what...

      (pp. 286-295)
      David Sorfa

      It would be difficult to argue that Laura Mulvey’s work over the past four decades presents a coherent philosophy in the sense of a developed and arguedWeltanschauung. Mulvey’s published work consists almost entirely of reviews and articles, many of which have been collected in the three books for which she is well known:Visual and Other Pleasures(1989),Fetishism and Curiosity(1996) andDeath 24x a Second(2006). The only single-topic book Mulvey has written is her shortCitizen Kanefor the BFI Film Classics series in 1992. Mulvey herself writes that she has “remained an ‘essayist’ and, …...

    • 27 HOMI K. BHABHA
      (pp. 296-307)
      Patricia Pisters

      In his epistemological work on colonial and postcolonial discourse, cultural translation, hybridity and ambiguity, Homi Bhabha gives a central place to culture. Bhabha refers regularly to literature and (albeit to a lesser extent) to cinema. Speaking from a profoundly humanities perspective, and influenced by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Frantz Fanon and Jacques Derrida, Bhabha argues that in a postmodern, postcolonial world, art, including cinema, has a very specific political function to show the underlying structures of thoughts of the relationship between words, stories, images and the world, and to call for social solidarity (Bhabha 2006). Theoretically Bhabha’s work has made...

      (pp. 308-317)
      Laurence Simmons

      One of the early sequences of Sophie Fiennes’s filmThe Pervert’s Guide to Cinema(2006) opens with Slovenian cultural analyst and philosopher Slavoj Žižiek dressed in a yellow shirt, sitting a little uncomfortably at the helm of a motorized dingy, which, he declares, is floating in the middle of Bodega Bay, the location for Alfred Hitchcock’s filmThe Birds(1963). The sequence then cuts back and forth between scenes fromThe Birdsand Žižek’s animated explanations of how the Oedipal tensions between the central character Mitch (Rod Taylor) and his mother underpin an explanation of why the birds inexplicably attack;...

      (pp. 318-326)
      Fred Botting

      “Stephen Heath” signifies, not an author, but something like a “text” (Barthes 1977a: 157). A text takes the form of a weave, a multiplicity, entwining aesthetic, social, political and historical systems of signification. Noting that “fiction film” works to produce a “homogeneity”, “Heath” (still in quotation marks) writes that “in no way can it exhaust the textual system – the filmic process, the relational movement – which is precisely the term of its production” (1981: 133). In a review ofQuestions of Cinema, Heath’s major collection of writings on film, Dana Polan sympathizes with the book’s refusal of humanist concerns...

      (pp. 327-338)
      Stephen Zepke

      “We must begin,” Badiou tells us in a lecture on art, “from the beginning” (2005a). The beginning, for cinema as much as for philosophers, is marked by the oldest question: “What is being?” Being, Badiou argues, is pure multiplicity untroubled by any distinction between whole and part, a multiple of multiples “without any foundational stopping point” (2005b: 33). Thus, this beginning of philosophy already catches it in an impasse according to Badiou, inasmuch as the ontology of multiplicity implies that what we take to be “athing”, a “one”,is not, and only exists as anoperation: what Badiou calls...

      (pp. 339-348)
      Sudeep Dasgupta

      Jacques Rancière’s engagement with philosophy has been marked by scrupulous and sustained critique. This critique is one node of a much larger network of work that spans and questions the fields of literature, history, pedagogy, art and cinema. Rancière’s engagement with film cannot thus be cast as that of a philosopher applying a “framework” to the study of film, for he reworks philosophy as much as film, within an a-disciplinary project that has linked the question of aesthetics to politics (cf. Dasgupta 2007; Rancière 2006a). Rancière’s engagement with cinema is less that of a “film theorist” than a cinephile’s poetic...

      (pp. 349-358)
      Christian McCrea

      The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has been rapidly taken up by scholars working in a variety of fields in the past decade as his work concerns some of the most pressing and complex elements of contemporary life. While the rethinking of sovereignty and the rights of the individual are his most famous philosophical enquiries, his work traverses many fields, including biblical research, aesthetics and art history. Agamben has received a great deal of critical attention for his work on “bare life” and the reframing of our collective subjectivity given the contemporary status of the refugee.

      Agamben’sHomo Sacer(1998) is...

    (pp. 359-364)
    (pp. 365-389)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 390-404)