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Moving Viewers

Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
  • Book Info
    Moving Viewers
    Book Description:

    Everyone knows the thrill of being transported by a film, but what is it that makes movie watching such a compelling emotional experience? InMoving Viewers,Carl Plantinga explores this question and the implications of its answer for aesthetics, the psychology of spectatorship, and the place of movies in culture. Through an in-depth discussion of mainstream Hollywood films, Plantinga investigates what he terms "the paradox of negative emotion" and the function of mainstream narratives as ritualistic fantasies. He describes the sensual nature of the movies and shows how film emotions are often elicited for rhetorical purposes. He uses cognitive science and philosophical aesthetics to demonstrate why cinema may deliver a similar emotional charge for diverse audiences.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94391-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Affect and the Movies
    (pp. 1-17)

    I experienced movie fright early in my childhood. At the ripe age of seven I was taken to a drive-in to see Alfred Hitchcock’sThe Birds(1963), and I spent a good portion of those two hours cowering beneath the dashboard of the car. Despite all that cowering, I was thrilled. To this day I love that film and wonder how that initial childhood experience figures into the attraction. Years later, I saw how movie terror can affect an audience at a screening of Ridley Scott’sAlien(1979). The show was nearly sold out. My companion and I arrived late,...

  6. 1 Pleasures, Desires, Fantasies
    (pp. 18-47)

    Film scholar V. F. Perkins claims that for most films, critical appreciation begins with a reconstruction of “the naïve response of the film-fan.”² That response — perhaps not so naïve as is sometimes assumed — has significant implications beyond aesthetic appreciation for the relationship of film to psychology, culture, and ideology. The nature of the film spectator’s response is key to many of the questions we want to ask about film.

    Actual spectator responses are varied and complex, involving pleasures, desires, emotions, affects, and moods in relation to the diversity of spectator differences, viewing contexts, and historical periods. Any complete...

  7. 2 Movies and Emotions
    (pp. 48-77)

    Movies have seemed to many observers to be excellent metaphors for, or approximations of, human consciousness. If consciousness is to some extent self-directed through the patterns of salience we impose on the world around us, then, as Oliver Sacks writes, a movie,

    with its taut stream of thematically connected images, its visual narrative integrated by the viewpoint and values of its director, is not at all a bad metaphor for the stream of consciousness itself. And the technical and conceptual devices of cinema—zooming, fading, dissolving, omission, allusion, association and juxtaposition of all sorts—rather closely mimic (and perhaps are...

  8. 3 Stories and Sympathies
    (pp. 78-111)

    This book examines the elicitation of affect in mainstream American films, or what might be called Hollywood movies. This begs a question about what constitutes a mainstream movie. The popularity of recent unconventional films such asMemento(2000),Adaptation(2002),Thirteen Conversations about One Thing(2001),Being John Malkovich(1999),Magnolia(1999), andEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(2004) makes it necessary to delimit my object of study. These films are marginally mainstream in their widespread distribution and popularity, but to one degree or another, they experiment with form and style to such an extent that they differ significantly...

  9. 4 The Sensual Medium
    (pp. 112-139)

    Film scholars and critics often talk about spectators “reading” films. Such talk is meant to imply, sensibly enough, that all films must be interpreted. Films are never transparent records of real events or people, but rather constructions with communicative and rhetorical functions. Some of the meanings of films are hidden and subtle rather than immediate and obvious. If this is true, then why not speak of film interpretation instead of “reading a film”? The phrase “reading a film” mischaracterizes the viewing process as literary, with the effect of distracting us from the medium’s sometimes disavowed quality, namely, that film is...

  10. 5 Affective Trajectories and Synesthesia
    (pp. 140-168)

    Now that we have explored the spectrum of human affective responses as they relate to film viewing, the task remains to say how these affects interrelate in the spectator’s overall experience. How should we think of that “walking path that . . . guides the flow of feeling,” as Robert C. Roberts describes it in the above quote? The spectator’s viewing experience is complex, consisting at least of the varied activities and responses I have so far identified. A list of these would include cognitive processing (inference making, question asking, etc.), visceral responses, character engagement (including sympathy, primitive empathic responses...

  11. 6 Negative Emotions and Sympathetic Narratives
    (pp. 169-197)

    James Cameron, the director of the 1997Titanic, describes his Hollywood blockbuster as a “canvas offering the full spectral range of human emotion.”¹ Cameron assumes that experiencing this full spectral range is inherently enjoyable, something to be strived for. Certainly all audiences want to be excited, exhilarated, curious, awed, delighted, etc. Yet the spectrum of emotions elicited byTitanicincludes a sort typically thought to be distinctly unpleasant. The ship Titanic sinks, causing terror and death for thousands of passengers; this is presented in powerful and horrifying detail. Among those who die is Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), the film’s lead male...

  12. 7 The Rhetoric of Emotion: Disgust and Beyond
    (pp. 198-220)

    In their attempts to gauge the rhetorical and ideological effects of movies on spectators, film scholars have sometimes veered between two extremes, neither of which is entirely satisfactory. The first is deterministic, while the second emphasizes the spectator’s freedom. The first insists on the ideological power of films, while the latter cedes seemingly limitless freedom to spectators to use films for their own purposes. The psychosemiotic theory of the 1970s and 1980s claimed that mainstream films had a deterministic effect on an entity called “the subject” or “the spectator.” The “subject,” taken as a position or role that the flesh-and...

  13. Conclusion: Moving Viewers
    (pp. 221-226)

    One reaction I received to this project at an early stage in its writing left an indelible impression on me. “Hasn’t the topic of film and affect already been written about?” this person inquired. “Why explore such well-trodden territory?” The sentiments behind this question seem quite naïve, for two reasons. First, the study of affect in relation to film and the other media is in its infancy, at least in the disciplines of film and media studies.¹ In part, this is due to the former dominance of psychoanalysis as a model of spectator psychology. Psychoanalytic film theory has little to...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-252)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-268)
  16. Index
    (pp. 269-281)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)