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Film theory

Parent categories: film - theory

Specific theories auteur theory - cinematic time - psychoanalytical film theory - feminist film theory - Marxist film theory - structuralist film theory - genre film theory -

Related: audience - auteur theory - film criticism - film genre - film history - the male gaze - paracinema - postmodern film - voyeurism

People: Rudolf Arnheim - André Bazin - David Bordwell - Scott Bukatman - Ricciotto Canudo - Carol Clover - Gilles Deleuze - Louis Delluc - Mary Ann Doane - Germaine Dulac - Sergei Eisenstein - Jean Epstein - Cynthia Freeland - Siegfried Kracauer - Ado Kyrou - Vachel Lindsay - Laura Mulvey - Hugo Münsterberg - Patricia Pisters - Steven Jay Schneider - Donato Totaro - Dziga Vertov

Rear Window (1954) - Alfred Hitchcock [Amazon.com]
Two times voyeurism in the cinema


Film theory seeks to develop concise, systematic concepts that apply to the study of cinema. Classical film theory provides a structural framework to address classical issues of techniques, narrativity, diegesis, cinematic codes, "the image", genre, subjectivity, and authorship. More recent analysis has given rise to psychoanalytic film theory, structuralist film theory, feminist film theory, and theories of documentary, new media, third cinema, and new queer cinema, to name just a few. See also film criticism. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_theory [Oct 2004]


The Italian futurist Ricciotto Canudo (1879-1923) is considered to be the very first theoretician of cinema. He published his manifesto The Birth of the Seventh Art in 1911. Another early attempt was The Photoplay (1916) by the psychologist Hugo Münsterberg.

Classical film theory took shape during the era of silent film. It emerged from the works of directors like Germaine Dulac, Louis Delluc, Jean Epstein, Sergei Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, Paul Rotha and film critics like Rudolf Arnheim, Béla Balázs and Siegfried Kracauer. It was not an academic discipline.

In the early 1950s the French film critic André Bazin helped to found the highly influential Cahiers du Cinéma. Many of its young writers such as François Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard would go on to direct the films of the French New Wave. These writers were some of the first to take popular Hollywood cinema seriously as an artform. Their fascination with Westerns and gangster films effectively spawned genre theory.

In the 1960s film theory took up residence in academe, importing concepts from established disciplines like psychoanalysis, literary theory and linguistics.

In the seventies the British journal Screen was very influential.

During the 1990s the digital revolution in image technologies has impacted on film theory in various ways. There has been a refocus onto celluloid film's ability to capture an indexical image of a moment in time by theorists like Mary Ann Doane, Philip Rosen and Laura Mulvey. There has also been a historical revisiting of early cinema screenings, practices and spectatorship modes by writers Tom Gunning, Miriam Hansen and Yuri Tsivian. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_theory#History [Nov 2005]

Because of the relative newness of the film medium compared with other art forms--Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope peephole machines were first open to the public in New York City only in 1894, and the Lumière brothers first projected their short actualités to a paying audience in a cafe in Paris in 1895--film theory and criticism are dependent on a limited number of major texts, and the lines of their discourse can easily be traced up to the point when Structuralism and poststructuralism had their profound effect on cultural history in general. From that point on, especially with the expansion of film departments and faculties at institutions of higher learning, film theory and criticism proliferated at a rapid rate, and film journals became as much a place for heated debate on the issues of art and aesthetics as the learned journals were for essays on literature. Much of the discourse on cinema from the start is concerned with fictional narrative films, an emphasis that parallels the vast popularity of such works compared with the more limited and specialized appeal of the documentary and avant-garde film.

For the first 20 years of motion pictures, film writing was largely descriptive and sometimes evaluative, but with the rise of the feature film, theory took its first pronounced steps with the appearance of two pioneer texts in English, Vachel Lindsay's The Art of the Moving Picture in 1915 (rev. ed., 1922) and Hugo Münsterberg's The Photoplay: A Psychological Study in 1916. Both of these works, the first by a poet and the second by a psychologist, consider this new medium in the context of other art forms. But whereas Lindsay is content to draw parallels between film and such other arts as architecture, sculpture, and poetry, Münsterberg goes much further in arguing for the unique properties of cinema by focusing in the first part of his work on the psychological responses of the viewer and in the second on the aesthetic properties of film as a mental creation. For him, film, by being freed from the constraints of real time and space as well as causality, is capable of being constructed with the free play of the viewer's mental life. -- John Hopkins University, http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/film_theory.html [Oct 2004]

Notes on the auteur theory

Auteur is French for author. Since the 1950s, when auteur theory was first brought forward by the critics of the influential French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, the term auteur has acquired the meaning of directors whose personal vision on a movie is strongly felt.

However, it would be valid to say that any writer director - as in one who both writes and directs a film - could be labeled an auteur, since both writing and directing a film, is likely produce a film with the personal imprint of the director.

Auteur may or may not refer to control over the final version of the film. See the entry director's cut elsewhere.

In recent years, the auteur theory has been contrasted with genre theory, arguing that the auteur theory is a manifestation of the cult of personality theory of the great man theory which tend to exclude the work of directors such as David Cronenberg, Radley Metzger or Roger Corman to name but a few, who produce highly personal movies but are mainly active in what has been labeled genre films, the cinematic equivalent of escapist fiction. This exclusion could hardly have been the original intention of the Cahiers writers, as they were the first to re-appraise - against established film critical currents - the works of "genre directors" such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman.

As quoted from Greencine.com:

[the Cahiers writers] embraced directors - both French and American - whose personal signature could be read in their films. The French directors the Cahiers critics endorsed included Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson and Marcel Ophüls; while the Americans on their list of favorites included John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and Orson Welles, indisputed masters, all. There were also a few surprising, even head-scratching favorites, including Jerry Lewis (where the whole "France loves Jerry Lewis" stereotype began) and Roger Corman. (Greencine.com, early 2000s)
[Aug 2005]

Note: the search string "writer director" turns up 350 results in Wikipedia. [Aug 2005]

See also: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auteur_theory

See also: film - auteur - director - author

'Bad' films

Ado Kyrou wrote, "Je vous en conjure, apprenez a voir les `mauvais' films, ils sont parfois sublimes" ("I beg you, learn to see `bad' films; they are sometimes sublime"). Ado Kyrou, Le Surrealisme au cinema, 276. Translation Joan Hawkins --Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art, Film Quarterly, Winter, 1999 by Joan Hawkins http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1070/is_2_53/ai_59210751/pg_1 [Mar 2005]

see also: bad - film - Ado Kyrou

Good movies

The area of expertise of Roger Ebert et all. Boring, with no attention given to the fringes or alternative themes and production methods.
  • http://directory.google.com/Top/Arts/Movies/Reviews/Top_Lists/Good_Films/ good films category on dmoz.org


    1. The Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud's Worst Nightmares - Steven Jay Schneider (Editor) [Amazon US]
      In recent years, psychoanalytic theory has been the subject of attacks from philosophers, cultural critics, and scientists who have questioned the cogency of its reasoning as well as the soundness of its premises. Nevertheless, when used to shed light on horror cinema, psychoanalysis in its various forms has proven to be a fruitful and provocative interpretative tool. This volume seeks to find the proper place of psychoanalytic thought in critical discussion of cinema in a series of essays that debate its legitimacy, utility, and validity as applied to the horror genre. It distinguishes itself from previous work in this area through the self-consciousness with which psychoanalytic concepts are employed and the theorization that coexists with interpretations of particular horror films and subgenres.

    2. Cinema 2: The Time-Image - Gilles Deleuze [Amazon US]
      Although Deleuze mentions that this book's aim is to make a typology on cinema, for readers, it will be the object of thought more than that. In this book, Deleuze considers many films in which time is not subordinate to movement any longer (the time-image). His way of developing theory is like Bergson's one on time and memory, but his theory of time has variations that are reflected in various films and becomes a profound notion of the world with dynamic extension. Deleuze proposes us not only new concepts through films but also the question: What is the world? Deleuze creates a system on cinema as same as he analyzes clearly what is new and what is different from the past films in films of neo-realism or the new wave. While many people have mentioned to genres in films, Deleuzefs analysis of the border between the genres is one of the most precise.

      If you had "Cinema 1: The Movement-Image", this book would be more interesting for you because you could compare the two books. Moreover, this book treats so many films that you must find ones you have ever seen, which makes this book more fascinating.--A reader from Kobe, Japan for amazon.com

    3. Theories of Authorship: A Reader (1981) J. Caughie [Amazon.com]
      The film director or "auteur" has been central in film theory and criticism. This text documents the major stages in the debate about film authorship, and introduces recent writing on film to suggest important ways in which the debate might be reconsidered. --Synopsis, amazon.com

    4. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings - Leo Braudy (Editor), Marshall Cohen (Editor) [Amazon.com]
      This is an expanded an updated edition of an ideal introduction to film aesthetics. In addition to extracts from the writings of film theorists of the calibre of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Bazin, Barthes, Metz, and Sontag, there are pieces on such perenially contentious issues auteur theory, narrative and genre, and on many key contemporary topics, including psychoanalysis, feminism, television, and the cultural impact of cinema. --Synopsis via amazon.com

    5. Movie Mutations : The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (2003) - Jonathan Rosenbaum (Editor), Adrian Martin (Editor) [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
      At the beginning of the twenty-first century, formula-driven Hollywood blockbusters and bottom-line accounting seem to dominate the film world. In times like these can "the love of cinema" still flourish? This book shows that contemporary cinema--from Tawian and Iran to Brazil and the Baltic states--is, in fact, stunningly varied and rich. As Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin show in this wide-ranging look at World Cinema, directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Tsai Ming-liang are now making extraordinary films equal to the great classics, previously unrecognized works from the past are being discovered, and new boundaries for the genre are being explored. Those who follow and share such work, as contributors from around the world demonstrate in these pages, are forming new communities that enable significant exchange between cultures at a time when other forces seem bent on keeping them isolated. Movie Mutations pronounces the art form alive, well, and continuing to developing in new and exciting directions. --Book Description

    Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (1992) - Slavoj Zizek

    Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (1992) - Slavoj Zizek [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Synopsis Hitchcock is placed on the analyst's couch in this volume of case-studies, as its contributors sweep on the entire Hitchcock oeuvre, from "Rear Window" to "Psycho" as an exemplar of "postmortem" defamiliarization. Starting from the premise that "everything has meaning" the films' ostensible narrative content and formal procedures are analyzed to reveal a proliferation of ideological and psychical mechanisms at work. But Hitchcock, here, is also a bait to lure the reader into "serious" Marxist and Lacanian considerations on the construction of meaning. The contributors are: Fredric Jameson, Pascal bonitzer, Miran Bozovic, Michel Chion, Mladen Dolar, Stojan Pelko, Renata Salecl, Alenka Zupancic and Slavoj Zizek. --via Amazon.com

    see also: Alfred Hitchcock - Jacques Lacan

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