Sunday, 8 February 2015

Yr3 Week 14 (Thurs 29 Jan - MDA3200 Film Theory - Spectatorship)

In today´s lecture, we looked at the concept of spectatorship i.e. the audience and their relationship with film. To use an immediate example, Patrick screened a clip from the 2008 Iranian film Shirin, which was basically a film about an audience of women watching a romantic Iranian drama, and seeing their reactions. They cried, they sighed, they jolted, their faces sort of mesmerised and entrapped by the screen. This invited questions about what is the ´pleasure´of cinema (masochistic or sadistic), and what can it do to and for an audience (excite, tease, manipulate etc.)

Spectatorship in this case refers to an 1970s/80s offshoot of Grand Theory, which we have discussed before on here. It essentially imagines a hypothetical viewer of the film, and what they gain from a film experience. Naturally, the usefulness of having a hypothetical someone means you can place your film within relevant and relative categories to understand who it would work best for and why. The downside of course is that audiences are not always easy to gauge, and a film can sometimes find appeal or lack thereof with other individuals not part of the original ´spectator´.

Spectatorship also forms a part of another element of Grand Theory, the Cinematic Apparatus, which basically breaks up the film experience into the technical, psychological and physical dimensions and how this affected the viewer. This in turn owes a debt to the likes of notions like semiotics (how we understand signs), psychoanalysis and the idea of an Ideological State Apparatus, which basically dictates how society informs our ideologies and beliefs through everyday means like the media, and given the vast array of themes and subjects tackled in cinema, it´s not hard to see the importance of such ideas.

However, Grand Theory and its various tangents have since been dismissed as dated, feeling too archaic and limiting in discussion of what cinema is and what it can be. This has since been also colourfully dubbed as ´SLAB´Theory´, derived from the four main authors who birthed the notion (Saussure, Lacan. Althusser and Barthes), and we went onto talk further about this ideas in the seminar, discussing spectatorship and the nature of ideology (which is not simply limited to beliefs, as one would think from its common usage, but is simply the way we go about lives. Even our morning routine is for all intents and purposes, an ideology).

Once again, I feel like today provided me with a more substantial and thorough discussion of an aspect of Film Theory than had ever been done by Sharon. We had touched on ideology and the Cinematic Apparatus, but both were in vaguer, less well defined terms and it was good to get a better understanding of both. Also, this a good step towards seeing how theory applies to our own films, since now it feels a lot more relevant and immediate than the dusty, more stately moniker of Film Theory would at first seem to indicate.

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