Sunday, 15 March 2015

Yr3 Week 19 (Thurs 5 Mar - MDA3200 Film Theory - Representation 2)

Today, we kept on the topic of Representation but moved more towards a Post Theory approach, looking more at the cognitive/communicative element than any sort of philosophy or abstract psychology. Theorist Gilles Deleuze described something called the Movement Image, which is tied to a topic we´ve covered before: the Sensory Motor Mechanism (the Always Already - limiting and controlled). This notion was birthed from a maturation in American Cinema towards the end of the 1930s, and was centered on action-driven/cause and effect trajectories in films (a clearly focused story with goals, the mainstream/commercial approach).

As a sort of demonstration of this concept, we watched the first of two extract's from the cheery 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. It´s a pleasant clip, dealing with a young man trying to court her and then shyly departing. It's pretty straightforward, the sets and costumes are colourful, and the subject matter is very agreeable and we even get a pretty song in there.

This in turns easily links into ideas such as the schema (our brain recognising familiar patterns) and cognitivism (response tracked and explained by reference to conscious mental activities and routines), both dealing with how our minds recognise, process and then place stimuli based on experiences. In fact, the first proper film theorist, Hugo Munsterberg in 1916, said that film can be realist and offer parallels to everyday life and mental routines. Of course, the downside to this train of thought is that it doesn't account for ruptures, when the common language is challenged and broken.

And since we're on the topic of routines/patterns, that brought us back to the oft-discussed notion of hegemony, a Marxist-born system view that dictates the way of things and can assimilate anything new and make that part of itself, thus creating an illusion of 'choice'. Indeed, it´s easy to see how one can view the ways of popular culture and media in this fashion, as things that start out as independent and rebellious, like punk music or indie filmmakers like Tarantino, become embraced over time and absorbed into the mainstream.

One means of communicating any sort idea is through imagery, which then led us into discussion about 'lack', a psychological term that when applied to film, primarily Grand Theory, states that the image is an empty shell, and we project onto it. By contrast, in a sort of defiance of the 'void', Post Theory argues that the image is the opposite: it´s brimming to bursting point with depth and possibility, and is not banal in the slightest, resisting the closure of definition. We viewed another extract from Meet Me in St Louis, this time of the famous trolley song, which produced a very joyous and warm reaction among the viewing class, some even dancing to it. Interpretation is the key word across all of this, since representation functions in relation to the audience's capacity for meaning making, except...

Theorist Susan Sontag argued in the early 60s that 'Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art'. In her mind, interpretation was a confining, restrictive notion that did not enable one to enjoy the art as art. This is, is  part, something I´ll return to in the seminar, as is a notion derived from this, which is about the poetics of filmmaking (how it is made) and the idea of 'excess': something that the filmmaker uses to that is perhaps more grandiose or extravagant than may be needed for the core nuts and bolts mechanics of the film to work..

And so, moving onto the seminar, we took a look at three film extracts from Charles Laughton's amazing 1955 thriller The Night of the Hunter, and discussed the idea of 'excess' as pertaining to each of them: the first time the boy sees the Preacher, and then their meeting at the town cafe (the set design and use of shadow, Mitchum´s grand performance, especially with his hands, and the use of the boiling fudge as symbolic of the tension), the sight of the Mother's murdered body in the lake (the beauty of the composition and set work, the use of sweet singing against such a morbid sight), and then the children's escape (the use of sound to create a very vivid landscape around the children at night, the 'Universal monster' style treatment and framing of the Preacher, the set design and use of forced perspective creating an almost storybook feel).

Another beefy seminar, but certainly a rather interesting one, and I feel I have not much more to add with being repetitious. Being an amateur online critic, the debate over the artistry in film, what it is, who its for and how it can work, is a very, very active one across many circles, and it´s interesting to see a perspective that essentially says: stop arguing and just enjoy the damn thing! Usually, that argument gets shot down as the 'turn your brain off' spiel, but to hear it in this rather eloquent guise is certainly intriguing.

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