task. The meaning of a sequence can actually be undermined or reinforced by
several factors which include the shot duration, lighting, angle,
juxtaposition, cultural context and so on.
Apparatus film theory
theory has been derived in parts from semiotics, psychoanalysis and Marxist
film theory. It was a very dominant film theory in the discourse of cinema
studies in the 1970s. Apparatus theory goes on to opine that cinema by its very
innate nature is ideological as its mechanics of representation are actually
ideological. These mechanics of representation include the camera as the
cinematic apparatus and the editing.
as per this approach, within the perspective of the composition the very
central position of the spectator is, in fact, also ideological. This
theory goes on to argue that cinema actually maintains the dominant ideology of
the cultural domain within the audience. Cinema is not imposed with ideology, but ideology is an
integral part of its nature. This theory follows an institutional model of spectatorship.
Marxist film theory
film theory is one of the oldest forms of film theory which has been present in
academics to help one comprehend the cinematic medium and its influence. Stalwart
filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and many other Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s
went on to express their ideas of Communism through their works. Kuleshov
came up with his path-breaking editing which is known as Kuleshov Experiment
and it is known to be the best display of Hegelian dialectics in the cinematic
medium. The montage has come to be
known as one of the most effective film techniques across the globe. Thus, a
structuralist approach was used in filmmaking from the Marxist perspective. The
Russian filmmakers who excelled in this form of art cried foul over the
narrative structure of Hollywood filmmaking.
Eisenstein was one famous filmmaker who delved deep into the cinematic medium
and its techniques. He chose to shun the narrative structure of the film by the
elimination of the individual protagonist. He opted for telling his stories
through the action of a group of people and the thus the story of the film was
expressed through a clash of one image against the other which follows (whether
in composition, motion, or idea). Thus, the audience is never made to believe
that they are seeing something which has not been worked over. The director
himself was, however, accused by the Soviet authorities working under Stalin
that he was making “formalist error” by stressing on the form as an omnipotent
thing rather than portraying the worker in a noble way.
Godard, the famous French Marxist filmmaker, used to employ radical editing and
choice of subject matter in his films. He also utilized subversive parody so
that the class consciousness could be heightened to promote Marxist ideals.
Marxist film theory focuses on the societal conditions and endeavors to reflect
the reality on the large screen. It identifies how film works as an ideological
apparatus and can be utilized to bring in societal change though spreading of
ideals and exposing the ills of the capitalist society which loots the people
of their basic rights.
theory is another form of Marxist film theory which is associated with British
journal Screen in the 1970s. Colin
MacCabe, Stephen Heath and Laura Mulvey are the main theoreticians who deal
with this approach and delve into describing the cinematic apparatus as a version
of Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). According to this theory, the
spectacle is something which creates the spectator and not vice versa. The
apparent realism of the content that is communicated masks the subject of the
film and the subjection. Both the subject and the subjection are created at the
same time on the large screen by the filmic narrative.
2.2.5 Formalist film theory
theory focuses on the formal aspect of films, namely the film techniques and
the other elements of a film like the sound and set design lighting, scoring,
use of color, shot composition, and editing.
formalism takes into account the synthesis or lack of synthesis of many
elements which are present in the procedure of film production and also the
other effects like the intellectual and emotional effects. For example editing
is one technique which is involved in the filmmaking process. For example, a
formalist theorist would look into the film technique of editing and might
study how the “continuity editing” which is standard in Hollywood has a more
comforting effect on the audience and jump-cut editing or non-continuity
editing has more of volatility.
theorist might also go on to consider the synthesis of several elements like
editing, shot, music and composition. The Spaghetti Western Dollars
trilogy which was directed by Sergio Leone ends with a shootout which is a
perfect example of this. These elements work together
to give rise to an effect. The shot changes from being a wide angle shot
to a close shot and the music starts in the background. The tension of the
scene is created by the amalgamation of all these elements and not just one of
them in particular. Formalism actually embraces both
the auteurist and ideological branches of criticism and in both of these cases
the common denominator is style.
2.2.6 Feminist film theory
film criticism which is derived from feminist political discourse and feminist
theory is known as feminist film theory. There are many approaches to the
analysis of cinema which are undertaken by the feminists. They analyze the
elements of film and also their theoretical underpinnings.
It was the second
wave feminism and the development of women’s studies as an academic discourse
which influenced the development of feminist film theory. The feminist scholars
started applying the new theoretical set ups which were arising from these
movements to analyze the cinematic medium and its aesthetics. The very initial
attempts which were made in the United States in the early 70s were actually
having the foundation on sociological theory and the function of the women
characters in the film narratives were delved into. The genres and the role
stereotypes were also looked into as a reflection of the societal view of the
were certain works like Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn
Venus; Women, Movies, and the
American Dream (1973) and Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Movies (1974)
which went on to focus on the analysis of portrayal of women in films in
relation to the historical context of the society. The stereotypes
which were depicted were analyzed in these works. It was also seen whether the
women portrayed on the screen were shown as active or passive and also how much
screen time was given to the women characters.
2.2.7 Auteur Theory
In the 1950s, the
most famous film theory was the Auteur theory which held the idea that the
director’s film actually goes on to reflect the director’s personal creative
vision and he or she is the primary “Auteur” (the French word for
“author”). In specific cases, the film producers are considered to
have similar role of the “auteur” for films that they have produced. The auteur
is the creator of a film as a work of art and is the original copyright holder
in the eyes of law. The European Union law grants the
film director the right to be known as the author or the auteur of a film.
This theory of
film criticism has had a huge impact on film criticism right from the time when
it was advocated by the famous film director and critic François Truffaut in
1954. This method is the way in which the filmic work is analyzed on the basis
of the characteristics of the director’s work which collectively make him the
The auteur theory
and Auteurism method film analysis get frequently associated with the French
New Wave and also the critics who wrote the French film review periodical Cahiers du cinema which was very
2.2.8 Psychoanalytic film theory
have seen the influence of the concepts related to psychoanalysis in a number
of ways. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the advancement of the film theory delved
into the concepts developed by the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. This
theory applied these concepts by Lacan to the very experience of watching a
film. The film viewer went on to be seen as the subject of the “gaze” that is
greatly “constructed” by the film on its own. Also, the things that are showed
on the screen transform into the objects of the subject’s desire.
subject generally identifies with a male protagonist shown on the screen.
Psychoanalytic film theory goes on to stress that the subject longs for
completeness with the film by identifying with an image. According to the Lacanian
theory, the process of identification with the image is nothing but simply an
illusion, while the subject in context is split by the virtue of coming into
2.3 The significance of the cognitive approach to the film
cognitive approach to the study of films was introduced as an academic pursuit
from the mid to late 1980s. The cognitive theory was having its influence on
the discourse of study and research along this direction was only practiced by
a minority of film scholars and these people were definitely not the ones who
could be considered among the mainstream researchers of film studies. Apart
from Sergei Eisenstein and Hugo Munsterberg, theorists like Bordwell and
Carroll are the most influential figures in the propagation of the cognitive
approach in the field of studying films.
point of time it was believed that the cognitive approach was weak enough as it
was unable to deal with the elicitation of emotion in movie. However, the
cognitive approach to the emotions have been of paramount importance in
psychology, philosophy and other very important disciplines of study in the
next twenty years and very recently there have been much development in the
methodology to bear on movie.
Cognitive Film Theory and Its
will not be very appropriate to claim that the cognitive theorists go on to
oppose the discourse of psychoanalysis, though the majority would come to agree
on the fact that psychoanalysis has not been of much result when practiced in
relation to film studies. Also, psychoanalysis is not properly suited to
describe the normative behaviors like perception, social cognition, narrative
comprehension and the experience of other types of emotions like pity and fear.
has been the tradition of the discourse of cognitive science to search for the
processes which underlie information processing, intelligent problem solving,
utilization of the computer as a metaphor for the mind of humans. The computer
analogy has been left behind in course of time by the cognitivists. But, they
have come forward to approach certain elements of perception and narrative
comprehension by the use of models of rationality and practical
talks of the schémas, assumptions, inferences, hypotheses that are used in film
viewing and actually takes for granted that the audience is engaged in
primarily non-conscious procedures which are goal-directed to make sense of the
narratives of the films. For him, the audience goes on to construct the fabula
or story of the film during the process of watching it. The degree of
consistency of the constructed fabula from viewer to viewer is dependent on the
kind of processes which are involved in the construction of the fabula.
cognitivists, including Bordwell and Currie, are in vehement favor of the
naturalistic explanations of the phenomena of film. This entails that the
audience makes sense of films in many of the similar ways in which the sense of
the real world is made. The primary interest of cognitive theory in the present
day is how the audience makes sense and responds to movies and also the textual
structures and the filmic techniques which lead to the audience’s response and
From the viewpoint
of cognitive theory, Bordwell has set up a constructivist approach and has
advanced to develop a very compelling theory of cinematic narration and this
theory is quite an useful one. A major area of research in this discourse is
the means by which films elicit emotions. Cognitive film theory is delving deep
into this matter of late and the basic assumption which has been propagated is
that emotions have reasons. To put differently, the emotional response of the
audience or readers to the texts (and the other phenomena) is partly dependent
on how the people evaluate and assimilate the information which the text
carries. The argument of cognitive film theory is that in response to the
films, thinking and feeling are very closely related to each other.
Murray Smith calls
character identification as character “engagement” and it is one of the very
dominant means through which the audience gets involved with the movie
emotionally. Smith goes on to argue that the structure of sympathy which is one
primary mode of engagement to the film is a process which involves three
components which are recognition, alignment and allegiance. Recognition is the
means by which the spectator goes on to construct a character, while alignment
means how the audience is placed in relation to the characters shown in the
movie both visually and epistemically. It is through allegiance that the
audience evaluates the characters shown on the large screen morally.
2.4 Getting emotional response through cinema
One of the most
useful ways in which the text primes the emotional response of the viewer is
through character engagement. It can be so that an emotion is having its roots
in the result in part from a detailed evaluation of a particular situation in a
film. As such, the assessment of the meaning of the situation of the film for
the character which is favored by the particular viewer will obviously become a
great part of that evaluation. The emotional response of the audience also
depends on the very nature of situation which is presented in the film and also
on the way in which this situation is unfolded in the course of the movie.
Thus, specific types of narrative scenarios are associated with certain
emotions like an action film is associated with suspense and excitement, a
family melodrama with sentiment and a romantic comedy film with sentiment and
amusement and so on. This relationship between narrative and emotion in cinema
is the subject of research in the recent times in this discourse, but it is
still in a very primary stage. One major question of concern is to identify the
amount of similarity between the emotions which are generated in watching a
film and those emotions which are experienced by human beings in our real,
2.5 Fiction and Non-fiction
films are taken by the traditional and post-structuralist critics as a kind of
reconstruction or imitation of reality. This view does give rise to impediments
for the notion of documentary films as it is easily possible to find the
techniques which are used by documentaries to manipulate their materials. Thus,
it initiates the debate that the distinction between the fiction and
non-fiction is illicit and documentary films utilize techniques which are used
in fictional films and they even are duplicitous as they pretend to deliver the
actual reality while the fact remains that they are simply manipulated and are
rhetorically purposeful in nature.
What makes more
sense is that one should think of non-fiction film in light of action theory
which is broad derivation of the speech act theory. Non-fiction films are those
via which the directors assert what they wish to portray and the audience
assumes that the objects, entities and events or situations which are shown on
the screen actually exist(ed) in the real world just like it has been portrayed
in the movie.
Both fiction and
non-fiction films use same techniques for the process of filmmaking and hence
the spectator has the onus on himself or herself to comprehend the films. The
spectator may use similar, although not identical, ways of perception,
comprehension and interpretation while watching both types of films.
2.6 Types of Cognitive Research
Film studies as a
discourse is of great importance due to the fact that film is prominent as a
contemporary form of art and also because a lot remains to be known about the
cognitive response which is evoked in the audience by the stimulations which
are provided by the film.
The paramount need
is to find the theoretical model which extends and even modifies the general
cognitive principles like assimilation and accommodation, schema formation,
memory, and meta-cognition with respect to film presentation. From an
educational perspective, the process by which the viewer constructs meaning
from the film, and thereby reshapes and extends his or her thoughts, is the
more important matter.
2.6.1 Three Types of Cognitive Research
The study of film
and cognition has been pursued along three distinct conceptual lines, each
corresponding to a different sense of the term cognition. These can be
subdivided as skills, states and knowledge.
It signifies a set
of cognitive skills that would be necessary or enhancing to the effective
viewing of film. Salomon’s method of conceptualizing film viewing skills, then,
was to define the psycho-logically pertinent elements of film making techniques
and to infer a specific cognitive skill associated with the reception of those
elements. The problem remains whether this identification of cognitive
functions (things that cognition accomplishes) is a valid way to identify
cognitive skills (what cognition is).
offers a more complex, and at the same time more parsimonious, model of
cognition. The central construct of Piaget’s model is the schema, the cognitive
unit of understanding that is formed through inter-action with the environment.
Through a dynamic balance of assimilation and accommodation schema are formed,
generalized, and differentiated, becoming equilibrated structures that are
capable of repeated functioning even as they are continually open to change and
reformation. Piaget’s model is parsimonious because it poses a single dynamic
structure (the schema) applicable to all varieties of cognitive experience. It
has been understood that the viewer’s response to film, in any model of
cognition, must bridge the conceptual gap between intelligence and perception.
explicates a notion of visual cognition that adds to, while remaining
compatible with, Piaget’s structuralist view. Arnheim develops the concept of
perception as an intelligent act, comprising such operations as active
explorations, election, grasping of essentials, simplification, abstraction,
analysis, synthesis, completion, and correction. The unit for model-building
purposes of visual intelligence is the Gestalt. The gestalt is the principle of
organization that searches out reality and creates meaningful form, and itself
becomes differentiated through the inter-action.
Researchers of a
more rigorous bent have approached the problem of visual cognition by extending
their experience with verbal language to create the metaphor of visual
literacy. They have then sought out a visual alphabet, visual grammar, and
visual syntax and conceptualized the cognitive response in relation to this
essentially verbal metaphor.
visual understanding begins with active visual perception and concludes with
meanings that are internally represented in visual form. Neisser (1976)
highlights the cognitive time period necessary for schema to develop in
response to a perceptual situation, that is, the time it takes for a viewer to
explore and focus upon a painting or sculpture.
The question is
how this fixed time span affects the cognitive time period in which the viewer
assimilates and accommodates the object of attention. These are central
questions that a full psychology of the film will want to address. Arnheim’s
and Neisser’s model of visual cognition emerges as a promising foundation for
the study of film and cognition. Thus, the study proceeded in the direction of
having a better view about the matter.
The film viewing
experience has been described as being like a dream state. Langer (1966) gives
concise statement of the idea of film as dream. As in a dream, she observes,
the film presents an ongoing series of images and events, with the viewer
always at the center of those events. These images seem as though they are the
viewer’s creation. Furthermore, as in a dream, boundaries of space and time are
not observed: series of situations are related by feeling, not by natural
proximity. Television differs cognitively from film mainly because the lack of
peripheral visual experience and image quality cannot induce the dream state so
Mast (1977) has
put forth a theory of film experience that shares Petric’s image of a passive
viewer overtaken by illusion. For Mast, the film is an especially convincing
illusion of reality because of its dual powers of mimesis (photographic
representation) and kinesis (movement over time).
Metz (1977) adds a
cautionary note, however. He poses the question of whether film viewing is like
dreaming and concludes that it is not, for at least three reasons: the
perception of film is real perception, not an internal psychic event; films are
more structured than dreams; and they are not as absurd. Film, Metz concludes,
is more like a daydream.
The visual arts in
general, and film in particular, possess the capacity to initiate an
epistemological cycle, a cycle that begins with a symbolic presentation and
ends with the viewer’s cognition. The knowledge that is somehow embodied in the
presentation, and that is somehow understood through cognition, is the common
factor throughout this cycle. The non-discursive symbols of the visual arts
present to the viewer a wider range of meaning than language can convey.
Film shares the
capacity of the arts in general to present affectively compelling presentations
of world views. Film also possesses unique representational capacities that
enable it to present additional aspects of the artist’s world view. The
temporal and sequential nature of film allows it to organize images in a pattern
that simulates the pattern of the artist’s perception and thought.
(1973), the reader functions with the work as a co-creator of meaning. The work
suggests mental images, which the reader must objectify. The work supplies
potential meanings that are concretized by the reader’s formation of an
phenomenological model of reading, and especially its treatment of temporal
concerns, is also applicable to film. How synthetic images are formed in
response to a series of discrete sequential presentations, over time, is an
issue common to both film and the novel. With this concern for temporal
sequence comes a range of problems in the development of cognitive schema,
including the interactive effects of past and future, the formation of wholes
from parts, and the establishing of foreground and background.
beings are continually constructing internal meanings at the same time that we
are absorbed in retinal reality. Viewers cannot absorb cinematic images any
more than they can absorb reality. Instead they undertake a perceptual
dialogue, seeing in part what their schemas