• André Bazin and Sergeu Eisentein, film theorists

From 1916 onward, this focus on the conscious experience of the spectator predominated in film theory, as attested by the work of important film theorists such as André Bazin and Sergei Eisenstein. Though Bazin and Eisenstein agree on little, they do share a belief that film’s importance lies in its conscious impact. Neither considers the unconscious.


  • Lacan’s mirror stage and film theory

The primary focus of this wave of psychoanalytic film theory was the process of spectator identification understood through French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s idea of the mirror stage. […] According to Lacan, the mirror stage occurs in infants between six and eighteen months of age, when they misrecognize themselves while looking in the mirror. […] The attractiveness of this idea for film theory is readily apparent if we can accept the analogy between Lacan’s infant and the cinematic spectator.


  • Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, psychoanalytic film theorists

They took this analogy as their point of departure. For them, the film screen serves as a mirror through which the spectator can identify himself or herself as a coherent and omnipotent ego. […] The above scenario functions, however, only insofar as it remains unconscious and the spectator sustains the sense of being unseen.


  • Louis Althusser, Marxist philosopher

For Althusser, ideology hails concrete individuals as subjects, causing them to regard themselves—mistakenly—as the creative agents behind their experiences. The illusion of agency is thus the fundamental ideological deception.


  • The British journal Screen

It is also in Screen that theorists first began to link psychoanalytic film theory to feminist concerns. In 1975 Laura Mulvey wrote “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” perhaps the most anthologized and most quoted essay in the entire history of film theory. […] According to Mulvey, a secondary identification with character accompanies the spectator’s primary identification with the camera, and this identification with a filmic character is most often, at least in Hollywood cinema, an identification with a male character.


  • Laura Mulvey

The spectator’s sense of power is, for Mulvey, a definitively masculine sense of power. The spectator, then, is gendered male. On the screen, the male character, the site of identification, drives the movement of the film’s narrative and is the character whose movement the camera follows. The female character serves as a spectacle for both the spectator and the latter’s screen proxy, the male character, to look at.





The Cognitive Turn in Film Theory


  • Well-known cognitive film theorists in North America: David Bordwell, Noel Caroll, Edward Braigan, Joseph Anderson
  • Much lesser known film theorists in Europe: Francesco Casetti, Roger Odin, Michel Colin, Dominique Chateau


North American cognitivists reject the basic doctrines of modern film theory and European cognitivists make revolution in modern film theory: semiotic stage

North American cognitivists work within a pure cognitive framework and European cognitivists use a semiotic framework


European cognitivists

  • Their work criticizes the film semiotics of Christian Metz
  • They overcome Metz’s ‘translinguistics’ by combining semiotics with pragmatics and cognitive science
  • Conceptualize natural language and other semiotic system as both enabling and limiting


Film semiotics

  • It is a project that does not consider ‘film’ to be an unproblematic, pregiven entity, but reflects on the very nature of film’s existence, together with its cultural and social consequences
  • Challenge the commonsense ideological understanding of film
  • The more complex a society becomes, the more it relies upon system of signification to structure, simplify, and organize experience
  • It is a theory in which humans have an indirect relation to their environment
  • Adopts two tier hierarchy between perceptible and non-perceptible levels of reality and formulates hypotheses about underlying level


Semiotic perspective analysis

  • Bring to film theory a new level of filmic reality
  • Each spectator experience is based on a shared, non-perceptible underlying system of codes
  • Filmic meaning is a result of a system of codes, not the relation between images and referents






 The Cognitive Semiotics of Film, Warren Buckland


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