VES 172b. Contemporary Film Theory

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1 VES 172b. Contemporary Film Theory Professor David Rodowick Office hours: Tuesday 3-4 pm and Wednesday am, or by appointment. Main Office, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts Phone: Course website: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Film:

2 History of film theory and aesthetics Classical film theory VES 170. Film and Photography, Ontology and Art. VES 171. Russian and Soviet Film Theory. Modern film theory VES 172a. Film & Photography: Image, Meaning, Narration. Contemporary film theory VES 172b. Contemporary Film Theory. VES 292r. Film and Philosophy.

3 The history of film theory Classical film theory ( ) the silent film paradigm Modern film theory ( ) structuralism, formalism, and semiology Contemporary film theory (1968 to present) film and ideology, postmodernism, and cultural studies

4 Classical film theory Chronology and periodization, broad and flexible. Eclectic participants. Various and inconsistent methodologies. Broad range of questions addressed. The silent film paradigm.

5 Classical film theory Silent film paradigm (Noël Carroll) Is cinema an art? If so, what are its defining characteristics? How is it alike or different from the other arts? If cinema is an art, what defines its specificity or uniqueness as an artistic medium? What are cinema s constitutive forms: the photographic image? framing and movement? editing and rhythm? sound, music, and words? What is the value or role of cinema, both artistically and socially? How do spectators perceive, understand, and take pleasure in films?

6 Modern film theory ( ) Work concentrated in academic contexts: universities and film schools. Search for a consistent and unified methodology Common philosophical background. Representation Signification Spectatorship

7 Modern film theory ( ) REPRESENTATION. The capacity of the photographic or filmic image to represent something for someone. Representation refers to the perceptible aspect of a sign: how it excites perceptions and invites us to recognize the sign as standing for something. SIGNIFICATION. The problem of signification refers to how signs become meaningful to individuals and societies. How is it that signs are expressive, that they are perceived to have the quality of meaning, that they provoke the desire to be interpreted? Is there such a thing as film language? SUBJECTIVITY or spectatorship refers to our mental activity as we watch films, and thus to all psychological aspects of film-going. How do we describe the mental activity, conscious or unconscious, of watching and understanding films?

8 Contemporary film theory (1968- ) 1970s. Film and ideology (political modernism) 1980s. Postmodernism 1990s. Cultural Studies

9 The International Student Movement

10 The International Student Movement 1960: SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organizes from student sit-in at Shaw College, NC 1962: SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, Port Huron Statement 1964: Free Speech Movement starts at UC Berkeley 1965: First antiwar teach-ins at U. Michigan Antiwar march on Washington 1968: Student uprisings in Warsaw and Mexico City Student uprising at Columbia U. May-June 68, students, then workers, riot in Paris Protests at Democratic convention in Chicago 1970: Kent State. 4 students killed, 8 wounded by National Guard

11 Contemporary film theory Film and ideology: political modernism what kinds of films should be made to challenge the form and content of Hollywood films? how should film analysis and criticism change in order to understand how films convey ideologies in their form and content, and to understand how alternative films can challenge a dominant ideology? Film and ideology: spectatorship Do film technology and narrative form establish norms of vision and representation, ways of seeing, that support the political status quo? How are the vision and desire of the spectator drawn in and organized by technology and film form? What mechanisms of identification and visual pleasure account for the appeal of Hollywood films? Is there a gender hierarchy in how Hollywood films organize point of view?

12 Contemporary film theory Postmodernism Emphasis on the activity of the spectator; meanings not determined by films, rather spectators make meanings out of films. New emphasis on the popular: breakdown of the opposition of realism and modernism as politically charged aesthetic categories. Rise of media studies as a field: centrality of film displaced by interest in television, video, and the electronic arts. Critical interest in mass culture as a visual culture driven by the demands of multinational capitalism

13 Contemporary film theory Cultural studies Emphasis on the activity of the spectator leads to an interest in the politics of identity. How do sexual orientation, social class, national identity, or ethnic background inform the varieties of spectatorship? the female spectator gay and lesbian spectatorship African-American spectatorship diaspora culture, hybrid identity, and Third Cinema

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