Film Theory Film and Reality Essay

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 12
  • Subject: Film
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #81433729

Excerpt from Essay :

The spectator is unwittingly sutured into a colonialist perspective. But such techniques are not inevitably colonialist in their operation. One of the innovations of Pontocorvo's Battle of Algiers is to invert the imagery of encirclement and exploit the identificatory mechanisms of cinema in behalf of the colonized rather than the colonizer (Noble, 1977).

It is from within the casbah that we see and hear the French troops and helicopters. This time it is the colonized who are encircled and menaced and with whom we identify. The sequence in which three Algerian women dress in European style in order to pass the French checkpoints is particularly effective in controverting traditional patterns through the mechanisms of cinematic identification: scale (close shots individualize the three women); off-screen sound (we hear the sexist comments as if from the women's aural perspective); and especially point-of-view editing. By the time the women plant the bombs; our identification is so complete that we are not terribly disturbed by a series of close shots of the bombs' potential victims (Mast & Kawin, 2000).

3. Theorizing Technology

During Hollywood's transition to sound, technicians' duties often seem almost evenly split between working on the set and writing theoretical treatises on sound representation. Rarely have technicians been so forthcoming with their opinions on the logic and conceptual bases of filmic construction, and even more rarely has the theoretical arena seemed so central to Hollywood filmmaking. Page after page in scientific and industry journals emphatically promote competing aesthetic models-based either on phonographic fidelity or telephonic intelligibility, but why? What function did the articulation of aesthetic norms and standards play? Far from being incidental or epiphenomenal, technicians of the period seem nearly obsessed with articulating their positions on questions of representational illusion, accuracy, propriety, and validity. Advocates of competing models of sound representation justify their nearly antithetical aesthetic allegiances in the name of the same putative standard -- a supposedly transparent "realism" -- despite the utter incompatibility of their different norms of recording and reproduction (Bordwell, 1997). Put more complexly, each naturalizes his own ideals of practice by demonstrating their compatibility with a particular notion of representation that is described as obvious and as scientific, and which comes to stand as the paradigm for all acts of representation, no matter how diverse. Realism of a very particular sort thus served both to structure technical and aesthetic debates and simultaneously (if circularly) to measure the validity of practices by masquerading as a universal category of evaluation.

The importance of realism as a category of analysis and evaluation was not restricted to the field of aesthetics, but infiltrated and shaped the course of industrial research and the development of techniques as well. Bordwell and Staiger, for example, have pointed out that "realism" was explicitly adopted as an industrial goal, but they add this proviso. "As for realism & #8230; this too was rationally adopted as an engineering aim -- but wholly within the framework of Hollywood's conception of 'realism.' (Bordwell, et al. 1985). In fact, it is precisely because of a conflict between Hollywood realism (which stressed formal unity and narrative plausibility) and the (perceptual) realism advanced by engineers coming from the phonograph, radio, and telephone industries that the transition from silent to sound cinema is so complex and interesting. Despite their common recourse to the standard of realism, we might even go so far as to say that the dominant model of representation in each community was so at odds with the other that effective collaboration between them seemed almost ruled out from the start. However, the sound engineers' professional identity was so completely bound up with their notion of perfect representation that the compromises between them and their Hollywood counterparts necessary for an efficient system of sound film production required complex negotiations. In other words, workplace relations were worked out, in part, within the field of aesthetics (Noble, 1977).

The relationship established in this period between the theoretical and practical realms, and between the sorts of statements appropriate to each, is indicative of shifts in the technician's social, economic, and professional position. Rather than a unitary and stable category of bourgeois ideology that floats above all representational practice, determining it in a uniform and insidious way as apparatus theory suggests, the category of realism is one of the prime sites of cultural struggle and appropriation since it serves to legitimate representatonal regimes and reaffirm dominant understandings of the world.

The two understandings of realism in sound representation basic to the transition period embody different conceptions of the epistemological and referential properties of sound representations felt to be constitutive of "good" representational practice in general. Theory, which could easily be understood as secondary to the real relations and functioning of the social world, is precisely the terrain upon which certain terrifically important cultural and political struggles are fought -- battles over the nature of acoustic and visual reality and (Ray, 1985), over the proper relationship between the senses, technology, and representation. If nothing else, historical debates over realism set the boundaries for the manner in which a recorded sound could be understood to refer to the audible world, and therefore authorized a circumscribed range of "legitimate" understandings, uses, and practices.

The historical development of the American recording industries and the rise of a particular sort of engineer within these industries almost required the debate over proper representation to take center stage because the theories implicitly held by those engineers helped to structure the entire field of aesthetic goals and options. It also shaped the course of technological development in specific ways. Thus, the connection between theory and profession is far from arbitrary. Ultimately, the changing contour of the sound representation debate also indicates the changing nature of the engineer's perceived role. As engineers from nonfilm corporations came to perceive their own identity as tied to the corporate success of Hollywood studios rather than, say, personal achievements, or the success of Bell Labs, they became "sound men" rather than engineers. (Noble, 1977) Concurrent with, required by, and to some extent, constitutive of this shift is a shift in their standards and expectations for sound representations. By investigating the contradictions between initial theory and resulting practice we can, perhaps, reimagine the link between social structure, text, and subject posited by apparatus theory (Rosen, 1986) without having to resort to the vague pressure of an ideological demand for realism. The link between social relations and representational norms is, I believe, far more material and demonstrable.

4. Creation of meaning in film

The coming of sound to film was something of a technological crisis, and it caused a great deal of anxiety in international film communities. What made Soviet filmmakers most nervous, how- ever, was the possibility that the challenges of sound would distract some from their proper course. They did not want the synchronizations of bourgeois narrative and reactionary ideology that for them ever characterized the bulk of commercial film- making, and from which they felt they had turned their own productions. The Statement on Sound, together with other Soviet writings of the time, suggested that though technical adjustments would be required, a fundamental conceptual continuity would bind the silent period and new sound practices (Zettl, 1999). Though it was a musical term, a kind of counterpoint had in fact already been central to the great Soviet silent productions. This was montage, which articulated rigorous formal devices by which revolutionary subject matter would be most effectively and meaningfully rendered. Soviet film pioneer Lev Kuleshov proposed the key concept that came to underpin all montage theory: that all meaning in film comes from the juxtaposition of images, and not from the images themselves (Kuleshov, 1974). Kuleshov concluded that ?we must look for the organizational basis of cinema, not within the confines of the filmed fragment, but in the way these fragments relate to one another.

Though a great number of variations would be played on this theme, Kuleshov's combinatory concept was the essential core, before and after sound; meaning is made in the juxtaposition of discrete film fragments (Kuleshov, 1974). The contrapuntal possibilities of montage are suggested in the definition of the former term: note against note. 32 This is as Kuleshov suggested; insight is gained through the juxtaposition of contrasting parts. It is significant that "counterpoint" was not the only dialectical simile, the only nonfilmic form that the Soviets found to be similar to montage (Ray, 1985).

In his ?the Cinematic Principle and the Ideogram, written in 1929 (1949). Sergei Eisenstein discusses how Japanese picture writing conveys meaning by the combination of images that would seem at first to be unrelated. Thus ?the picture for water and the picture of an eye signifies 'to weep'; the picture of an ear near the drawing of a door means 'to listen, ' and so on. He later points out that meaning can become the product and not just the sum of the two separate parts; concepts agglomerate around the combination, leading to a multiplication…

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