The Part-Time Cognitivist: A View from Film Studies

in Projections
Author: David Bordwell
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Understanding how spectators interact with films requires some theory of filmic representation. This article reviews three such theories. The first, a communication model, assumes that an artwork constitutes or contains a message passed from a sender to a receiver. The second, a signification model, assumes that the film operates within a system of codes and that the perceiver applies codes to signs in the text in order to arrive at meanings. This conception of film as signification may be found in both classic structuralist and post-structuralist accounts. The third, an empirical-experiential model, assumes that an artwork is designed to create an experience for the spectator. This article argues that the cognitive approach to film studies is founded on the third model of representation. The article also traces the strengths and limits of cognitive film theory and its theory of representation.