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Loving and Grieving with Heart of a Dog and Merleau-Ponty's Depth

Saige Walton

Abstract

Maurice Merleau-Ponty's existential phenomenology has been crucial to contemporary film-phenomenology, yet his later thought has not received the same attention. Drawing on “Eye and Mind” and other writings, I apply the philosopher's ontological concept of depth to the cinema. Using Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog (2015), an intimate, experimental portrait of animal life, death, grief, and loss, I approach Anderson's film as “depthful” cinema, bringing Heart of a Dog into a dialogue with Merleau-Ponty, the film essay, and the lyrical film. Through its diffractions of the subjective “eye/I,” its poetic approach to grief, and its openness to nonhuman ways of being, I argue that Anderson's film is in accord with Merleau-Ponty's later thinking on depth in art and in the world.

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Synthetic Beings and Synthespian Ethics

Embodiment Technologies in Science/Fiction

Jane Stadler

Abstract

The screen is the material and imaginative interface where biology meets technology. It is the nexus between science and fiction, where technological and ethical concerns surrounding synthespians, representations of replicants, and manifestations of synthetic biology come into play. This analysis of digital imaging and cinematic imagining of virtual actors and synthetic humans in films such as Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) examines the ethical implications of digital embodiment technologies and cybernetics. I argue that it is necessary to bring together science and the arts to advance understandings of embodiment and technology. In doing so, I explore commonalities between ethical concerns about technobiological bodies in cultural and scientific discourse and developments such as the creation of virtual humans and “deepfake” digital doubles in screen media.

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Toward a Model of Distributed Affectivity for Cinematic Ethics

Ethical Experience, Trauma, and History

Philip Martin

Abstract

Many contemporary applications of theories of affect to cinematic ethical experience focus on its consequences for empathy and moral allegiance. Such approaches have made advances in bridging phenomenological and cognitivist approaches to film-philosophy, but miss the importance of complex affects that problematize empathy and moral judgment. For example, the rendering of trauma in Aimless Bullet (Hyun-mok Yu, 1961) involves aesthetic shifts that reframe its depiction of postwar experience and build a complex emotional picture of sociopolitical conditions that affect individual and community life. In this article, I argue that to understand the ethical significance of complex cinematic emotion we can develop an account of how affective-aesthetic affordances establish distributed spaces for dynamic affective engagement. To do this, I draw upon theories of scaffolded mind, classical Indian rasa aesthetics, and phenomenological aesthetics. This hybrid account will allow us to articulate the ways that film can help us comprehend the ethical significance of complex affective situations.

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Acoustic Startles in Horror Films

A Neurofilmological Approach

Valerio Sbravatti

Abstract

The acoustic blast is one of the most recurrent sound devices in horror cinema. It is designed to elicit the startle response from the audience, and thus gives them a “jump scare.” It can occur both in the form of a diegetic bang and in the form of a nondiegetic stinger (i.e., a musical blare provided by the score). In this article, I will advance the hypothesis that silence plays a crucial role in contemporary horror films, both perceptually, since it leaves the sound field free for the acoustic blast, and cognitively, since it posits the audience in an aversive anticipatory state that makes the startle more intense. I will analyze the acoustic startle using a neurofilmological approach, which takes into account findings from experimental sciences in order to better understand the relationship between physiological and psychological factors that make such an effect possible during the filmic experience.

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Book Reviews

Jeff Smith, Dominic Topp, Jason Gendler, and Francesco Sticchi

Giorgio Biancorosso, Situated Listening: The Sound of Absorption in Classical Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), xi +246 pp., $55 (hardback), ISBN: 9780195374711.

Reviewed by Jeff Smith

Lea Jacobs, Film Rhythm after Sound: Technology, Music, and Performance (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 280 pp., $34.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780520279650.

Reviewed by Dominic Topp

Miklós Kiss and Steven Willemsen, Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Complex Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 240 pp., £70.00 (hardback), £19.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9781474406727.

Reviewed by Jason Gendler

Steffen Hven, Cinema and Narrative Complexity: Embodying the Fabula (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 261 pp., 22.00 (paperback), ISBN 9789462980778.

Reviewed by Francesco Sticchi

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The Eisenstein-Vygotsky-Luria Collaboration

Triangulation and Third Culture Debates

Julia Vassilieva

Abstract

This article analyzes the unique historical collaboration between the revolutionary Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948), the cultural psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), and the founder of contemporary neuropsychology, Alexander Luria (1902–1977). Vygotsky's legacy is associated primarily with the idea that cultural mediation plays a crucial role in the emergence and development of personality and cognition. His collaborator, Luria, laid the foundations of contemporary neuropsychology and demonstrated that cultural mediation also changes the functional architecture of the brain. In my analysis, I demonstrate how the Eisenstein-Vygotsky-Luria collaboration exemplifies a strategy of productive triangulation that harnesses three disciplinary perspectives: those of cultural psychology, neuropsychology, and film theory and practice.

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From the Editor

Ted Nannicelli

Welcome to the first issue of our first three-issue volume of Projections. We begin this issue with a truly exciting collaboration between a filmmaker (and scholar), Karen Pearlman, and a psychologist, James E. Cutting. Cutting and Pearlman analyze a number of formal features, including shot duration, across successive cuts of Pearlman's 2016 short film, Woman with an Editing Bench. They find that the intuitive revisions that Pearlman made actually track a progression toward fractal structures – complex patterns that also happen to mark three central pulses of human existence (heartbeat, breathing, walking).

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Shaping Edits, Creating Fractals

A Cinematic Case Study

James E. Cutting and Karen Pearlman

Abstract

We investigated physical changes over three versions in the production of the short historical drama, Woman with an Editing Bench (2016, The Physical TV Company). Pearlman, the film's director and editor, had also written about the work that editors do to create rhythms in film (), and, through the use of computational techniques employed previously (), we found that those descriptions of the editing process had parallels in the physical changes of the film as it progressed from its first assembled form, through a fine cut, to the released film. Basically, the rhythms of the released film are not unlike the rhythms of heartbeats, breathing, and footfalls—they share the property of “fractality.” That is, as Pearlman shaped a story and its emotional dynamics over successive revisions, she also (without consciously intending to do so) fashioned several dimensions of the film—shot duration, motion, luminance, chroma, and clutter—so as to make them more fractal.

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A Structure of Antipathy

Constructing the Villain in Narrative Film

Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen

Abstract

Many narrative films feature villains, major characters that audiences are meant to condemn. This article investigates the cognitive-affective underpinnings of audience antipathy in order to shed light on how filmic villainy is constructed. To that end, the article introduces an analytical framework at the intersection of cognitive film theory and moral psychology. The framework analyzes villainy into three categories: guilty intentionality, consequential action, and causal responsibility.

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Collaboration in the Third Culture

Stacie Friend

Abstract

In Film, Art, and the Third Culture, Murray Smith articulates and defends a naturalized aesthetics of film that exemplifies a “third culture,” integrating the insights and methods of the natural sciences with those of the arts and humanities. By contrast with skeptics, who reject the relevance of psychology and neuroscience to the study of film and art, I agree with Smith that we should embrace the third-cultural project. However, I argue here that Smith does not go far enough in developing this project. In defending the contribution of the natural sciences to film aesthetics as traditionally conceived in the arts and humanities, Smith focuses on only one side of the equation, unduly limiting the potential contribution of the arts and humanities to the scientific study of film. Using the example of emotional responses to fiction film, I propose that we adopt a more genuinely integrative approach.