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Enacting Moving Images

Film Theory and Experimental Science within a New Cognitive Media Theory

Joerg Fingerhut and Katrin Heimann

Abstract

This article highlights ways to relate psychology, neuroscience, and film theory that are underrepresented in the current debate and that could contribute to a new cognitive media theory. First, we outline how neuroscientific approaches to moving images could be embedded in the embodied, enactive cognition framework and recent predictive processing theories of the brain. Within this framework, we understand filmic engagement as a specific way of worldmaking, which is co-constituted by formal elements such as framing, camerawork, and editing. Second, we address experimental progress. Here we weigh the promises and perils of neuroscientific studies by discussing the motor neuron account to camera movements as an example. Based on the limitations we identify, we advocate for a multi-method study of film experience that brings cognitive science into dialogue with philosophical accounts and qualitative in-depth explorations of subjective experience.

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Enactive Authorship

Second-Order Simulation of the Viewer Experience—A Neurocinematic Approach

Pia Tikka

Abstract

The neurocinematic inquiry is extended in this article to the sparsely studied topic of the filmmaker (author) as an embodied agent. Departing from my concept of second-order authorship, and inspired by the second-person framework of intersubjectivity discussed by Michael Pauen and Vittorio Gallese, I propose a model in which the author simulates the viewer (experient) who further simulates the experience of the protagonist in the film. This chain of relations is described as enactive second-order simulation of the viewer experience. While the author does not have a direct key to influence the experient, there is a relation mediated by the protagonist's situatedness in the film's narrative context. I further trust the core assumption of the neurocinematic approach—namely, that film as a narrative medium provides a means to imitate contexts of life that condition the enactive simulation of both the author and the experient.

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Daniel T. Levin, Andrew Mattarella-Micke, Madison J. Lee, Lewis J. Baker, Matthew A. Bezdek, and Bruce D. McCandliss

Abstract

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we tested the hypothesis that cinematic structure shapes variation in social-cognitive brain activity. Using our film, we completed an exploratory analysis of how activations in the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ), and the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) are shaped by variations in insert shots (e.g., shots showing objects that a character has looked at), and by character entrances and exits. We found that IPS and TPJ consistently responded to insert shots, and the correlation between TPJ and IPS responses significantly predicted the prevalence of belief inferences during the sequence. In addition, TPJ responded significantly to entrances and exits of characters. We also completed a qualitative analysis of moments during a sequence that induced relative peaks in TPJ and IPS responding. These analyses not only demonstrate that consistent brain responses can distinguish among meaningful variations in cinematic events but also that these analyses confirm and refine our understanding of the apparent specializations for visual attention and domain-specific event processing in parietal attention networks.

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William P. Seeley

Abstract

Research in cognitive science and aesthetics is on the rise. The skeptical position called moderate pessimism grants that neuroscience might play a role in theorizing about the nature of film and other arts, but offers little help with thorny conceptual questions key to understanding the nature of the arts. Moderate optimists note that the scope of neuroscientific research in the arts cannot be resolved in advance. I evaluate the debate between these positions, introduce a diagnostic recognition framework for neuroscience of film and, drawing on research from the neurophysiology of attention, explore the role the framework can play in discussions of narrative understanding and character engagement at the movies. I conclude that moderate optimism is a more promising methodological fit to collaborative research in neuroscience of film.

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Vittorio Gallese and Michele Guerra

Abstract

In the last decades, the contribution of cognitive neuroscience to film studies has been invested in at least three different lines of research. The first one has to do with film theory and history: the new attention, inspired by cognitive neuroscience, to the viewer's brain-body, the sensorimotor basis of film cognition, and the forms of embodied simulation elicited by the cinematic experience has stimulated a profound rethinking of a relevant part of the theoretical discourse on cinema, from the very beginning of the twentieth century to the most recent reflections within cognitive film studies and the phenomenology of film. The second line has to do with the intersubjective relationship between the movie—its style, rhythm, characters, and narrative—and the viewer, and it is characterized by an empirical approach that yields very interesting results, useful for rethinking and problematizing our ideas about editing, camera movements, and film reception. The third line concerns a possible experimental approach to the new life of film, focusing on the digital image, the innovative forms of technological mediation, and the inscription of a new film spectatorship within a completely different medial frame. The goal of this special issue is to offer insights across these lines of research.

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Murray Smith

Abstract

What is the relationship between detailed critical analysis and the background assumptions made by a given theory of film spectatorship? In this article, I approach this question by looking at Vittorio Gallese and Michele Guerra's The Empathic Screen in the light of the method of triangulation—the coordination and integration of phenomenological, psychological, and neuroscientific evidence, as set out in my Film, Art, and the Third Culture. In particular, I examine Gallese and Guerra's arguments concerning the role of camera movement in prompting immersive, embodied simulation, as well as critiques of these arguments from David Bordwell and Malcolm Turvey. I focus on the special, irreducible role of critical analysis in these arguments. Detailed analysis of film form and style plays an essential role, I argue, in demonstrating the plausibility (or otherwise) of the thesis advanced by Gallese and Guerra. Such analysis is where the rubber of theoretical assumptions meets the road of the material work.

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Being Screens, Making Screens

Functions and Technical Objects

Mauro Carbone, Graziano Lingua, and Sarah De Sanctis

Abstract

The present relations between screens and the human body invoke a genealogy that should help us to understand their status. However, we suggest that this historical-genealogical work shall be matched with a more comprehensive anthropology of screen experiences. By mobilizing the notion of “arche-screen,” we identify the transhistorical principle underlying such experiences with the showing/concealing and the exposing/protecting function pairs—the latter exceeding the visual dimension and involving our bodily relations with the environment. These function pairs, which are rooted in our body and make it into our proto-screen, can be enhanced via their externalization as appropriate technical objects. By highlighting the prostheticization of skin in some prehistoric artistic techniques and the role of the veil from the Old Testament to Leon Battista Alberti's treatise On Painting, we stress that the interweaving of the above-mentioned screen functions is a constant feature of human experiences and that its thematic variations are traceable in more recent screen forms.

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Bodies with Objects in Space through Screens

Casual Virtuality and the Self-Mediation of Laura Paolini's Constraining Aesthetics

Jakub Zdebik

Abstract

Constraining aesthetics are central to Laura Paolini's artistic corpus, involving the relationship of her body to everyday objects in confined spaces during the time of the pandemic. Paolini creates a self-reflexive simulacrum of artistic experience of body, objects, and space through the interface of digital screens. This article seeks to elaborate how the elements of body, objects, and space in performance, video, and installation art are part of a screenic embodiment when read through the concepts of habit (Walter Benjamin), proprioception (Brian Massumi), allegory (Craig Owens), mediation (Fredric Jameson), and documentation (Amelia Jones).

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Steven Willemsen, Mario Slugan, Elke Weissmann, and Lucy Bolton

Marina Grishakova and Maria Poulaki, eds. Narrative Complexity: Cognition, Embodiment, Evolution. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019, 468 pp., $75.00 (hardcover). ISBN: 9780803296862.

Maarten Coëgnarts. Film as Embodied Art: Bodily Meaning in the Cinema of Stanley Kubrick. Brookline: Academic Studies Press, 2019, xxxv +228 pp., $120 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-64469-112-0. [Also available for free under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license with support from Knowledge Unlatched, ISBN: 978-1-64469-113-7].

Marsha F. Cassidy. Television and the Embodied Viewer: Affect and Meaning in the Digital Age. New York: Routledge, 2020, 216 pp., $155.00, ISBN: 9781138240766.

Sarah Cooper. Film and the Imagined Image. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019, 208 pp., $24.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9781474452793.

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Bartosz Stopel

Abstract

The article sets out to discuss disruptions of the embodied flow of movie perception triggered by foregrounded categorical-thematic patterns. First, categorical-thematic patterns are framed in a cognitive perspective and tied to categorical (or parallel) information processing as opposed schematic (sequential). I argue that the former are not prototypical of embodied movie perception and tend to be disruptive if foregrounded, as they are more prevalent in art cinema. Next, I indicate how categorical-thematic patterns may encourage a type of non-habitual pattern recognition producing a number of emotional and aesthetic effects: delight at pattern isolation, wonder emotions, emotional focus of a story theme, and intensification or modulation of global and empathetic emotions. Finally, I turn to illustrate these points using Pan's Labyrinth, a film that systematically foregrounds categorical-thematic patterns yet naturalizes them, alleviating disruption of movie perception. This, I believe, marks an effective strategy of importing avant-garde film techniques into popular cinema.