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Film, Art, and the Third Culture

A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film—Précis

Murray Smith

Abstract

In this overview of my recent book, I outline its main themes, questions, and arguments. Part 1 explores the applicability of philosophical naturalism to aesthetics and the arts. Searching for the principles that might under-gird a naturalistic or “third cultural” approach to the arts, I defend a model of “triangulation” that seeks consilience among phenomenological, psychological, and neurophysiological evidence and that relates to two further strategies: “thick explanation,” combining personal and “subpersonal” levels of analysis, and “theory construction,” conceived as an empirically oriented alternative to conceptual analysis. Part 2 examines emotion in the arts and in film as a relevant and fertile territory for a naturalized aesthetics, in relation to Charles Darwin’s account of the expression of the emotions, niche construction, and the theory of the “extended mind.”

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Ted Nannicelli

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Lorenzo Javier Torres Hortelano

In Antichrist (Lars Von Trier, 2009), the inverted story of a modern-day Adam (He) and Eve (She) and the death of their son, we witness the deep wound that von Trier himself suffered when his mother revealed to him a truth. He would later reveal this truth to the general public, and I follow the film’s own allusive structure by returning to this revelation only at the end of this report.

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Ivan Mozzhukhin’s Acting Style

Beyond the Kuleshov Effect

Johannes Riis

Abstract

While the Russian film actor Ivan Mozzhukhin has been recognized by film scholars such as Jean Mitry as one of the important actors of the silent screen the nature of his contributions has gone unexplained and, ironically, Mozzhukhin is perhaps best remembered for a lost experiment, presumably carried out by Lev Kuleshov around 1920, that showed how the editor can construct character emotions with shots of contextual objects. The historical record and scientific attempts to replicate the experiment indicate that we need to pay attention to Mozzhukhin’s role as performer and my study of his performances suggests that we may have to rethink long-held assumptions about the relationship between performer expressiveness and editing.

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“Mind the Gap”

Between Movies and Mind, Affective Neuroscience, and the Philosophy of Film

Jane Stadler

Abstract

Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture makes a significant contribution to cognitive film theory and philosophical aesthetics, expanding the conceptual tools of film analysis to include perspectives from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Smith probes assumptions about how cinema affects spectators by examining aspects of experience and neurophysiological responses that are unavailable to conscious, systematic reflection. This article interrogates Smith’s account of emotion, empathy, and imagination in cinematic representation and film spectatorship, placing his work in dialogue with other recent interventions in the fields of cinema studies and embodied cognition. Smith’s contribution to understanding the role of emotion in screen studies is vital, and when read in conjunction with recent publications by Carl Plantinga and Mark Johnson on ethical engagement and the moral imagination, this new work constitutes a notable advance in film theory.

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David Davies

Abstract

Murray Smith’s plea for a “cooperative naturalism” that adopts a “triangulational” approach to issues in film studies is both timely and well-defended. I raise three concerns, however: one is external, relating to this strategy’s limitations, and two are internal, relating to Smith’s application of the strategy. While triangulation seems appropriate when we ask about the nature of film experience, other philosophical questions about film have an ineliminable normative dimension that triangulation cannot address. Empirically informed philosophical reflection upon the arts must be “moderately pessimistic” in recognizing this fact. The internal concerns relate to Smith’s claims about the value and neurological basis of cinematic empathy. First, while empathy plays a central role in film experience, I argue that its neurological underpinnings fail to support the epistemic value he ascribes to it. Second, I question Smith’s reliance, in triangulating, upon the work of the Parma school on “mirror neurons.”

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Laura T. Di Summa-Knoop

Abstract

Can naturalized aesthetics contribute to the evaluation of a work? In this article, I consider three ways in which naturalized aesthetics may inform critical evaluation. First, I analyze the role of naturalized aesthetic analysis in the formation of the creative choices made by filmmakers. Second, I assess the relationship between the analysis of empathy provided by Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture and the expression of moral evaluations. And third, I outline what I take to be naturalized aesthetics’ promising potential contribution to the study of genre and contra-standard features. In the concluding section, I instead introduce what I take to be two rather serious difficulties to a cooperation between criticism and naturalized aesthetics.

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Rainer Reisenzein

Abstract

Murray Smith’s proposal in Film, Art, and the Third Culture for a naturalized aesthetics is of interest to both film theorists and psychologists: for the former, it helps to elucidate how films work; for the latter, it provides concrete application cases of psychological theories. However, there are reasons for believing that the theory of emotions that Smith has adopted from psychology to ground his case studies—an extended version of basic emotions theory—is less well supported than he suggests. The available empirical evidence seems more compatible with the assumption that the different emotions are outputs of a single, integrated system.

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Naturalizing Aesthetic Experience

The Role of (Liberated) Embodied Simulation

Vittorio Gallese

Abstract

The naturalization of the aesthetic experience of film and art can benefit from the contribution of neuroscience because we can investigate empirically the concepts we use when referring to it and what they are made of at the level of description of the brain-body. The neuroscientific subpersonal level of description is necessary but not sufficient, unless it is coupled with a full appreciation of the tight relationship that the brain entertains with the body and the world. In this article, I will discuss aspects of Murray Smith’s proposal on the aesthetic experience of art and film as presented in his Film, Art, and the Third Culture against the background of a new model of perception and imagination: embodied simulation.

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Off the Beaten Path

Non-Metropolitan Representations of Homosexuality in Three French Films

Romain Chareyron

This article offers a reflection on the ways in which the representation of gays and lesbians in contemporary French cinema has mostly focused on specific and limiting traits. With their choice of locales (Paris and other cities) and bodily characteristics (young, fit), these films convey a restrictive view of homosexuality. Such portrayals have gained traction due to their numerous iterations in films and in the media. By focusing on the works of three directors who have adopted a radically different perspective in their portrayals of homosexuality, this article will highlight the close ties that exist between sexuality and topography. Providing a more true-to-life account of homosexuality, the films move away from cities to investigate the geographical margins. In so doing, they question the tenets of France’s republican ideals, where differences tend to be smoothed out in favor of unity and homogeneity. These films reinstate diversity and individuality at the heart of their narratives.