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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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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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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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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.

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Joerg Fingerhut

Abstract

I will argue that the ambition to provide a naturalized aesthetics of film in Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture is not fully matched by the actual explanatory work done. This is because it converges too much on the emotional engagement with character at the expense of other features of film. I will make three related points to back up my claim. I will argue (1) that Smith does not adequately capture in what ways the phenomenon of seeing-in, introduced early in the book, could explain our complex engagement with moving images; (2) that because of this oversight he also misconstrues the role of the mirror neuron system in our engagement with filmic scenes; and (3) that an account of embodied seeing-in could be a remedy for the above. In order to demonstrate the latter point, I will show how such an account could contribute to the analysis of a central sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) that Smith also discusses.

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Jerrold Levinson

Abstract

After expressing my enthusiasm for Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture, I offer a critical discussion focused upon the place of the experiential-phenomenological dimension in Smith’s naturalized aesthetics. I look closely at two films, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011) and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013), in relationship to Smith’s claims about the qualia filmmakers impart to their creations and the highly specific states of mind, emotional and otherwise, that they manage to express and to evoke in viewers.

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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.”