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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.

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Catalin Brylla and Mette Kramer

Abstract

Traditionally, there has been little intersection between cognitive film theory and documentary studies. This article initially outlines the main reasons for this lacuna, but it also highlights the few existing exceptions. While these remain too embryonic to initiate a large, overarching, and evolving discourse, they constitute seminal landmarks and stepping stones for the future of cognitive documentary studies, which, as we argue, needs to be a pragmatic endeavor. Based on this premise, we propose a research framework consisting of four areas of interest: the mediation of realities; character engagement; emotion and embodied experience; and documentary practice. This framework takes into account intratextual and extratextual aspects in relation to documentary production and reception, as well as potential social impacts.

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Evdokia Prassa

This article examines the quotations of Elizabeth I’s iconic portraiture as Virgin Queen in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), and their effect on our a posteriori conceptualization of the depicted body of the female sovereign. Using Mieke Bal’s concept of preposterous history, I argue that Kapur’s transposition of Virgin Queen iconography onto celluloid results in a “(complex) text” that “is both a material object and an effect” (1999: 14). Bal acknowledges that the complexity that lies in the material results of the artistic quotation is not necessarily subversive, as it is dependent on the quoting artist’s ideological premise. Indeed, Kapur’s intermedial quotation of Elizabethan portraiture imbues the highly complex body of the female ruler with contemporary heteronormative notions of female sexuality, thereby reducing it to an object for the male gaze.

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Putting the Culture into Bioculturalism

A Naturalized Aesthetics and the Challenge of Modernism

Dominic Topp

Abstract

In Chapter 6 of Film, Art, and the Third Culture, Murray Smith argues for a biocultural account of the emotions, which treats them as an interaction between universal and cultural dimensions. He goes on to test this approach in relation to the representation of emotions in films by considering an example from the tradition of modernist filmmaking. This article suggests that, while Smith’s case is broadly convincing, there are several ways in which it could be presented more forcefully. In particular, his discussion of the challenge of modernism to a biocultural account could be strengthened by emphasizing rather than downplaying the role that various types of cultural knowledge play in our interaction with modernist works.

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Paisley Livingston

Abstract

These brief comments raise some questions about Murray Smith’s remarks, in his new volume Film, Art, and the Third Culture: A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film, on the nature of aesthetic experience. My questions concern how we might best draw a viable distinction between aesthetic and non-aesthetic experiences and focus in particular on possible links between self-awareness and aesthetic experiences. In sum, I agree with Smith in holding that we should not give up on the notion of aesthetic experience, even though aestheticians continue to disagree regarding even the most basic questions pertaining to its nature.