Todd Berliner’s Hollywood Aesthetic advances an original perspective on Hollywood filmmaking by insisting on its fundamentally aesthetic character, and exploring its particular aesthetic features with the tools of neoformalist film analysis, cognitive psychology, and the philosophy of art. I focus on two of the book’s most ambitious claims: a) that appreciation of the style of Hollywood films can play an important role in our experience of them, over and above its role in representing and expressively dramatizing narrative elements; and b) that the ideological dimension of Hollywood filmmaking serves its aesthetic purposes, rather than vice versa. I conclude by noting a common root to the resistance likely to greet Berliner’s two bold inversions of conventional wisdom on narrative, style, aesthetics, and ideology.
Kata Szita, Paul Taberham and Grant Tavinor
Bernard Perron and Felix Schröter, eds., Video Games and the Mind: Essays on Cognition, Affect and Emotion (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 224 pp., $39.95 (softcover), ISBN: 9780786499090.
Christopher Holliday, The Computer-Animated Film: Industry, Style and Genre (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 272 pp., $39.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9781474427890.
Aubrey Anable, Playing with Feelings: Video Games and Affect (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2018), 200 pp., $25.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9781517900250. and Christopher Hanson, Game Time: Understanding Temporality in Video Games (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018), 296 pp., $38.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9780253032867.
I would like to start off this issue’s note by thanking everyone who has been part of a really impressive team effort to keep Projections running even while ordinary life has been upended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes referees and authors, who have had to juggle deadlines with a variety of other commitments, associate editors Tim Smith and Aaron Taylor (as well as acting associate editor Katalin Bálint—more on which soon!), and Janine Latham and the production team at Berghahn. Thank you all for going out of your way to continue working on the journal in spite of everything else that has been going on, including some significant personal challenges for some of you.
James E. Cutting
Much of aesthetics is based in psychological responses. Yet seldom have such responses—couched in empirically based psychological terms—played a central role in the discussion of movie aesthetics. Happily, Todd Berliner’s Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema does just that. This commentary discusses some history and some twists and turns behind Berliner’s analysis.
The Embodied Film Style of Éric Rohmer
This article provides an embodied study of the film style of the French filmmaker Éric Rohmer. Drawing on insights from cognitive linguistics, I first show how dynamic patterns of containment shape human thinking about relationships, a concept central to Rohmer’s cinema. Second, I consider the question of how film might elicit this spatial thinking through the use of such cinematic devices as mobile framing and fixed-frame movement. Third, using Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series as a case study, I demonstrate how the filmmaker applies these devices—and with them the spatial thinking they initiate—systemically to shape the relationships of his films visually. Lastly, I use the results of this analysis to provide discussion and suggestions for future research.
Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema investigates the Hollywood film industry’s chief artistic accomplishment: providing aesthetic pleasure to mass audiences. Grounded in film history and supported by research in psychology and philosophical aesthetics, the book explains (1) the intrinsic properties characteristic of Hollywood cinema that induce aesthetic pleasure; (2) the cognitive and affective processes, sparked by Hollywood movies, that become engaged during aesthetic pleasure; and (3) the exhilarated aesthetic experiences afforded by an array of persistently entertaining Hollywood movies. Hollywood Aesthetic addresses four fundamental components of Hollywood’s aesthetic design—narrative, style, ideology, and genre—aiming for a comprehensive appraisal of Hollywood cinema’s capacity to excite aesthetic pleasure. This article outlines the book’s main points and themes. As a précis, it is heavy on ideas and light on evidence, which is to be found in the book itself.
A Reply to Critics
In this reply to four commentaries on my book, Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema, I address several conceptual and methodological issues raised by the respondents. Those issues include the book’s focus on aesthetic pleasure; the functions of narrative, style, ideology, and genre in Hollywood cinema; the relationship between ideology and aesthetics; the use of scientific research in the humanities; normative aesthetic evaluations; real versus hypothetical spectators; and the practices of aesthetic film analysis.
How Breaking the Fourth Wall Influences Enjoyment
Daniela M. Schlütz, Daniel Possler and Lucas Golombek
In this study, we empirically investigate the enjoyment-related consequences of the TV trope of breaking the fourth wall (B4W), which is when a fictional character addresses viewers directly. Based on the model of narrative comprehension and engagement, we assume that B4W contributes to viewers’ cognitive and affective enjoyment by intensifying the parasocial interaction experience (EPSI). Alternatively, B4W could reduce enjoyment by disrupting viewers’ transportation into the narrative. We report two experiments with a total of N = 658 participants and three different stimuli based on the TV series House of Cards (HoC) and Malcolm in the Middle (MitM) as well as the movie Deadpool (DP). Analyses revealed that B4W increased the EPSI, which in turn fostered enjoyment.
Todd Berliner’s Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema (2017) offers useful broad theoretical arguments about how to understand our pleasures in viewing cinema. Yet, moving to individual cases requires recognizing the historical conditions of spectatorship including contemporaneous ideological issues, levels and types of knowledges, and cooperation (or non-cooperation) by a spectator.
In this article, I offer a response to Todd Berliner’s splendid book Hollywood Aesthetic. Although the book is an innovative and well-crafted contribution to the study of Hollywood cinema, I argue that it underestimates the extent to which unity and coherence contribute to the aesthetic value of a film.