Film scholars, critics, filmmakers, and audiences all routinely employ intuitive, untutored "folk psychology" in viewing, interpreting, critiquing, and making films. Yet this folk psychology receives little attention in film scholarship. This article argues that film scholars ought to pay far more attention to the nature and uses of folk psychology. Turning to critical work on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the article demonstrates the diverse and sometimes surprising ways that folk psychology is used in criticism. From an evolutionary perspective, the article defends the critic's and audience's interests in characters as persons. It also defends folk psychology against some of its most vocal detractors, and provides some guidance into how cognitive film theorists might employ folk psychology, arguing that such employment must supplement and correct folk psychology with scientific psychology and philosophical analysis. Finally, the article argues that the application of folk psychology to films is a talent, a skill, and a sensitivity rather than a science.
James E. Cutting, Kaitlin L. Brunick and Jordan E. Delong
Cinematic tradition suggests that Hollywood films, like plays, are divided into acts. Thompson (1999) streamlined the conception of this largescale film structure by suggesting that most films are composed of four acts of generally equal length—the setup, the complicating action, the development, and the climax (often including an epilog). These acts are based on the structure of the narrative, and would not necessarily have a physical manifestation in shots and transitions. Nonetheless, exploring a sample of 150 Hollywood style films from 1935 to 2005, this article demonstrates that acts shape shot lengths and transitions. Dividing films into quarters, we found that shots are longer at quarter boundaries and generally shorter near the middle of each quarter. Moreover, aside from the beginnings and ends of films, the article shows that fades, dissolves, and other non-cut transitions are more common in the third and less common in the fourth quarters of films.
This article shows in what ways Matthew Ratcliffe’s phenomenological theory of existential feelings is relevant to film and media studies. Existential feelings are “feelings in the body, which are experienced as one‘s relationship with the world as a whole.” They are related to other concepts in film theory; however, their relation to films has never been systematically examined. The article discusses how audiovisual media are able to represent, express, and evoke existential feelings, and even work as “qualia machines” in making viewers partially share feelings of characters. Focusing on the paradigmatic case of depression and on exemplary films like Dominik Graf’s Deine besten Jahre, the article identifies different aesthetic strategies to express existential feelings. Building on that, the article argues that the power of films to evoke related feelings in the viewers is a crucial factor in spreading ideas about how others feel and conveying collective structures of feeling.
Robert R. Clewis
How should a film's appearing dated affect critical evaluation of it? This article distinguishes enjoyment of a film from evaluation and describes how films undergo positive, negative, and comic dating. The affective responses of nostalgia, boredom, and humorous amusement, respectively, are associated with each of these kinds of dating. Insofar as these affective responses are unintended and thus beyond the control of the filmmakers, they have little influence on the film's artistic value, which is understood in terms of the filmmakers' achievement. Conversely, these states do affect levels of enjoyment. By recognizing this, evaluators can rationally resolve disagreements that are grounded on these unintended affective responses to dated films. Several films and film reviews are examined, yet no attempt is made to give close readings or analyses of the films discussed.
Charlotte Sun Jensen
This article investigates the film trailer in a cognitive film analytic perspective. More specifically, the focus is on how it circumvents its ontological tension between both giving and holding back its product—the film—at the same time. The hypothesis is that trailers that follow a classic genre convention seek to sell their products by condensing a range of genre traits, which arouses a specific, intense emotional experience. Most particularly, the trailer chooses to activate the main genre of the film and the corresponding range of emotions by reducing and reordering its often complex narrative. On this basis, compared to the film, the trailer may be viewed as an alternative narrative.
This review essay’s title is partly in homage to Arthur Danto’s well-known essay “Philosophy As/And/Of Literature” (Danto 1984). But this title also helps to organize my comments, both appreciative and critical, and it does so by pointing toward a range of issues about philosophy and film that is similar to a range of issues that have been raised about philosophy and literature. Specifically, I would have liked more attention to philosophy and film. But I am quite ready to admit that my own sensibility here may be extremely idiosyncratic and may present nothing that Thomas Wartenberg needs to or even does disagree with. This suggestion about philosophy and film comes at the end of the essay.
Much commentary on Indian cinema unreflectively equates film with fantasy. Writing in this vein may depict audiences as emotionally and cognitively undeveloped, while it represents those critics and viewers who prefer realism as sophisticated, rational, and mature. Those scholars of Indian cinema who examine fantasy and realism in depth, however, often draw different conclusions about both cinema and its consumers. Some note the close relationship between fantasy and reality, and thereby represent audiences as more savvy than do those who superficially link film with fantasy. Others analyze the privileging of cinematic realism as an element of socio-political ideology, or examine viewers' own application of realist criteria to films, thus further complicating the image of Indian cinema consumers as irrational and infantile. In continuing to pose these concepts as a dichotomy, however, cinema scholars reproduce some of the assumptions that underlie the standard usage in film criticism.
Film theory has been much involved with psychology, especially with the viewer's perceptual and emotional response to the images on the screen. Psychoanalytic and cognitive film theories, though not exactly kindred spirits, have so far dominated psychological film studies. At the present time, technology offers neuroscience methods to explore the brain that open up the discourse on the mind. This article explains ways in which neuroscience, and its study of the brain, can extend our understanding and theory of film by exploring three areas of our response to cinema. Although the perception of motion is a complicated business, the phenomenon of implied motion suggests the brain's readiness to find movement even when there is none and links together many of the same perceptual mechanisms we use when viewing film and also the world outside the theater. Attention, focus, and binding are essential for us to make sense of the vast amount of stimuli that bombard our eyes. They explain what we see and do not see when viewing film and also the way film technique controls our understanding of the action on the screen. Finally, the argument about what we feel and do not feel when watching the characters on the screen may receive some clarification by neuroscience's investigation of "mirror neurons" in our brain.
Uri Hasson, Ohad Landesman, Barbara Knappmeyer, Ignacio Vallines, Nava Rubin and David J. Heeger
This article describes a new method for assessing the effect of a given film on viewers' brain activity. Brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during free viewing of films, and inter-subject correlation analysis (ISC) was used to assess similarities in the spatiotemporal responses across viewers' brains during movie watching. Our results demonstrate that some films can exert considerable control over brain activity and eye movements. However, this was not the case for all types of motion picture sequences, and the level of control over viewers' brain activity differed as a function of movie content, editing, and directing style. We propose that ISC may be useful to film studies by providing a quantitative neuroscientific assessment of the impact of different styles of filmmaking on viewers' brains, and a valuable method for the film industry to better assess its products. Finally, we suggest that this method brings together two separate and largely unrelated disciplines, cognitive neuroscience and film studies, and may open the way for a new interdisciplinary field of “neurocinematic” studies.
The following three talks were originally delivered as part of the “Author Meets Critic” session on Thomas E. Wartenberg’s Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy (2007)* at the American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting in Chicago. The session was sponsored by the Society for the Philosophical Study of the Contemporary Visual Arts on 17 April 2008.