History of Film Theory

Weekly Readings and weekly film ‘Faithful Heart’ by Jean Epstein. 

  1. ‘French Film Theory and Criticism: A history/anthology’ by Richard Abel
    This reading breaks down the meaning of ‘Photogenic’ and what it means to be put with the history of cinema, or the art of cinema. It is any aspect of things, beings or souls, where filmic reproduction enhances the character.
    Cinema must seek to become gradually and in the end uniquely cinematic, to employ, in other words, only photogenic elements’.
    This is a mobility in a space-time system, which means it is a mobility throughout space and time. It is the purest expression of cinema.
    Cinema is a language, it is animistic, it attributes – a semblance of life to the objects it defines. The more primitive a language, the more marked this animistic tendency‘.
    The reading also talks about cinema being polytheistic and theogonic. ‘Only mobile and personal aspects of things, beings and souls may be photogenic; that is, acquire a higher moral value through filmic reproduction”. Abel illustrates how the cinema is poetry’s most powerful medium, the truest medium for the “surreal”.
  2. ‘How a Film Theory got lost and other mysteries in Cultural Studies’ by Robert Ray
    This reading talks about Epstein in cinema, and introduces the Impressionists and Surrealists. “A medium’s aesthetic value is a direct function of its ability to transform the reality serving as its raw material” (Epstein). Epstein’s films have enhanced his theoretical positions which overcame methods proposed by the French Impressionists and Surrealists, where these two movements often saw narrative as an obstacle to overcome. “Current film theory has often discredited the Impressionist – Surrealist approach by pointing to Photogenic’s obvious connection to fetishism. Behind Bazin’s realist aesthetic lay an intuition about the cinema’s most profoundly radical aspect: its automatism”.
  3. ‘Senses of Cinema: Coeur Fidele’ by Adrian Danks
    This reading delves into the world of Jean Epstein and his film history. He was one of the key figures to the French cinema in the 1920’s, and most of his films have been related to french traditions and in particular Impressionism and Poetic Realism. In his films there is a sign of layers and multiple levels, and Epstein’s seems to be ‘striving to attract a multiplicitous and dexterous audience who are willing to jettison a little comprehension for the sensual and emotional effects, and affect his often extraordinary, disparate and uneven films seem to offer”. He looks into a “new” cinema that emphasises the emotional aspects, which leads to it replacing established systems.
  4. ‘Senses of Cinema: Jean Epstein’ by Robert Farmer
    Jean Epstein was known for his importance in the school of filmmaking, for example: French Impressionism, Narrative Avant-Garde, First Cinematic Avant-Garde, and the Pre-War French school. This reading puts this filmmaker alongside the essence of cinema (photogenie), and looks at it through a cultural sense. It suggest that film can rise above its photochemical/mechanical base, and eventually become a form of art. The aesthetic sense of this movement are: transformation, expression, the close-up, movement, temporality, rhythm, and the argumentation of the senses. It exists on a metaphorical way in that it encourages us to play a more active role in the cinematic experience and immerse ourselves into the screen. Farmer also suggests that the filmmaker should pay attention to the way that she wants the audience to experience time and perspective, as well as space in perspective. “Eisenstein believes that the essence of cinema is in editing, and that the image > idea transformation occurs through the power of montage editing, not as sequential assemblage of related shots”.
  5. ‘French Cinema: The first wave’ by Richard Abel
    This reading talks about the cinematic movement coming out of the 1920’s, and suggests that “one does not make films according to theories; one constructs theories after the films” (Jean Epstein). Avant-Garde was produced in 1930’w while Impressionism was born in the 1920’s; and Impressionism allowed the audience see nature and its objects as elements coexisting with action. Looking at a system of representation and narration, Impressionism and Symbolism maintained a steady position; whereas Modernism seemed to adopt a more advanced position which was both anti-illusionist and anti-narrative. “By the end of the silent film period, jean Epstein was the most prominent, and controversial filmmaker in the French narrative Avant-Garde. The French narrative Avant-Garde film practice becomes a paradigm of marked elements or privileges features serving one principal function – the expression or representation of subjectivity or subjective experience”.
  6. ‘Defending and Defining The Seventh Art: The standard version of the stylistic history’ by David Bordwell
    In class last week, we were talking about the importance of film history and the film movements, but also how the wars had a lot to do with the development of the Cinematic film industry. By the end of the World War 1, cinema was one of the most powerful mass mediums. This reading also talks about the Soviets exploiting constructive montage, suggesting more than just what is seen within the frame. It goes on to state that “The Basic Story” is a chronicle full of technical processes, where it follows the development of growing expressions, subtlety and complexity; all for telling a story on film. “Cinema could be regarded as a reproduction system, a way of capturing fleeting reality or staged performances and then presenting the action at other cites”. 
  7. After watching the film ‘Faithful Heart’, it is easily seen as a french film drama, which tells a story of romance, by experimenting with different techniques of camerawork and editing. It uses quick cuts, close up and medium close up shots, to show the emotion, which demonstrates the use of ‘photogenie’. It has transformation, expression, the close-up, movement, temporality, rhythm, and the argumentation of the senses. By being a silent film, it encourages the audience to play a more active role in the storyline  and immerse ourselves, so that we can understand what is going on, without words telling us. Also through the pacing of the music, the audience can understand what is happening, or what is about to happen. This is one way to lead the audience into the filmmakers’ expectations. Thought the selected camera shots, the Epstein determines what the audience sees, and why we are seeing that. This is how we can put the story together, and know what has been happening, and create our own expectations of what is yet to happen. There is an emphasis on people’s eyes, which allows us to see the emotion that is captures throughout the film, a way of judging the storyline. 

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