Archives for posts with tag: Film Studies

Film Studies, Affect and Ethics

Victoria Grace Walden

In-keeping with Mona’s recent ’10 things I know about…’ blogs, I have accepted the challenge of attempting to summarise my own research in such a way. Here are 10 thoughts about affect and film scribed without reference to notes or quotation:

  1. Film phenomenologists such as Vivian Sobchack consider ‘affect’ to be the corporeal relationship between spectator and film;
  2. Laura Marks focuses specifically on the notion of haptic visuality (and briefly haptic aurality) considering the ability of the camera to ‘graze’ rather than gaze over surfaces, textures and spaces –to bring us closer to things which provoke sensuous memories of touch or movement;
  3. Psychologist Tomkin considers ‘affect’ to refer to intensity changes rooted inside the body;
  4. While, phenomenologists consider affect in relation to bodily reactions, it has often been used as an umbrella term of emotions, feelings and mood;
  5. Cognitive film theory, in its thinking about emotions, might be considered to identify ‘affect’ as related to character- or narrative-identification. Such thinking reinforces Christian Metz’s notions that the cinema screen is an illusionary, post-Lacanian mirror where we identify with a fantastical Other;
  6. This approach would suggest we respond to the diegesis as ‘that world over there’ –a hermeneutically closed space;
  7. If we are positioned outside the space of meaning-making during the film experience, it could be suggested that it is the film, not us, that is the ethical subject because the audience is considered a passive consumer of the film’s message. In this sense, Catherine Wheatley suggests that Hollywood-style narrative films encourage the spectator to only consider ethical questions after the film has finished and such questions tend to relate to the final consequences of narrative actions;
  8. However, sometimes films are playful with style, montage and reflexive in such ways that they slip between emotionally and critically engaging the spectator, and in doing so, turn the spectator’s attention towards their own body as well as the film’s. Thus, according to Wheatley, such films encourage spectators to confront their position as a participant during the experience. These films might be considered to be ‘morally consequent’ (to use Wheatley’s term);
  9. Ergo we might consider affect and ethics as intertwining concepts: when we watch a film we are an ethically inscribed body; we are embodied in the film experience as an ethical being. Ethics is after all, always inscribed in the actions we perform in our life;
  10. By turning our attention to the film experience rather than the film text we are turning towards a study of the ethical relationship between film and spectator.

Highlights and thoughts regarding embodiment, affect, film and media from this year’s conference

by Victoria Grace Walden

Conference director Phillip Drummond hospitably accommodated more than 150 speakers, including key note presenters professors Laura Mulvey and Toby Miller alongside Dr. Cathy Ross, Jeremy Black and film and television writer Joe Ahearne at this year’s Film and Media conference. Below I share just some of the highlights which refer to issues of affect and embodiment.

Dr. Cathy Ross’s (Museum of London) opening keynote on Thursday explored how the city museum incorporates new technology into its museum spaces. She discussed the museum’s augmented reality phone app which allows users to see “this spot in history” at certain places in the capital. Then explained how digital imagery and film were used in a variety of exhibitions, discussing the mixed reactions of visitors in some areas such as the slavery gallery and the Blitz.

Dr. Ross touched on how our perception and desires of museum spaces are changing. Visitors expect interaction and emotional experiences in museums and the more traditional “knowledge” online. This made me reflect: what is knowledge? Do we always have to consider it as a cognitive asset? Can becoming submerged in interactive experiences that provoke emotions and sensations not offer a corporeal form of “knowledge”? Are we moving into an age which we might define by this “new knowledge”?

Also, how do/ can we engage with affect and the historical in museum spaces though media? What are the limitations? What are the ethical implications? Are there any topics where the digital and moving image could be deemed inappropriate?

I’ll be focusing on some of these issues in a future blog after visiting some of London’s museum sites this summer.

Mason Kamana Allred (University of California Berkeley, USA)  spoke at the “Spectacles of History 1” panel about Ernst Lubitsch’s Madam Dubarry (1919) questioning whether cinema could offer a new form of history to traditional, epistemological and scientific representations of the past. He linked the work of Frank Ankersmit on sublime historical experience to the phenomenological ideas of Vivian Sobchack in order to explore a prelinguistic, subjective history that perhaps can be felt at the cinema.

Three other papers which particularly grabbed my attention and jointly encouraged me to think about my relationship with the screen were Dr Douglas Keesey’s (California Polytechnic State University, USA)  discussion of the illusion of choice and morality regarding death in the Final Destination franchise; Elena Wooley’s (King’s College, London)  paper on disaster movies and the use of surrogates) for suffering in films of the genre in order to translate terror into entertainment (such as spectacularly collapsing buildings rather than close-ups of human victims); and Dr Sian Mitchell’s (SAE, Australia) exploration of her experience of a delayed (or continuous) affect after watching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2010).

These three papers raised questions about how I relate to bodies on screen. In the Final Destination films I discover, like the characters, I cannot cheat death. As such, the diegeses of the films extend beyond the frame as my understanding of real life is affected by the actions on screen. In films such as 2012 (Emmerich, 2009), I see only the protagonists up-close therefore connecting with the survivors. I never see the human extent of the catastrophe, yet the entire world seems to collapse around me. I leave the auditorium with an ecstatic sense of immortality – I have cheated death, I have survived the end of the world. In contrast, as the credits close on Melancholia I feel I have been cheated of death. As the beautiful closing light sucks the colour from the film and Wagner’s music crescendos neither reach their conclusion before the fade to black. The audio-visual image seems transcendental, but never allows me to fully submerge in its glory. As Dr Alex Ling (University of West Sydney, Australia) noted that’s because Von Trier is continuously reminding us that his films are only movies. This is Otherness, this is fantasy, this is not my experience to claim.

film and media conference film studies phillip drummond toby miller

 Phillip Drummond and Toby Miller at the closing key note

Image: Victoria Grace Walden