Archives for posts with tag: Silvan Tomkin

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.

By Victoria Grace Walden

I’ve always been a critic of 3-D technology because I feel it distracts from the verisimilitude. However, recent experiences of 3-D films have made me ponder whether they do offer spectators a sensual experience more similar to real world perception than 2-D films.

Those who champion 3-D filmmaking seem to imply this argument. Just before the release of his 3-D spectacular Avatar, James Cameron proclaimed: “We are born seeing in three dimensions… most animals have two eyes, not one. There is a reason.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/20/james-cameron-avatar-3d-film)

Interestingly, the free dictionary defines third-dimensional not only as added depth, but added realism too:

“third dimension

n.

1. The quality of depth or thickness in an object or a space.

2. The quality of seeming real or lifelike.”

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/third-dimensional )

Previously I, like many critics of the technology, could never understand this belief. How could this awkward, often unfocused, image be more “lifelike” than then 2-dimensional cinematic images we were used to?

In December 2012 I was fortunate to receive tickets to the Premiere of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I’d heard great things about the film so was naturally excited. However, my experience of the screening (which was in 3-D much to my dismay) was an unpleasant one, but one that emphasised how affect is always an embodied and pre-logical experience. I have problems with my peripheral vision and suffer from astigmatism therefore me and 3-D glasses do not have a happy relationship. While the beautiful, fairly still sequences of the zoo in the opening of the film were spectacular to watch, as soon as Pi was lost at sea I felt an overwhelming sense of nauseous. The experience was so unpleasant I missed the majority of the film, opting instead to stare at the floor or close my eyes in fear I may vomit. I felt physically unwell even after the film had ended and I had left the auditorium.  The motion of the train journey home only emphasised the sickly feeling.

This rather unpleasant cinematic encounter reminded me of the importance of considering affect as a pre-logical attribute of the film (and in fact any) experience.  Eric Shouse (2005) and Brian Massumi (1980) are clear to differentiate between feeling, emotion and affect. As Shouse explains, “a feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experience and labelled” therefore infants cannot experience feelings (Shouse, 2005:3). While “an emotion is the projection / display of a feeling” which can be genuine or faked to correlate with social expectations (Shouse, 2005:4). However, “an affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential” (Shouse, 2005: 5).

Eisenstein also highlights that sensation differs from cognitive understanding because it returns us to a pre-evolved state: socially, before man formed linguistic structures and individually, that infant state before we learnt social norms of behaviour and language (As Shouse echoes in his paper). While Eisenstein uses the term “emotion” in his writing, his concept of “emotion” is not dissimilar from contemporary notions of “affect”.  The term “affect” only became widely used after Silvan Tomkin’s seminal work Affect Imagery Consciousness (1961-63).

I argue therefore, that 3-D does not make the image appear more “lifelike” but rather 3-D technology submerses the spectator in a lifelike sensual experience. While Ang Lee’s use of 3-D resulted in me being distracted not only from the verisimilitude, but the entire film experience, the technology caused a physical response in me unlike any 2-D film I’d ever seen. I’ve often, momentarily, recoiled or jumped when watching 2-D films, but never felt physically sick and the affect has never continued beyond my leaving the auditorium.

When I first became interested in questions of embodiment I wondered how my body and the bodies I encounter (virtual or real) could affect and be affected. What could the connection between the body and affect be? What I have come to understand is that embodiment is central to affect, affect is my body’s response – my body’s way of thinking.

References

Massumi, B (1980) Introduction in Deleuze, G & Guattari, F A Thousand Plateaus, London, UK & New York, USA: Continuum

Shouse, E (2005) Feeling, Emotion, Affect in M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture Vol 8 Issue 6 Dec 2005 accessed at: http://www. journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php

Smith, G.M (2004) Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein’s Writings in Quartley Review of Film and Video 21.4 (October- November 2004) pp305-315 accessed at: www2.gsu.edu/~jougms/Eisenstein.htm

Also, for an interesting article on 3-D and haptic visuality see:

Ross (2012) The 3-D aesthetic: Avatar and hyperhaptic visuality in Screen 53:4 Winter 2012 pp 381- 397 accessed at: http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/4/381.full.pdf+html?sid=11bcd8eb-c502-4bd1-bade-5146c161d780