Category Archives: Editing

Can Film ‘Do’ Philosophy? Perhaps Eisenstein’s ‘October’ Does

Aaron Smuts defends a milder version of the ‘bold’ thesis of Film as Philosophy (FaP): that film can make an original, innovative philosophical contribution by cinematic means. The very idea that film can ‘do’ philosophy creates heated debate. Although many disagree with the FaP thesis (Paisley Livingston), some sit somewhere in-between (Thomas Wartenberg) while others strongly defend it (Stephen Mulhall).

Smuts argues the ‘For God and Country’ montage sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928) does provide a philosophical argument; that it does do philosophy.

This montage sequence alternates between traditionally Christian and demonically pagan artefacts. The comparison suggests that the ‘familiar, respected’ ideas of Christianity help produce a ‘fear and ignorance’ in other ‘suspect religions’, yet the ‘visual similarity’ between both forms of images suggests that ‘Christian artifacts [sic] are no better than [the] pagan statuary’ (Smuts 2009, pp. 415-416). In other words, all religious worship is futile. Additionally, the montage sequence then compares religion alongside nationalism with images that include the general’s costume paraphernalia and the imposing statue as objects of worship.

Overall, the clash of images suggests an analogical argument: the idolisation of both religion and nationalism is illusionary. Furthermore, this philosophical argument only exists in visual terms. Nevertheless, the question remains how any given film can truly philosophise considering its multiplicity of interpretation and impossibility to provide a counter-argument.


Reference Sources

Aaron Smuts 2009, ‘In Defence of a Bold Thesis’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 409-420.

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Film as Philosophy – Pro and Contra’, Lectures 16 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968): The Match-Cut

Film Title: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Film Form Main Category: Editing

Film Form Sub Category: Spatial and Temporal Discontinuity

Terms Discussed: Match-Cut, Binary Oppositions, Manipulation of Space, Manipulation of Time

Kubrick provides the match-cut to end all match-cuts in 2001: A Space Odyssey’s bone-to-space station sequence in perhaps the most enigmatic sci-fi film of all time. What makes this simple match-cut so effective at manipulating space and time? How does it evoke the evolution of humankind over millions of years in just a split second? Perhaps the sequence’s effectiveness lies within the distinct contrasts of the onscreen binary oppositions that combine with what the match-cut eliminates from the story (i.e. millions of years of human evolution).

Most films cover days or weeks of plot duration, some cover centuries, but rarely does a film cover millions of years of story duration in a few seconds – and so effectively. The message in the temporal effect is more obvious: over millions of years, the bone (and humankind) has evolved to the machine (and space travel). However, spatial distances in binary oppositions are also profound. For example, two spatial constructs (represented onscreen by before and after the match-cut) include the great physical distance and thereby division between the terrestrial and outer space. Likewise, an opposition of light (the white bone/daylight) and dark (outer space), and the natural (the bone/landscape) and the manufactured (technology/space station) occurs. The continuum between each of these binary oppositions provides an almost infinite number of possibilities. For example, the infinite shades between light and dark, the virtually infinite evolutionary events between nature and industrial progress, and so on. The accumulation of the infinite possibilities within the continuum of binary oppositions creates a cumulative effect. The viewer’s imagination subjected to the endless possibilities and occurrences between the time of human-as-ape and human-as-space traveller.

Just after the match-cut, the instant the shot changes to the spaceship – time appears to stop as the vessel floats in space. This sedative pause provides an opportunity for the viewer to reflect on the passing of millions of years that have just occurred. Construction of the Pyramids. The Crusades. Man stepping on the moon. Anything that has ever occurred in human evolution. Few, if any, films ever achieve this level of contemplation – let alone through a simple match-cut.

In conclusion, it is probably worth mentioning my avoidance of research and seeking information when it comes to 2001. Implied meanings, exegetical or otherwise, would be to spoil its enigma. I could never read Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey. The magic of 2001 lies in my own imagination and the things I do not know or understand about it. Much of the enigma stems from imagined events that occurred in the space and time between the pre-human existence and human space travel.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on IMDb