Tag Archives: Aesthetic Realism

Understanding Film Narratives: Carroll’s Cognitivist Approach

Noel Carroll adheres to the cognitive psychology position of film narrative; a position that leans towards the empirical and demonstrable aspects of film narrative not concerned with subjectivity or exploration of psychoanalytical theories of the subconscious. Thereby, an unconventional way to look at Carroll’s approach is to apply his theories to a standout film of subjective narrative: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).

Key Points of Carroll’s Cognitivist Approach:

The scene analysed here occurs at the Club Silencio, where the two main characters (and those of us watching) realise they have taken part in an illusion, a dream.

Cinema intensifies/transforms our realism by focusing and directing our attention

The use of extreme close-ups on the singer’s face forces the viewer to witness every strain of her emotional pain. All other surrounding visual information is bracketed out: the sheer scale of her face intensifies the realism much more than how it would occur in real life. These close-up shots assist in producing a raw, passionate power by the inability to direct our attention to anything else.

We comprehend images directly

Even the ‘untutored’ spectator can at least understand movie narrative without learning any kind of language. For example, film scholars or children can comprehend that the woman is singing a song. Her strained facial expressions and sad eyes tell us it is sombre. Nobody could watch this scene and see, say, an action packed adventure shot because we comprehend (see) the images directly for what they are.

Movies do not depend on conventions to be intelligible – all viewers use the same cognitive processes

Many would be familiar with the melody of the Roy Orbison song ‘Crying’. The woman’s rendition of Orbison’s song in Spanish is still familiar and comprehensible to anyone who has heard the original song. Regardless of the language (convention) sung in, the cognitive process of seeing (a signer on a stage) and hearing (the familiar ‘Crying’ melody) tell us she is singing the song ‘Crying’.

Overall, Carroll’s objective cognitivist approach can also be applied to subjective narratives because to order cognitive processes, movies use both comprehension (what you see) and interpretation (what you think).

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Understanding Film Narrative’, Lectures 4 & 5 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Ontologies of the Moving Image: Bazin’s Realism

One way to look at the ontology (the nature of what something is) of the moving image is from a realist perspective.

Founder of the Cahiers du Cinema, influential French film philosopher Andre Bazin paved the way for filmmakers of the nouvelle vague. Bazin also championed cinematic realism: the unity of time and place with authentic realist style that produces aesthetic realism. Furthermore, Bazin claimed the real situations and locations used by the Italian neo-realists such as Rossellini and de Sica best exemplified the aesthetics of cinematic realism.

Some cinematic techniques used to attain aesthetic realism include the use of:

Outdoor Settings & Natural Light

Real People/Non-Professional Actors (provide ‘rawness’)

Long Takes & Minimal Quick Editing/Montages (provide a space to watch time unfold)

Deep Focus (allow spectators to gaze anywhere in the scene)

Unanticipated/Unscripted Footage

Some critics, such as Noel Carroll, disagree with Bazin’s realism, and argue:

  • Photography always requires at least some subjective human intervention (e.g. framing a shot)
  • Bazin’s ‘medium essentialism’ considers technology to dictate style, yet mediums are hard to define and often change
  • Photographs are not prosthetic images: I can’t orient my body towards that which the image depicts

Furthermore, some films question the ontology of cinematic realism:

Is a film made entirely of still photographs still a ‘film’?

Is a documentary film shot in 3D still an example of cinematic realism?

However, in Bazin’s defence, because he claims a human psychological and anthropological desire to preserve cinematic images against time exists; he is not claiming cinematic images are independent of human intervention. Bazin’s realism is aesthetic, psychological and ethical, and therefore not strictly ontological.

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Ontologies of the Moving Image’, Lectures 2 & 3 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.