Film, not Sliced up into Pieces, or: How Film Made Me Feel Thinking. Philipp Sc hm er heim Georg-August-Universität Göttingen - PDF

Film, not Sliced up into Pieces, or: How Film Made Me Feel Thinking Review: Daniel Frampton (2006) Filmosophy London: Wallflower ISBN pp. Philipp Sc hm er heim Georg-August-Universität

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Film, not Sliced up into Pieces, or: How Film Made Me Feel Thinking Review: Daniel Frampton (2006) Filmosophy London: Wallflower ISBN pp. Philipp Sc hm er heim Georg-August-Universität Göttingen Daniel Frampton s Filmosophy offers an interesting account of conceptualizing film as an organic entity whose philosophical potential lies in its performative character and its possibilities to transcend traditional ways of thinking. Frampton wants to establish a terminology which redirects scholarly attention to the experience rather than analysis of film, and in the course of doing so he also objects against approaches which too heavily rely on analytic distinctions of elements of a film. For developing his approach, he gathers and modifies ideas from writers such as Eisenstein, George Wilson, Deleuze, Sobchack, and Gilbert-Lecomte. However, his attempt to reform writing about film, away from what he conceives of as technicist rhetoric to a more poetic way of writing, ultimately does not 109 live up to its promises. In particular, his film examples do not live up to the promises of the more theoretical parts of his book. Parts 1 and 2 of this review give a descriptive account of Frampton s book, followed by a critical evaluation in part Fr ampt on s A genda Daniel Frampton s book Filmosophy is announced on the book cover as a manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema. He claims that his work is a study of film as thinking, and contains a theory of both film-being and film form (6). In Frampton s view, the events in a film and the way they are presented are best understood as acts of thinking performed by the film itself. Film is a conceptualised as a filmind (9) whose kind of thinking is not to be confused with human thinking. Frampton explicitly rejects an anthropomorphic understanding of this filmind (see 73 f., 46 ff.) and claims that his analogy between film and mind is a functional one (see 7). It is supposed to allow Frampton to describe film (any film) as an organic whole which should also be talked and written about as such. Consequently, he rejects rigid analytic distinctions between, for example, film style and narration, as long as they break up this organicity of the film. In other words: his book is also another attack on approaches to film writing and analysis inspired by the formalist tradition. 1 Frampton s terminology is not supposed to give empirical descriptions of films, of their nature or genesis, but rather provides a conceptual understanding of the origins of film s actions and events. [ ] Filmosophy conceptualizes film as an organic intelligence: a film being thinking about the characters and subjects in the film (7). Filmosophy is directed against theories of narration which allegedly attempt to identify an external force such as an (invisible) narrator as the originator of the film s discourse (ibid.). Rather, it is the film that is steering its own (dis)course. The filmind is the film itself (7). 2 Filmosophical terminology is supposed to put a film spectator into the right frame of mind for the film experience: 1 See Bordwell (1985). 2 All italics in the quotes are by Frampton. 110 Film does not technically need a filmind [ ] it is a decision by filmgoers whether to use this concept when experiencing a film. The film is just light and sound. I am simply arguing that filmgoers should use the concept of the filmind, in order to experience film as a fully expressive medium. (99) Frampton s filmind proposes a philosophical thesis as well as it gives a criticism of the current state of film studies. The philosophical thesis is that films can follow lines of intellectual inquiry that traditional forms of thinking, which work predominantly qua language, are unable to follow. Filmosophy thus claims that films can philosophize, and can do so with their own means of expression which extend beyond philosophy as a linguistic activity. The criticism of the status quo in film studies that Frampton puts forward is that approaches which separate a given film into different parts (such as form and style, editing and camera movement) which are subsequently analysed, distort an accurate understanding of a film and of the reproduction of the actual experience of (seeing and hearing a) film. Instead, film should be understood as an organic whole in which all parts interrelate with each other, and which also causes such an organic impression on a film spectator. For Frampton, operational distinctions between film form and film style distort an understanding of how film works (on us as filmgoers). Frampton argues that his conception of film facilitates such an organic film experience, because style is tied to meaning with natural, thoughtful, human terms of intention (by the filmind) (149). This is because the concept of film-thinking [which is performed by the filmind] bonds form to content by making style part of the action (8). Frampton also criticizes an undue focus on narrational aspects of film in filmphilosophical studies in disadvantage of specifically cinematic means of expression: So much writing within the area of film and philosophy simply ignores cinematics and concentrates on stories and character motivations (9). 3 For Frampton, film is a kind of nonconceptual thinking, and herein also lies the philosophical potential of film: Film possibly contains a whole new system of thought, a new episteme (11). Filmosophy is not primarily concerned with the analysis of a given film, but rather with the personal affects of film how film affects us directly, emotionally (2). The influence of (Sobchack s and Merleau-Ponty s) phenomenological approaches redirects Frampton s attention to questions of spectatorship (or, in his terms, of the filmgoing 3 Compare also Fn 6 on p. 233, where he criticises the often exclusive focus of film analyses on narrative issues. 111 experience, see chapter 3): The immediate film experience becomes the cornerstone for any subsequent analysis or other written account of film. This assumption also causes his polemic objections against [t]echnical terms such as panning, tracking, zoom-in, close-up, off-camera, shot/reverse shot, long take, hand-held, medium shot, filter, deep focus, asynchronous sound [which] litter the texts of much writing. This lumpen technological terminology obscures the possible poetic experience of film. Speaking of books full of filmmaking terms Parker Tyle compares them to anatomy lectures over human corpses that explain how a living man, in general, works, how this or that of his organs functions (172). Technical terms for Frampton seem to transform the living film into a corpse, and what one could term the living experience of a living film into a dry academic exercise which is unrelated to what we feel when we watch a film. In short: Film for Frampton is not something to be analysed like a dead butterfly on the laboratory table, but something that is experienced and causes affective meanings (164) that have to be accounted for as such. 4 Frampton argues that [t]he movement of Filmosophy is away from seeing film form as abstractly relating to meaning, to seeing film form as the drama of the film: the film does not carry or mean confusion, it becomes confusion, it inhabits the affects and emotions and concepts we receive in the filmgoing experience. [ ] The organicism of the filmind reveals cuts, edits shifts in images as the active thought of the whole film. (131) As a consequence of such an organic understanding, each film has to be understood as a whole, it is not possible to just concentrate on a particular scene. To sum up, if I understand correctly, Frampton wants to make plausible the following theses: film is 1) not just a sum of its structural parts, but should be understood as a quasiorganic, autonomous entity which 2) performs its own kind of thinking, a film-thinking, which transcends anthropomorphic conceptions of thoughts and also cannot be compared to them. This opens up 3) the possibility that film contains a new episteme. Because film is conceived of as an organic whole, all elements of a film become of importance and have to 4 In this movement towards spectatorship Frampton would probably sympathise with secondgeneration cognitivists such as Greg Smith, Carl Plantinga, and Murray Smith, although he does not mention them. See for example Smith/ Plantinga (1999). Anyway, his implicit criticism of cognitivist approaches (which are the blueprint for the technicist accounts he criticises) mostly seems directed at earlier approaches in a cognitivist fashion such as Bordwell s. 112 be understood as interacting with one another. An organic understanding of film, Frampton argues, 4) also makes for a much more accurate viewing experience which pays due attention to the emotions and feelings a film causes in a filmgoer. In the following section I examine the course of Frampton s argument in more detail. 2. The B ook St r uc t ur e Filmosophy is divided into two parts: the first part traces the history of film theoretical writings on the link between cinema and the mind. Herewith Frampton situates himself within this intellectual landscape, but also prepares for the systematic second part of the book, where he explicitly advances his own philosophical conception of film the approach he calls filmosophy. Among the writers he considers are Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Sobchack, Cavell, Balász, Deleuze, Parker Tyler, V. F. Perkins, Bordwell, George Wilson, Münsterberg and a number of early French film theorists: Epstein, Dulac, Artaud, Yhcam, Gilbert-Lecomte. In the first chapter on film minds Frampton outlines various attempts, particularly in early film theory, to compare or link film to the human mind or to thought. By working through examples for such accounts, Frampton argues for an understanding of film as a filmind, which is not supposed to be just another way of objectifying human mental operations. Mere analogies to human thought are understood as limiting for a proper understanding of film s working mechanisms as well as expressive possibilities. Frampton dismisses several earlier conceptions, such as attempts to understand film as working like the human brain, as being an embodiment of the way the mind works (17), as close to memory, our subconscious life, or similar to a (character) subjectivity. Frampton claims that film is not analogous to the [human] mind (22), and that filmic thinking thus is not an analogical, but a poetic concept. In chapter 2, Frampton moves from theorists that link films to the mind to accounts which posit film as a special kind of entity, a being he throughout calls film-being. This is first only to be understood as a general term for what we understand to be the origin(ator) of the images and sounds we experience (27). Frampton explores and ultimately dismisses several traditional ways of understanding film as a being, e.g. as expressive of a filmmaker s though, as camera I or virtual creator, as ghostly or absent author, or as some kind of narratological or post-narratological being. (11). Instead of trying to find a sort of unifying 113 external enabler of the film world which would allow to comprehensively talk about film, Frampton wants to bring the conceptualisation of film-being back into the film (38). I. e., the film itself gives us all we need to form a proper philosophical understanding of it. Conceptually, film is, according to Frampton, is its own creator, not from a point of view, but from a realm, a no-place, that still gives us some things and not others (38). In chapter 3, film phenomenology, Frampton argues that film, not only spectators, in ways to be specified has its own perception of its film world, too. He asks in what ways a film being (be its exact nature as it may) could possibly experience its film world. He examines and criticises Vivian Sobchack s film phenomenology for its alleged anthropomorphism: It is limiting to talk about film form in terms of our perceptual capabilities film can do more than us, differently to us. [ ] Film is not a human-like mind, it is, uniquely, a filmind. (47). Sobchack s account is also criticised as limiting for our understanding of (the philosophical possibilities) of film (46). For Frampton, filmosophy s filmind is the film-world [and not just present to the film like an external observer], though from a transsubjective no-place (47). For this reason, the clues delivered by the film and the experiences of the filmgoer are everything one needs to understand film. Although Frampton acknowledges that filmmakers are, empirically speaking, the creators of a film and create the film with certain intentions in mind, he pleads for the autonomy of the film (art-)work, which transcends a filmmaker s intentions (see 46). In other words: Film is an entity unbound by the cognitive and corporeal limits of human beings. In chapter 4, Film neominds, Frampton concludes his historical survey and considers a couple of other theories of film as form of thinking: Artaud, Epstein, Gilbert-Lecomte, Eisenstein, Schefer, and Deleuze. The latter provides the blueprint for Frampton s subsequent systematic outline of his filmosophical approach. Deleuze provides Frampton with the ideas that images have their own logic of non-linguistic communication (65), and that film becomes the exploration of a thought outside itself (66). For example, [f]ilm bypasses our deadened [rationalised] interaction with the world by feeling it, relating to it intuitively (68). Framptonic film-thinking becomes not simply a matter of thinking rationally, logically, but of thinking qua feelings, emotions, outside of the boundaries of imposed by our higher cognitive processes. 114 Part 2 of the book develops the idea of filmosophy more systematically through a discussion of various disciplines within film studies. Frampton attempts to show the superiority of filmosophy over the technicist (173) rhetoric he finds in other approaches to film. Chapter 5 on filmind outlines his approach, while chapter 6, film narration, considers how traditional theories of narration relate to filmosophy (103). In chapter 5, Frampton argues that film should be conceived as a performative entity: Film does thinking, rather than just provoking thinking. Film-thinking is immanent to the film (95). He distinguishes three kinds of film-thinking: basic film-thinking, formal film-thinking, and fluid film-thinking: basic film-thinking is the basic design of the filmworld (black and white or colour, frame ratio), formal film-thinking is the addition of traditional formal elements (framing, movement, shifts), and fluid film-thinking is the recreation of the film-world itself (special effects, image morphings, and so forth) (all on 83). The first kind of film-thinking thus somehow sets out the framework of the whole film, while formal film-thinking seems to concern everything that can be done with the camera within the boundaries of the established framework (for an example of Frampton s visualist rhetoric of film-thinking, see 90). Fluid film-thinking, then, is directly borrowed from the post-production process: It is expressed through the manipulation of the images we see, for instance through morphing, but fluid film-thinking also seems to be the explicit breakup of linear story patterns (see 88 ff.). Chapter 7 on film-thinking elaborates on certain of these specifically filmic ways of thinking, which are, for example, constituted by the loosely defined basic fields of film composition (image, colour, sound, frame, movement and edit-shifts) (116). Frampton argues that the move of filmosophy is in crafting an integral understanding of how these image forms work inseparably with (as) the drama of film (117). Again, the reader is unmistakably made aware that the hidden enemy is the Bordwell-camp. However, in chapter 8 on the filmgoer Frampton applies Filmosophy to spectatorship and elaborates how his approach might reconfigure our understanding of the encounter between film and filmgoer (148). A filmosophically informed filmgoer will have a more suitable mode of attention, and thus experience more, and thus have more meaning possibilities to steer their interpretations (149). His advice is: first [e]xperience the film. Then interpret the meanings you felt (150). Film analysis thus should always be directly related to one s experience of film. 115 In chapter 9 on film writing Frampton harks at technicist rhetoric (99) again: [W]e should not be taught to see zooms and tracking shots, but led to understand intensities and movements of feeling and thinking. [ ] [T]he route to interpretation should always be via the whole film, not biasing form or content. (169) Frampton also tries to impose a filmosophical understanding on the proceedings of writing about film and the filmgoing-experience: Filmosophy attempts to organically unite form and content in the filmgoer s thought, and the argument concerning film writing is parallel: the form of your writing is also its content (179). The book concludes with a chapter on Filmosophy, where its assumptions are related to movements in the history of philosophy, particularly from Nietzsche over Heidegger to Derrida, and with a conclusion which also explicitly relates Filmosophy to current developments of digital and experimental cinema. 3. Cr it ic ism Frampton offers an interesting account of conceiving of the philosophical potential of cinema. His Filmosophy proceeds in the right direction in that it tries to put accounts of spectatorial experience of film first and analysis second. He also sees clearly that an analysis always has to bear in mind the whole film and not just aspects or parts of it. His attempts to locate the philosophical potential of film in its performative character (in this he is close to Mulhall s conception of film as philosophy in action ), and in its possibilities to transcend hitherto known ways of thinking, are also right on the mark. 5 I also think that Frampton is right in emphasising cinema s potential to transform reality and thereby offer new perspectives on it. There is a venerable tradition which elaborates on this point thinkers such as Rudolf Arnheim (for whom film s transformative and not merely reproductive character is the reason for its status as an art form) and Stanley Cavell, who describes film as a succession of automatic world projections (Cavell 1979: 72), might suffice as examples. When Frampton writes that film uses the real; but it takes it and immediately moulds it and then refigures it [ ]. Film recording automatically changes reality, and the filmmaker artistically refigures reality (4), he is close to Arnheim, and by 5 For Mulhall s account of a philosophy in action, see Mulhall (2006, 2007, 2008). 116 claiming that [c]inema is the projection, screening, showing, of thoughts of the real (4/5), he expands Cavell s definition of film. These thoughts of the real are, on the one hand, the thought of the filmgoer, in whom is induced, in the best case, an expanded conception of (the possibilities of) reality. But Frampton also conceives of these thought of reality as the thoughts the film itself has on the (film) reality it produces. This idea is interesting, but, however, I do not clearly see how Frampton can clearly distinguish such an approach from the anthropomorphic conceptions of film he so eagerly criticises. It seems to me that his attempt to identify a single conceptual source for understanding film (the filmind as a kind of film being) leads him on those trodden paths left by attempts to build first philosophies and unifying theories. His intention to redirect the attention of film-philosophy scholars towards the study of specifically cinematic rather than only narrational philosophic aspects of film is also on the right track. In fact, there do not seem to be many studies out there which specifically focus on the philosophical potential of
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