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Tag Archives: film theory

“Life pushes us forward”


Nothing is an end in itself and therefore nothing is a source of complete rest. Everything is a stimulus to new wishes, a source of new uneasiness which longs for new satisfaction in the next and again the next thing. Life pushes us forward. 

Hugo Munsterberg

Hugo Munsterberg was a German-American psychologist active in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who also contributed to film theory, which is how I know him. I studied film in graduate school and we read his book, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, in a history of cinema class. In looking at this quote, it can obviously apply to life more broadly and not specifically only to film. In fact, not knowing that it’s part of film theory, one probably wouldn’t even relate it to film at all. Either way, I loooooveeee this quote and identify with it so deeply because of my attachment to existentialism. If this isn’t the most fundamental truth of our existence, I don’t know what is. It’s so true though, right? We never seem to be happy or satisfied with our current situation. And even when we are, we worry about what we’re missing – like if we’re too happy or when it might end because it can’t possibly last forever…we can’t possibly be that happy. On the other hand, when we are dissatisfied, we have no choice but to move forward, even if we’re not necessarily moving in a direction that brings us more satisfaction. We’re always looking forward with both skepticism and hope.



Theory vs. Emotion in Film


When we say we like a movie, what are we really saying? Sure we can appreciate and admire ¬†films for their form or content and we can like them for the ideas they convey or for their beautiful cinematography, but what is it that leads us to say we like a certain film? It’s the feeling they evoke in us. There are film theorists who will go great lengths to describe what signs are present in films that cause us to like them, or the ways in which certain films connote or denote things that make them ‘good’ films. But I don’t think that all that theorizing gets to the heart of what makes us like films. I think the power of film really lies in how they make us feel, rather than certain qualities that might be inherent in the film. How often do we like films solely because of their form or content and cast aside the emotions they evoke in us? Perhaps there are truly genuine film connoisseurs who can look at a film only for the ways in which it excels in terms of its medium (and I’m sure there are), but I find it virtually impossible to separate my emotions from my appreciation for a film while I am watching it. If this makes me an average film spectator, then so be it. I would rather remain an emotional film spectator than take the emotion out of the film-vieweing experience and look at films purely from an intellectual¬†standpoint.

The film-viewing experience


The movies are about what we’re too scared to do in real life; or perhaps what we can’t do in real life. How else would we do what we can’t in life but absorb it through the movies? As I’m currently studying film and learning more about what film theorists have said about the film-vieweing experience, I’ve been particularly interested in what happens to us as we watch a movie. Theorists like Shobchack and Merleau-Ponty argue that we play an active role as we watch a movie, and experience it with all of our senses and throughout our whole bodies. We can, in a sense, feel what is going on screen and relate to the characters and the narrative in a way that we can’t with other art forms. That is because film is the art form that most closely resembles our reality; not only that, film can recreate reality because of its nature as a moving picture. It can take reality and rearrange it by juxtaposing certain things in side by side shots in ways that reality does not allow. Even in its ability to recreate reality, it is still the art form to display reality most like our own, and in this way, we can place ourselves in a movie for a couple hours ‘do’ what we can’t in real life. We can pause our lives for a couple of hours, fantasize, and then return to our lives, perhaps bringing some of what we absorbed from the movie to our real lives.