Friday, August 12, 2011


Rudolf Arnheim is my chief theoretical influence, his formalism was a “critical challenge to certain principles of theory.” His Film As Art is the Das Capital of film theory, dialectical in methodology, an assault on the misguided realist notions still irrationally haunting the movie halls and academia. As he states in a introduction to Film As Art, that art doesn't,produce mechanical recordings of the outer world but organize the sensory raw material creatively according to principles of simplicity, regularity, and balance, which govern the receptor mechanism.” A trained psychologist, the man tried to blend science and art theory, especially in his later works.

I found his work after years of intellectual malaise, reading book after book hoping to find some theory that would help me appreciate film, while also strengthening my own cinematic skills. The dominate forms of theory-psychoanalytic, Marxist, critical, structuralist, feminist-barely added to my film appreciation. A student of political anthropology, I felt the theories used by the film theorists fell short of actually reading Marx, Engels, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Adorno, De Bouvior, etc. I felt, for example, that the theorists were trying to confuse the multitude of filmmakers and students of film in the academy (in the very near future there are going to be more people with Film BA's than Pre-Med BS's) with ultra-histrionics as to suggest their genius and justify their position instead of leading to better cinema. When not enough critics came to terms with the very nature of cinema itself.

The scientific attention to detail in Arnheim's works, like The Power Of The Center and Art and Visual Perception continually pushes his notion that “how the various peculiarities of film material [or in his later books, anything specific to each art] can be, and have been, used to achieve artistic effects.” He details in Film As Art as many of these “peculiarities” as he could. This, I felt, constituted the beginning stages of what later become my strong foundation of film appreciation, theory, and criticism.

His theoretical cannon though didn't elude enough to any key intellectual celebrity. There was just film truths and film fallacies, but nothing for intellectuals to egotistically idolize. The only contention one can have with Arnheim's theory is how it comes into conflict with Cashiers Du Cinema's auteur theory, which also allowed me to be more enriched by the cinema. Arnheim, with his formalism, suggests that the pure experience of the art is what is key. I find that to be true, in a sense, but feel film is too layered to allow for pure experience. It isn't painting, photography, music, etc., but has so much going on autuer theory allows for you to a) identify the filmmakers themes as to connect more with the material via trying to gain more information about the filmmaker's specifics (if the filmmaker is Marxist, read Marx, if the filmmaker is a feminist, read Bell Hooks) and b) that auteur theory allows you to identify the formalist strengths of all the cast and crew and then c) how those auteurs strengthen the whole cinematic package. So with my adulation of Arnheim, I had to re-assess auteur theory, but as I re-read Arnheim and continue with my adoration of auteurist texts, my appreciation and what I get out of film has only grown.

No comments:

Post a Comment