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Film theory


Film theory

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Film theory seeks to develop concise, systematic concepts that apply to the study of cinema as art. Classical film theory provides a structural framework to address classical issues of techniques, narrativity, diegesis, cinematic codes, "the image", genre, subjectivity, and authorship. More recent analysis has given rise to psychoanalytical film theory, structuralist film theory, feminist film theory, and theories of documentary, new media, third cinema, and new queer cinema, to name just a few. See also film criticism.



The Italian futurist Ricciotto Canudo (1879-1923) is considered to be the very first theoretician of cinema. He published his manifesto The Birth of the Seventh Art in 1911. Another early attempt was The Photoplay (1916) by the psychologist Hugo Münsterberg.

It must be noted however, that the French philosopher Henri Bergson with Matière et Mémoire (1896) made comments on the need for new ways of thinking on movement, and coined the terms "image-temps" and "image-mouvement". Criticising the concept of time as analogous to space, in his 1906 essay l'illusion cinématographique (in: L'évolution créatrice) he rejects film as an exemplification of what he had in mind when he wrote on images-as-movement and images-as-time.

In Cinéma I & II (1983-1985), the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, taking Matière et Mémoire as the basis of his philosophy of film, revisits Bergson's concepts and combines it with peircian semiotics.

Classical film theory took shape during the era of silent film. It emerged from the works of directors like Germaine Dulac, Louis Delluc, Jean Epstein, Sergei Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov,Paul Rotha and film critics like Rudolf Arnheim, Béla Balázs and Siegfried Kracauer. It was not an academic discipline.

In the early 1950s the French film critic André Bazin helped to found the highly influential Cahiers du cinéma. Many of its young writers such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard would go on to direct the films of the French New Wave. These writers were some of the first to take popular Hollywood cinema seriously as an artform. Their fascination with Westerns and gangster films effectively spawned genre theory.

In the 1960s film theory took up residence in academe, importing concepts from established disciplines like psychoanalysis, literary theory and linguistics.

In the seventies the British journal Screen was very influential.

During the 1990s the digital revolution in image technologies has impacted on film theory in various ways. There has been a refocus onto celluloid film's ability to capture an indexical image of a moment in time by theorists like Mary Ann Doane, Philip Rosen and Laura Mulvey. There has also been a historical revisiting of early cinema screenings, practices and spectatorship modes by writers Tom Gunning, Miriam Hansen and Yuri Tsivian.

Specific theories and styles of film

Further reading

  • Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory, Oxford, New York: oxford University Press, 1984
  • Andre Bazin, What is Cinema? essays selected and translated by Hugh Gray, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1971
  • Francesco Casetti, Theories of Cinema, 1945-1990, Paperback Edition, University of Texas Press 1999
  • Bill Nichols, Representing Reality. Issues and Concepts in Documentary, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1991
  • The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford University Press 1998

See also

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Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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