What is film theory and criticism

Film theoryA philosopher in the cinema

The philosopher goes to the cinema. There he sees Michael Haneke's "Caché" with Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, among others. It's one of those films that draws the viewer in and puzzles them at the same time.

The main character in Haneke's film, the television presenter Georges, is sent anonymous video films from his house, which gradually disintegrate his own images and those of his life. The positions of the film and the audience remain unclear until the end, but this provokes questions about the differences between subjective and objective images.

This cinematic world, which is more than an illusion, attracted the philosopher Martin Seel. In his book "Die Künste des Kinos" he searched over 100 films of various genres for what is specific about the film, and even more for what philosophy lacks. Because it's also about the relationship between ratio and emotion.

"When I deal with the difference, the tension between film and philosophy, I advocate the thesis that film develops a kind of aesthetic anthropology, but different from philosophical anthropology, that is, the philosophical doctrine of man, of the fundamental position of man In the world or being-in-the-world, as Heidegger says, cinema is also about this, but in a different way, in that it creates artificial, fictional landscapes that show us the possibilities of life and at the same time give us the opportunity to live out our reactions to ourselves and the world in an exceptional way and the foreword also says that cinema gives us the opportunity to savor the fluctuations in life in a way that we cannot do in real life. "

The cinema, one could say in the sense of Seel, fills the void of philosophy. In his stimulating narrow volume, the Frankfurt philosopher searches for the essence and, above all, the special features of film. In nine differentiated chapters he traces the roots of cinema in other arts: architecture, music, visual arts, theater, literature and so on.

The film, says Seel, takes on elements of all these arts and develops from them a very special potential in the actual place of the film, the cinema. Films like Hitchcock's "The Invisible Third" or Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point" broke the boundaries of space and drew the viewer into it with all senses.

The film enthusiastic philosopher describes the cinematic space as much more ambivalent and fragile than any other space in our everyday life. Because as an imagined space it is created through images, colors, sound and perspectives, but is closed and open at the same time. It is closed as a cinematic narrative that inevitably spreads over the viewer. At the same time, however, it is open because the viewer ultimately deforms the cinematic images in their imaginations and connects them with their own phantasms.

"The book is about the original scene of the cinema, namely the cinema as a special place where films are perceived. Today, of course, this place has got a lot of competition from the wide range of options for displaying cinematic images. I think it's still worth it To think about this primal scene of perceiving feature films in the cinema, because only if one has a clear understanding of this classic situation of the appearance of films can one understand what is different with the other types of perception of films or cinematic images in general. "

And Seel pursues this "original scene" very meticulously and theoretically. As a reader, one encounters a confusing variety of films that, if one is not familiar with them, one would actually have to watch in order to really understand what the author is getting at.

If you know them, however, it is definitely a pleasure to follow the author's excursions into philosophical heights. To this end, he is encouragingly brazenly borrowed not only from classic film theorists such as Bazin and Kracauer or modern media theories, for example from Angela Keppler, but also from Kant and Hegel, without falling into media euphoria or the prevailing cultural pessimism of our day.

"I don't make a loss diagnosis at all, I want to develop a unified theory of the artistic power of cinema. This is rare in that most of the philosophical or film-scientific film theories are based on - in my eyes - too narrow paradigms."

This refers to those studies that deal only with Hollywood films, auteur cinema, or early silent films, for example. Martin Seel wants more and at the same time less. In his "unified theory" he describes film in the cinema as the actual total work of art. It doesn't just produce images or rooms with music, in which we can move independently. Rather, space, sound and image come together in the film.

The viewer is trapped in them. At least in the cinema, he cannot determine how long he will stay in one place. However, Seel does not ask here whether this could not at least partly also apply to the theater.
For him it's about something else: he thinks that the film as a synthesis of different arts can do a lot more than create an illusion. That is why, in the second part of the book, he turns decisively against theories that, as early as the 1980s in the Anglo-Saxon region, wanted to reduce the film to the fact that it mainly creates illusions. That is only part of the cinematic effect. As viewers, we would also pay attention to the presentation and the aesthetics.

"If we perceive a film intensely, we can pay attention to the way it is staged without affecting the way we go along and the intensity of our experience in the least, and only when we do that do we get everything that a strong film has to convey And the illusionist has to say that when we experience a film intensely, it is as if it were real now. That's what I call cinema forgetting about representation. "

The special thing about Seels book is that it gives the "presentation aesthetics", as he calls it, a lot of space. The creation of an illusion and the presentation together made a film. Both together form the imaginations of the viewer, who each bring their own fantasies. This interaction, which is essentially shaped by aesthetics, was not so clearly specified before Seel.

This is where his recourse to media theory pays off. However, one has to ask oneself whether this is ultimately a glimpse into bygone times. Strictly speaking, Seel's aesthetic theory only applies to film in the cinema. Because even the pause or repeat button on the computer fundamentally changes the perception and pull of a film.

Martin Seel: "The Arts of Cinema", Frankfurt, S. Fischer Verlag, 2013, 22.99 euros.