Monthly Archives: September 2013

Senses of Cinema, Functions of Film; What does film do?

by Laz Carter

1. Introduction

Film functions in several differing and seemingly contradictory ways. Writing critically about Film Studies as a discipline can leave one feeling fragmented, as in order to focus on a given topic in any depth one has to inevitably ignore vast swathes of data covering topics outside a delineated purview. One could write in detail about Hitchcock’s aesthetics, framing and visuality (Mulvey, 1975) and not draw any attention to sound. One could focus in on the director’s aural style (Weis, 1978) at the expense of discussing his imagery. Neither approach is empirically more robust, each has its own merits, objectives, and pitfalls. Yet taken as individual scholarly texts they provide an incomplete picture of Hitchcock’s oeuvre. By bringing the two perspectives together – along with the abundant alternative approaches that discuss this singular auteur – one can begin to construct a more complex jigsaw of the ‘Hitchcockian’ style.

This example hints at a wider issue within Film Studies of being aware of one’s own limitations in choosing one approach over another. Perhaps more so than any other discipline, Film Studies has a huge array of categories and sub-categories in which to specialise, going far beyond the visual/aural divide. Yet one has to remain aware that these topics are not isolated: a revelation in one critical field can have implications upon several others. For me, this is the joy of the discipline: one has to always be reading (and re-reading) the work of other academics discussing film through differing approaches, styles and linguistic techniques. A discussion of American film in terms of zoom lenses and intricate technical detail (Hall, 2012) might seem completely separate from a discussion of gender identity in film noir (Krutnik, 2002), though they might be debating the same film texts, generic conventions and historical zeitgeists.

Preamble aside, one hopes to have contextualised the fact that what film ‘does’ is inherently subjective. Yet one still has to pick an angle to approach the topic, and for me the most interesting aspect of film has always been the manner in which industrial factors have made an impact upon reception. What does this mean? Continue reading Senses of Cinema, Functions of Film; What does film do?