This book provides an in-depth, holistic examination of evaluative aesthetics and criticism as they apply to film. Organised around the explanation of key concepts, it illuminates connections between the work of philosophers, theorists and critics, and demonstrates the evaluation of form through the close analysis of film sequences. The book advocates that aesthetic evaluation should be flexibly informed by a cluster of concerns including medium, convention, prominence, pattern and relation; and rather than privileging a particular theory or film style, it models a type of approach, attention, process and discourse. Suitable for students of film studies and philosophical aesthetics at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, Aesthetic evaluation and film also provides a framework for academics researching or teaching in the area. At the same time, the crisp and lucid style will make the book accessible to a wider readership.
The concept of the ‘aesthetic’ is best considered as a cluster of interrelated meanings. Part I attempts to elaborate its multifaceted nature. The ‘aesthetic’ is not synonymous with the ‘artistic’, as Marcel Duchamp’s anti-aesthetic artwork ‘The Fountain’ demonstrates. Nor is it equivalent to Formalism – an adherence to form at the expense of content – or Aestheticism – an exaggerated devotion to beautiful forms. Crucially, aesthetics does not discount or demean moral, political, emotional, cognitive, or conceptual content. This content is important, and often essential to an aesthetic evaluation; however, the engagement here is with the value of its expression through the form of the work. The conception of aesthetics that motivates this volume is that of the philosopher Robert Strecker, namely ‘the study of a certain kind of value’. To distinguish this from other possible definitions, it is referred to as ‘evaluative aesthetics’. Part I illustrates this concept through discussions of attitude, taste, pleasure and a variety of other qualities.
The etymology of the word ‘criticism’ points towards an evaluative practice. Over time, however, ‘criticism’ has become capacious, referring to all manner of commentary and study of texts. One outcome of this is that the evaluative dimension is no longer central and is in many cases non-existent. Aesthetic criticism, however, is the specific branch of criticism that prioritises the evaluation of form and style – what may be called the ‘practical wing of evaluative aesthetics’. Part II illustrates its principles through a series of topics, including evaluation, interpretation, analysis and close reading.
Part III, the longest part of the book, is devoted to the aesthetic evaluation of film. Divided into sections on medium, constraint, convention, choice and expectation, among others, it examines evaluative claims about specific films offered by a selection of writers. The films run from The Gold Rush and Rope to My Dinner with André, and the writers include André Bazin, Rudolf Arnheim, Stanley Cavell and V. F. Perkins. An important aspect of Part III is the extended examination of film sequences. The purpose of this is to present a more elaborate exemplification of the aesthetic topics than is usually attempted in the philosophy of criticism literature; to show how evaluative claims might be clarified, built upon or tested as part of an ongoing critical discussion; and to model a form of evaluative close reading.