In formulating a notion of filmic reality, this book offers a novel way of understanding our relationship with cinema. It argues that cinema need not be understood in terms of its capacities to refer to, reproduce or represent reality, but should be understood in terms of the kinds of realities it has the ability to create. The book investigates filmic reality by way of six key film theorists: André Bazin, Christian Metz, Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Rancière. In doing so, it provides comprehensive introductions to each of these thinkers, while also debunking many myths and misconceptions about them. Along the way, a notion of filmic reality is formed that radically reconfigures our understanding of cinema.
This introductory chapter argues that films are part of reality. It tries to see films as part of the reality people typically inhabit, as part of the world they live in, as parts of their lives. This is an attempt to acknowledge the reality of film that can be called filmic reality. Film scholars and students are invariably drawn towards trying to determine what a film represents by looking at films as at best a secondary mode of being, so that any claim for the reality of films is most often met with either the blank stare of bafflement or outright repudiation. Only by opening oneself up to the experimentation, hypothesizing, reverie and imagination that are presented by films can one hope to accept the realities that films provide. It has to be accepted that films are part of reality, not things which have to live up to an already-conceived reality, or which have to mirror reality, represent or reflect reality or, conversely, ‘criticize’ reality. Only if people give up on the understanding that films are somehow severed from reality can they begin to account for the realities that films themselves are.
This chapter fleshes out the predominant strand and the current state of film theory and film studies. The strand is traced back to the notion of ‘political modernism’, a term denoting a particular period of film studies examined by D. N. Rodowick. Instead of criticizing political modernism, the chapter points out that much of what passes for film studies today has failed to go beyond the debates of political modernism. The logic of political modernism is based on a fundamental distinction between illusion and reality in the cinema. Film studies have predominantly been guided by a desire to forge clear distinctions between what can be considered real in the cinema and what can be considered illusory or non-real. The strategies of political modernism, which tried to dismantle the representational allure of orthodox cinema, were and are still clinging to a theory of representation. As Kibbey argues, the iconoclastic theory of the image is one predicated on a distinction between false and true images.
Filmic reality is dependent on the attitude of an individual to see the film as a part of reality instead of its representations. This chapter focuses on the works of André Bazin who goes beyond political modernism and its logic of illusion versus reality in the cinema. His writings on the ‘Ontology of the photographic image’ and the ‘Myth of total cinema’ appear fundamentally to cement his approach to cinema as one that is unflinchingly representational. For him, cinema has the capacity to create reality in a specific way, one that conceives of modes of life in an ‘authentic’ manner. The kind of authenticity Bazin envisages is explicitly non-representational—it has nothing to do with reflecting, representing or capturing reality, and instead is about creating modes of life that are to be considered ‘real’.
This chapter brings forth Christian Metz's conception of cinema. On the one hand, he has been discredited with trying to reduce cinematic expression to linguistic terms while on the other hand he has been further criticised for being an advocate of ‘apparatus theory’. Metz's notion of the ‘imaginary signifier’ has been criticized because critics argue that his theorization of the imaginariness of the cinema signifier places an emphasis on cinematic illusion instead of endorsing cinematic reality. The chapter argues that imaginary signifier in no way signals the failure of cinema but instead accurately characterizes its triumph. The cinema signifier is not symbolic and nor does it evoke the real world directly. Rather, the cinema signifier is imaginary as it offers a reverie that gives people the possibility of re-imagining their relationship to the world. Filmic reality, by passing through the imaginary, allows imagining new orders of reality.
This chapter provides a general survey of Stanley Cavell's most important contributions to theorizing cinema. A study of his approach to the ontology of film, The World Viewed, proves that for him films are real rather than realistic. For him, experiences of films cannot simply be seen as some kind of lesser version of the so-called real world. Instead, films provide something akin to a more intense or ‘truer’ experience of reality. Films cannot be said to offer representations of the world or of some purportedly ‘real’ or ‘true’ world. Instead, films are exhibitions of the world; they offer experiences that are as much a part of reality as any other experience. While at the movies, people are less on guard, more receptive, more vulnerable and less fearful of the possibilities the world is capable of offering to them. Stanley Cavell; The World Viewed; films; experiences; reality
This chapter examines Gilles Deleuze's understanding of cinema, which is fleshed out in relation to his extraordinary claim that ‘cinema produces reality’. He argues that films offer orders of experience that are normally hidden or unavailable in everyday life. Cinema presents new modes of perceiving and experiencing, modes which are not derivative of experiences in the ‘real’ world, and not modes that insist upon an adherence or faithfulness to the ‘real’ world. Rather, cinema produces modes of perceiving and experiencing that offer the possibility of another kind of world. Perhaps most challenging about his claim is that, in making it, Deleuze signals his intention to refrain from all forms of judgement. His discussions of films and types of films do not revolve around questions of which films are better or more valuable than others, they refuse to draw up tables of judgement which determine that some types of films are bad while others are good. Instead, he tries to uncover the significance of the system of reality that is proposed by Jean Renoir's The Golden Coach (1952).
This chapter deals with one of the more controversial contributors to recent debates in film studies: Slavoj Žižek. His reconceptualization of Lacanain psychoanalytic theory around the category of the real has steered psychoanalytic film theory in new and interesting directions. He declares that they are shaped by the ideals people posit in the real, but in so far as that is the case, their experiences of reality are always shaped by ideological fantasy. This, ultimately, is Žižek's most fundamental breakthrough: that ideological fantasy is a good thing, not something that should be eschewed or dispensed with. In other words, ideological fantasies are not illusions. Rather, it is only by way of ideological fantasy that people can come to experience reality itself in the first place. Žižek's conclusion is that ideological fantasy effectively makes the world in which people live: ideological fantasy is at the foundation of what we call ‘reality’.
This chapter analyses Jacques Rancière's approach to cinema as a category of the aesthetic. For him, film is part of the historical bloc in which people live, which defines artworks by means of the category called ‘aesthetics’. People live in an era of what Rancière calls ‘the aesthetic regime’, a regime by means of which art has been defined for the last two hundred years or thereabouts. The cinema, according to him, is very good at telling stories which have a precise beginning, middle and end. Indeed, this is one aspect of art that the cinema almost completely borrows from the representative regime: the ability to tell great stories. The conjunction of the aesthetic and the representative regimes fully defines what film is and which contributes to making it such an important artform. Rancière's contribution is important because it disrupts the quest for ‘purity’ in theories of cinema.