Filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell (Blue Artichoke Films) has made empathy the centre
of her practice as an alternative porn filmmaker. This blend of artist manifesto
and academic essay illuminates the three ways in which empathy is a driving
force at every level of her artistic efforts. 1) Structure: Using a foundation
of cognitive film theory and specifically the work of Murray Smith, she builds
empathy into the structure and content of her films themselves. 2) Production:
She prioritises empathy in her production process on the set with cast and crew
3) Society: By creating and spreading empathetic pornography, she aims to
introduce more empathy into society at large.
Film viewers responses to characters are of a great variety; global notions of
‘identification’, ‘empathy’, or ‘parasocial interaction’ are too reductive to capture
their rich nuances. This paper contributes to current theoretical accounts by
clarifying the intuitive notion of ‘being close’ to characters, drawing on social and
cognitive psychology. Several kinds of closeness are distinguished: spatiotemporal
proximity, understanding and perspective-taking, familiarity and similarity, PSI, and
affective closeness. These ways of being close to characters interact in
probabilistic ways, forming a system. Understanding its patterns might help us to
more precisely analyze the varieties of character engagement, which is demonstrated
by an analysis of David Fincher‘s Fight Club (1999).
This article argues that the central dimensions of film aesthetics may be explained
by a general theory of viewer psychology, the PECMA flow model. The PECMA flow model
explains how the film experience is shaped by the brain‘s architecture and the
operation of different cognitive systems; the model describes how the experience is
based on a mental flow from perception, through emotional activation and cognitive
processing, to motor action. The article uses the flow model to account for a variety
of aesthetic phenomena, including the reality-status of films, the difference between
narrative and lyrical-associative film forms, and the notion of ‘excess’.
types) before we begin watching it, awaiting its cues and guidance. The very substantial growth of cognitive film studies since such a start has not changed this. There continues to be a real unwillingness to deal with actual audiences and the complexities that they bring to any viewing.
There are, however, wider strands and tendencies within cognitivefilmtheory connecting it with recent developments in neuroscience (including the re-emerging fascination with brain localisation – see, for instance, Hasson et al ., 2008 ; Elliott, 2010 ), and
for the necessity of a revisionist history of
the kind embodied in the book itself; secondly because Bordwell’s
version of the history of mise-en-scène criticism is advanced in the
context of one of the most influential ways of writing about film
style that have emerged in the intervening period – cognitivefilmtheory.
The Conclusion points to some of the more recent developments
of the mise-
scène tradition and reflects further on what the
history might reveal for the present.
1 Deborah Allison, ‘Close-Up #1 edited by John Gibbs and Douglas
the spectator’s deductive and problem-solving activities is well suited to modelling our response to the detective film, but perhaps lacking in emotional generosity as an account of how we watch a melodrama. Hence critics following in his tradition have sometimes sought to co-ordinate his computational model of mental processing with cognitivefilmtheory’s newer interest in the emotional engagements of the spectator. Like other cognitivists, though, Bordwell generalises spectator response, hypothesising that film narratives activate in us a universally shared
-Communication”.’ New Media and Society May 1: 117–33.
Anderson, Joseph. 1996. The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to CognitiveFilmTheory. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Apel, Dora. 2012. War Culture and the Contest of Images. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers
Azoulay, Ariella. 2008. The Civil Contract of Photography. New York: Zone Books.
Barnhurst, Kevin G. 1994. Seeing the Newspaper. New York: St. Martin’s.
Becker, Olivia. 2014. ‘ISIS Has a Really Slick and Sophisticated Media Department.’
Vice News, 12 July 2014. Accessed 14 June 2016