Spectres of the frame; shifting perceptions


Film theory is at a crossroads. The more I think about it, it’s more like the crazy Los Angeles freeway over/underpasses.

Is the right way intertextual/intermedial/transmedial/psychological?

Is there a right way at all?

I’ve been running a studio this semester which looks at the role of the frame in the age of digital cinema. It’s based on a conference paper I delivered in New Zealand earlier in the year, and what I’m starting to discover (in the most wonderful organic way, alongside my students) is that I barely scratched the surface of this question.

It’s not just the frame; and never really was. The frame’s intrinsic links to movement mean you have to examine the practice of cinematography as a whole; and you can’t look at cinematography without interrogating the relationship of shot to shot.

The rabbit hole I’m presently falling down is pointing to a psychological theory of cinema more akin to Bakhtin or Lacan than Bazin or Bordwell. Cinema is about perception rather than watching. We don’t just watch a film: we perceive and infer, interpreting according to our own psychological constitution.

In class last week, my students — a mix of first- and second-years — independently started discussing Deleuze’s concept of the ‘out-of-field’ and how it might relate to movement in cinema. Cinema is everything I’ve discussed: the frame, movement, editing, psychology.

Ack. The rabbit hole may not have a bottom.

Re-framing the frame

Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.
Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.

‘Framing is a position of thinking.’

– Daniel Frampton, Filmosophy, p. 125.

As previously alluded to, I’m in the very strange process of having to think through my own comprehension of the cinematic medium. In a way, I’m taking baby steps towards my own theory of film. I’ll be taking these initial explorations to a couple of conferences in New Zealand in a couple of months, and I’m also running a studio around the same topic in the second half of the year.

The basis of this new research is that throughout film history, film theory, the notion of the ‘frame’ is never questioned. So much of this is due to the fact that up until very recently, the frame itself was a tangible thing: there’s little need to theorise or philosophise about something you can cut up and hold in your hand. While my research goes out on multiple tangents, the ones we’ll be looking at in the studio have to do with our framing of the world, and how we can link this notion of framing to our conception of self, and our own thought process. It sounds pretentious, I’m well aware, but I’m hoping that through exploring what a cinematic frame is in 2015, we can move towards a comprehension of digital cinema that is either entirely new or, at best, a – ahem – reframing of older theories of film form and philosophy.

My theory of cinema

Thanks guys. #pilgrimage #lyon #institutlumiere
Institut Lumiere, Lyon, France. Photo by me.

I’m in the midst of writing a paper for inclusion in a semiotics journal that will eventually, I suppose, become my theory of cinema. The thing is, I could probably just cobble something together from Deleuze and wrap it around a conception of mobility and collaborative cultures. The more I think about it, though, the more intrigued I’m getting about just what my conception of cinema is. ‘Cinema’ doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did fifty years ago. Nor twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s coming to mean the original ‘niche’ understanding of the broad swathe of films that aren’t made, necessarily, for commercial gain. In this sense, ‘cinema’ means a body of filmed work that speaks to something larger than the typical art/commerce spectrum. The definition of what that larger something is, thus, becomes the crux of this paper I’m working on. My issue, though, is that I don’t think movies-for-the-masses should necessarily be excluded from the category of ‘cinema’. I guess I’ll have to work in some social angle, and I guess the mobility and consumer-creation stuff is the bridge there. Anyway – expect more disjointed rantings on the subject as I work through this.