Panel: Revisiting Christian Metz.
The philosophical roots of his work; his phenomenology; his semiology; the continued relevance of his work on film.
Chair: Dominique Chateau.
Papers by: Dominique Chateau (Paris 1), Martin Lefebvre Concordia University Montreal), Annie van den Oever (University of Groningen / University of the Free State), and Anna Backman Rogers (University of Groningen).
Rereading Christian Metz is a thing many film scholars find themselves doing in all sorts of cases. Interestingly, Metz’s work still proves to be an inspiring source to consult when struggling to understand a variety of phenomena in the field of film and television viewing. How to explain his long-standing relevance? In light of this question, we would like to revisit Metz’s work in a panel discussion presenting three separate papers. We will start with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and his paradigmatic presentation of the viewer as voyeur.
Paper 1: Dominique Chateau, Martin Lefebvre
Title: Re-visiting the Connection between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis in the work of Christian Metz.
We can distinguish three major periods in Metz's career. The first phase centres on the question of the impression of reality in the cinema. It will be argued that at this time Metz was influenced heavily by phenomenology. This is very apparent in his approach to the impression of reality in terms of corporeality (as in Merleau-Ponty) and motion (see Metz’s early interest in motion and movement). In the second phase, he developed the semiology of cinema, with the general topic of film language and the description of film syntagms (Grande Syntagmatique). This part of his research may seem to be very far from philosophy, but it will be argued that this is not the case, insofar as we have a conception of film philosophy inside of which more or less scientific methodologies are taken into account. The third period is the psychoanalytic one (The Imaginary Signifier) which offers a highly profound exposition on film reception, the viewers' attitudes and the dream-like mode of filmic attention. It will be argued that this contribution is very interesting for film philosophy and aesthetics and moreover that there is a subtle but profound connection between this latter psychoanalytic approach and the early phenomenological one.
Paper 2: Annie van den Oever
Title: The indoor viewing experience. Christian Metz’ relevance for understanding television viewers as ‘regressive’ and absorbed in an ‘emotional work-out’.
Abstract: In light of Christian Metz’s analysis of the nature of cinematic spectatorship and the cinematic ‘apparatus,’ it is obvious that cinema and television viewers are part of a distinctly different ‘dispositif’. A pivotal given for the cinematic ‘apparatus’ is the way in which the dark cinema with its soft chairs and sole light beam brings the cinema viewers into a dream-like, regressive mood which classical narrative cinema was quick to exploit to the fullest, as Metz has argued. (See Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier. Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Trans. Celia Britton, c.s.: Indiana University Press, 1982.) As opposed to cinema audiences, television viewers – sitting in a well-lit living room amidst others, often talking and moving about - seem to be involved in a far more conscious day-time activity, very close to ‘real-life’ viewing . Some phenomena, however, amongst them the fact that so many television viewers watch television in some sort of home pyjama, lying on the couch while watching, may point at a regressive state of mind which may come with a distinct vulnerability to regressive emotions triggered by the programs one watches. Two questions will be addressed directly in this paper: is television viewing far more regressive than usually stressed in television research; and how relevant are Metz’ ‘apparatus theory’ and the underlying philosophy for television studies today?
Paper 3: Anna Backman Rogers
Title: ‘How many women have to die to make it interesting?’ Re-Addressing Jane Campion’s ‘In The Cut’ through Metz and Mulvey.
Jane Campion’s In The Cut (2003) was dismissed by many film critics upon its release as an ineffectual take on the detective genre with an erotic twist. I will argue in this paper that the film can be read fruitfully through a psychoanalytic framework (best exemplified in the work of Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey); what becomes apparent is that Campion stages a very precise deconstruction of the notions of voyeurism, identification, the male gaze and the female body as spectacle. I will suggest that via deliberate employment of the detective and slasher film genres, which posit the female figure as a threat that must be neutralised, In The Cut answers directly Mulvey’s call for the destruction of dominant, patriarchal and traditional forms of visual pleasure. More specifically, I will contend that this feminist exploration of visual pleasure and it sources is effected through the central protagonist Frannie (Meg Ryan), a literature teacher who is obsessed with language but most crucially is the bearer of the gaze. As Lucy Bolton has argued, if any consciousness saturates the film, it is that of Frannie; furthermore, her outlook serves to reveal and, by extension, undermine not only the latent forms of sadistic control and voyeurism at the heart of the (traditional) cinematic viewing experience, but also the generic forms that manufacture and maintain a visual culture in which the female is divested of articulation and turned into passive spectacle or victim. In this respect, I will also discuss the relevance of casting Meg Ryan in the central role, an actress who has become synonymous with the Romantic Comedy genre. Moreover, this paper will argue for the continued relevance of Metz’s and Mulvey’s theories as a tool for reading feminist cinemas.