Reply to Aurand
Brian K. Aurand, 'Survey of a Field?'
_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 2 no. 12, May 1998
We are grateful to Brian K. Aurand for his thoughtful review of _Philosophy and Film_. It is interesting for us to hear of people's actual experiences with using it in the classroom. Of course we are pleased that he has noted as strengths some of the things we aimed at: good coverage of a variety of positions, and readable essays with clear expositions of a lot of important theoretical topics.
We do have some things to say in response to his disappointment about a lack of attention by the philosophers in our book to the more filmic aspects of the movies we discuss. In fact, we didn't really think this book by itself could or should cover all the things you'd need to do to introduce basic concepts in film theory in a class on the philosophy of film. Other books do that, and we would not expect to duplicate them, any more than, say, a book on 'film and history' would if it were aimed mainly at historians to use in their history courses.
We do think that there is more attention to the filmic in the essays in our book than Aurand mentions, though perhaps the vocabulary of standard film analysis does not get used. We are surprised that he has apparently overlooked some important examples. Stanley Cavell's essay has a long thoughtful meditation about _Pennies from Heaven_, illustrating the meaning of song and dance sequences in films, and he discusses the role of the body in such scenes, with special mention of Fred Astaire. Kelly Oliver's essay talks about how _Persona_ at certain critical moments breaks out of the medium of communication as if the very medium itself has been exceeded in certain ways. Harvey Cormier's essay talks about not just aesthetic modernism but some of Kubrick's remarkable special effects and about things like how we're always seeing faces reflected in screens in _2001_. Both Naomi Scheman's essay as well as Nickolas Pappas's are really questioning some assumptions about the 'male gaze' and so they talk, necessarily, about the camera and how it provides at times either a female gaze or a homoerotic gaze. (See for example Pappas's treatment on page 119 of the opening of _Sea of Love_ and the camera's movement over male buttocks up to its presentation of the scene of murder, where he offers thoughts comparing this mode of viewing to the more usual treatment of sex scenes in pornography.)
Finally, Thomas Wartenberg's essay raises the issue of film as inherently specular in discussing what he sees as the problematic ending of _White Palace_. These are just some examples; there are others in the book, even in
essays that do focus predominantly on narrative. It strikes us then that a professor wishing to highlight these aspects of film could do so in conjunction with various of the essays in the volume.
One other small point in response to Aurand's specific comments on George Wilson's essay: if he wants to see a more extended development and application of Wilson's approach to point-of-view analysis, we recommend that he look at Wilson's book _Narration in Light_ (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), where he does go on to do exactly what Aurand was looking for. We hope that if excerpts from authors like Wilson or Cavell can lead readers from our book to theirs, that we are doing both the readers and those authors a service.
Aurand has raised the interesting question of whether philosophers -- who after all are not typically trained in traditional film analysis -- tend to focus on narrative mostly as they look for 'ideas'. But rather than see this as a defect of our volume, we see it as, perhaps, one of its virtues: it illustrates that philosophic attention to film may have a different character than other types of writing about film. If philosophers are concerned with exploring how an audience receives ideas through following a film's narrative, that might mark an aspect of the philosophic study of film that distinguishes it from approaches in traditional film studies (in addition to a number of other approaches we discuss in our introduction to the book).
Film theorists have traditionally thought that there are certain elements of film as a medium that belong to it uniquely. Recently, however, it has become clear that the project of specifying such features is doomed to failure. Film as a medium is constantly evolving and there simply are no putative features that can distinguish it from other media. So even though film shares narrative with other forms of art (notably the novel) there is no reason to shy away from discussing the nature and appeal of the narratives of particular films, as if to do so were to neglect the distinctly filmic character of a film. Indeed, as many of the essays in our volume attest, there is a lot to gained from a rigorous consideration of film narrative. Aurand is certainly correct, however, to urge that such discussions pay attention, where appropriate, to the visual and auditory means whereby the narrative is conveyed to a film's audience.
_Philosophy and Film_ was intended as an introduction to a rapidly growing and evolving field. Since its appearance there has been a steady stream of publications in the field. Westview Press has recently announced a new series, 'Thinking though Cinema', that is dedicated to publishing books in this field under the general editorship of Thomas Wartenberg. We are also publishing books that develop the material of our contributions to this volume into full-scale interpretations -- of horror films and the unlikely couple film respectively. We will be happy if we've stimulated the field to progress further toward a real integration of approaches, and stimulated other authors and readers and students to think more about how ideas are 'in' the medium of film. (We also confess that one major rhetorical goal of the book is to get philosophers to take film more seriously, not simply to get people in film studies to take philosophers seriously.)
University of Houston, Texas
Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts
Cynthia A. Freeland and Thomas E. Wartenberg, 'Reply to Aurand'
_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 2 no. 13, June 1998
Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1998
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