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The Specificity Of Cinema

The most influential critic of the Screen agenda has been David Bordwell. Accusing the Screen critics of blindness to the specificity of film, Bordwell and his co-author Kristin Thompson developed a "neoformalist" analysis. Combining inspiration from Russian formalism with cognitive psychology, they proposed a rigorous film scholarship grounded in archive work and extensive as well as intensive film viewing. They also argued for what appeared to be a more commonsense approach to audience activity. Using cognitive theories, Bordwell argued that audiences were actively engaged in constructing meaning, guessing what will happen next, forming hypotheses and mental maps, and piecing together the action of the plot from the fragments of edited film narration. Criticized for their normative and apolitical account of the cinema experience, and despite the sometimes strident protestations of their later work, Thompson and Bordwell have been influential in establishing close analysis of filmic technique and high levels of historical scholarship as necessary prerequisites of film study.

New historicism (rather confusingly referred to as "revisionist" in some accounts) has been especially effective in the renewal of film studies, focusing attention on the specificity of film's evolution as technology, industry, and culture. In the 1980s and 1990s scholars such as Barry Salt, Tom Gunning, Roberta Pearson, Janet Staiger, Miriam Hansen, Kevin Brownlow, and Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery on U.S. cinema; Michael Chanan, Pam Cook, Andrew Higson, John Hill, and Robert Murphy on the United Kingdom; Thomas Elsaesser on Germany; Richard Abel on France; Yuri Tsivian on Russia; and others have radically rewritten the glib accounts of journalistic film history. The new cinema historicism diminishes the importance of individuals and denies the apparent linear progress from silent to sound, monochrome to color. Instead the new historicists emphasize the importance of institutional forces and economic trends in the innovation and dissemination of technologies and techniques, seeking reasons why certain promising technologies are delayed or abandoned, assessing the reactions of audiences and exhibitors to emerging technologies, focusing on the institutional histories of studios and government agencies, and tracing links between cinema and cognate industries. In the process some key beliefs of even recent film criticism have been undermined, as when Rick Altman argued, on evidence from D. W. Griffith's involvement with the stage, that melodrama was a formative component of classical Hollywood, thus critiquing both the belief that U.S. cinema was realist in essence and that melodrama was an effective antidote to its dominance.

Since the 1990s film historians have turned to oral history and documentary accounts of audience activity in the cinema. A major element of television studies throughout its life, audience studies have had a weaker position in film studies, perhaps because of the relative difficulty and social impropriety of staring at audience members in the dark. Early accounts from the 1930s by participants in the British Mass Observation project, even Hugo Münsterberg's pioneering psychological study of 1916, failed to establish a strong tradition of reception studies. Distinguishing themselves from market


Scene from La Régle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), 1939. France has produced many films that have proven to possess cross-cultural appeal. One of these is Jean Renoir's classic La Régle du jeu. The original negative was damaged during the German occupation of World War II but was restored in 1956. NOUVELLE EDITION FRANCAISE / THE KOBAL COLLECTION

La Règle du jeu, directed by Jean Renoir, Nouvelle Editions Françaises, France, 1939, 110 mins.

Hated or ignored on its release in 1939, Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu is one of the most consistently admired of all films. An ensemble cast in an upstairs-downstairs country weekend enact the rituals of a dying civilization on the brink of war. With its deep staging and deep-focus cinematography, its long takes, and a fluid camera that seems to track the actors (rather than construct the action for the camera), the film became a touchstone of realist criticism.

In a widely read essay, "S/Z and Rules of the Game" (in the film journal Jump Cut, nos. 12–13, winter 1976–1977, pp. 45–51), Julia Lesage argued that in fact the film was constructed through the types of code identified by Roland Barthes and that its realism was merely the effect of cinematic and narrative technique. This formalist analysis would also inspire readings by, among others, Kristin Thompson, for whom the film is an elaborately constructed artifice. That Renoir appears in the film as the character Octave, caught between the aristocrats and the servants, inspired a number of auteur critics to single out the film as an account of the artist's role in society and in cinema. In his 1990s His toire du cinéma, the cinéaste Jean-Luc Godard returns many times to The Rules of the Game as if to an exemplary combination of formal innovation and political commitment.

Phenomenological and psychoanalytic critics have focused on the role of illusion in the film, the series of mistaken identities that propel the plot, and the ethos of "keeping up appearances" that leads to the final tragedy. Still baffling for textual analysts is the charm and the comedy that have kept the film popular not only with critics but with film buffs for more than sixty years. Compellingly humanist in outlook—Renoir's direction rarely if ever seems to dislike his characters—the film's narrative nonetheless enacts a damning satire on a rigidly stratified society that prides itself on the appearances through which it lies to itself. This paradox of a realist cinema portraying an unreal society maintains the film's interest long after that society has faded away.

research by their interest in emotional, inventive, ironic, and resistant attitudes, and in the extremities of fan culture, such studies of necessity emphasize the depth rather than the breadth of their findings, giving more attention to highly specific audiences than to the standard aggregate measure of film audience, box-office returns. At least one international project attempted to do both deep and broad research, investigating cross-cultural meanings of fantasy though an Internet-based survey of responses to the twenty-first century blockbuster The Lord of the Rings. Both historical and contemporary reception studies focus on the cultural construction of audiences, the determinations of race, class, gender, and other formations on the ways audiences read and react to movies, disputing both the Screen concept of an apparatus that determines response, and Bordwell's idea of the audience's work of textual reconstruction.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterCinema - The Language Of Cinema, The Lord Of The Rings, Princess Mononoke, The Specificity Of Cinema