Chapter contents and alternative films

Chapters 2-9 have an identical structure, or disposition. We identify the main premises behind a traditional film theory, distil a method from it, and then analyse a film. We then identify the main premises behind a more recent film theory, distil a method from it, and then analyse the same film again. Chapters 2-9 are therefore structured in the following way:

Section 1: Traditional film theory

Section 2: Method

Section 3: Analysis

Section 4: Recent film theory

Section 5: Method

Section 6: Analysis

We therefore systematically split up the process of film analysis into its component parts. This makes comprehension and comparison easier. That is, we try to demystify the process of film analysis by breaking it up into stages and by spelling out the procedure by which each theory can be applied to a film. Furthermore, by presenting each theory in the same way, comparison becomes a straightforward matter, since like can be compared with like. In sum, this identical disposition makes the teaching, learning, and application of theories in film analysis more manageable.

The chapter titles also take the same form. They indicate the traditional theory, the more recent theory, and the film(s) under analysis. The traditional theories are (in which 'theories' encompasses schools of criticism): mise-en-scene criticism; thematic criticism and auteurism; post-structuralism (Roland Barthes's S/Z); David Bordwell's cognitive theory of film narration; theories of realism; Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis; and feminism. The more recent theories are: computational statistical style analysis; deconstruction; new media theory (video game design); Edward Branigan's cognitive theory of film narration; theories of digital realism and modal logic (possible world theory); New Lacanian psychoanalysis (especially Slavoj 2izek); and Foucault's and Deleuze's theories of subjectivity and gender.

The contemporary American films (plus two imitations) we analyse include: Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988); The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1997); Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974); The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997); Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997); Jurassic Park and The Lost World (Steven Spielberg, 1993, 1997); Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985), and The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991).

In Chapter 2 we take issue with critics who establish the distinction between classical and post-classical Hollywood on the basis of binary oppositions such as spectacle vs narrative, and other 'either/or' constructions of difference. We suggest that critics may define the post-classical as an 'excessive classicism', rather than as a rejection or absence of classicism, or as moments in a classical film when our own theory or methods appear in the film itself, looking us in the face. Any contemporary Hollywood film can be analysed (at least) twice, giving preference first to its conformity to the principles of classical aesthetics, and second to its conformity to post-classical aesthetics (such as mannerism). In Chapter 2 we subject Die Hard to a double (classical/post-classical) analysis.

In Chapter 3 we present a mise-en-scene analysis of The English Patient. We identify a number of the 'heuristics' that mise-en-scene critics developed in the 1950s and 1960s to analyse classical Hollywood films (including foreground-background, foreshadowing, same frame, cutting vs the long-take heuristics), and then apply them to The English Patient. We could have selected other relevant and similar films, many of which are produced, or co-produced, in Britain, and many of which are based on literary classics or contemporary literature, including 'Merchant Ivory' films such as The Bostonians (1984),

Room with a View (1987), Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), Surviving Picasso (1996), and The Golden Bowl (2000). David Lean's last film, Passage to India (1984) - which he also edited - falls into this category (although Ernest Day's cinematography is far less restrained than John Seale's in The English Patient). Another ideal candidate for mise en scène analysis is, of course, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), in which Anthony Minghella teams up again with John Seale and Walter Murch. The statistical style analysis developed in the second half of the chapter quantifies film style, particularly the parameters of the shot (shot scale, shot length, camera movement, camera angle, strength of the cut), and then performs statistical tests on those parameters using computer technology. This type of analysis can be applied to any narrative film, although its results are more reliable in the analysis of full-length feature films.

The first half of Chapter 4 outlines thematic and auteur film criticism, both of which share the focus on the central ideas behind a film, particularly those ideas that unify a film (or a director's œuvre). Both thematic and auteur criticism are general forms of criticism in a dual sense - they can be applied to any film or group of films, and they aim to generalize, i.e. determine a film's underlying, abstract meanings. These abstract meanings, relating to fundamental human experiences such as suffering, alienation, freedom, and creativity, bring the process of criticism to a close, for they seem to offer a 'natural' end point, for once the thematic or auteur critics finds these fundamental human experiences in a film, they feel the film's ultimate meaning has been identified, and that no further analysis is required. We explore thematic and auteur criticism in relation to Roman Polanski's filmmaking, focusing in particular on Chinatown. Thematic and auteur criticism have been criticized for reading films from a reductive and totalizing perspective. Chief among the critics are deconstructionists, for whom discrepant and disruptive details in a text are significant to the extent that they undermine the dominant thematic meaning. In the second half of Chapter 4 we read Chinatown again, this time focusing on the rich web of discrepant details that go far beyond the film's standard thematic meanings.

In Chapter 5 we outline the post-structural theory and method of Roland Barthes's S/Z (Barthes 1974), and then apply it to The Fifth Element, a French imitation of the Hollywood blockbuster. The five codes central to Barthes's analysis (the hermeneutic, the proairetic, the semic, the symbolic, and the referential) are aimed particularly at mainstream rather than avant-garde texts. Many contemporary films can therefore be taken apart in terms of the five codes. However, we argue that the five codes do not identify all the dominant codes in The Fifth Element. In particular, we argue that the film's narrative is structured along the lines of a video game. In the second half of Chapter 5 we outline the main rules of video game logic (serialized repetition of actions, multiple levels of adventure, space-time warps, magical transformations and disguises, immediate rewards and punishment, pace, and interactivity) and then seek them out in The Fifth Element. Alternative films that respond well to a 'video game' analysis include The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999) and eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999) - not because of the content of both films (they represent computer game simulations in their narratives), but primarily because they adopt the structure of computer games (the primary focus of the analysis of The Fifth Element in the second half of Chapter 5).

The cognitive theories of narrative and narration developed by David Bordwell and Edward Branigan focus on the way spectators comprehend narratives. While the process of comprehending an uncomplicated narrative (linear, causal narratives focused around and motivated by a few clearly identifiable central characters) is far from straightforward, the value of a cognitive analysis of narrative processing comes into its own when films with complicated narratives are analysed. In Chapter 6 we subject David Lynch's Lost Highway to two cognitive analyses, because it presents complications in terms of how it is comprehended (or not comprehended). Cognitive theories of narration can pinpoint those moments when comprehension breaks down, and can identify the reasons why a shot or sequence becomes incomprehensible, or difficult to understand. Alternative films we could have analysed include Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990), which is almost as challenging as Lost Highway, because it presents three alternative levels of reality for the main protagonist, Doug Quaid, to inhabit, and at key points in the film, both Doug Quaid and the spectator are confused about which level of reality is operative. Is Quaid simply a lowly construction worker on Earth? Or is he strapped into a chair at Rekall being fed memories of a trip to Mars, pretending to live the life of a secret agent? Or is he really a secret agent on Mars, working in collusion with Cohaagen to kill the leader of the Mars resistance? A cognitive reading of Total Recall may not solve these inherently ambiguous moments in the film, but it will certainly bring them into sharper focus. eXistenZ also presents three levels of reality, and creates ambiguity concerning what level the characters are living in. But by the end of the film, it is evident that the film began on level two (in a computer game), progressed to level three (a computer game within a computer game), and then ended on level one (the characters' real life) -although a throwaway ending 'challenges' this reading. The confusion of levels is simply caused by the fact that each level imitates the others, and the film begins on level two, not level one. Finally, Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) offers similar challenges in comprehension, because the narrative events are presented backwards. Or, more accurately, within each scene, events unfold normally (except the opening sequence). But following scenes represent events that took place before. From scene to scene, the film therefore gradually works it way backwards through the narrative events. To complicate matters, between each scene is a fragment, in black and white, from a long sequence in which the main character, Lenny, talks to someone (later identified as Teddy, a policeman) on the telephone. In addition, the film contains flashbacks to other events. The film therefore has three temporal structures: the present, presented backwards; the telephone call (which becomes part of the present towards the end of the film); and flashbacks to the 'murder' of Lenny's wife.

One of the main aims of Chapter 7 (as well as Chapter 3, on mise en scène, and Chapter 4, on auteurism and thematic criticism) is to demonstrate that classical theories are also applicable to contemporary films. In Chapter 7, Bazin's theory of perceptual realism is shown to be relevant to analysing Spielberg's Jurassic Park and The Lost World. We hope that this chapter will encourage readers to test out the relevance of these 'old' theories to new films. Nonetheless, Bazin's work cannot articulate the specificity of Spielberg's dinosaur films: that digital effects are deliberately 'constrained' in these films to imitate 'optical' reality; that is, the digital effects are invisible (as digital effects) and try to create the impression that the images were produced optically. Such invisible special effects can save money by creating effects that cost a lot of money to produce. Burin the case of Spielberg's dinosaur films, digital special effects are used to create photo-realistic images of objects that do not exist: dinosaurs (or no longer exist, and therefore cannot be photographed). In Chapter 7 modal logic is introduced to discuss the status of these photo-realistic but nonexistent dinosaurs. An alternative film to discuss in these terms is The Matrix, in which a digital reality is presented as if it were 'optical' reality (the premise of the film is that the world as we know it is simply a computer simulation). However, on occasions the digital status of this optical reality becomes noticeable, particularly when it is distorted, for the main characters are able to manipulate the laws of gravity and time. For example, we see them freeze in mid-air (while the camera moves around them), a technique visualized on screen by the Manex Visual Effects company by means of 'bullet-time' special effects technology.

Chapter 8 uses Freudian, Lacanian, and New Lacanian concepts in an interpretation and close analysis of Back to the Future, in which the time travel narrative is combined with an Oedipal narrative. The film therefore conforms to an Oedipal interpretation, but with the terms reversed: Marty (the film's protagonist) travels back in time and encounters his future parents - in which his future mother falls in 4ove with him (her future son) and his future father is depicted- as a weak, non-authoritarian character. A New Lacanian reading, however (which is based on the work of Slavoj 2izek) focuses on the film's post-Oedipal, post-patriarchal meanings through concepts such as shame, humiliation (centring on the very idea of paternity and masculinity in relation to race politics), the regime of the brothers replacing the totemic father, and redefining the function of the superego. Other films that could well have been chosen include Total Recall, Brazil, Pulp Fiction, and Twelve Monkeys.

Chapter 9 reviews the transformations in psychoanalytic film theory, particularly its move away from Freudian and Lacanian inspired feminist film theory and towards Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, from sex (biology) to gender. Gender belongs to the register of the discursive and the performative, necessitating a different kind of 'sexual polities'. The importance of gender explains why this chapter focuses on Foucault and queer theory, and ends up with Deleuze, to determine the value of their work in the analysis of the way film as a discourse performs gender roles. The film under analysis in this chapter, The Silence of the Lambs, shows the unworkable patriarchal order from the perspective of the young professional female. When analysed from a classical feminist perspective, which privileges the way film perpetuates sexual inequalities, The Silence of the Lambs is shown to centre on Clarice Starling and her 'problem': how to make it in a man's world, when the markers of sexual difference and gender identity have come under pressure though the pathology of figures like Buffalo Bill, and socially, by the improved career opportunities open to young women. In addition, the film privileges its Oedipal initiation story, though this time centred on a female, occupying the structural position of the male. The film in fact brings us to the limit of the relation between sexual difference and representation, of the representation of sexual difference in the cinema. To go beyond these limits requires a search for another type of interpretation, based on a set of new concepts: no longer the psychoanalytic concepts of absence, fetishism, or voyeurism, but institution as discourse, power and discipline, planes of vision, scopic regimes, enfolding gazes, madness and pathology, persecution, sensory, tactile, sonorous surface (Foucault), plus the crisis of the action image, deterritorialization, body without organs, becoming, and the fold (Deleuze). Other films that we could have analysed include Se7en and, of course, Hannibal.

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