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August 2000, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thomas Morsch <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 7 Aug 2000 14:00:14 +0100
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Dear all,

actually I understood David Issac Humphreys remark as an argument against
a purely aesthetic, farmalistic, technical approach to film as opposed to
an approach that recognizes the intricate political dimensions of film
production and consumption at all levels, including the technical level
of filming and projecting. Which, by the way, has been a major issue in
film scholarship since the very early seventies at least, starting with
the apparatus debate in France.

Leo Enticknap wrote:

>David Issac Humphrey writes:
>>  Political discussion about the cinema strikes me as *far*
>>  more important than debating the relative merits of Todd-AO
>>  or Super VistaVision or arguing about which aspect ratio
>>  "Miller's Crossing" is meant to be shown in.
>If you think that the role of technology in political representation is
>unimportant, then you should be concentrating your efforts on virtually any
>medium other than film.

Not only is technology an important factor in political representation,
but there is an inherent political dimension to the technology itself,
which almost any film scholar will acknowledge. And in defense of Stephen
Heath I would like to add that exactly this always has been one of his
major interests.

>impossible to produce and show a film.  Far too many humanities scholars
>have chosen to ignore that fact for the simple reason that they do not
>grasp the basic technical concepts needed to engage with these issues.
>I could cite the most amazing rubbish that has been published by supposedly
>leading academics, which a high school leaver with science 'A' levels would
>laugh his or her head off at.  My favourite example is a densely-theorised
>paper in Screen by Stephen Heath, in which he procedes to analyse a scene
>from 'Death by Hanging' in considerable detail.  As Barry Salt lucidly
>observes, his conclusions are somewhat flawed, as the editing techniques
>used by Ozu, "had less to do with the intricacies of 'narrative space'
>than with the difficulties of getting a cat to behave as directed within
>the restrictions of low-budget film production".

Being an academic film scholar I agree with your first point and, to a
certain degree, plead guilty. But Barry Salts rather naive point can
hardly serve as an argument against a technically ignorant form of film
scholarship, as Stephen Heath's argument is not based on nor dependent on
the intentional decisions made by the director during the production.
*Why* something has been done something this way and not the other (e.g.
trying to get a cat to behave in a certain manner) is not as important as
to understand what kind of spatial or narrative organisation and
representational strategies result from any kind of decision, however
motivated, made on set. Only an understanding of what is actually to be
be seen on film can serve as the starting point for political questions
and for a political assessment of any film, regardless of the original
motivations of the director, which are, in most cases, unknown to us when
we see a film.

I hope my bad english did not spoil my argument.

Thomas Morsch
Film Dept.
Freie Universitaet Berlin

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