Some Philosophical Issues of Film Theory

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago (1983)
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Abstract

This thesis examines several major philosophical issues of film theory. These include debates about the specific nature of the film medium and of film art; debates about the nature of cinematic representation and expression; and about the nature of film fiction and film realism. I approach these issues through the work of three film theorists: Rudolf Arnheim, Andre Bazin and V. F. Perkins. ;The subject of Chapter One is Arnheim. Philosophical issues discussed include: Arnheim's commitment to Lessing-type arguments for medium specificity; his espousal of an expression theory of art; his account of expressive qualities in terms of physiognomic properties; and his ill-defined notion of film-as-merely-mechanical-reproduction-of-reality as the central theoretical contrast or foil to the ideal of film-as-art. ;Bazin is the topic of Chapter Two. Philosophical issues discussed include Bazin's account of the nature of cinematic representation and of film realism. I also review Stanley Cavell's arguments in support of a Bazinian position on the ontological status of the film image. ;Chapter Three examines Perkins' Film as Film. Perkins rejects attempts at essentialist film theory like Bazin's and Arnheim's on the basis of arguments like those that are associated, in philosophical aesthetics, with the open concept theory of art. Perkins holds that the aim of film theory is meta-criticism, and he designs a set of general principles for evaluative criticism. Specific philosophical questions are raised here about Perkins' idea that the task of film theory is meta-criticism, the adequacy of a formalist system of evaluation, Perkins' account of the nature of filmed fiction, and whether or not Perkins succeeds in escaping the essentialist bias of previous film theory. ;In the Conclusion, I argue that each of these three theorists, in different ways, is committed to the belief that certain features specific to the medium of film can be characterized in such a way that these can be used as guidelines for aesthetic decision-making. I offer general objections to what I consider an obsession with medium specificity in film theory

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Noel Carroll
CUNY Graduate Center

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