A Philosophy of Cinematic Art


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And the point that one cannot infer from any supposed representational incapacity of a photograph to this incapacity in cinema applies even more strongly to digital cinema, given the greater possibilities for representational transformations in the case of digital cinema. Scruton might reply by holding that his arguments do not fail, but rather are inapplicable, because the digital image is not photographic in any of its manifestations: it is entirely handmade, or is computer synthesised on the basis of a handmade image.

This is because the possibility of computer manipulation means that one is never dealing with an ideal photograph in the case of the digital image. Digital images are all like paintings and have an intentional relation to their subject because one can manipulate them within graphics editing applications, changing their colours, shapes and so on. This reply would be similar to his claim that techniques such as photomontage transform photographs into non-photographs. However, it is not true that manipulating a photographic image necessarily makes it into a non-photograph.

Berys Gaut: Cinematic Art and Technology

Printing a photograph on high contrast paper to make its subject look more striking does not transform the photograph into a non-photographic image. Certainly, digital imaging software makes available painting techniques that break the essential causal link between a photograph and its subject. But the mere possibility of using such techniques does not show that, if they are not employed, the resulting image is like a painting, any more than the possibility of overpainting a traditional photograph shows that traditional photographs are like paintings.

Moreover, many digital editing methods are akin to traditional darkroom techniques; such techniques include cropping, adjusting exposure times to change the overall lightness of an image, dodging reducing light to part of an image or burning in increasing light to part of the image , the use of texture screens to impart a particular texture to the photograph , the choice of paper for printing to adjust contrast and other features, combination printing combining two negatives to make one print , and so on. If such darkroom techniques do not make traditional photographs into paintings, the same is true of the equivalent digital techniques.

Here he could borrow from the work of W. Mitchell, an important pioneer of the study of digital imagery. According to Mitchell, the digital image is a radically distinct type of image from ones existing prior to it. Second, he notes that Scruton is correct about the importance of the distinction between causal photographic relations and intentional non-photographic ones in the case of traditional photographs. The view that there are no digital photographs is not quite as wildly counterintuitive as one might suppose.

The correct conclusion is that it is neither the one nor the other, but a radically new kind of thing. In the same way, Mitchell holds that the digital image should not be thought of as a photograph nor as a blending of a photograph with a painting, but as a new kind of thing that is neither the one nor the other. Second, the fact that, as we saw, digital images can be produced by three, possibly seamlessly blended techniques, does not show that when digital images are produced by purely capture techniques, perhaps with some computer manipulation of the results, that what results is not a photograph.

Given the similarity of generative methods, it is implausible to claim that one is a photograph and the other is not. So we should allow that digital photographs exist, while holding that the digital image can take 50 Ibid. This is not to deny what is radically new about the digital image: it is rather to note that the digital image, in some of its modes, is similar enough to a traditional form of image to count as a photograph.

The neo-Arnheimian defence of cinematic art advanced earlier also applies to digital cinema: indeed, the greater range of ways of recording reality made possible through digital manipulation and control of details strengthens the claims of digital cinema to be an art form.

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Interestingly, though, Arnheim himself would view digital cinema with some dismay. These systems may eventually achieve complete sensory immersion: that is, sensory input from a virtual reality display representing some world would be perceptually indiscriminable from the sensory input from that world itself.

But it is worth pursuing the perfected virtual reality PVR scenario just sketched, since it discloses another way for cinema to be expressive and an art form. Suppose that someone created a Munch world in PVR. Moreover, it does not achieve its expressive power by a particular way of recording reality, for none of the images is generated by capture techniques on real objects and indeed these objects do not exist. Cinematic expression is secured in this case not through the expressive recording of reality, but through the direct creation of expressive content.

And this possibility setting aside the PVR aspect is not just a thought experiment, but is something that has actually been realised in respect of their visual dimension in many works of digital animation. So cinematic art now deploys a possibility that painting already possesses, since it does not require some independently existing object in order to create expressive content.

A Philosophy of Cinematic Art - Berys Gaut - Google книги

But digital cinema possesses the possibility, in its non-photographic modes, of creating expressive content that does not require any recording of reality at all. So it possesses new possibilities for cinematic artistry. There are two kinds of answers that have been given to this question.

This will be the answer returned in this chapter. It follows that we should pose the question of the nature of cinematic realism at least partly in pictorial terms. I consider seven kinds of realism in cinema, concentrating in particular on the view that pictorial images can be transparent.


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We thus understand new sentences by virtue of their being composed of familiar words in grammatical relations. For instance, it is sometimes held that it is mistaken to cross the axis of action when shooting a scene. So whatever other conventional aspects there are to a photograph, the 2 3 4 James Monaco, How to Read a Film. Semiotics is the study of signs, and not all signs are linguistic. See Justus Buchler ed. If two people are talking, for instance, the axis of action is a straight line running from one to the other, and the camera is supposed to stay on one side of that line.

Nor is there anything corresponding to a minimal lexical unit in the photograph. However, a photograph of Socrates could be subdivided repeatedly, with each part of the photograph denoting a part of Socrates. Nor is there anything in a photograph corresponding to the distinction between, say, nouns and adjectives: a photograph of a green apple has no separate parts that pick out its greenness and its being an apple: both are inextricably presented together. Photographs are pictures, and though plenty of conventions are involved in the making and reception of pictures, the core relation of depiction is also not conventional.

The pictures are of a man, a cow and a pig, and each time I point to the appropriate thing. Thus attuned to the pictorial style, she will, when presented with a picture of a horse, be able to recognise it as depicting a horse, if she has seen horses before. Evidently she will not. And Schier argues plausibly that this is because we use our ability to recognise objects to recognise pictures of them. We cannot do that with words, since they are purely conventional and therefore arbitrary in the way they denote, so we must learn the appropriate meanings one by one.

And this claim about pictorial understanding is not just a thought experiment: it is consistent with what psychologists have discovered. In one striking experiment, conducted by Julian Hochberg and Virginia Brooks, a nineteen-month-old child their own son , who had not previously been allowed to see any pictures, was presented with a set of drawings and photographs of objects familiar to him, and he was able to recognise all of them.

Clearly the core depictive relation cannot be conventional. Because it lacks a vocabulary, the shot also lacks a syntax, since a syntax is a set of rules for combining words together. As we noted, there is, for instance, nothing corresponding to a subject—predicate distinction within a shot. What, though, of montage, the editing of shots together? The cinema can speak only in neologisms. Metz agrees that shots are not analogous to words and that the word is missing in cinema, but he still wants to talk of sentences in cinema. Moreover, if each cinematic sentence is, as Metz claims, a hapax i.

We can understand new sentences only because we recognise them as constructed of familiar words in recognisable grammatical relations.

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In contrast, what an A-B-A-B shot sequence means has to be grasped from its context. It might indeed mean that the events are 7 Metz, Film Language, p. To discover which of these is the case, we have to understand the content of the images joined together. No such language would be humanly usable.

Consider too the status of the rule not to cross the axis of action, which is sometimes held up as an example of a grammatical rule in cinema.


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  7. It is a rule, but is it a convention? A convention exists, roughly, if there is a problem situation to which there are at least two equally good solutions but where one of these solutions has to be agreed on a co-ordination problem ; if there is a publicly acknowledged rule by which one of these solutions is generally followed; and if each participant follows the rule on condition that other participants follow it.

    Likewise, at least in their surface structure the rules of grammar are conventional: in English the subject standardly comes before the predicate in sentence order, but other languages could standardly reverse this order. Is the rule not to cross the axis of action conventional in this sense?

    A Philosophy of Cinematic Art

    Are there at least two equally good solutions: to ban crossing the axis of action, or to allow it with impunity? Not so, since the rule is partly based on optically determined facts. If the camera crosses the line of action from one shot to the next, then a movement running from the left of the screen to the right in one shot will appear as a movement running from the right of the screen to the left in the next shot.

    This will be confusing to spectators, absent any further information, since it suggests that there are two distinct movements taking place. So, given the communicative aim to get the spectator to understand the action, the two solutions are not equally good. Hence the rule is not purely a convention: it is partly determined by physical facts of the situation.

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    For there are conventions used in communication that are not linguistic.

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