This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
film theory. It helps us understand the relationship between the film text and viewer. It also helps us to understand how and why a spectator might respond to a film in a certain way. SPECTATOR: “a person who looks, watches, observes” EMOTION: “a strong feeling deriving from mood, relationships, circumstances” RESPONSE: “a reaction to something” An EMOTIONAL RESPONSE relating to the SPECTATORSHIP of a film can therefore be defined as:
A reaction to a film that creates a strong feeling whilst watching it
The interaction between the spectator and film text is fundamental for the success or popularity of the film. But why are some films more popular or successful than others? Why do some spectators watch the same film and have different responses? The evolution of early Hollywood film led to the development of a film language (narrative devices, camera, editing, mise-en-scene and sound) and way of viewing film (in the dark in an auditorium). The combination of how the film is made and how we watch it has become known as the CINEMA APPARATUS, which (theorists believed) created an experience that the spectator was seen to have very little control over. We sit in a dark room and watch a film that employs a range of stylistic and narrative devices so that we read the film and respond in a way that the director hopes us to (the preferred meaning). This would require a passive spectator who unquestionably accepts what we see and is completely and unquestionably engrossed in the film text. But, spectatorship can be seen to be more complex than just passively sitting and watching a film. We make active choices about which film we want to see, where we see it (in the cinema, at home or on a portable device) and who with. We may also decide to see the same film more than once! We also bring external knowledge from reviews, friends, love of stars etc… to our viewing experience, which can affect how we respond to a film and therefore whether or not we view it in the way the director might intend (we take a negotiated meaning). Whether the spectator is seen to be active or passive, it can be argued that we will invest in watching a mainstream film, and respond to the film in a certain way. Theory suggests that we choose to see a film because it offers the satisfaction of pleasure, the development of relationships with characters and stars and it gives us a chance to imagine how we could live our lives in an alternative way. We then negotiate a meaning that the film has for us. Although Spectator Theory is complex and incorporates often contradictory ideas depending on the point of view the theorist has about the cultural role of film, we can initially argue that we watch mainstream film because it promises to offer the following 3 things (and we will look at some other reasons later in the unit):
1. PLEASURE through RESPONSE The ‘promise’ of pleasure motivates us to enter the cinema and the promise of what to expect from the genre, director or actor can also provide us with certain pleasures for going to watch a film. Although different spectators may have different motives in the pleasures that a film might hold for them (social, moral, aesthetic, emotional, intellectual or erotic) there are 3 main emotional responses to a film text that we can experience. What Responses (reactions) can we have to a film? AFFECTIVE (emotional) How we feel about a character, event or situation within the film. Sadness, happiness, laughter, anxiety, fear are all affective emotional responses – the film is affecting us to have a strong reaction in an emotional way. VISCERAL (physical) The way a film physically stimulates our senses – we might jump at a tense moment, we might cry or sob, we might put a cushion in front of our face or scream! A visceral, physical response can also be created through cinematography or sound that evokes a physical feeling, like a shaky handheld camera with a filter to emote the physical feeling of being drunk or a blurred, out of focus shot to create the physical feeling of not being able to see properly. COGNITIVE (intellectual) The way a film makes us think about what is happening, might happen or has happened. We find ourselves asking questions either about the plot, characters, narrative structure etc... A simple ‘whodunit?’ can evoke a cognitive reaction in a spectator as we watch the film trying to guess who the villain could be. We respond to the film cognitively because we have enjoyed the way it made us think intellectually. 2. SPECTATOR & CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS The relationship between the spectator and character is important in creating a response to the film and different emotional reactions. There are 3 aspects that work to enable this relationship to develop in a film: 1. Recognition Do we recognise the character? Are they credible? Does the star persona further develop the recognition? If we can recognise them, it is easier for us to decide if we like them or not and suspend disbelief to engage in the film. 2. Alignment This is a process of identification where we align ourselves with the character’s experience, morals, values etc… and create a bond with them as a result . The camera work is often important to help identify which characters we should align ourselves with and against in a film. 3. Allegiance We feel a loyalty to the characters ideological views and needs that will either reflect or are different to our own in the real world. The characters role in the plot and narrative, shot types
used and cutting for perspective can help foster allegiance between the spectator and character, and again helps us to read which characters we should feel close to in the film. 3. A CHANCE TO IMAGINE Imagining is the idea that when we watch a film we imagine what it must be like or feel like, which makes watching a film pleasurable. Spectator theory has come up with 2 different ideas of ‘imagining’ in relation to mainstream film, depending on the type of spectator involved: 1. A Passive spectator experiences central imagining The spectator surrenders completely to the film experience The use of film form makes the audience directly imagine or feel the physical or emotional sensation recreated by the film, the characters or the order of events or use of narrative devices 2. An Active spectator experiences a-central imagining The spectator can be both simultaneously inside (engrossed in) & outside (thinking critically) the film Rather than let the film language directly manipulate them to imagine, the active spectator will think critically outside the film and say “I imagine that it must be”…they negotiate the film form to help them to empathise with the physical or emotional sensations found in the film
The development of a cinema apparatus has created a film language and cinema viewing experience that offers many pleasures for both a passive or active audience. Going to watch a film can create pleasure by encouraging of range of emotional responses, develop our relationships with characters and give us a chance to imagine situations that we may not otherwise experience and as a result, we can negotiate what the film might mean to us. To sum up, this unit is about analysing HOW and WHY spectators respond to popular films in certain ways. It is not focusing on representation.
APPLYING SPECTATORSHIP THEORY – QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN WATCHING A FILM?
Studying Spectatorship requires reflection on your own spectatorship in order to talk about film. When you watch your case study films, you need to ask yourself the following: General questions: Do I like or dislike this film? What does the director want me to think about this film (what is the preferred meaning)? How does (s)he want me to respond? Do I agree with it or does it mean something different to me? What did I think about the genre, director or stars before watching this film and how might this have affected my response? Where am I watching this film? Might it be a different experience if I was watching it differently? Have I seen this film before? How has watching the film again affected my response to it – is it the same? Questions about pleasure and different types of emotional reaction: What pleasures does this film satisfy for me: emotional, moral, social, aesthetic? How do I respond to the film or different parts of the film: affective, visceral, cognitive? What aspects of the film form make me respond in this way? What aspects of the film’s narrative make me respond in this way? What aspects of the actors’ performances make me respond this way? Questions about my relationship with the characters: How do I feel about the characters? Are the characters believable? Can I see the star through them or are they well acted? Are there any I like more than others? What is it about them that I like? How are they constructed by the use of film language / narrative / plot? Should I like them? Are there any characters I dislike? What is it about them that I dislike? How are they constructed by the use of film language / narrative / plot? Should I dislike them? Do I identify with any of the characters? Do I share the same values with any of the characters? Questions about imagining: Can I imagine how the characters feel? Do I feel like I am one of the characters in the film? Can I imagine that it must feel a certain way to be one of the characters? Although I can imagine how it must feel to be one of the characters, I don’t feel like I am in the film with them. Do I feel a bit of both – imagine what it feels like to be inside the film and from a perspective outside the film? Questions about my own role as a spectator? Was I fully engrossed in the film? Do I feel that the film was successful in manipulating me into responding to the film in a way the director wanted me to? Am I a passive spectator? Was I engrossed in the film but thinking critically about what was happening? Were there any sequences that I didn’t feel engrossed in or ‘believe’? Am I an active spectator?