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New Takes in Film-Philosophy is a collection of essays on the philosophy of film which offers an overview of the continuing discussion about whether films can do philosophy and if they are suitable focus for philosophical analysis. In considering film and philosophy, editors Carel and Tuck pose a philosopher's question: 'are such mass cultural products philosophically productive?' Each chapter explores what it is about films, rather than other aspects of culture, that makes them of interest and attention. This book expands on the discipline of film studies as largely influenced by the humanities and social sciences and what is to be gained by attention on the single discipline of philosophy. The collection is presented in three parts. Part I offers general overviews and speculation about what the combination can achieve. Part II discusses the boundaries of film-philosophy and its relation to other media. Part III delivers more specific readings of individual films or filmmakers.
In the standout chapter of Part I, "Deep Focus -- Approaches to Film Philosophy," Andrew Klevan gathers observations by an analytic philosopher and leading practitioner of film theory, Stanley Cavell, for illumination and value. Klevan regards his chapter as a way of revisiting and revising the art of academic criticism seen in the light of Cavell's philosophical understanding and film criticism. He explains that Cavell's writing connects film and philosophy to show how philosophical ideas may illuminate films. A quote from the critic Cavell previews the direction of this chapter:
The question is why one is stopped . . . I think of philosophy as inherently a matter of stopping and turning and going back over (call this a conversation rather than linear, monological argument). It is a portrait of philosophy I find stretching from the events in Plato's Myth of the Cave in The Republic to the practices recorded in Wittgenstein's Investigations, with their depictions of being lost, stopped, and the recurrent demand to turn and return. It goes with a view I have advanced on a number of occasions, of philosophy as responsiveness, as not speaking first. (p. 49)
Part II in the volume is entitled "Wide Angles -- The Boundaries of Film-Philosophy." Of note in this section is Greg Tuck's chapter "Art, Cinema, Sex, Ontology: Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the In-visible of Cinema." Tuck draws from the thought of Ponty whose holistic approach places perception at the center of experience: interaction between sense, movement, and desire. Tuck uses Ponty's descriptions to further understanding of cinema and enrich the understanding of philosophy itself by looking at how sex and art can be seen as lived expressions of a wider, more primordial idea of existence; structures and behaviors that link embodiment, perception, and meaning.
Part III, "Directors Cut -- Readings in film Philosophy," features a chapter which also reviews the phenomenology of perception with the goal of discussing what film studies and the practice of philosophy have to exchange as disciplines. Vivian Sobchack's "Fleshing Out the Image: Phenomenology, Pedagogy, and Derek Jarman's Blue" uses a phenomenological method to discover the embodied as well as reflective engagement with the cinema. Once again, the text visits French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty who suggested that the cinema is phenomenological art 'peculiarly suited to make manifest the union of mind and body, mind and world and the expression of one in the other' (p. 102). Blue (1993) is an example of cinematic perception and expression in extremity. Sobchack details how the film appears without figures, the screen frame entirely cobalt blue (except for a flash of white light at the end) as a soundtrack of voices, sound effects and music intermingles a poetic and pieced first-person narrative of filmmaker Derek Jarman's observations, memories, and emotions in relation to his deteriorating health. She notes that versions of Blue include a performance piece; a written text; a multimedia event; shown on British television with accompanying sound on radio; a theatrically-released film; an audio CD; VHS and DVD releases of the film; and a gallery installation. The author argues that as philosophy, what phenomenology demands is that we not rush to interpretation and judgment, but attend, first to the actual and possible embodied experience that is the foundation for Blue's meaning.
This volume is not light reading, rather a rich academic search for footholds in the borders between the moving images, perception, and thought. New Takes is a careful examination of film as a disquieting location of thought and experience, one which has the same potential to reveal the problems and limitations of a specific philosophical method. This book is recommended for those interested in film studies, philosophy, psychology, and art, or any person who wonders how humans perceive and register perception within their being.
© 2012 Shara Knight
Shara Knight, Ph.D. Candidate, Depth Psychology, Concentration: Jungian and Archetypal Studies, Pacifica Graduate Institute