Philosophy of Film & Photography

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Ashley Brissett

Professor Laura T. di Summa

PHI 3060-TTH 4:10PM

November 11, 2012

Theatre and Film in Panofsky

Film as art has vastly developed throughout the history of film. In the beginning, people had an aesthetic interest in formal moving pictures. As time progressed, technical inventions combined with folk art mentality lead to incremental artistic film techniques that aided in perfecting the new art form. Film has progressed from simple recordings of basic movements, to documentaries and shortly after the narrative element was borrowed from theatre which is an older folk art. Panofsky’s Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures further comments on the origin of film, the similarities and differences in theatre and film, coexpressibility, and symbolism and iconography.

In light of Panofsky Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures, this paper will attempt to apply Panofskys’ commentary to Jean Renoirs’ 1939 narrative film The Rules of the Game. It will further expand on the critic of film as art with Panofskys’ commentary and the artistic techniques in Jean Renoirs’ narrative film. In brief, its thesis is that although theatre and film have different artistic techniques, they’re both works of art that reach the audience in different ways.

In the very beginnings of film people were fascinated with the artistic form of pictorial movement. The subject did not matter; simple scenes such as people walking down a busy street, scenes of animals or sporting events are all examples of early film. Later, technical inventions combined with borrowing from theatre, an older folk art lead to the concept of a narrative film. In Panofskys’ Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures, he describes theatre stating:

“In a theatre, space is static, that is, the space represented on the stage, as well as the spatial relation of the beholder to the spectacle, is unalterably fixed. The spectator cannot leave his seat, and the setting of the stage cannot change, during one act (except for such incidentals as rising moons or gathering clouds and such illegitimate reborrowings from the film as turning wings or gliding backdrops). But, in return for this restriction, the theatre has the advantage that time, the medium of emotion and thought conveyable by speech, free and independent of anything that may happen in visible space.” (Panofsky, 249-250)

In this statement Panofsky indicates that the theatre entails a loss because everything the spectator sees is fixed. However, the gain theatre entails is that of time. The medium in theatre is that of emotion. Theatre can convey an emotional action through a monologue. Unlike theatre, film conveys a new art form that has special advantages that are impossible in theatre. The advantages of film, according to Panofsky are dynamization of space and spatialization of time. Panofsky describes film stating:

“With the movies the situation is reversed. Here, too, the spectator occupies a fixed seat, but only physically, not as the subject of an aesthetic experience. Aesthetically, he is in permanent motion as his eye identifies itself with the lens of the camera, which permanently shifts in distance and direction. And as movable as the spectator is, as movable is, for the same reason, the space presented to him. Not only bodies move in space, but space itself does, approaching, receding, turning, dissolving and recrystallizing as it appears through the controlled locomotion and focusing of the camera and through the cutting and editing of the various shots---not to mention such special effects as visions, transformations, disappearances, slow-motion and fast-motion shots, reversals and trick films. This opens a world of possibilities of which the stage can never dream.” (Panofsky, 250)

In this statement, Panofsky indicates that in film the spectator is fixed. However, the eye of the spectator differs greatly from the eye of the camera. While the...
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