film theory

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The aesthetic, historical, and/or ideological analysis of film, or the academic study of the nature of the cinematic experience, as distinguished from film criticism, which is typically concerned with the evaluative interpretation of films. The history of film theory can be loosely divided into three phases. The first (1910s–30s) was formalist and attempted to elevate the status of film as an art form as opposed to a mere document of reality. Notable theorists include the German Rudolph Arnheim (1904–2007), and Eisenstein. The second phase (1930s–60s) is characterized as realist, embracing the photographic aspect of film as an art form that most closely reflected nature. Theorists associated with this stance included the German author Siegfried Kracauer (1899–1966), and the French film theorist André Bazin (1918–58) who was also the co-founder of the influential journal Cahiers du Cinema. The third phase (1960s–90s) was a period of eclecticism that can be separated into three interweaving strands: political theory influenced by Marx and Althusser that attempted to identify the ideological strategies of film in the maintenance of bourgeois values (Baudry, MacCabe); formalist theory influenced by the semiotics of Saussure, associated with Metz and the British film theorist and screenwriter Peter Wollen (b.1938); psychoanalytic theory drawing on Freud and Lacan (Mulvey and the UK journal Screen). This period is associated with grand theory. Since the 1990s the influence of postmodernism and a reaction against the excesses of grand theory has seen a return to more modest interpretive approaches associated with Bordwell and the American philosopher Noël Carroll (b.1947). See also auteur theory; cognitive film theory; constructivism; neoformalist film theory.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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