’s Film Theory Essay, Research Paper

Rudolph Arnheim, a devout Formalist, believed that film?s potential to be an art begin where its ability to represent reality ends. He embraced the mysticism and wonder created by the silent film. Being a Gestalt psychologist, looking at the film as a whole, he believed that perception, when pertaining to the audience as well as the auteur, is active. Arnheim also believed in an empirical or objective reality where in the process of apprehension, there is the experience of reality. However, the governing principle surrounding Arnheim?s theory of film was that film falls short of a perfect reproduction of reality. This was where its inherent beauty lies. Arnheim gave six reasons why film falls short of this perfect duplication of reality. By looking at Chaplin?s ?the Gold Rush? and Leacock?s ?Primary?, we will see how these six principles fulfill the core of Arnheim?s thesis.

The first of these principles is ?the projection of solids upon a plane surface?. What Arnheim was suggesting was that when a three dimensional object is projected onto a two dimensional surface the artistic merit lies within what he refers to as ?perceptive projection?, or the ability for the director to show the audience what he wants them to see to create a certain emotion created by different camera angles and devices. In Chaplin?s ?The Gold Rush? this concept is seen when the Tramp is daydreaming of the arrival of the woman he loves and her friends who are supposed to be coming for dinner. At the first impression, the audience is unaware that he is daydreaming and feels a sympathetic joy for the lonesome Tramp. Once, the camera flashes to the Tramp slowly waking up from his dream to the empty house, a stronger feeling of empathy is created towards the character. In Leacock?s ?Primary?, this same principle is applied to the climax of the documentary. While we are waiting for the votes to be tallied, we see Humphrey excited and un-nerved about his early lead in the polls, and Kennedy is seen to be very restless and nervous by placing the viewer in the direct line of vision with these politician creating the illusion that we are sitting with them. When we come to learn, that in fact Kennedy has won, we are able to see the surprising disappointment in Humphrey and the relief in Kennedy.

The second principle of Arnheim?s theory is the ?artistic use of reduced depth?. He believes that the artistic technique of film lies somewhere in between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional world. This reduction of depth intensifies what the audience perceives on the screen and adds to the emotional response of the visuals displayed. In ?The Gold Rush? this concept is seen when the Tramp is trying to hinder the advances of the tall, handsome wealthy on the woman that he loves. After the Tramp dances wit her, he is smitten, and is shown to be courageous by standing in the way of this man. The camera angle from across the room shows the audience the tiny Tramp standing next to the gigantic, good-looking man further illustrating how courageous he feels after dancing with this girl that he loves so much. In ?Primary? we see this same principle when we see Kennedy give a speech to the men and women he is representing. The camera, while showing Kennedy?s address, appears to be lost in the pandemonium of the crowd further illustrating the popularity and momentum of Kennedy?s campaign.

The third principle of Arnheim?s theory is the ?artistic use of the absence of nonvisual sense experiences?. This is done by the director?s or actor?s ability to convey emotions or other reactions with the absence of sound or directly spoon-feeding the desired response to the audience. Arnheim believed this to be one of the major artistic qualities of film. He speak directly of this phenomenon as it relates to Chaplin?s performance in ?The Gold Rush?. He says, ?The spoken word in Chaplin?s films is as rule replaced by pantomime. He does not say that he is pleased that some pretty girls are coming to see him, but performs the silent dance, in which two bread rolls stuck on forks act as dancing feet on the table.? Chaplin?s ability to clearly express his feelings without uttering a single word is where the genius of his filmmaking occurs. In Leacock?s ?Primary?, we see this particular feature shown when Kennedy is anticipating the tallied votes from the primary election. As he sits in a crowded room with smoke hanging overhead in the room and voices talking over one another, we are able to sense Kennedy?s nervousness by his manner of smoking and the intense look of anxiety. Once again, we are shown, not told, of the feelings and emotions that we are sharing with the particular character without the character directly communicating it to the audience.

Another principle of Arnheim?s that helps to depict film as art is the ?absence of the space-time continuum?. This effect is directly created by different editing techniques, such as flash-forward, flashback, slow motion and freeze-frame. These subtle, but unique techniques help the film to transcend the confines of time in reality. This is seen in ?The Gold Rush? when the Tramp and his partner find the gold. The camera then flashes to the two of them, dressed in tuxedos on a cruise ship. While Chaplin uses the technique of flash-forward, the audience is still in touch with the action on the screen without him having to take the audience through the un-important details of making it back from the snowy mountaintops where the gold was found. This concept of film transcending real time is also seen in ?Primary?. This same technique is used countless times when see Humphrey and Kennedy. Very rarely, do we see them driving from place to place. We see Kennedy talking to people in the street. The next time that we see him, he is walking into an assembly of democrats where he is about to give a speech. After that, we see him in a television studio getting ready for a speech he is going to be giving later in the day. By doing this, once again, Leacock is able to skip the monotonous detail of Kennedy driving from place to place, but still remains true to the essence of the story.

The fifth principle of Arnheim?s thesis revolves around ?lighting and the absence of color?. He believed that this absence of color created a more mystical effect, which lead to a more effective expression of the non-real. While we obviously, on a day-to-day basis, experience reality in a vast array of different shades and colors, the absence of the color creates a dream-like image that we see throughout ?the Gold Rush?. In every scene that the audience views, it is constantly reminded that this is in fact not real due to the black and white images placed on the screen. In ?Primary? this device is harder to find, however it is apparent in one particular place. While the film was shot in color, certain lighting techniques that were used add to the intensity of the image portrayed on the screen. When we see Kennedy getting prepared for his television appearance, there is a bright light directly on him while the surrounding people are lost in a virtual darkness. This particular device further illustrates the point that Kennedy is the center of attention amidst the small mass of people in the television studio.

The sixth and final principle of Arnheim?s thesis is the ?de-limitation of the image?. This final principle revolves around the concept that the moving picture is limited in the sense that what the audience sees is exactly what the auteur wants them to see. We, the audience, do not see anything outside the confines of the image on the screen. In Chaplin?s ?The Gold Rush?, this principle is evident when the Tramp is posing for a picture towards the end of the film for a magazine. As he continues to step back and back, he falls from the deck. For a brief moment, the audience is unaware as to where the Tramp lands. Once the camera moves down to the lower deck, we realize that the Tramp has landed somewhat successfully right next to the woman he has pined for throughout the entire feature. By the director?s choice of certain camera angles, the ?eye? of the audience is limited to the action that the auteur wants them to view. In ?Primary?, Leacock is able to achieve the same effect with his choice of particular camera angles. In one particular scene, Leacock shows Kennedy amidst a crowd of people on the street. By using the hand-held camera as another pair of eyes in the crowd, he is able to create the illusion of being there standing right next to Kennedy in the surrounding madness. Both examples illustrate this final principle exceptionally well.

While Arnheim probably would have found more things that he disliked about ?The Gold Rush? and ?Primary? than he actually liked. He more than likely would have been revolted by the use of color, sound, and the obvious attempts by Leacock to try to recreate reality. Also, he may have had problems with certain aspects surrounding Chaplin?s ?The Gold Rush?. However, when looking at Arnheim?s six principles that explicate his governing thesis of films not being able to perfectly duplicate reality, both films are able to demonstrate all of these expressive examples and confirm the main idea of his argument.


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