Film Theory

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Study Guide
Funny Stuff


Fundamentals of Film Theory


the Two Ideologies of film theory

REALISM: Siegfried Kracauer. Film literally photographs reality. Impossible for film to be a "pure" expression of the artist's intentions.

More on Realism


FORMALISM- Film is indeed art and not reproduction of reality.

Unlike realist theorists, "formalist film theorists believe that the art of cinema is possible precisely because a movie is unlike everyday life... The real world is merely a repository of raw material that needs to be shaped and heightened to be effective as art. Film art doesn't consist of a reproduction of reality, but a translation of observed characteristics into the forms of the medium" (Giannetti)

Formalist film makers shape and mold the images we see on the screen the way a sculptor shapes and molds clay. Their approach to film emphasizes their ability to create story and emotion through  manipulation.


Different Views under Formalism


NEO-REALISM: Andre Bazin. Realism as expression of mythic, not the scientific.

Asks the actor to be rather than pretend to be or act. Prefers natural setting, not expressionistic. Requires the narrative to respect the actual qualities and duration of the event (in preference to the artificial, abstract or dramatic duration favored in classic montage).

Italian Neo-Realism        More on Neo-Realism    


ANTI-REALIST: Rudolf Arnheim. Cinema is not art if it just reproduces real life. Acknowledges the existence of a primitive desire to get material objects into one's power by creating them afresh, but believes that this primitive impulse must be distinguished from the impulse to create art.


REALIST and ANTI-REALIST: V.F. Perkins. Film is capable of both documentation and fantasy, of copying as well as creation. Creation of fictional narrative. Cinema obscures the distinction between real and staged events, making us feel like eyewitnesses at what are in fact fictional events. Film thereby achieves its unique blend of photographic realism and dramatic illusion.


AVANT GARDE: Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage. Creatively alters photographic reality by distorting the anticipated and familiar spatio-temporal relationships within the sequential flow of images. Use of freeze frame, slow motion, reverse motion. Also called independent or experimental films.


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