In response to: The Jean-Louis Baudry essay “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema” from the Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen book “Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings”
A response paper for my Advanced Film Theory and Criticism class
In this essay “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema,” French psychoanalytic film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry asserted that cinema is, by nature, ideological. This is because films are created to represent reality and the mechanics of representation involved in the process of making films, from the use of the camera to the method of editing, are ideological. The spectator who perceives what is shown on screen gets into a central position which turns into the direction of the ideological. Overall, cinema maintains the dominant ideology of the culture within the viewer’s mind without cinema directly imposing it to the spectator. It is rather a part of its nature to shape how the audience thinks and feels.
In 1913, Russian-German psychoanalyst and essayist Lou Andreas Salome remarked on how “cinema provides crucial impact on the future of our psychical make-up.” He explained, “To the numerous arguments that could be advanced to save the face for this Cinderella of the artistic conception of art, several psychological considerations should be added. First, that the cinematographic technique is the only one that makes possible a succession of images rapid enough to roughly correspond to our faculty for producing mental images.” Indeed, the cinematic experience affects the viewers on a level deep enough that it allows them to engage with the story without telling the difference between the world of the film and the real world – at that very time the viewing experience happens. In a sense, they become passive viewers (on a Marxist lens, they are the proletariat) who strongly identify with the characters on screen and everything looks and feels so real. A spectator’s viewing experience works like a dream where someone or something else controls that world, and minor distractions like minimal noise and outside light don’t generally ruin the film-viewing experience. The spectator remains unmoved; the person remains in that dream world – seeing, hearing, and feeling. Film viewers are unable to differentiate between themselves and the characters, as well as the ideologies of their own thoughts and the ideologies of the films they watch.
Considering how moving images correspond to the spectator’s faculty of perception, this reading suggested that there could be an essential link between cinematographic technique and the ability to produce mental images shown on screen. The camera becomes an apparatus that simulates something, and that something, when it reaches the viewer, becomes a simulation of no other than himself or herself, as if there is that natural desire to be represented by a subject communicated through the film. Here, semiotics and psychoanalysis also come into play. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, alongside Christian Metz’s signs, signified, and signifier, support the idea that the reason why film is a popular art is because it is utilized as an imperfect reflection of reality and a means to dig deep into the conscious dream state. Somehow, a spectator practices egocentricity when watching a film. When people watch a film, they don’t just watch it. They look at it and see themselves in it. They find connections and meanings between shots and scenes. They imagine themselves as a character or as a part of the film by relating their own experiences to the pseudo-reality presented on screen. In a good film, they know everything’s fake and nothing’s real in the story’s fictional setting. Yet, while following the story from one shot to the next, their suspension of disbelief persists. There is something real in the illusion. Indeed, the imaginary relationships formed in a film becomes part of the real conditions of existence of the viewers. Here, the different schools of thought coming together generate an ideological effect through processes that transform objective reality into one’s own personal experience. In watching a film, there is some form of manipulation in relating oneself with the represented object seen on screen and the power of illusion that goes beyond what is literally seen on screen. As the film’s world becomes a continuation or extension of the real-world experience, the spectator perceives the film based on his or her own memory and experiences, while still getting influenced by the prevailing ideology in the society, in one way or another.
The film is understood not only by its content but also the filmmaking techniques and the technology utilized in producing it. Technology plays an instrumental role in how the viewer perceives the moving images. It is worth noting that “Moving images are unconscious, technical, and material with no inherent meaning; narratives pertain to consciousness and assigned meaning.” Here, the organization and development of the human psyche bind with cinema’s complex relationship with structures of truth and desire. Cinema is a medium that works well in perpetuating dominant ideologies to the society. And so, a critical viewer can better examine a film or even orchestrate a critique of it based on the existing ideology. The images are not merely the imitation of an authentic reality from what is literally seen on screen – they become a simulation of a realistic perception of it from how the spectator sees it. But more than psycho-social relations, the capitalist system has a significant impact on cinema because the ruling elite (bourgeoisie) uses their power to control and dominate the working class. Because of this, the dominant ideology in the society is maintained and this keeps the current state of the film industry as it is, making it very challenging to do radical and revolutionary changes in the industry. The ruling class maintains the status quo.
Baudry, Jean-Louis. “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema,”Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 5th ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.