2 Class 14: FilmGregory Currie: “Film, Reality, and Illusion”Thesis:Film is a realistic medium, in a certain sense: we really see movement on the cinema screen in the same sense that we see colors when we look at ordinary objects in the world under normal conditions.
3 Class 14: FilmTransparency, Realism, and IllusionismThere are three central doctrines about cinema, each of which has been called “realism”:Transparency: Film, because of its use of the photographic method, reduces rather than merely represents the real world. Film is transparent in the sense that we see “through” it to the real world, as we see through a window or a lens.
4 Class 14: FilmTransparency, Realism, and Illusionism (cont’d)Perceptual Realism: The experience of film-watching approximates the normal experience of perceiving the real world. Film is realistic in its recreation of the experience of the real world.Illusionism: Film is realistic in its capacity to engender in the viewer an illusion of the reality and presentness of fictional characters and events portrayed.
5 Class 14: FilmTransparency, Realism, and Illusionism (cont’d)Although other theorists have argued:That Perceptual Realism brings about Illusionism: the closer the experience of film-watching approximates the experience of seeing the real world, the more effectively film engenders the illusion that the viewer is watching the real world.That the notion of realism in film is suspect or even incoherent.Currie argues that these doctrines are independent, both logically and causally. He rejects Illusionism, accepts Perceptual Realism, and is essentially neutral with regard to Transparency.
6 Class 14: FilmSome Thoughts on IllusionismIllusionism is a mistaken doctrine.Its strength is derived from its being conflated with the more plausible doctrine that the basic mechanism of film creates an illusion of movement.Perceptual RealismA mode of representation is realistic when (or to the degree that) we employ the same capacities in recognizing its representational content as we employ in recognizing the (kind of) objects it represents.Unlike, say, literature, you can recognize an image of a horse if and only if you can recognize a horse.
7 Class 14: FilmPerceptual Realism (cont’d)Realism comes in a matter of degrees:With a representation, R, of an object, A, R represents A as having properties F and G.R might represent A as having F realistically, and G in some other way (i.e., you are able to recognize R as representing the F-ness of A in virtue of your visual capacity to recognize the F-ness of A, but you recognize R as representing the G-ness of A by some other means).This is Perceptual Realism.
8 Class 14: FilmPerceptual Realism (cont’d)We judge the spatial relations between objects by seeing that they are spatially related.We judge the temporal properties of (and relations between) events by taking note of the amount of time we take to observe them (and the time between them).These methods are precisely how we judge the spatial and temporal properties of things and events that we perceive in the real world.
9 Class 14: FilmPerceptual Realism (cont’d)This brand of Perceptual Realism does not appeal to an observer-independent world: it does not claim that cinema presents objects and events isomorphic to those that exist in an observer-independent world.Rather, it claims that in important ways, the experience of film-watching is similar to the ordinary perceptual experience of the world, irrespective of to what extent that world is independent of our experience of it.This brand of realism is response-dependent – like the concept being red, or being funny – applicable to certain things in virtue of the responses to it of a certain class of intelligent agents (namely, us).
10 Class 14: FilmPerceptual Realism (cont’d)A representation, R, is realistic in its representation of feature F for creatures of a kind C if and only if:R represents something as having F;Cs have a certain perceptual capacity, P, to recognize instances of F;Cs recognize that R represents something as having F by deploying capacity P.Consequently, for instance, film is both a spatial and a temporal medium:Film represents space by means of space.Film represents time by means of time.
11 Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (1913) Class 14: FilmMarcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (1913)
13 Class 14: FilmPerceptual Realism (cont’d)Although art forms like painting, photography, and comics can present time, for them time is not presented by means of time.IllusionismIf a cinematic image of a horse triggers my horse-recognition capacity, doesn’t that mean I take the image to be a horse, and thus fall victim to an illusion?No, there is a difference between my horse-recognition capacity, and my capacity to tell whether there is a horse in front of me.These capacities operate at different levels.
14 Class 14: FilmIllusionism (cont’d)It is possible for a film to effect this sort of illusion, but this is not at issue when people call film illusionistic.The claim that film is illusionistic is the claim that the standard mechanism by which film engages the viewer is illusionistic – that the creation of an illusion of reality is a standard feature of the relation between film and viewer.Illusionism comes in both strong and weaker versions.Strong Version of Illusionism: The film engenders the illusion that the fictional events are real, and that the viewer is witnessing them.
15 Class 14: FilmIllusionism (cont’d)Objections to Strong Version:Beliefs are apt to cause certain kinds of behaviour, but film-watchers do not behave like they are in the presence of ax murderers, monsters, nuclear explosions, and the like.“Explanations of our responses to cinematic fictions in terms of belief work only so long as we do not take the notion of belief, and its connection with behavior, seriously.” (332)
16 Class 14: FilmIllusionism (cont’d)Objections to Strong Version:The strong version of Illusionism is at odds with much of the experience of film-watching. If Illusionism were correct, the viewer would have to suppose her perspective to be that of the camera, as it moves throughout the film space.But this seems psychologically implausible: it would require identification with a “character” that moves about without the limitations of our bodies, invisible to other characters, and so on.None of this seems to be part of the ordinary experience of film-watching.
17 Class 14: FilmIllusionism (cont’d)Nor does the postulation of a “narratee” match up with our ordinary film-watching experience.It has been theorized that the camera is like the “inner eye” of one who dreams. This would explain the lack of movement on the part of the dreamer, despite emotional involvement. But again, dreamers are concerned with their own actions and sufferings; not so with the film-watching experience.
18 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual IllusionsA cognitive illusion is a state of mind involving a false belief.MiragesA mental process is cognitively impenetrable if it operates independently of our belief.An illusion that persists despite beliefs to the contrary is a perceptual illusion.
19 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)A Perceptual Illusionist thesis about film is a distinctly weaker thesis than a Cognitive Illusionist one, and with different consequences.Perceptual Illusionism, even if true, does not itself sustain a thesis of Cognitive Illusionism.A thesis of Perceptual Illusionism commonly holds that the moving image in film is simply an illusion brought about through a quick succession of projected, still photographs.Even though we are always aware of the technical mechanism that brings this about, we nonetheless perceive movement on the screen.
20 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)Currie’s thesis: In film, there really is movement (within a single shot taken from a fixed perspective): “if we are watching a shot of a man walking along a street, the part of the image which represents the man will move from one side of the screen to the other.” (335)
21 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)This is enough to contradict the claim that movement in film is an illusion produced by the juxtaposition of static images.Two Brief Theories of TimeThere are two basic metaphysical positions on motion and change, generally:Three-Dimensionalism: Change takes place when a thing has a property at one time which it (the very same thing) lacks at another.Four-Dimensionalism: Change takes place when a certain temporal stage possesses a property, and another temporal stage lacks it, and these temporal stages are so related that they compose the temporal stages of the same object.
22 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)One might argue that the real movement in film can be argued from a rather liberal view of reality: that what is true is what is useful to believe is true (Daniel Dennett).Certainly, there is utility in describing a film by reference to the movement of images.Ultimately, this position argues for an unintuitive distinction between usefulness and reality.The apparent motion in film is not merely apparent, but real. It is “cinematic motion”.We should hold that the cinematic experience of movement does conform to reality unless there is significant weight of evidence against this view.
23 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)The argument that the experience of cinematic motion is a perceptual illusion seems to appeal to there being no real motion in the film roll – just a series of static images.But that there is no music on a CD (being simply a series of encoded bits) does not mean that when we listen to a CD we don’t hear music.A further argument for the stance of Perceptual Illusionism might be that the movement is simply the product of our perceptual system, and cannot exist independently of it.Of course, properties like color and taste also depend on there being a perceiver: these are secondary properties, but not unreal.
24 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)“What a realist about color should say is what we have already said: colors and other secondary properties are real, response-dependent properties of things.” (337)The apparent motion of film is not merely apparent – it is real, response-dependent motion.
25 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)Possible Objection 1This proposal can only succeed at the cost of destroying the distinction between real and apparent phenomena, or will intolerably expand the class of phenomena we shall have to count as real.ResponseAn argument parallel to that of cinematic motion would fail to prove the “reality” of the illusion in the Muller-Lyer phenomenon.These lines appear to be of unequal length, but simple measurement proves otherwise.There is no such equivalent test for cinematic motion.
26 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)“We see the cinematic image of a man, and we see that it is in one place on the screen, and we later see that it is in another; indeed, we see—really see—that image move from one place to another on the screen. That image is not to be identified with some particular object. It is not like the image in a painting which consists of a certain conglomeration of physical pigments, at least relatively stable over time. It is an image sustained by the continuous impact of light on the surface of the screen, and no particular light wave or particle is more than merely constitutive of it. Nonetheless, that image is a particular, reidentifiable thing, and a thing which moves.” (340)
27 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)One image of a man is the same as another one because both are identified by normal viewers in normal conditions as being the same man.
28 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)There is a difference between ascribing redness to a can of Coke and redness to the aftereffect in the following experiment.
30 Class 14: FilmCognitive and Perceptual Illusions (cont’d)In the case of a can of Coke, it is actually red, whereas the aftereffect in the McCullough aftereffect experiment is only an illusion.“It is traditional to regard motion as a paradigmatically primary quality, to be contrasted with those secondary qualities which are in some sense observer-dependent, like color. If what I have said here about cinematic motion is correct, we shall have to acknowledge a kind of motion which takes its place among the secondary qualities.” (342)
31 Class 14: FilmQuestions & ProblemsIs Currie correct to say that we recognize objects and movement in film in the same way that we do objects and movement in the real world?To recognize the Man in the Moon depends upon the ability to recognize faces. Is the property of movement ascribed to objects of film more like a secondary property (as Currie asserts) or more like a tertiary property or “aspect” (as Scruton asserts of movement in music)? What’s the difference?