Temporality and Film Analysis

Temporality and Film Analysis

Temporality and Film Analysis

Temporality and Film Analysis


Film theory, revolving as it does around a time-based medium, might be seen to be eminently suited to the development of discussion around temporal flow and change in relation to its particular objects. Temporality has consistently posed problems for critical theory, however. As Elizabeth Grosz has written,

time is perhaps the most enigmatic, the most paradoxical, elusive and ‘unreal’ of any
form of material existence… time is neither fully ‘present’, a thing in itself, nor
is it a pure abstraction, a metaphysical assumption that can be ignored in everyday

Overwhelming us with its ‘pervasive force’, she continues, ‘we prefer that it evaporates into what we can comprehend or more directly control’, into, that is, discrete units of analysis that can be compared to one another, like shots on a film strip. According to Sarah Cardwell, dominant paradigms in film theory have in the past excluded temporal matters from discussion:

the predominance of semiotics and the related notion of film as a ‘language’ or
representational system comparable with that of verbal language guided scholars
away from phenomenological and ontological questions (such as those concern
ing film’s unique ‘temporality’) that are considered ‘medium specific’ or ‘medium

Although semiotic theories of cinema are no longer dominant, temporality continues to be a problematic area of film theory. As I outline in Chapter 1, ‘Time, in Theory’, writing on film has frequently privileged particular moments that can be extracted from the flow of a film’s time; the temporal continuum of film emerges in much film analysis, explicitly or implicitly, as a threatening force. At times, film theory discusses cinematic images as though they were static and still, placed side by side in a series.

John Mullarkey has written that ‘if film has a power… it is not by mirroring something static, but by being a part of something moving’. This . . .

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