Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition

Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition

Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition

Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition

Synopsis

The film theories of Jean Epstein, Dziga Vertov, B la Bal zs, and Siegfried Kracauer have long been studied separately from each other. In Doubting Vision, film scholar Malcolm Turvey argues that their work constitutes a distinct, hitherto neglected tradition, which he calls revelationism, and which differs in important ways from modernism and realism. For these four theorists and filmmakers, the cinema is an art of mass enlightenment because it escapes the limits of human sight and reveals the true nature of reality. Turvey provides a detailed exegesis of this tradition, pointing to its sources in Romanticism, the philosophy of Henri Bergson, modern science, and other intellectual currents. He also shows how profoundly it has influenced contemporary film theory by examining the work of psychoanalytical-semiotic theorists of the 1970s, Stanley Cavell, the modern-day followers of Kracauer and Walter Benjamin, and Gilles Deleuze.

Throughout, Turvey offers a trenchant critique of revelationism and its descendants. Combining the close analysis of theoretical texts with the philosophical method of conceptual clarification pioneered by the later Wittgenstein, he shows how the arguments theorists and filmmakers have made about human vision and the cinema's revelatory powers often traffic in conceptual confusion. Having identified and extricated these confusions, Turvey builds on the work of Epstein, Vertov, Balazs, and Kracauer as well as contemporary philosophers of film to clarify some legitimate senses in which the cinema is a revelatory art using examples from the films of filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jacques Tati.

Excerpt

The major goal of film theory before the 1960s—what today is known as “classical” film theory—was to prove that the cinema is an art on a par with, or perhaps even superior to, the other arts. Due to its novelty, the prejudice against its photographic medium (the claim that photography is mere mechanical reproduction and therefore not art), and its quick development into a form of mass entertainment, the cinema was not accepted as an art, at least initially. Classical film theorists therefore set out to show why and how the cinema is art. They did this, as Noël Carroll has demonstrated, by answering a series of questions about the cinema’s unique properties, the role or value of these properties, and the stylistic techniques best suited to exploiting such properties. This was because classical film theorists adhered, for the most part, to the doctrine of medium specificity, the view that in order for the cinema to be accepted as a legitimate art, it must be shown to possess valuable attributes of its own, ones that the other, preestablished arts do not have. Needless to say, theorists proposed different answers to these questions. This book is about one such answer, as well as its influence on contemporary film theory. According to this answer, the cinema’s most significant property, one which the other arts do not possess (or at least do not possess to the same degree), is its ability to uncover features of reality invisible to human vision. the value of this property is that it can reveal the true nature of reality to viewers. and the techniques best suited to exploiting it, for reasons I will explore shortly, are those that least resemble human sight. I call this the revelationist answer.

The cinema’s revelatory capacity is often mentioned in passing by classical film theorists when making arguments about the difference between cinema . . .

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