Film theory is a branch of academia often aligned with Marxist critical theory. Its goal is to understand the core and spirit of the cinema and it tries to present a conceptual framework to explain the relationship of film to reality. It also tries to explore the relationship to the viewers and to the rest of society. Film theory is closely related to film criticism and there is a lot of overlap between the two fields.
Film theory was established to describe types of motion pictures and how they affect the mental and emotional feelings of the audience. Film theory takes into account that the making of films is a very distinct type of art. It covers discussion and thinking about films. As with many other theories, film theory was gradually created over a hundred-year period and has been influenced by many opinions and theories. These theories and opinions have been combined into a movement that with time, and one step at a time, has become a theory of the conceptual framework of the theater.
The purpose of film theory is to add to the critical film debate by making changes in the method of study of film and film analysis. It is a conglomerate of many elements which include philosophy, photography, theater, architecture, painting, etc. It is important to point out that film theory and film analysis need film archives in order to support them, for without those archives it would be nearly impossible to study the history and theories of films and to arrive at any cogent analysis.
In the early stages of film theory, films were all silent and the theorists were mainly concerned with understanding and defining the important elements of film. Theorists pointed out how films were vastly different from reality, and yet it could be classified as genuine art. Many argued with that premise and claimed that the essence of filmmaking lies in the capability of exactly reproducing reality and not in distorting it. It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that film theory began to be studied in the halls of academia and, in doing so, borrowing concepts from other branches of study such as gender studies, anthropology, psychoanalysis and literary theory. Finally in the early 1990s, film theory achieved such high standing and recognition that it began replacing many studies of humanities in some universities. It replaced the earlier, widely held, auteur theory which mainly focused on the practical aspects of making, editing and producing films. It was not so concerned with the philosophical insights and understandings of filmmaking.
Film theory once again underwent re-thinking in the 1990s with the introduction of digital imaging. It discussed how this revolution would have an impact on the filmmaking industry and thus film theory. There was a proliferation of new theories, among them one which theorists called "the gaze." It refers to the way the audience views and looks at the film. With the new technology everything became more "real" and the audiences saw things differently. Film theorists began revisiting old films and began analyzing them to see how "the gaze" affected them.
Another aspect of film theory is film criticism, which focuses on evaluating and analyzing the film and asking questions about it in order to understand the purpose of the film: does it teach anything in particular and what is the meaning of certain parts of the film?
The best way to reflect and analyze is to criticize, especially in film. Movies can be a great source of knowledge which can stimulate the thought process especially with respect to human nature. Film theory and film criticism is all about thinking and understanding the effects the films have on human nature. Critics will ask questions about the film and try to understand how it relates to everyday occurrences and if there is a lesson that can teach people something.