Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Integrating Theories of Cinema and Communication

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Integrating Theories of Cinema and Communication

Article excerpt

INTEGRATING THEORIES OF CINEMA AND COMMUNICATION

In roughly a century of existence, cinema has established itself as a communication medium, a global entertainment industry, and a significant art form with attending theoretical positions and schools of criticism almost from the beginning. In roughly half a century, film theory and criticism has become an academic body of knowledge as well, spread over many disciplines. However, this ongoing vigor has not followed traditional paths of incorporation into unified scholarly agreements. Instead, film studies as a curricular focus inhabits every branch of the academy except natural sciences (and even here relevant topics appear which include the physics of light, the psychology of visual perception, and even the computer science of digital animation). As individual course offerings, film studies are housed in departments of their own and in locations as diverse as communication, theatre, literature, fine arts, foreign languages, ethnic studies, anthropology, and sociology. Each of these areas has its own interests in the varied structures, impact, and value of the cinema, which encourages an amorphous situation among the disciplines regarding existence, worth, and application of an equally wide spectrum of film theory and criticism. And some scholars study mainly the content and effects of individual films, giving little attention to cinema's theoretical groundings at all.

Within the overall discipline of communication, despite the obvious links to cinema practice, theory as a whole seems little connected to the aesthetic, cultural, and ideological concerns of cinema theory and criticism which usually are the focus when film is studied in relation to literature or the visual arts. This has much to do with the frequent associations between the field of communication and the social science perspective. Even Littlejohn (1996), who at the outset of his extensive summation of study in the discipline stated that: "Traditionally, humanistic theories of communication have been referred to as rhetorical theory and scientific theories as communication theory [although t]his distinction is not particularly useful" [emphases his] (p. 12), presented the social science perspective as a blend of the arts and sciences and acknowledged that he did not address the value judgment approaches represented by rhetorical criticism (p. 226), even though they are the focus of humanistic concerns in cinema study. Moreover, the theories he presented that do treat mass communication are concentrated on such topics as media as social institutions; diffusion of information and influence; the effects of media content on audience behavior; and the uses, gratifications, and dependency perspectives of audience attraction to the media (pp. 324-354).(1)

While Littlejohn (1996) steered clear of aesthetic questions and instead concentrated on the "critical social science" (p. 226) of Marxism, cultural studies, and feminism, he did include a good many other areas of thought that have proven substantial in recent decades of cinema theory: phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, narrative theory, and post-structuralism. In doing do, he has confirmed that the current emphasis of theory in communication reflects that of current cinema theory in being concerned not with cultural values but with cultural manipulation. Bordwell and Carroll (1996) claimed that this attitude in the last three decades of cinema scholarship is the result of the hegemonic triumph of "Grand Theory," an "aggregate of doctrines derived from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Structuralist semiotics, Post-Structuralist literary theory, and variants of Althusserian Marxism" (p. xiii). Aumont, Bergala, Marie, and Vernet (1983/1992) echoed the same theme:

   Film theory is often assimilated with the aesthetic approach. However,
   these terms do not denote the same domains, and it is useful to distinguish
   them. Since its origins, film theory is equally the object of a polemic
   concerning the pertinence of approaches that are nonspecific to the cinema
   and that arise from disciplines exterior to its field. … 
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