The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic Reality

| January 17, 2011 | Comments (0)

The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic Reality

Author: Richard Rushton

Reviewed by: Sarah Griffin

Rainforests have disappeared under the weight of film theory books, but it is still unusual, in the midst of this sea of paper, to find something new – an idea that hasn’t been fully tested before. Richard Rushton, a Film Studies lecturer in Lancaster University, takes the suggestion of filmic reality to an extreme not often seen, claiming that film is not merely a representational art, passively holding a mirror to our reality, but is, in fact, a reality in and of itself.

Rushton maintains that film study thus far has relied heavily on seeing ‘a logic of representation’, and doing so has bracketed film off as a secondary mode of reality rather than, as he maintains, filmic reality. He takes issue with the need to see film as ‘re-presenting’ anything, and rather sees cinema as creation itself: forming realities, possibilities and events that have not had existence previous to the screen. Some of the questions he poses – and mostly answers – are in relation to what film does in our lives, how it features in our structuring of reality, as well as the influence it has on our thought processes and how we filter the world.

Undoubtedly many filmmakers would agree with this summation – the lengths to which directors go to instil their film with reality substantiates Rushton’s belief that filmic reality is a requirement. Film can thus enable us to experience a reality that would have been outside the realm of our normal understanding. Whether that be Stanley Kubrick’s determined use of candlelight in a period piece (Barry Lyndon), or Spielberg’s gritty determination to show every fallen limb (Saving Private Ryan), the creation of a filmic reality that doesn’t just show us a different world, but makes it real for us is the cinematic Holy Grail.

Rushton denounces the opposition between ‘filmic fantasy’ and ‘real world reality’, feeling that to separate the two is to belie the importance and possibilities of both. Citing the eminent David Bordwell, he goes on to bemoan film studies’ preoccupation in what social issues or ideas the film represents, rather than making the film itself of essential importance. Rushton’s central conceit is that the film is enough: filmic reality is film as it is, and there is no need to search beyond for study.

Though occasionally over-complicated, the book nonetheless manages to engage and consume attention in its affirmation of the reality of film. It contains a series of essays ranging from the state of film studies today to how the writings of André Bazin support his theory, taking in some of the major theorists of cinema along the way. The pages overflow with theoretical arguments and scholarly expositions, from Laura Mulvey’s textual analysis, to Stanley Cavell’s theory of film as exhibitions of the world, and on to Jacques Rancière’s aesthetic categorisation of cinema. A well-written and detailed account of some novel ideas in film theory, Rushton’s essays open up a new world of conceptual understanding in the face of an often stale abundance in academic writings.


Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Manchester University Press (11 Nov 2010)
Publishing Date: 11th November, 2010
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0719082684
ISBN-13: 978-0719082689
Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.5 x 2.5 cm
Number of Pages: 218

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Category: Book Reviews, Reviews

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