The Film Medium:
Image & Sound
Taken from 2nd part of Film Theory & Criticism (6th
Ed. by Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen)
• 18th Century German dramatist suggested
that the visual arts organise their material
spatially whilst the poetic arts do so
• In this same spirit, critics have sought to
deﬁne what is (and what is not) cinematic
So what is the ﬁlm medium?
• Physical apparatus- 24fps
• Film Language (angles, rhythms, editing etc)
• Structural Features (Plot) & historical
• Is it legitimate to pursue only those
possibilities which have special afﬁnity to
the medium? How do we judge what these
afﬁnities are? Must it be only those which it
shares with no other art?
Erwin Panofsky (Art
• Uniquely ﬁlmic features (Note that both
of these are visual and not audio...a clear
area of criticism) include:
• ‘Dynamization of space’
• ‘Spacialization of time’
• Accepts the use of sound only in certain
limited ways. He uses the example of Frank
Capra and Preston Sturges comedies...the
witty dialogue is ‘complimented and
compensated for’ (compensated because it
violates the visual afﬁnity for cinema
• Suggests that mere mechanical
reproduction of physical reality is not an
• Points out the differences between the
ﬁlmic image and reality and like the artist
who exploits the 2D canvas, suggests ﬁlm
should do likewise with its canvas.
• One of the ﬁrst theorists to question the
premise upon which the others quoted in
this presentation deﬁned cinema e.g. That
which is uniquely cinematic.
• In many ways Caroll represents the advent
of post-modernism which highlights the
possibilities and ﬂuidity between art forms.
• Pointed to the importance of projected
light as being uniquely cinematic.
• This helps distinguish ﬁlm from TV, painting
• Stanley Cavell took this further by pointing
out that unlike theatre in which the
audience is present for the cast, cinema
renders the audience absent mechanically
• Enforced invisibility of audience...does this
provide an absence of responsibility that
the audience revels in?
• In viewing ﬁlm we view a magically
reproduced world whilst remaining invisible
to it. Is ﬁlm essentially voyeuristic and
pornographic? (It permits a sexual intimacy
with its stars...see FEMINIST theory)
Cavell- Genre & Medium
• Suggests that issues of genre and the ﬁlmic
medium itself is inseparable
• Classical Hollywood world consisted of 3
• The Military Man- Conquers evil for sake
of society (James Stewart, Gary Cooper)
• The Dandy- Pursues his own interests,
values and self-respect (John Wayne)
• The Woman- Attracting men like ﬂames
attract moths (Greta Garbo)
• With the collapse of The Hollywood Studio
System in 1952, many critics claim that this
enabled the art form to be free of its
formulaic, restrictive generic structure.
• Suggests that visual qualities are regarded
as having primary importance within most
cultures whilst aural qualities are
considered of secondary signiﬁcance.
• Think back to your TOK lesson on sensory
perception. How many of you voted for
sight as the most important sense?
• Eisenstein & Pudovkin agreed that sound
was an important new resource in ﬁlm but
believed it would undermine the
achievement of montage.
• They suggest the use of only non-
synchronous sound (orchestra) rather than
naturalistic sound (dialogue).
Mary Ann Doane-
• Explores the pleasures inherent in the use
of sound for cinematic audiences.
• She points to the voice-over (a sense of
authority) as relates to the documentary
form. (Speaks directly to the audience)
• But ultimately suggests that the voice, like
the image is an instrument of patriarchal
• Marxists theorists tend to suggest that the
concealment of the medium (the apparatus
of ﬁlm) in favour of suspending disbelief is
John Ellis- Television
• However, for TV, sound is the dominant
force. Often in TV, the visual image plays
only an illustrative role. Think how often
you can watch TV whilst doing other
things. I can prepare TOK lessons by
listening to documentaries whilst typing my
lesson plan simultaneously. e.g. Not
watching the ﬁlm
• TV is a regime of the glance not the gaze
• See also John Fiske’s work on Segmentation