Sunday, October 23, 2011

Marrying the classroom and the Cineplex

Plantinga, Carl. "The Sensual Medium." Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience. Berkley et al: University of California Press, 2009. Print.

Carl Plantinga's book, Moving Viewers is about the physical responses viewers have while watching films. In Chapter four, "The Sensual Medium," Plantinga starts by arguing against the idea of 'reading’ films because that puts the focus on the work the brain is doing while viewing (112). The really important reactions viewers have to films are their physical reactions: “That the film spectator isn’t merely a conscious thinker but also an embodied, biological human being has been the subject of considerable attention in film theory recently” (115).  

Plantinga continues on to show what those physical reactions to film are. The chapter explains the our natural inclination to mimic the actions and emotions of those around us.  Plantinga looks at how films use this human social conventions to create different emotions. He uses the close up as an example of this: “the film can affect the viewer through framing, editing, and camera movement. The close-up can be used to create intimacy with a protagonist or to elicit disgust and revulsion toward an unsympathetic character” (120). Here, film creators replicate how people create closeness naturally and use it to their advantage to create meaning. The term ‘emotional contagion’, what Plantinga describes as “the phenomenon of ‘catching’ the emotions of those around us or of those we observe” (125), sums up the biological situation that film exploits to connect readers and create pathos in film.

The last section of the chapter is dedicated to sound. He discusses how sound is used to heighten the affect of the film. The example of Vertigo is used as the soundtrack gets louder and softer, creating a sound match to the feeling of vertigo itself (131).  However, sound does not only develop emotion, it can foreshadow what is to come (136), like scary music before a girl is attacked in a horror movie. Music gives the viewer additional information.
The book is all about how film uses pathos appeals to create intimacy with the viewer. While the entire book is on film rhetoric, I chose this chapter because it is focused on instant physical reactions, the same ones my students will have and discuss in class. The book is focused on film rhetoric and theory and no mention is made of teaching. This is fine though. I looked at many composition based texts that talked about the ‘power of film’ but never really explained it. This book does a wonderful job of explaining just how film affects the viewer, what films strengths are, rhetorically speaking. My job is to marry film rhetoric with composition rhetoric for the purposes of this paper. It’s a great source. I plan to discuss the oral/aural nature of film in my final paper and appreciated his focus on this topic as well. Plantinga’s chapter notes the medical studies he’s referencing, which I may look at as I write my own paper.

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