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«11 THE PHILOSOPHY OF FILM AND FILM AS PHILOSOPHY Tom McClelland (University of Sussex) There are two key respects in which the medium of film and the ...»

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In summation, there is a viable notion of film-as-philosophy. The inarticulate nature of film entails that it cannot make the general and explicit claims characteristic of philosophy. Nevertheless, film can make valuable contributions to philosophical inquiry by presenting narratives that behave like philosophical thought-experiments. By attributing film the Socratic role of prompting its audience into philosophical understanding, we can make sense of how it is possible for film to actively contribute to philosophy. For instance, Rear Window invites its audience to treat Jeff’s behaviour as a salient example for the evaluation of the moral status of Cinema 2 voyeurism. Once the possibility of FAP has been acknowledged, there remains a worry about its value. Why would we choose an inarticulate medium over one that can lay out the ramifications of a narrative in general and explicit terms? The Socratic Model allows us to understand how the absence of an articulate guiding voice in film can sometimes enhance its philosophical contributions. Where Rear Window encourages us to extrapolate the implications of a scenario for ourselves, we achieve a deeper and more reliable insight than we would through an equivalent textual presentation of that scenario. How can there be anything specifically cinematic about a film’s contribution? Where a film engages reflexively in the philosophy of film, it can utilise the distinctive status of its audience to great effect.

Rear Window invites us to consider our own interpretative role in the experience of film whilst we are engaged in that very activity. Despite the substantial conceptual obstacles to the notion of FAP, the Socratic Model allows us to make sense of the possibility and value of filmic contributions to philosophy. The case of Rear Window shows us that film, despite its limitations, has distinctive advantages over textual works, whether academic or literary. Of course, this text can only gesture towards the full significance of the film. Much like the cop that Jeff phones in Rear Window, you’ve heard an eyewitness account, but can only find the real evidence by looking for yourself.

NOTES

1. See, respectively, Stanley Cavell’s The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), Daniel Shaw’s “On Being Philosophical and ‘Being John Malkovich’,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:1 (2006) and Chris Falzon’s, “Why be Moral?”

in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, ed. Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga (Oxford:

Routledge, 2009).

2. This decision is motivated by the fact that most of the pro-FAP literature focuses on popular narrative films, so defending FAP in the context of documentaries or art films would do little to vindicate that literature.

3. These labels are taken from Wartenberg, though I will not always follow his formulation of the problems. See Thomas E. Wartenberg’s “Beyond Mere Illustration: How Film Can Be Philosophy.” The Cinema 2 Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 64:1 (2006) and “On the Possibility of Cinematic Philosophy” in New Takes in Film-Philosophy, ed. Havi Carel and Greg Tuck (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

4. This places my proposal in the category Wartenberg labels the “Moderate Pro-Cinematic Position’ on the FAP debate in his “Film as Philosophy” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, ed. Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga (Oxford: Routledge, 2009).

5. The Matrix is a fitting example since it is perhaps the single film that has most dominated the film-as-philosophy literature.

6. See Paisley Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman: On Film as Philosophy (Oxford: OUP, 2009) and Noël Carroll, “Philosophising Through the Moving Image: The Case of Serene Velocity,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:1 (2006).

7. For an account of this “Imposition Objection’ see Thomas E. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen:

Film as Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2007), 8.

8. Stephen Mulhall, On Film, 1st edn. (London: Routledge, 2002), 4.

9. The importance of film-makers’ intentions to FAP is emphasised in Paisley Livingston’s “Theses on Cinema as Philosophy,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:1 (2006) and in Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman. I will generally avoid engaging with this topic. The central question for us is whether the philosophical content of a film is discovered or imposed. If we conclude it is discovered in the film, we can then ask what role actual or possible intentions play in its being there.

10. It should be clear that films are not thinking agents, but Mulhall’s way of describing FAP sometimes seems to suggest that they are. Livingston specifically argues against the attribution of agency to film in his Livingston Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman, 3, 194. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 12, explains that talk of film “developing an idea” is a turn of phrase no more suspicious than talk of an academic text “developing an idea.”

11. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 21.

12. I say “at best” since films may present us with impossible scenarios, such as the time-travel paradoxes in Back to the Future (1985)

13. Quoted by Karen Hanson, “Minerva in the Movies: Relations Between Philosophy and Film,”





in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology, ed. Noël Carroll and Jinhee Choi (Oxford:

Blackwell, 2006), 391.

14. See Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 16. As with the Generality Problem, an appeal to the explicit content of the dialogue in the film will not help. Such verbal assertions are not made by the film, and can contribute nothing specifically “filmic.”

15. The central place of systematicity and reason-giving in philosophy is noted by Julian Baggini “Serious Men: The Films of the Coen Brothers as Ethics,” in New Takes in Film-Philosophy, ed. Havi Carel and Greg Tuck (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

16. Quoted in Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 76

17. Quoted in ibid., 18

18. Mulhall, On Film, 1st edn., 7.

19. Lester Hunt “Motion Pictures as a Philosophical Resource,” in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures, ed. Carroll and Choi, 397.

20. Quoted in Mette Hjort, “The Five Obstructions,” in The Routledge Companion to Film and Philosophy, ed. Livingston and Plantinga, 631.

21. Bruce Russell, “The Philosophical Limits of Film,” in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology, ed. Noël Carroll and Jinhee Choi (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 390.

22. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 24.

23. Ibid., 36.

24. Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman, 13.

25. Russell, “The Philosophical Limits of Film.”

26. Hunt, “Motion Pictures as a Philosophical Resource,” 401.

27. For more on this point see Smuts, “Review of R. J. Yanal Hitchcock as Philosopher,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65:3 (2007): 340.

28. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 57.

29. Ibid., 134.

30. Related doubts about film’s ability to utilise narratives as philosophical thought experiments are expressed by Murray Smith in “Film Art, Ambiguity and Argument,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:1 (2006): 38.

31. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 92.

32. This point is made vividly in Noël Carroll, “Philosophising Through the Moving Image: The Case of Serene Velocity,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:1 (2006): 180.

33. Richard Fumerton, “Skepticism,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, ed. Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga (Oxford: Routledge, 2009), 604.

34. Concerns about the value of film’s contributions are captured in what Wartenberg calls the “Banality Objection,” which he ties to Stolnitz and Carroll in Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 104.

Cinema 2

35. Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman, 56

36. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 4, 8.

37. See Fumerton’s “Skepticism,” Russell’s “The Philosophical Limits of Film,” Livingston’s “Theses on Cinema as Philosophy” and Carroll’s “Philosophising Through the Moving Image.”

38. Smith, “Film Art, Ambiguity and Argument,” 39.

39. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 12.

40. A strong case against the total omission of dialogue as a filmic resource is made by Stephen Mulhall, On Film, 2nd edn. (London: Routledge, 2008), 150.

41. Hunt, “Motion Pictures as a Philosophical Resource.”

42. Jerry Goodenough, “A Philosopher Goes to the Cinema,” in Film as Philosophy: Essays in Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell, ed. Rupert Read and Jerry Goodenough (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 12.

43. On the second point see Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman, 196-197.

44. Smith’s “Film Art, Ambiguity and Argument” notes that film’s prioritisation of nonphilosophical goals inevitably leads to such compromises. Specific examples of “philosophical” science-fiction films that spend much of their time on elaborate action sequences are noted by Goodenough, “A Philosopher Goes to the Cinema,” 6, and Livingston, Cinema, Philosophy, Bergman, 198.

45. See Hunt, “Motion Pictures as a Philosophical Resource,” 403.

46. Ibid., 402.

47. Plato, Meno, 85d.

48. Ibid., 97-99.

49. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, raises this as an objection to the argument implicit in Mulhall, On Film, 2nd edn., 131-132, that being about film is sufficient for a film being philosophical.

50. Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen, 79.

51. Wartenberg’s Thinking on Screen, Carroll’s “Philosophising Through the Moving Image” and Hjort’s “The Five Obstructions.”

52. From Bosley Crowther, “Rear Window,” New York Times, 5 August 1954, reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ed. John Belton, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

53. John Belton, “Spectacle and Narrative,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ed. Belton, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 12.

54. Barton Palmer, “The Metafictional Hitchcock: The Experience of Viewing and the Viewing of

Experience in Rear Window and Psycho,” in Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock, ed. D. Boyd (New York:

Simon & Schuster MacMillan, 1995), 145-146. It is worth noting that these observations about the film, along with all the others in this section, are not taken from philosophers, so are unlikely to express a bias in favour of philosophical interpretations. Some thinkers do approach Hitchcock with explicitly philosophical objectives, such as Robert J. Yanal’s Hitchcock as Philosopher (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), but we will not draw on their work.

55. The movie’s advertising slogan — “revealing the privacy of a dozen lives” — overtly plays on its voyeuristic lure. See Belton, “Spectacle and Narrative,” 3.

56. This is against the Pearson & Stam account of the film challenged by Barton Palmer, “The Metafictional Hitchcock,” 148.

57. See Belton, “Spectacle and Narrative,” 7.

58. Elise Lemire, “Voyeurism and the Postwar Crisis of Masculinity in Rear Window” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ed. John Belton, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 73.

59. Belton, “Spectacle and Narrative,” 3.

60. This point is emphasised in Lemire’s “Voyeurism and the Postwar Crisis of Masculinity in Rear Window,” 57-58, and in Jean Douchet, “Hitch and his Public,” trans. Verana A. Conley, in A Hitchcock Reader, ed. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 18.

61. Stephen Sondheim, “Rear Window,” in Films in Review 5:8 (1954), reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ed. John Belton, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 170.

62. See David Bordwell’s “The Viewer’s Activity,” in Narration in the Fiction Film (Madison:

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