Baudry’s Ideological Effects of the Cinematic Apparatus

Having read and re-read the assigned reading multiple times I just feel like it’s such a waste to end the week without saying something about Jean-Louis Baudry.

Summary

  • Thesis: The cinematic apparatus itself functions as a gateway of sorts that allows for ideological effect to enter more easily into narrative cinema
  • (1) Baudry establishes this by talking about how the conception of the image projected on the cinema screen is based on the western easel painting that presupposes a subject position
  • The nature of the subject position is that this is the single point of reference from which all else in the image is constructed in reference to
  • This subject is then placed in a Transcendental position by having its vision enhanced by the mechanical eye of the camera that can travel throughout the diegetic world in a seemingly unfettered manner
  • However, unbeknownst to the subject (spectator) all images projected on the screen carry within them the “intention” of the filmmaker
  • So, even though the spectator has been led to believe by the cinematic apparatus that s/he is in an empowered position, s/he really isn’t.
  • (2) Furthermore, the nature of the film strip and editing functions on the assumption that the spectator will willingly negate the infinitesimal differences that make up the raw material of film (discontinuous shots cleverly edited together in order to hide the cuts and make them as invisible as possible; and cells in a continuous strip of film that actually contain a series of images that contain infinitesimal differences from their adjacent cell) in preference of perceiving it as a continuous whole
  • (3) the platonian cave-like structure of the cinema allows for spectators to regress into a child-like state of compromised mobility with enhanced sight that opens one up the the imaginary

Critique

  • Of the 3 above mentioned parts, it’s been said to death in class already that this assumption of passivity in the audiences is a load of crock and I completely agree. We don’t just sit there and let the cinema turn us into their dupes.
  • But at the same time, it was an epiphanic moment for me, personally, to see that embedded in the machinery of the cinema itself are all these structures that persuade us to let our guard down (presupposing a subject position; lulling an audience into a false sense of security over the “empowered” position they are supposedly in as the subject; getting us to agree to negate the differences in the shots we see on screen in order to enjoy/appreciate/take pleasure in the continuous whole of the narrative or the shot).
  • In Elsaesser and Hagener, we read that Baudry has been criticized for his fettishistic obsession with the cinematic apparatus but I can’t help but link Baudry’s detailed critique of the cinematic apparatus to how Marshall McLuhan, talked about how “The Medium is the Message
  • in McLuhan’s writing, he talks about the electric light and uses it to explain the difference between the “content” of the medium and the medium. If we use the lights to spell a word, say the name of a bar, that’s the content of the medium. But the medium itself holds meaning. A light in the dark means a restructuring of human activity no longer bound by the diurnal rhythms. And this of course has far reaching effects on other aspects of life like business, economy, industry, labour, politics, law, etc. (you go figure it out yourself… I’m to lazy to name them one by one)
  • So I think Baudry is right. Wholly, unambiguously, incontrovertibly right. Narrative cinema of course contains its own ideological effect but that’s just the content. It is the cinematic apparatus, the medium, and its subtle workings that open up the doorway and makes ready the spectator to be manipulated by narrative cinema.

Clip

  • This clip actually illustrates a lot of what Baudry talks about. But because of time constraint and page limits I just feel like I wasn’t able to do it justice? And I really want to do it justice.
  • the clip opens with the film strip going into the projector and focuses on the cinematic apparatus
  • We hear the audiences responding to the film being screened and we see Hitler laughing at something on screen. Clearly, the audience is completely at ease and enjoying the film. This would imply that they would have entered into the above mentioned contract with the cinematic apparatus where in order to be entertained by the film, their critical faculties have been compromised, their guard has been lowered.
  • The close up of Shoshanna’s face as she delivers her monologue presupposes a subject who will hear her message
  • But this subject is very quickly shown to be in a disempowered position instead of an empowered position
  • the audience is literally trapped in this sequence because they have also literally let their guard down during the screening and allowed themselves to be trapped in the cinema where they will now be gunned down like fish in a barrel
  • So where’s the ideology? There are two tiers to this. First tier is the wishful/wish-fulfilment rewriting of history by having WWII end with Hitler being gunned down in a cinema. But on a second tier, it is also a reference to a whole host of Nazisploitation films that perpetuate the fallacious view of Nazis as the ultimate evil Other when the truth of the matter is that the capacity of evil is in all of us, as captured in Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

Baudry in Film Today: Films about Film

  • While Baudry spoke of “concealment” in his essay, the current trend of self-reflexivity in films makes certain that this concealment of the ideological effect of the cinematic apparatus is a thing of the past. Or is it?
  • Like I covered in today’s presentation, audiences today are more mature, more exposed to film not just in quantity but in quality and are more well-versed in reading and appreciating film. Combining this with the Postmodernist impulse to be ironic, we have a rising trend of self-reflexivity in film.
  • In class, I gave the examples of Cinema Paradiso (1988) and Hugo (2011) because I think they were especially relevant to Baudry and his fixation on the cinematic apparatus.
  • Since we already discussed Cinema Paradiso at length in class the previous week I’m just going to skip straight to Hugo

hugo

  • Much like Cinema Paradiso that dealt on some level with the materiality of film, there is a whole paraphernalia of film scattered throughout the subconscious of Hugo. Although not explicitly referenced the film is greatly concerned with the mechanical nature of film particularly in the early black and white films before narrative film became the dominant style of filmmaking with D.W. Griffith’s success with Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • This is seen in the visual motifs in Hugo – Clocks, Clock towers, clockwork, gears and machinery, trains, train stations and schedules, the homage to Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895), mechanical toys, automatons, Georges Méliès as the central figure of interest, and known for his trick films and mechanical effects.
  • The fact that this is a tribute to Georges Méliès, who is also known as the father of special effects, the film is also fittingly filmed in 3D, some of the latest technology in special effects, and thus becomes a meaningful marriage between form and function in Hugo.
  • In order to appreciate the subtle inflections the fill the background of the narrative in Hugo, one needs to be not just an active audience but an active audience well-versed and familiar with film history

Extension

  • But here is where I would like to raise a question that occurred to me only after class today. How active an audience member do we have to be in order to be an active spectator?
  • is it enough to catch the references to auteur figure and film history? Or has self-reflexivity become yet another tool in cinema to lull audiences back into a false sense of security where we let our guard down again and look no further into a film text because we think we have engaged with it actively enough because we have caught all the references to be caught?
  • Did we notice that this is a nostalgic veneration and celebration of film history? If it is nostalgic, what has been romanticized and sanitized? If it is a kind of film history, what has been omitted?
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