Getting closer to object-oriented film theory

Larval Subjects’ Levi Bryant responded to my post “Film theory as a form of procrastination,” in which I wondered aloud about how we might analyze shots without discussing the ways in which their form and content acts upon a perceiving viewer. (I gotta emphasize here that I was thinking out loud; if you want to take what a 21-year-old undergrad thinks of film theory seriously, more power to you. All I know is that I know very little.) Bryant seems to be most interested in approaching cinema in terms of how certain films are technologically possible, the philosophical implications of cinematic technologies, and what effects those films/technologies might have upon other objects (or, in OOO lingo, actants) in the world. I’d love to hear what some UW-Madison film students, graduate or otherwise, think of all this.

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4 Responses to “Getting closer to object-oriented film theory”

  1. larvalsubjects Says:

    Hi Dan,

    Really interesting proposals here vis a vis the anthropocentrism here. There’s a way in which the liberation of the camera from the constraints of lived phenomenological perception (and narrativity!) converge nicely with suggestions Ian is making about alien phenomenology. He asks delightfully odd questions like “what is it like to be a silicon chip?” In other words, how is it that silicon chips grasp the world about them? I imagine that the camera might assist in such a thing.

    Just a point of clarification. I don’t want film theory to focus on technologies alone. What interests me rather is the interplay between these technologies and content. I think there’s a bad tendency in much cultural studies to reduce these kinds of things to mere means, ignoring the role they play in the production of content. I think both are important and that we can have bi-directional causality with content pushing the limits of technology and technologies transforming content.

    • Dan Sullivan Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Levi.

      What you say about the camera’s liberation from the constraints of lived phenomenological perception reminds me of Deleuze’s reading of Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera”(1929) in Cinema 1 (I don’t have the book handy but I think he says something about the camera assuming the point of view of nonhuman matter). It might be argued that as long as the movie camera has existed, it has always been free from many of the various constraints inherent to human visual perception; it was only with the advent of the POV shot and later the Steadicam that the movie camera was made to mimic human visual perception—and even then, the POV shot wouldn’t have been possible without the editing strategies and technologies that allowed for things like eyeline matches to be constructed.

      Perhaps I’m reaching here but André Bazin’s famous essay “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” strikes me as being at least vaguely object-oriented in that it calls attention to the dynamics of the collaboration between the movie camera, celluloid film stock, light and the subject(s) of the shot. In “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” Bazin lavishes as much attention on what the movie camera, celluloid film stock and light are capable of doing together (for him, capturing part of the photographed object’s essence) as he does on the substance of the image that is imprinted upon said film stock.

  2. Justin Says:

    How can you talk about “perspective” and “point of view” without anthropomorphizing (making objects into subjects but pretending you didn’t)? Even in Vertov’s case, the resulting change of perspective is still achieved in the editing room, not in some subject-independent object’s view. Do objects have eyes? Cameras don’t have perspectives, human subjects that set them up and operate them do.

  3. Justin Says:

    So it seems that you are unwilling to answer my simple question – isn’t that always the case with you, object-oriented enthusiasts? You get easily excited about this notion and yet a very simple question deflates your balloon rather quickly.

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