Kracauer Feb.18

Less than two hundred years ago people could only dream of the moving pictures we’ve taken for granted. I found it funny that people expected film to fit the role of a better camera, such as taking still time lapse videos of a flower blooming, focusing mainly on the natural capturing of an event on physical media or the content instead of what form the film presents the content in. They could have never expected the amount of control we express through the properties of film. Kracauer presents two groups of properties pertaining to film; there are basic components that cover film’s role as a means to capture the surrounding world, and there are technical properties to film that concern themselves with our manipulation of the images captured to present another world to audinces that differs from what’s filtered through the lens(Kracauer, pp.144-145). Kracauer believes editing to be an important and distinct technical property of film and I agree, namely because it grants filmmakers the ability to play with the meaning carried behind it. This reminded me of the example discussed in class where the scene of rich, well-dressed oligarchs eating a meal could go from hungry fine dining to voracious and pig-like by cutting to a scene of pigs eating slop from a trough and back to the people gorging on wine and steaks. The properties of film yield two tendencies of the medium, realistic and formative. Early film mainly capitalized on the realistic tendency and focused on the capture of natural movement (Kracauer, pp.145-148). Kracauer gives us the Lumière brothers as an example of this. Their works mainly focused on the capture of movement other than the camera’s, which Kracauer calls “external or ‘objective’, motion” (Kracauer, p.149). Lumière focused little to no effort in telling a story and tunneled into the capture of natural scenes’ movement as his contribution to film (Kracauer, p.146).  Lumière’s popularity soon declined, and Méliès brought something quite different to the scene (Kracauer, pp.145-146). Méliès brought the realm of fantasy to film, with various works featuring landscapes that could never occur or an artistic perspective of something similar to reality (Kracauer, pp.146-148). This is where the two tendencies split. The realistic tendency convinces audiences that the scenes they’re seeing come from the natural world, and scenes are staged in such a way that not only conveys an appropriate meaning as intended by the film maker but captures the essence of being real. Opposed to this is the formative tendency, which reaches into dimensions unique to film and the way film makers can bend away from the realistic tendency and present something distinct from what’s possible to see with the naked eye (Kracauer, pp.148,150). I gathered that the realism tendency does not refer only to the capture of real-world elements, and the formative tendency is not only concerned in fantasy and Kracauer supports this as both are often interrelated and cross over each other in various films (p. 151). A shining example of this is James Cameron’s Avatar. Although it presents us an imaginary future where we encroach on the natural resources of blue humanoid aliens who live on a planet home to bizarre creatures, the world is presented in a way that would mimic a camera capturing it if it really existed. In the video down below, we’re presented by these floating rock structures that breathe life through them. Of course, these rocky tendrils are unnatural, but the rocks themselves are jagged and cracked, and the vines clinging all around them look like they took centuries to grow. Through the use of CGI, this imaginary world was made a reality, and no detail was spared in order to create a sense of ‘realism’.

It looks almost plausible!

This distinction between content and the form it’s presented in is made apparent also in art. I’ve included two trees down below, one tree lives in the realm of realism, and the other comes from the impressionist style. Notice how the realistic tree focuses detail more on the actual content, such as the light bouncing off the water or the individual blades of grass. The impressionist painting contrasts this, by focusing more on detail such as the density of paint and the type of brushstroke used for different elements of the scene. Although these two images present to us the same basic content, a tree in mid fall overlooking a body of water, how we experience them are entirely different. It’s through form developed from countless years of experimentation that artists and filmmakers alike can make an audience feel their intent.

6 thoughts to “Kracauer Feb.18”

  1. The focus of this reading centers around the idea of the types of movement, techniques and content in film and how they are perceived by the audience. The line that caught my interest the most that really conveyed that idea was, “The realistic tendency convinces audiences that the scenes they’re seeing come from the natural world and scenes are staged in such a way that not only conveys an appropriate meaning as intended by the film maker but captures the essence of being real.” I think this speaks a lot about the reality of the scene and how the audience can understand the content because of the purpose of it coming from the “natural world”. In a way, I identify this technique with rhetorical techniques such as Enthymeme. Although both are two completely different forms on context, it is the idea of the type of content being portrayed that I find similar. Introduced by Aristotle, enythmeme refers to a specific premise being assumed while the audience is expected to fill in the rest. In a sense, scenes that showcase realistic tendency targets an audience that is aware of reality or aware of the natural world, more specifically having common sense. Thus, the idea of identifying and understanding the content within a scene in a film or even in a case of a premise, can be influenced by the specific technique being used – in this case, realistic tendency and enthymeme.

  2. While the facilitation covers the points made by Kracauer fairly well in regards to realistic and formative tendencies in film, I felt that an interesting element that could have been brought more into focus was the very last point Kracauer made in regards to film and its relation to art (p.153). One of the challenges that Kracauer considers when the term “art” is used to describe cinema leads one to give an unfair comparison between works like paintings to movies, which downplays the medium’s unique benefits such as camera work. This issue is also due to a general idea that films which are considered “art” are generally free creations, rather than those that can explore reality. While the use of the two tree paintings toward the end of this facilitation helps one understand the differences between content and form, it also leans unintentionally into the comparison that Kracauer argues against by comparing film to artwork. I feel that there could have been some discussion of Kracauer’s view on labeling movies as art to help understand that while the difference between content and form in both artwork and cinema is real, calling cinema artwork based upon standards from paintings and literary works is also more complex than at first glance.

    1. This is a reasonable way to push the author here, as you make a fair point about Kracauer’s own concerns about this type of comparison. If you were to suggest a different kind of example in place of the two tree paintings, what might that be?

  3. Kracauer explains that film enhances the idea of blending fiction with reality through realistic and formative tendencies which when together can bring an audience into a fictional world and dissolve the barrier between reality and whats on screen (pp 150-151). When creating fantastical worlds for the characters, and therefore actors, to interact with a sort of illusion is created to trick the audience into believing that these actors are experiencing in real time what we see on the screen. Before the innovation of computer generated graphics proliferated the film industry, many filmmakers used puppetry, stop-motion models, elaborate costumes and stage props all to invoke the idea that these fantastic inclusions should be considered as real. CGI was an advancement that made it to where even greater feats can me made to further create and bring an audience into a fictional universe or setting. Jurassic Park was made as both approaches to film making were being used in Hollywood. CGI was new and still being experimented and a bunch of talented crew were able to create amazing set props that, when together, created one of the most realistic depictions of dinosaurs on the big screen at that time. The actors were directed to treat these inclusions as real, and their talented performances sold that what was on screen wasn’t just a bunch a props in the vicinity of the real life actors. The Facilitation itself only goes into the “special effects” without talking too much about realistic tendency parts of the medium. While special effects are important, and even more so as technology advances, it’s also the “human” or more realistic parts about what you’re seeing that bridges the gap for the audience. I would argue that while Avatar was spectacular piece of art, the best thing for selling it as a plausible universe is the introduction of the human lighthouses that show the realistic shore through the sea of CGI.

    1. A solid reply, although it doesn’t address the facilitation until the end (and there I have to disagree; the last section does raise the question of realism). In future extensions, consider leading with the connection to the post and then follow from that. 🙂

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