Potential Assessment Of “Under The Skin” By The Cinema Theorists Essay Samples
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Basing on “Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality” by Siegfried Kracauer published in 1960, it is obvious that though the film grows out of photography, the realism is not the most important function of cinema. In his investigation of the qualities of the cinematic medium, Kracauer pays the reader’s attention to the importance of the “magic” factor in the motion picture.
Kracauer mentions that the properties of the film are divided into two types: basic and technical. While basic properties stand for revealing physical reality, the technical ones are represented by the editing. He compares the realistic and formative tendencies used by Lumière and Méliès who differed in their views on the function of cinema. Lumière thought his task was to show people their world. He used photography to tell a story. Méliès, in his turn, added the illusion and fantasy to reality. Globally speaking, the cinema was a science for Lumière and the art for Méliès. Kracauer suggests that the ideal work of cinema art has a balance of the realistic and formative tendencies.
According to “Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality”, the film is an independent type of art, the element in its own right (Kracauer 39). The viewer should not confuse the task of a film maker with that of a photographer because the former has a much more complicated challenge even comparing to the one of the painter or poet. The cinema, as an art, is capable of catching the nature in motion thanks to numerous devices among which there are editing and sound. The cinema is another universe and though its roots lie in photography, it has transformed immensely and its tasks have developed very profoundly. So it is inappropriate to state that realism is what the cinema is about.
Another point of view on the topic of the theory of cinema is represented in “The photoplay: A Psychological Study” by Hugo Munsterberg, a German-American psychologist. Published in 1916, the book states that the photoplay is able to influence the viewer thanks to the inner movements of his personal mind caused by the picture. The harmony of the numerous elements in the photoplay leads to awakening the viewer’s emotions, memory and imagination.
The photoplay is the embodiment of the spectator’s feelings and the unreality of the events. It is able to step over the outer world and get to the inner world of the spectator. Munsterberg compares the photoplay to the theatre drama and states that the latter is much closer to reality. Even in the example of the time space – the dramatic writer can easily make large year gaps between the acts but he cannot disrespect the chronological order, the function the photoplay has. And though there are exceptions in theatre art when the play uses the cinema devices, it is then not the pure drama because it leaves its basis.
The photoplay has a freedom from time, space and causality (Munsterberg 138) thanks to the editing techniques. But it is still not liberated from the aesthetic demand which is very important for all the types of art. The only strict demand for the photoplay is the unity and isolation. The unity of the forms is gained by a pictorial artist through the harmony of the action and the picture. The art is to unite thousands of pictures in the photoplay so that the spectator felt the aesthetic satisfaction.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when the art of cinema was at its early development, Munsterberg anticipated its grand future. He already knew that the moving pictures would become more than entertainment for the masses, and foresaw that they would one day transform into the integral part of the world art and be respected just as classical music, painting and poetry. Thanks to fulfilling the viewer’s aesthetic experience, the cinema would have its value.
Getting back to the contemporary spectator, experienced and picky, it is obvious that he perceives cinema as art, with no doubt. He is used to satisfying his aesthetic sensitivity every time he enters the cinema theatre. He expects the interesting content and the impressive image. So it would be curious to analyze one of the contemporary movies and discuss upon whether the theorists would approve it and what they would say about it.
The 2013 movie “Under the Skin” is directed by Jonathan Glazer and based on the novel of the same name by Michel Faber. The movie tells a story of an alien in a human body who preys on men in Scotland. Ten years of work of the film’s production team resulted in competence for the Golden Lion. Though the film is not dynamic as the spectator is used to, it is still very special for the director’s view and style. He proposes the audience the perspective of the human world by the alien.
What we see is a mix of the trivial with a fantasy. The picture changes from the dull landscapes of Glasgow to bizarre scenes with black mirror transforming to black absorptive water. The art of the creator was to combine the famous professional actress Scarlett Jonansson with the men who did not even know they were shot for the movie – the conversations were unscripted and shot with the hidden cameras in the van. The aim was to make the scene as authentic as all the dialogues of the strangers should be.
Throughout the movie, the spectator watches the ordinary pictures testifying of a woman seducing the unknown men. Every scene in the van is followed by a dark eccentric metaphor of sex prelude which hints that the men end up in a bad way. When the spectator is charmed by these fantastic pictures, he then turns back to watching the everyday actions like eating a cake, waiting for a bus and watching TV. The commonness ends when the main female character sheds the human skin and appears to be a black featureless creature. And again, the expectations of the audience are not justified because the alien is simply set on fire by a logger willing to rape her. The inconceivable fantasies intersperse with static scenes.
The recognition of the work of so many people in the movie is due to the surprising transitions from reality to magic. The spectator even lags to follow them. As a result, the film conveys the indelible impression of getting very close to a complicated piece of art.
Obviously, it would be rather difficult for Kracauer and Munsterberg to understand “Under the Skin” because of the complexity of form conveying the message to the spectator. But still, they would probably admire the method of mixing the two important things of the art cinema, namely the reality and the fantasy, both in its extremism. Someone would not call it really harmonic but the combination is really impressive. The task is achieved – the movie’s content is explicit and the picture is beautiful and breathtaking.
Each of the theorists would find what he looks for in the cinema art. “Under the Skin” is definitely one of the most outstanding representatives of cinema art. The important element of the film, according to Munsterberg, namely the sound, contributes to the restless atmosphere of the movie. Composed by Mica Levi, the music creates the impression that the character often feels uncomfortable and lots of things happen to her for the first time. The sense of horror follows every time the music sounds.
“Under the Skin” would be done justice by Crakauer thanks to that union of the depicting of the nature surrounding us and the magic universe possible to appear only in the work of art. Munsterberg would be pleased to underline once more that things inappropriate and impossible in theatre find a beautiful revelation in cinema.
KRACAUER, SIEGFRIED “Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality”. Princeton University Press (1997).
MUNSTERBERG, HUGO. “The photoplay: A Psychological Study”. Routlege New York London (2002).
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