CONTEMPORARY FILM THEORY: THE COGNITIVIST APPROACH
FILM, PERCEPTION AND COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
Since its beginnings, film has been primarily
a visual art, i.e. it is received by the human organism
through the eyes and processed by the visual areas of the
brain. It therefore seems odd that so little interaction
has taken place between the study of how this visual processing
system works and how films are perceived and understood.
This article is intended to serve as an introductory survey
into some of the literature dealing with the perceptual
and cognitive psychology that is relevant to film.
to uncover those facts and theories of perception which
may be both useful to filmmakers and illuminating to film
theorists, and which contribute to a basic knowledge of
what makes films visually easy or difficult to understand.
After considering what makes films comprehensible, we can
discuss what makes them interesting to look at. The first
concerns of this paper are with processes that are almost
purely perceptual in nature, determined by the most basic
level of visual factors (chapter: The Motion Picture
as a Visual Stimulus).
Next, the middle level, in
which the film acts as a surrogate for moving objects
or events, is discussed. It is explained how particular
shots, compositions and camera movements serve to represent
the real world on the screen (chapters: The Motion Picture as a Surrogate
for Events in Space and Time; The Camera and the
Representation of Space: 1. The Continuous Transition,
2. The Discontinuous Transition: a. How do Cuts
Effect Our Comprehension of the Spatial Layout of an Event
Represented on the Screen?; b. How Do Cuts Affect
Our Perception of a Film and Our Interest in It?).
Ultimately, the paper concerns itself with those aspects
of film that can be communicated verbally, and that involve
knowledge that could, in principle, also be provided by
non-visual or non-pictorial means. At this level, the viewer
has the ability to utilize the information gathered in
a master shot, to interpret the location and perhaps the
significance of a detail that is shown in close-up, and
the ability to draw on his or her awareness of the actors,
the plot, and the narrative structure in order to understand
the succession of images (Chapters: Time, Pace and Rhythm;
Research and Speculation on Cognitive Processes and Emotional
Effects Involved in Understanding Film Sequences; The Developmental
Aspects of Meaning of Narrative Structure and Conventions
in Film; Narrative Suspense). In conclusion, Brooks
argues against the dismissal of psychological research
by some film-theoreticians.
She also expresses her hope
that film scholars in the future will ask experimental
psychologists highly-specific questions that will stimulate
further investigations which might prove to be worthwhile
for both disciplines (Chapter: Future Research).