7AAQS595 Film History and the Cinema Experience
Module convenor: Erica Carter
Teaching method: 2-hour screening & 2-hour seminar
German cultural theory since the early twentieth century has been centrally concerned with what it perceives as a fundamental rupture introduced by mass cultural modernity into aesthetic perception and cultural experience. Writers including Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Béla Balázs and Rudolf Arnheim famously saw film as a central force in a broader cultural transformation that dispensed with a bourgeois aesthetics of the beautiful and the sublime, organising cultural experience instead around a new perceptual economy of shock or distraction, affective absorption, or perpetual mobility within fractured space and non-linear time. What distinguished this body of work was its location within a tradition of philosophical aesthetics that, since Kant and Hegel, had sought to understand aesthetic experience as a cornerstone in the development of modern subjectivities. As Béla Balázs put it, ‘the substrate of (film’s) development is the subject, the human subject in her/his social being.’
The module is designed as an accessible introduction to this (mainly) German-language tradition in reception aesthetics, and as a testing ground for broader approaches that understand film as a productive force that participates in the development of modern subjectivities. Organised through a historical chronology that runs from the nineteen-teens to the present day, lectures, screenings and seminar discussions will place the work of key thinkers in dialogue with film texts and intertexts from German-language and other cinemas. The aims here will be to trace a history of the development of Weimar and post-Weimar film theory; to explore the validity of that theory by testing it against historical examples; and to situate developments in this cinematic and theoretical history in the context of a broader cultural history of subjectivity. Each week, students will be asked to consider in relation both to selected film texts, and to key critical and historical readings, one or two key terms in critical debates about aesthetic perception, including absorption (Altenloh/Kracauer); distraction (Kracauer); shock (Benjamin); the ornament and the mass or crowd (Kracauer/Canetti); mobility and rhythm (Balázs/Hans Richter); the sublime (Lyotard/Kant); sensibility (Schiller/Susan Sontag) etc. Each term will be explored with reference to specific textual and contextual examples, each of which will in turn highlight specific aspects of the social history of subjectivity that Weimar theory tells: thus a star study of Asta Nielsen will explore questions of gender and the ‘absorbed’ female audience; a further case study of Josephine Baker in Berlin will examine the racialisation of debates on rhythm, and so on.
Assessment: 1 x 5000 word essay (100%)
Coursepacks: Are a vital part of your learning at King's and normally contain extracts from books and other useful documents that will inform your study. You will be expected to pay a modest charge for hard copies of these coursepacks and this will save you the extra expense of buying all the books recommended for this module.