Cultural Studies . Film and TV . Film Philosophy . Politics, Philosophy and Religion

Film Philosophy and the Body in Cinema

David Sorfa
David Sorfa, Managing Editor

Film-philosophy has seen a resurgence of interest in phenomenology, particularly in its existentialist branch as exemplified by the work of Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This is largely because much has been made of the turn to affect in film studies since the early 1990s.

Formative film books that take up this phenomenology and turn their attention to the body include the following.
  • Vivian Sobchack’s The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience (1992)
  • Alan Casebier’s Film and Phenomenology: Towards a Realist Theory of Cinematic Representation (1991)
  • Laura U Marks’s influential The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (2000).

Christian Ferencz-Flat and Julian Hanich also give an impressive overview of the entire history of the development of this approach to cinema in their exhaustive introduction “What is Film Phenomenology?” in Studia Phaenomenologica, 16 (2016).

What can you read in Film Philosophy 21.2?
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All four of the articles in Film-Philosophy 21, 2 (2017) take up the problem of bodies in cinema but from rather different angles than those developed in this phenomenological tradition. Patrick ffrench excavates Jean-Louis Schefer’s rather dizzying approach to the “unlived body” and shows how Schefer’s thought resonates with that of Georges Bataille and Gilles Deleuze. Olivia Landry provides us with a detailed and nuanced analysis of Christian Petzold’s Phoenix (2014), in which she explores the disorientation of the traumatised body. Our final two articles specifically discuss the issue of acting in film which is, perhaps surprisingly, a rather unexplored area in film theory. Kjetl Rødje proposes the phrase “actor network assemblage” which combines the thought of Bruno Latour and Deleuze and Guattari to move beyond any strict distinction between actor and camera. Mike Meneghetti opens up a reading of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) via a reconsideration of Jean-Louis Comolli’s “Historical Fiction: A Body Too Much” (1978) and its engagement with Jean Renoir’s much criticised La Marseillaise (1938).

The relationship between the fictional bodies of characters and the real bodies of actors is expressed in the apparatus of cinema and we hope that this issue lights up new routes for further explorations of the body and of the actor in film-philosophy.

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Film Philosophy, edited by David Sorfa, is open access and therefore available to all, online – browse the journal.

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