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Emotions in film: making and viewing

It Is difficult when approaching this subject to fully escape the shadow of early Freudian theory and how it has coloured much of modern film theory as well as psychology. It is of course not all negative and I do not wish to enter back into the Freudian debate here and at this time. I feel it important to state that my position on modern psychology, Much of this problem lies not with the goals but with the basis of the knowledge  structures that forearm and inform them.

I have written before about the danger of hierarchal structure in the imposition of Knowledge and its following power, Delueze and Guattari do a much finer job of arguing this case for me in Anti-Oedipus

Still I promised myself that this is neither the time or the place to open the entirety of this debate, just perhaps to hint at a dissent in the ranks. Cognitivism a  blending of psychology and philosophy, appears at least on the surface to offer a more balance and open view of the study of the mind. But, and this is a big but, if we are already down a path in a distinct direction from where we began, does making annotations to the map we hold really offer an alternative route?

A confusing and colourful analogy perhaps but my point about all knowledge is the moment we accept it as such we should be  prepared to about turn 360 and reject it in an instant. It may not always be the best correct or even sensible or logical thing to do, but if we are at least willing to consider this rash action, It can help ward off the the ever present danger of knowledge being incorrectly presented as fact.

So how does all this relate to emotions? Well putting aside emotional theory in films for a moment and looking purely at our knowledge of what and how emotions work, we see rather a cloudy picture even in cognitive sciences, Nuero science offers chemical sites receptors and transmitters, it can tell us in a technical or biological sense whats happening, Is this sufficient for us to understand emotions?

I would argue that it is not, it is a where, with a touch of how, it lacks context, and even if we reintroduce concepts of the why and pretend that there is such a thing as truly objective knowledge, we still fall short of a universal understanding of and even definition of emotion.

The reason is simple we have removed the experience from the equation, and treated like mere noise or static, we have denied the experiencer there individuality, and rendered the subject and study as a one way process of viewing.

This Is what I believe plagues our understanding and treatment of mental health or wellbeing to use another term, it is good to look to study, to remove yourself from a situation and try to view a problem from dispassionate and rigorous angles. but this process ultimately leads to looking deeper and deeper, breaking things down smaller and smaller, from cells to neurones to atoms, and what we ultimately  learn about the whole, is nothing.

In the study of film emotion a series of systems have been identified, how we trigger emotion, a structure is pulled out and transposed, our supposedly passive viewers now appear almost like lab rats being experimented on with our tools of emotive manipulation.

But and we know this is true there are other ways to present ideas in film, other ways to connect with an audience, these as Andrei Tarkovsky proposed are attempting a democracy in the image, an attempt to stay true as a maker and honour the Audience with an invitation, not a series of demands, or hidden agendas, but a clear invitation to find and perceive of the language and ideas as they must.

If we design a film to illicit a certain response we are leading an audience on, being dishonest with them and with ourselves. As a film maker I believe we have, as with the other arts an opportunity to describe and communicate complex ideas and emotions, but these are structured merely for the audience! They are the process, aims, the integrity and the necessity of the work itself.

In other words too much thought about the potential audience is dangerous as a film maker, it limits both imagination, freedom and scope for genuine voice and therefore real connection. Don’t try to please all the people! A balance has to be sought and found fro every artist or maker.

So to flip over to another view how do we impart as film makers our ideas of what emotion is in a film? do we follow structures laid out by others? A swelling score or sad sad piano sonata?

I am trying to suggest that as a maker our needs are to present our vision, to present what we see, feel, understand, some of this may appear to others as universal, some of it may not. but the minute we incorporate viewers opinions and needs widely into the design of the film we lose our ability to call ourselves film artists, and at worst we become entertainers chugging out standards on a broken tired piano.

So if It is all so narcissistically about the maker in terms of emotion where does this leave our audience? In my opinion It leaves them treated as individuals capable of making up there own minds, (I am sure there will remain many people queuing up to hear that broken piano)

But that is OK because some will be looking for something different.

What this amounts to is the acceptance as a maker that the films that we make, only become films when they are watched and perceived by others, that there will be as may films as there are audience members, because it is in this perceptual space enigmatically described as cinema, the magical void between screen and spectator our films can truly live.

This relationship between viewer and maker is of absolute importance, it is here we see parallels with therapy and modern mental health. A relationship that begins with an assumption I am the bearer of knowledge, I summon you to me, and so on, of course the good therapist listens to there subject, but they can not help but make judgements before a word is even spoken, by setting up a system of care giving, expertise we create an unhealthy power structure that assumes a lot, we replace the individual and there experience with concepts and ideologies, and we fail quite miserably a great deal of the time to hear anything, despite the idea that we reinforce that we are listening.

My ideas for film  process therapy, I hope are designed to circumnavigate this process, by avoiding the assumption that I or any one else can properly understand a persons emotions mental state or truly what they are experiencing.

It removes the hegemony of psychotherapy by creating a loose structure for the person themselves to use as a tool fro there own self discovery.

Film process therapy is I hope chiefly concerned with (to take back a dreadfully misused management word) ‘facilitation’ of positive change chosen by instigated by and carried out by the person involved. It does not assume any foreknowledge of mental health or psychology, it does not require an understanding of the arts or film, It above all else is not a programme that leads a person on a given journey or makes any guarantees or promises.

Film process theory is not about an object or an outcome, it demands no audience or goal or agenda.

Simply it is to make, to involve oneself  in a process in of itself.


Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., Foucault, M., Lane, H.R. and Hurley, R. (1983) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. 6th edn. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.