Film theory

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The film theory is the theoretical understanding of the phenomenon film . It is a discipline of film studies .


Since film can be understood as art , as a medium or as a commodity , there are correspondingly aesthetic , communication- theoretical and economic film theories. A distinction can also be made between theories that focus more on film production and reception theories that deal with the effect of the film on the viewer.

Well-known film theoretical approaches are:

So-called media effects research also plays an important role in the theory of film .


For the first time film theory and film language were dealt with after the film crisis around 1907–1908. At that time, the number of moviegoers in many countries fell for the first time, as the audience no longer found the short films, which were usually made simply and without imagination, as interesting and attractive as in the first few years.

The German psychologist Hugo Münsterberg , who has been teaching in the USA since 1897 and was impressed by the new effects in DW Griffith 's monumental film The Birth of a Nation , developed a reception aesthetic of the film based on perception psychology , which at that time received little attention. Münsterberg recognized that the fragmented narration with jumps in time, flashbacks and flashbacks and montages particularly challenged the viewer's ability to perceive and required him to add visuals, to jump between spaces and times and demand the utmost concentration. The film receives its power of suggestion through its freedom from the laws of space, time and causality; so it is not a medium of illusion.

Film theory soon also dealt with the importance of film for a country's culture and society. Like Münsterberg, the Russian film theorists of the 1920s emphasized above all the means of montage, with which the medium of film achieves free disposal over space and time. The assembly was Eisenstein as Pudovkin , Eikhenbaum and Tynyanov as knowledge assistance to the audience in a cultural revolutionary process in which the film was a means of expression of social experimentation and at the same time an instrument for deeper understanding of the laws of society. This differentiated the Russian formalism from the free-floating reality designs of the technology-loving followers of Futurism . The achievements of the Russian formalists are the elaboration of the connection between literature and film (“cinematic language”, “syntax” and “grammar” of the film) as well as the development of a specific semiotics of the film: For Tynyanov, the film transforms objects into signs; Eisenstein develops a hieroglyphic for the film that allows more complex meanings to emerge from the composition of individual characters (e.g. eye + water = crying).

The film theory of the German-speaking area dealt primarily with the function of film as an image. She stuck to the program of realistic art, but criticized the image of naturalism , to which she opposed film as an artistic alternative, as an ontological reality in its own right. For Rudolf Arnheim , the sound film caused a relapse into image naturalism, since the artistic experimentation possibilities of the silent film were lost. The Hungarian revolutionary and film theorist Béla Balázs , who was living in Vienna at the time, caused a rethink, especially in Austria , where film was not recognized as an art for a long time and was dismissed by the upper classes as entertainment for the common people until the 1920s . He postulated that film is a new medium for penetrating reality and for international social communication: By renouncing silent films on sound and concentrating on facial expressions and gestures, the view is directed to what is common to all people. With Balázs' utopian-cultural revolutionary concept of realism, however, surrealist and abstract films were entirely compatible.

Siegfried Kracauer , whose main works were created in American exile, counters the assumption of an independent artistic value of film with the thesis that it is a modern medium of mass communication. In addition to the reproduction of the objective, the film has a subjective moment of construction that must be subjectively developed. Precisely because of its suggestive effect, the film should not assume any authority to interpret reality. In terms of the history of mentality, Kracauer sees a connection between the susceptibility of the German petty bourgeoisie to the dark and mysterious, the irrationalism of German expressionist films and the ideology of National Socialism .

André Bazin , one of the pioneers of the Nouvelle Vague and supporter of Italian neorealism , sees the theory and practice of montage as just an expression of the technical inadequacies of early film. The increased depth of field through improved recording processes could replace the montage of the pictures with a kind of " inner montage " in the picture, in which the meaning is created not by the director but by the recipient. The director's point of view should not be imposed on him: the screen is not a frame for a work of art designed by the director, as for the Eisenstein school, but a window to the world.

Jean Mitry (1907–1988) tried in the 1960s for the first time to understand the aesthetics of film with the help of a semiotic approach and to unite the “window” with the “frame theory”. With this he concluded the phase of the idea of ​​an independent film studies, which has now been replaced by specialized as well as inter- and multidisciplinary approaches. In the 1990s, a sensualistic-phenomenological counter-movement, represented by Vivian Sobchack and Alan Casebier , who argued very differently, was directed against semiotic and structuralist theories, which were perceived as abstract . Torben Grodal's approach to cognitive theory turned against the psychoanalytic school of film theory .

Well-known film theorists



  • Texts on the theory of film , ed. by Franz-Josef Albersmaier, Stuttgart: Reclam, 5th, through. and extended edition 1999
  • Feminist Film Theory: A Reader , ed. by Sue Thornham, New York University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8147-8244-2
  • Poetika Kino: Theory and Practice of Film in Russian Formalism , Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp (stw), 2005


  • Béla Balázs, The Visible Man (1924), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2001
  • André Bazin, What is film? , Berlin: Alexander Verlag 2002
  • Gilles Deleuze, Das Bewegungs-Bild: Kino 1 , Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp (stw), 5th edition 1996
  • Gilles Deleuze, Das Zeit-Bild: Kino 2 , Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp (stw), 5th edition 1996
  • Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film , Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2001
  • L'Estrange Fawcett, The World of Films. Amalthea-Verlag, Zurich, Leipzig, Vienna 1928 (German, expanded version by S. Walter Fischer)


  • Thomas Elsaesser , Malte Hagener: Film Theory for Introduction , Hamburg: Junius, 3rd edition 2011, ISBN 978-3-88506-621-7
  • Jürgen Felix: Modern Film Theory , Mainz: Bender 2002
  • Martin Gloger: Behind the Screen of Society: The Critical Analysis of Film. In: Uwe Bittlingmayer, Alex Demirovic, Tatjana Freytag (eds.): Handbook of Critical Theory, Springer Reference, Wiesbaden.
  • Sigrid Lange: Introduction to Film Studies , Darmstadt: Scientific Book Society 2007.
  • Anke-Marie Lohmeier: Hermeneutical Theory of Film. Tübingen: Niemeyer 1996.
  • Benjamin Pauwels: Kino Mensch Cybernetik - about the complex effects of the play of light . Giessen: VVB, 2006, ISBN 978-3-89687-289-0


See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Vivian Sobchack: Surge and Splendor>: A Phenomenology of the Hollywood Historical Epic. In: Representations 29 (1990), pp. 24-49 and Dies .: The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience. Princeton, NJ 1992.
  2. ^ Hugo Münsterberg: The play of light. A Psychological Study (1916) and other writings on cinema. Edited by Jörg Schweinitz , Vienna 1996.
  3. ^ André Bazin: Ontology of the photographic image , in: ders .: What is film? Edited by Robert Fischer, Berlin 2004, pp. 33–42.
  4. ^ Jean Mitry: The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. 1998, ISBN 978-0-485-30084-0 .
  5. Torben Grodal: Moving Pictures: A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings, and Cognition. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1999.