Cinema and Psyche: Film and the Human Mind

Ever since 1916 when German psychologist Hugo Munsterberg wrote The Photoplay: A Psychological Study in which he compared aspects of cinematic discourse to mental states (like attention, memory and anticipation), the film medium has frequently been conceived as analogous to the human mind. Thus, numerous theorists, critics, and artists have probed the comparison in both written and cinematic form, while placing their formulations within a social, historical, and cultural framework (taking account of issues like race and gender). Some (drawing upon psychoanalytic models) have likened cinema to the dream and many filmmakers (including Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Ingmar Bergman, Buster Keaton, David Lynch, etc.) have created oneiric works. Other theorists have been interested in cinema’s potential to project human subjectivity through first person narrative, and movies as literal as The Lady in the Lake or as complex as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have attempted to visualize such a viewpoint. Some scholars have been intrigued by cinema’s capacity to embody memory or fantasy (as in MementoHiroshima Mon Amour or Juliet of the Spirits), while others have been concerned with film’s potential to mimic intellectual thought or human perception (as in the work of Hollis Frampton). Furthermore, a group of theorists has recently examined audience reception to explore the dynamics of cognition and film--how screen information is “processed” by the viewer. And in a related move, another camp has focused on questions of affect and cinema --how particular spectator feelings or sensations are encouraged by or embodied in a film. While the topics above deal with how film discourse can approximate mental activity or how a film can solicit certain mental states from the spectator, other resonant issues arise from the portrayal of what society sees as psychological “disorders” on screen—in both dramas and documentaries (e.g. madness, hysteria, nostalgia, locked-in syndrome, paranoia, hysteria, hallucination, etc.). The class will seek to examine all of these areas through a series of screenings, readings, and discussions.

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Lucy Fischer

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Category D: Designated Courses

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