Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 2, No. 2, 1989
Performance Theory Australia
Edited by Brian Shoesmith & Tom O'Regan

The film viewer: an unknown entity

Alicija Helman

The categories of film reception and film receiver have become central to contemporary film theory. However, the series of bold theoretical proposals put forth in the past decade by Italian, French, and American authors are primarily brilliant surveys which do not stake out the field of research or lay claims to being programs. [1] The same may be said of all the summary, sporadic and partial experimental studies which, judged from the available literature, are nowhere systematic. [2] The feeling of there being acute gaps and deficiencies in works dealing with the pragmatic aspect of audiovisual communication is shared by almost all film researchers, even those interested in quite different subject matters. These deficiencies hamper development in other domains of film study. The diagnoses, dating back to the 1970s, that the vast majority of sociological works are at best mediocre (Tudor), [3] and that film psychologists tackle what they are able to instead of doing what they should or what springs from the very character of their discipline (Pryluck), [4] discredit, prematurely perhaps, the existing tradition.

There emerged in this tradition a fundamental dichotomy, as yet unresolved, since it is only now that researchers have come to realize its adverse effect on the integration of studies. [5] I have in mind here the division into textual studies - with their set of strictly "inside" categories in which both the author and the viewer are merely "positions" and "roles" in the text - and sociological studies of the audience in which texts are subjected to schematic reifications and text units are reduced to being stimuli. Reflections on the pragmatic dimensions of the text ought thus to embrace both these epistemological spheres, which currently function independently.

Film theory of the first six decades made no distinction between a virtual receiver of possible texts and an actual viewer of real films; all types of reflection referred tout court to people going to a cinema. A change of approach was brought about only by the semiotic-structuralist reorientation of film theory, with its preference for approaches which shifted attention from the concrete receiver characterised by sociological variables to a "viewer in general", "every viewer", or, in other words, to a certain theoretical construction.

This universal model of the viewer was to be characterised by features shared by all receivers of audiovisual communications in view of, on the one hand, the properties of the media themselves, and, on the other, the psycho-physical properties of audiovisual reception.

Such an approach, involving an exceedingly capacious model, was handy and sufficient only as long as film theory confined its interest to things other than the model itself, that is to say, as long as analyses of the model's typical features did not go beyond constants resulting from the constitutive features of the species Homo sapiens and beyond fundamental invariants of the medium - the features which enable us to attach the label "film" equally well to the first struggling attempts of the Lumiere brothers and to modern spectacular productions.

The problem which looms foremost and which must be resolved before even a preliminary ordering of the field of research becomes possible, is the historical variance of the model together with the co-existence in modern culture of various models of viewer and reception. Film theoreticians cannot be charged with overlooking the problem. What they did was rather to shun it, choosing a different solution which, although methodologically sound, was nevertheless partial and devoid of historical perspective. They replaced the universal model admitting of inordinately wideranging generalisations (which came down to repetitions of banalities) with one of the submodels characterised by the greatest stability and the most "persistent" identity, namely the implied receiver of the dominant cinema model, the Hollywood cinema of the 1930-1950 period. [6] Since the properties of this cinema as well as of its receivers may be discerned in other types of messages which are inspired by them, either directly or indirectly, the sub-model of contemporary theoreticians again tends to be elevated to the rank of universal model. The only alternative is this: either we embrace the dominant model of cinema together with the model of receiver it proposes, or the opposing model, or rather models, of "countercinema" - avant-garde cinema, feminist cinema, a cinema of deconstruction and so on. This point of view might well be applied to the past: there always was some kind of model of cinema implying its receiver and functioning in the given culture as the dominant one, and there was always some different model opposing it (if we take into account not only the earliest antecedents of avant garde but also all attempted "reforms" of cinema aimed at making it something other than it was at the given time for everybody).

This alternative serves only to outline certain poles, without accommodating intermediate possibilities or allowing approaches to the receiver other than that which assumes the receiver to be implied by the text itself. In fact, the object of study which seems to be the most attractive still requires approaches which utilise models, albeit not so polarised but more elastic, diverse and labile. Such an approach would not be an anthology of the viewer or a sociology of the public but rather a sui generis anthropology of the public. Its object would be the vast array of relations entered by the numerous types of film productions with their diverse audiences, thus enabling the overcoming of the above-mentioned dichotomy: in studying these relations, it would be necessary to consider both text type and audience kind.

The taxonomy of texts is of course much simpler than the taxonomy of audience types related to text types. However, already the preliminary approaches to this problem revealed a specific parallelism between the filmic medium and the receivers thereof. The genetic aspect is here of crucial significance. Film began and functioned as a message lacking an author. Its "makers" remained invisible and unidentified, for a long time "anonymous", both as regards name and function. The model of Plato's cave, which, according to psychoanalysis theoreticians, describes conditions created for the audience by cinema, stresses the situation of prisoners; darkness, the condition of being locked up, immobility, the play of shadows on the cave wall which for the prisoners is the only known reality, and the light source making possible the play of shadows thanks to likenesses of people and things moved before it. The description tells us nothing about the "invisible operators" putting into motion the cave "mechanism", and the prisoners are also ignorant of them. [7]

Films and the public appeared to have functioned in direct coupling. Films modelled their audiences, and the audience likewise modelled films, since for the film to have an audience (a sine qua non condition for their existence and for the reproduction of the cinematographic institution) they had to be liked, they had to satisfy expectations. In turn, for the audience to experience the expected pleasure, they had to respect the game rules proposed by film. These rules changed constantly and rapidly; the audience had to keep in step with film development, assimilating ever more rapidly the growing number of increasingly complex rules. [8] The process was not unidirectional, however. Film, for its part, had to reckon with its audience, controlling the rate of innovations, increment and the degree of changes in concentration. The controlling mechanisms dictated by the public are of a conservative character. Hence film, a new and swiftly changing art, remains a traditional art in its cultivation of ties with the mass receiver. [9] The film-viewer parallelism is extremely important, writes Francesco Casetti, one of the pioneers of Italian pragmatics. [10] The film itself is far from being a closed universe. Even before it is perceived and identified, it has an inner availability, which is constantly being confirmed by basic facts such as obliterated differences and compensated absences, phenomena occurring with the viewer's co-operation (boundaries between frames disappear, the third dimension appears) or when information is regulated to conform to a system of expectations, or when the potential of the image is multiplied by the viewer's participation (projection-identification complex) and when the accession to narration constructs, models and regulates substitute characters (e.g. a double emblematic and functional value of some characters in diegesis). Casetti recalls the well-known thesis that the organisation of the cinematographic machine resembles a trap swiftly capturing all those entering it. The representation - either archetypical or stereotypical - of a section of life satisfies deeply concealed needs. At all times, film indicates a point where one may take root and find an answer; it directs glances and voices, aiming them, beyond the limits of the stage, at someone who accumulates them in a complex manner and responds to them.

Viewers, on the other hand, long before they manifest a personal reaction of any kind, participate in constructing that which appears on the screen, combining the scattered indications to create a place or character, providing a framework within which that which is offered them acquires its full dimension and value. The receivers live together with the film, or, more precisely, live when they find for themselves a place indicated by the flow of images and sounds. Viewers react to the availability of the screen world, assuming responsibility for it.

Note that, given the suggested medium-viewer parallelism, we seek all answers to questions about what viewers do or ought to do, what they are capable of, what limits and stimulates them, in the texts themselves.

However, we cannot apply the "figure" of the viewer, an abstraction described on the grounds of Hollywood cinema of the 1930s, to texts of the early Vitagraph pictures, or to French avant garde film, or to modern film in general (as exemplified, say, by films by Carlos Saura or Miklos Jancso). Admittedly, physically, this viewer may have seen all these films in succession, s/ he may be a modern viewer with an internalised experience of past periods, but not one whose competences are those of a witness of the first projections of the Lumiere brothers.

We are thus back to the basic questions. Who is the viewer? What skills are required of the viewer, what activities are entailed by being a viewer? What types of viewers combine to form the audience? How do viewers and public circles change in time together with types of spectacles? We do not expect to be able to provide answers at this stage of research. What will be possible are some preliminary hypotheses exploring and staking out the field of study.

The initial question, if posed on the grounds of sociology, appears to be objectless. In answering it we may state, perhaps with some approximation, that nowadays everybody frequents cinemas, and so the film public treated en globe does not constitute any category specialised as to variables such as age, sex, place or residence or education. This question is relevant with regard to the past when the social composition of the audience changed with the development of cinematography, or when we accept the previously proposed anthropological viewpoint and inquire about the audience of specific types of spectacle. However, the question about who the viewer is, formulated by film theory, takes into account other aspects of the issue, reducing the concrete psycho-physical being to the set of properties which make this being a receiver of filmic spectacles.

Christian Metz formulates this thought directly when he says that the viewer is not some concrete person going to a cinema but only a certain part of the person entering it, namely the psychic apparatus required by the cinematographic institution in order that it may function efficiently. [11]

Roger Odin, a representative of pragmatically-oriented French theory, adds that for him the viewer is a constructed whole, an actant, who may be defined more precisely as "le point de passage d'un faisceau de determinations". [l2]

The concept of the viewer as a psychic apparatus necessary to "set the spectacle going" is not, however, a recent product of the newer psychoanalytical theory, the findings of which have not been rejected by theoreticians of the pragmatic orientation. It was first formulated, in 1916, by Hugo Munsterberg, on the grounds of psychology. Munsterberg maintained that the proper material of film is the mind. Film, according to him, does not reproduce reality; reality is created by the human mind which lends meaningful form to a supplied set of limited data. It is the mind which gives movement, attention, memory, imagination and emotion to a play of shadows which, without this "investment", would have remained dead. [13]

Munsterberg's view, albeit not in such radical form, was developed by Arnheim, [14] and the belief that the operation of the mind needed to comprehend the film requires a specific activity which the receiver has to learn, re-emerges time and again in experimental studies (French film researchers attempted to verify this observation) or else in purely theoretical speculations. [15]

Eichenbaum's conception, in which this new type of mind operation in the film viewer is called "internal speech", remains topical and attractive to this day. [16] It was taken up by theoreticians involved with Screen, particularly by Paul Willemen who discerns in the functioning of internal speech the same mechanisms which Freud regarded as crucial for dream work. Willemen came to regard internal speech as a specific code of the cinema, a constant although absent material of the manifested text surface, incessantly doubling this text surface thanks to the subject's discourse within the entire textual network. [17]

Cinema requires (as does any form of social practice) the psychic apparatus of its participants to be fully formed, this being a precondition of participation.

Metz attributes to the viewer the awareness that it is s/he, the viewer, who "makes the film", without whom, an omniperceptive person, the world of the screen would have no one to perceive it; it would lack the constituting agent. The awareness of the v;ewer in a cinema is reconstructed by Metz as follows:

I know that I am perceiving something represented (and accordingly I am not really disturbed by the most absurd and extravagant matters) and I know that I am the one who perceives. This latter aspect means that I realise the fact that my senses have been stimulated in actual fact, that I am not fantasising, that all that happens on screen is there on account of the projector (I know that it is not I who is projecting the images). At the same time, however, I realise that all of this represented-perceived material is deposited in me, on the second screen as it were, and that it is in me that it is formed into organised sequences, and hence I am where the perceived imaginary becomes symbolic through its establishment as a significant of some type of institutionalised social activity terms the cinema. 18

If we agree, to some extent at least, that the film receiver performs some novel mental work, previously unknown or almost unknown, the s/he cocreates or at least co-participates in diverse types of spectacles in a manner different from, say, in the theatre, it will become clear that this psychic part "delegated to the cinema" does not switch off automatically in the viewer's subsequent life, but has to affect this life somehow.

According to Jean-Louis Schefer, the cinema produces unknown entities, since the experiences of simulated being taken out of the cinema induce mutations in the subject which we cannot define or fathom with precision. 19

The modern viewer, a subject-mutant as Schefer would have it, is nevertheless a product of historical development. An analysis of the individual phase of this development and of the variety of modality types it produces may cast light on the problem in hand.

A credible taxonomy of viewer models correlated with cinematography development will be possible only after detailed studies, such as those performed for the classical Hollywood cinema. The review of models which now follows is of a tentative and substitutive character. It will take into account conceptions advanced by film theoreticians, and these, given their succession in time and a clear orientation towards particular historical periods (in some cases), make possible a quasi-diachronic ordering.

The foremost category is doubtless that of the naive viewer, who, historically speaking, was the receiver of the first film shows, and, typologically, continues to represent all those who come into contact with the filmic medium for the first time; namely, children or members of tribes with no previous experiences of technological forms of advanced civilisation. Anthropologists as a rule include both children and "savages" in a single category of receivers, in view of the trait determining this category, namely the association of perceptions with imaginations. 20

Recent studies of the media, to which Christian Metz refers, prove that naive reception sporadically occurs in some adult viewers who have had few contacts with cinema or who are temporarily or permanently (various retardations) in a peculiar state of mind. 2l This category of viewers is characterised in reports of the first film shows, letters sent to film companies, circulating anecdotes, and the like. As we recall, viewers of the first Lumiere films rushed out of their seats terrified by an approaching locomotive, started back when confronted with images of sea waves, and protested against technical innovations, treating changes in frame scope as operations performed on real people (hence the fear generated by "severed heads", the macabre quality of close-ups of hands).

Already in 1902, Edwin Porter made this kind of attitude the subject of his film Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, where the hero reacts strangely to events on the screen during his first visit to a cinema, making no distinction between image and reality. He flees from a train behind the screen edge, pins dancing girls, interferes with a young couple, and finally pulls down the screen, discovering the film operator behind it. The film ends with a slapstick fight.

This film shows that a truly naive attitude was not a long-lasting norm (although it is being signalled to this day), rather characterising only the first contacts with a film projection, and even this not in the case of every viewer. However, the naive "make believe" attitude prevailed, consciously assumed or ironically accepted, much like the attitude of people walking into an amusement park to experience emotions accompanying the real danger of a ride on the Ferris wheel, as if temporarily "suspending" their knowledge that no real harm can befall them. 22

This particular model of the viewer who, by participating in a spectacle, is able to discard his criticism and become totally immersed in the delights that are offered him, is the cornerstone of the currently functioning sociological distinction between the naive public and sophisticated viewers, a distinction that serves as a starting point in studies of thresholds and levels of filmic competence. 23

The initial suspicion with which cinema was viewed by educated people, artists and scientists, bred the conviction that cinema reception was passive, thus leading to the concept of a passive viewer whose mind not only does not perform any special kind of work in the cinema, but performs no work at all . This theory rests on the conviction that film requires no skill or disposition on the part of the viewer other than the ability to see. For several decades it was overlooked that it is not enough to have a pair of healthy eyes to "see" a film, since from the very beginning this seeing is culturally determined, coming naturally to receivers belonging to cultures which regard as natural seeing from the central perspective. If this circumstance is often ignored even today, this is because it is very easy for someone of a different culture or for a "savage" to learn to perceive filmic pictures from this central perspective. Once acquired, this ability instantly becomes permanent. 24

Semyon Timoshenko stressed in the 1920s that in film the artist achieves absolute command over the receiver, directing his gaze and attention in a peremptory manner (the film will show you what is to be seen, and will determine for you the duration and the manner of looking). Hence this art requires minimal perceptive exertion, and gives the viewer maximum comfort during the show .25

This minimum exertion required in the perception and comprehension of filmic art, making it a mass art, does nothing, in the Russian theoretician's eyes, to depreciate the art itself, and gives no grounds for denying it values of any kind. According to Timoshenko, the new medium of artistic creation was naturally endowed with the wonderful property of universal accessibility.

However, the majority of authors discussing the problem took a negative view of the fact that film saves the viewer "the trouble of making use of his mental faculties". As Arnold Hauser wrote, film makes use of a kind of "magical materialisation" principle, presenting one complete image after another in such a way that the viewer sees and hears only that which can be seen and heard in itself. All the viewer is required to do is to make mental associations, the elements of which are handed to him one by one. 26

The intellectual limitations of film, its cognitive paucity and primitive contents meaning that the plot of an average feature film can be comprehended by virtually anybody, made Hauser, and many others like him, overlook the fact that the "making of mental associations" and many other of the observed properties ("the capacity to understand isolated hints and allusions" or "the complementation of the artist's elliptic statement") are in fact "work of the mind".

The conviction about the passivity of the cinema audience member was further supported by results of psychological studies which put particular emphasis on elements combining to form the so called cinematic situation: darkness in the cinema theatre, the feeling of isolation in an anonymous crowd, enforced motor passivity, concentration on the rectangular screen. 27

The only voluntary act on the part of the viewer is the decision to go to the cinema (and the only other such act - the decision to leave the cinema), and once there, s/he remains passive - a voluntary prisoner in the cave.

The factor of viewer passivity (which in fact is variously understood) is taken into consideration by various theoreticians - of different orientations - studying problems of reception and the receiver. In all, however, they paint a different picture from the model (just outlined) of a passive receiver who is exposed either to a medium endowed with special properties (thanks to which s/he may comprehend art effortlessly) or to an art tailored to an undeveloped mind, requiring nothing of this mind in order to be comprehended.

The ambitions of film lovers striving to turn film into an art equal or even superior to the other arts by means of synthesising the fundamental artistic properties, also had to affect the theory of film reception and the picture of the film viewer, the viewer who goes to the cinema in search of art, a kind of connoisseur assuming the aesthetic stance and given to contemplating films. This last element, film contemplation, appears to be particularly important, since other conceptions will be ruling it out by stressing the role of the distraction factor (Benjamin).2B Let us thus term this type of viewer the contemplating viewer.

Since this notion of the viewer is patronised by the opinion that film is a craft of artistically contemplated image, it is easy to say what exactly it is that the viewer contemplates: s/he contemplates beautiful images. Ever since the times of Vachel Lindsay, 29 whose book was published in 1915, it was being claimed that the viewer reacts to a film frame as s/he would to an artistic painting, to an artistically composed whole which is autonomous with respect to external reality. Thus the film frame may be judged to be well or poorly composed, it might be compared with canvasses of the great masters, there might be reactions to transitions from white to black as to colour tone, and it might be regarded as having or lacking qualities such as beauty, originality, subtlety or refinement.

Many film directors (the expressionists, for example) might be credited with careful plastic composition of the frame, with "thinking with images", with seeking inspiration in painting, sculpture or architecture. The descriptions of the styles or reception in those days, at least among viewers with certain aspirations, also speak of the desire to admire "beautiful views" or "artistic photographs" as the principal motivation of moviegoers. 30

The breakthrough in film theory brought about by the highly inventive critic Andre Bazin resulted in a unique concept of film receiver as an unprogrammed viewer. All concepts before and after this (with one exception which will be discussed presently) laid stress on the viewer's programming, although not all theories considered this programming to be of a total nature. Certain margins of freedom, of various magnitude, were being indicated, certain possibilities of making choices or of offering resistance.

Bazin attached foremost importance to the cognitive properties of the cinematographic apparatus and to the resultant properties of the mechanically produced image. 3l The image confirms the existence of reality, not of the artist who wields a tool penetrating the world. Nor is the image an instrument of creation or self-expression. Bazin rejected as incompatible with the medium's nature all filmic devices which could alter the impersonal character of the recording process, thereby directing the viewers' attention to manipulations of the material revealing the presence of the artist controlling the represented world. In Bazin's optic, the film viewer is not a recipient of art but an entity facing the mystery of being. Our cognition of the world with which we come into contact through the mediation of the image, may occur in abstraction from the mediating agent, and may concentrate on the world itself, since, firstly, the mechanically produced image is absolutely faithful, and, secondly, there is no difference between our perception of the world and our perception of film. Our view of the world is, admittedly, limited by the outline of the image, but this outline acts as a window frame (and not as a picture or mirror frame), introducing a segmentation which does not exist in actual reality, without, however, limiting our vision.

Thus, the viewer looks at the screen as if he were looking at the world surrounding him, selecting points of interest according to his own needs, preferences and whims. He may concentrate on secondary story lines and characters, and observe elements of the background irrelevant to the plot. If the director respects the nature of the medium, he does nothing to lead the viewer, he leaves the viewer free. The viewer remains subject only to the laws which govern our perception of reality.

Bazin's proposition was challenged in many texts, effectively proving that film is not the speech of reality itself, and that the viewer is not an entity which remains undetermined in the process of reception. This does not mean, however, that this particular model of cinema and viewer was abandoned in subsequent theoretical reflections.

Bazin's successors struggled with the problem of turning "film" into a "world", not only in connection with the total cinema postulated by their master, but also with the view to ways of obtaining an unlimited image, a shot without beginning or end. These efforts took them into realms of pure speculation. 32

In turn, critics from the leftist-radical camp attacking Bazin for his idealism, made their own peculiar transformation of his ideal of cinema undeformed by the film-maker's programming intention, and of the unprogrammed viewer who was to be the author of an image of the world, capable of unrestricted choices. 33

In structural-materialistic film, all processes of preconstruction of the future viewer are neutralised by doing away with objectivity and narrativity (these are non-representative films, or films considerably limiting the number of identifiable objects); there are no "situations" in them which ought to be viewed from some specific perspective. The viewer follows images and sounds - on the conscious and unconscious levels - plays, freely with matter, leaves the existing world and is willing to construct a new one; he becomes a producer rather than recipient of meanings.

In the 1950s there appeared broader approaches to cinema, not limited to the specific nature of the medium and to technological processes, but open to the vast anthropological dimension. In these propositions, the most representative of which are those by Edgar Morin, the experience of cinema is treated as a component of phenomena having immensely larger scope, namely of mythical participation, ritual, magical rite, experiences as old as humanity itself .

The apparatus of cinema, acting like any other symbolic prosthesis being an "extension of man", makes possible a substitutive extension of our emotional and spiritual dimension. The viewer participating in a film spectacle is thus not so much a receiver as in fact a participant. And this viewer we shall term: a viewer-participant in a magical spectacle.

The viewer of a cinematic spectacle remains outside the plot, s/he cannot actively and practically participate in it, but the acute need to participate assumes an internalised emotional character. As Morin put it, the kinestesis of the spectacle is dissolved in the viewer's cenestesis, thanks to projection-identification. Morin is very emphatic in stressing that our mind, soul and heart are involved in photography, subconsciously, deeply and naturally, thanks to the properties of the "double" it reveals. This "double", in Morin's terminology, is an image recognised in a reflection or in a shadow, appearing in dreams or hallucinations; when in cinema, we project our own being onto a visionary, hallucinatory image in which we see ourselves in the form of a phantom (Le Cinema ..., 129).

In this manner the viewer satisfies his desire for escape, the purpose of this escape being to re-discover oneself in order to equal one's own double who is commanded by our imagination to live scores of improbable lives. Cinema makes possible all varieties of participation, it adapts to all subjective needs, mainly needs of emotional nature (Le Cinema ..., 150). In his reflections preceding those referred to here, Morin stressed that the structural foundation of the new emotional universe of cinema is magic. Emotionality, magic and aesthetics are curiously interrelated here: aesthetics turns magic into emotionality, and emotionality into magic.

The essence of the filmic experience lies in the fact that we feed the phantomatic screen world with out own substance. And so it is not as if living people were watching a dead world of shadows but, vice versa, as if beings temporarily deprived of life and all matter were watching a living world.

These poetically formulated conceptions proposed by Morin were later taken up by psychoanalysts who, however, restricted their scope and used other language to discuss them.

In the early phase in the development of semiotic theory, the problem of the viewer as well as that of the author does not exist. Semiotics concentrates on studies of an impersonal system, giving prominence to syntactic issues. Before considering the way pragmatic re-orientation directed semiotics to studies of communication phenomena, let us try to assign a model of receiver to this early viewpoint. Casetti called this receiver the message-decoding viewer ('Looking for the Spectator'). For the semioticians, film is a universe of signs organised by numerous systems: languages and codes, jointly operating in complex arrangements of relations. This universe is coded by someone, and the task of the addressee of the result of this operation is the decoding of the message formed by the combined effect of numerous codes. The viewer, like a telegraph operator, gradually interprets the signs, cumulatively integrating the meanings offered him, and performing (or not) the final transcription. The viewer thus moves within the limits of a pre-determined structure, applies the codes which ought to be used (codes previously assumed by the artist), occupying a position that is determined but not regarded as relevant, since, as it were, it is "on the periphery" of the work of art. The viewer is an accidental user of this work, someone from the outside who approaches the work armed with the knowledge of the codes with which the work was articulated.

The model of film viewer proposed by psychoanalysis corresponds, as previously mentioned, to that of the classical Hollywood cinema, although some of its features justify its extension to almost all feature films. The basic assumption here is the conviction that film reception transports the viewer in a peculiar manner to the childhood period, and triggers the type of subject-object relation characteristic of the earliest phase of the subject's development, preceding the differentiation of the ego. The model assumed by the psychoanalysts is the breast-sucking infant who falls asleep once fed. This, of course, is a metaphor graphically illustrating the situation of the viewer in cinema whose attitude towards events shown on screen and whose specific psychic state are without equivalents in experiences of the conscious life of the mature subject. Similar states and emotions may be experienced only in dreams, thanks to those same regression mechanisms which operate during film perception. 34 In order to remove the obtrusive association of the film viewer with a toddler, let us describe the psychoanalytical model as that of the viewer-subject in a state of regression.

According to psychoanalysts, the filmic situation resembles the so called mirror phase in subject development, in which the child (aged 6-18 months), deprived of the possibility of physical participation by motor immaturity, establishes contact with the world primarily by means of the best developed sense of sight. 35 This child acquires the first outline awareness of himself thanks to a mirror reflection, identifying himself with his own image, and recognizing his position as central in the world. The film viewer, immobilised in his chair, deprived of the possibility of practical action, isolated by darkness, concentrates exclusively on visual and auditory sensations. Thanks to central perspective codes, the screen makes the viewer the subjective centre of the represented world, organising this world as if around an omni-perceptive person. Theoreticians draw attention to the fact, observed much earlier by Irzykowski, 36 that in human nature "to see" is in some peculiar way identified with "to have". The viewer seems to be a kind of owner and master of the represented world which - as the world reflected in the childhood mirror - appears to be obedient to every command, and ready to fulfil every wish. As in a dream, the viewer is always present, always at the centre of events, and nothing happens that would not be connected with him. In dream, and similarly during film perception, there is a weakening of the censorship mechanisms which, according to Freud, separates the three zones of human psyche: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. In Freud's opinion, dream is a wishful projection arriving from the depths of the unconscious, a result of desires repressed in conscious life, which may come to the fore thanks to regression to the earliest developmental phases. 37 According to theoreticians of filmic psychoanalysis, the filmic apparatus simulates this subjective situation by hallucinating an imagined reality in which representations are considered to be perceptions. 35

The projection of a film does not invalidate the principle of reality, but only suspends it, puts it aside, allowing full play of the principle of pleasure.

The subject-object relation attained through regression consists in the "I" ceasing to be aware of its limits, losing the sense of its distinctness and identity, in dissolving in total communication with the universe. I who see am at the same time the one who is seen. This peculiar split state, characteristic for dream, in which we are at the centre of events but see ourselves as well, is characteristic for the complex of filmic experience described as projection-identification. The border between the viewer's "I" and the "not-I" of the screen character with whom the viewer identifies, becomes blurred, and the viewer loses himself in the screen universe.

The description of the viewer as a subject in a state of regression is of a model character and does not account for all the possible variants of the real situation. It depicts an ideal situation in which film triggers the described regression mechanism to a maximal degree without encountering any opposition from the viewer.

Many theoreticians of non-psychoanalytical orientations question the very possibility of such attitudes occurring in cinema in viewer categories other than juveniles or particularly suggestible people. 39 In principle, however, there is universal agreement that film considerably weakens intellectual control, causing a "withdrawal" of the volitional system, and amplifying projections-identifications occurring in everyday life. Equally universal is the tendency to compare dream mechanisms with film mechanisms, and the state of a dreaming person with the states of persons "immersed" in a film.

The highly controversial nature of the psychoanalytical model would be much ameliorated if amendments suggested by authors analysing identification were to be considered. 40 These authors stress that the situation of the viewer described by the psychoanalysts is not a situation enforced by film (as opposed to the dream which cannot be rejected), but one voluntarily chosen by the viewer. The viewer accepts the conditions of subordination dictated by the filmic situation, much as s/he accepts the rules of the game, in return for the pleasure which s/he expects to derive from the film. Contrary to the apparent suggestions of the psychoanalytical model, s/he does not lose the awareness that all that happens is "make believe" and that participation is also simulated.

One has to agree with the psychoanalysts, however, that the viewer proceeds along this road farther than s/he would wish to and farther than s/he ultimately realises: s/he is unable to control and assess the degree to which film affects the subconsciousness.

The concept of the subject in a state of regression does not exhaust fully the important points of the psychoanalytical conception of the viewer. In order to present it with precision, I decided to split it into two models. A consequence of the regression described in the first model is the fact that the film viewer becomes a subject of ideology. The radical leftist film theories employ the notion of ideology taken from Althusser (much less often from Marx). According to this notion, ideology represents the imagined relations of individuals to the real conditions of their existence. Althusser assumes that there is no practice outside the sphere of ideology, and that there is no ideology outside the subject and for the subject.

The category of subject is a constitutive category of all ideologies only when ideology performs the function of turning concrete individuals into subject; the functioning of ideologies is realised in the interaction of this mutual constitution. Ideology "recruits" subjects from among individuals, or transforms individuals into subjects through a strictly defined interpellation operation. It acts by masking its means, manifesting itself as something obvious, a natural state of affairs, as the truth of existence. 41

Cinema would like to persuade its receivers that it transmits a natural image of the world, an innate order or things, life as it really is. It makes the viewers seem subjects of ideology by the very fact of their participation in the show. It is an ideological machine by virtue of its very nature, since the apparatus it uses was specifically constructed to convey a certain vision of the world (strictly speaking, the bourgeois ideology) as objective and the only one possible. 42 The specific nature of the cinema's apparatus and of its means of expression means that the "ideology effect" comes to resemble the "knowledge effect", and the spectacular character of the reality depicted in film removes contradictions, thereby putting the viewer in an excellent frame of mind: the viewer is put in a position of one who produces a coherent, logical and comprehensible vision of the world, without being aware of the fact that s/he has in fact given up his/her own identity and responsibility. 43

The model of viewer proposed in pragmatic approaches is outlined primarily in opposition to the semiotic model of the text-decoding viewer, since, despite the fundamentally different orientation and starting point, the pragmatists managed to utilise the most valuable part of psychoanalytical thought. I have in mind here the fundamental body of texts in which the authors analyse concrete films with respect to the viewer's position in the text, determined by manipulations using filmic means of expressions such as the shot/countershot technique, the subjective camera, or points of view. 44

A starting point in pragmatic treatments is also the position of the viewer determined by the text itself, localisation inside it rather than on its "peripheries". Pragmatists use the same analytical techniques and conclusions which may be derived from these analyses. Unlike, however, the psychoanalytical model (in which the viewer is patterned after the internally divided and fragmented subject of psychoanalysis, who is manipulated and programmed, without being totally identical with this subject) the viewer in the pragmatic model is, to use another of Casetti's terms, an interlocutor, an active partner. 45 As Casetti writes, the viewer, seen as an interlocutor, is someone to whom a proposition is addressed, who may be expected to comprehend, who is a spiritedly reacting participator in all that happens on the screen, a partner active in his own way .

For the viewer to be able to perform the task that is expected of him, he must not so much be familiar with codes (as in the semiotic model), but must have a kind of understanding knowledge which may be considered in terms of competence. Casetti's treatment of the interlocutor concept is the most complex, since he considers the localisation of the interlocutor as text partner both on the periphery and inside the text (on the screen) using a game model. The interlocutor outside the text is as if the executor of the plane preparing and supporting the game results (which shape reading as a perlocutory effect) or of a plane inscribed into the text and prefiguring its purpose (thereby being a model of viewing).

The recognition of the interlocutor as a construct determined by the text itself makes possible a precise examination of the "implied viewer" or of the "audience image" in the given work, but without the former approach this conception too would be inadequate.

The text needs an interlocutor to be comprehended, and not simply someone's presence absorbing it, or a pattern that might guide the viewer. It requires both a flesh-and-blood person and a developed symbolic structure, however different these solutions might seem. The text, in the very essence of its association with the interlocutor (disclosing its need for a subject as a reference horizon), reveals that it cannot be founded only "outside" its domain or only "inside" it, but through an integral connection between the inside and the outside.

In the pragmatic context, says Casetti, the researcher ought to ask about the way film meets its interlocutor, how it discovers his presence, organises his activities, in short - how film addresses the viewer in a familiar manner.

The proposed models cannot be arranged in a simple linear order. They can be situated on a diachronic scale only on the basis of the order of succession of theoretical conceptions which provided grounds for them. They do not correspond (or may correspond partly) to models of filmic texts appearing and developing alongside them. The first two models - of the naive and the passive viewer - elaborated in the initial period of theory development, refer to the beginnings of cinematography; however, in contrast, the model of message-decoding viewer, dating from the 1960s, conforms best to the silent films of the second half of the 1920s, while psychoanalytical models suggested in the 1970s apply best to films of the 1930-1950 period. And the model of interlocutor, the pragmatic concept of the 1980s, may be said to represent only approximately the film-viewer relations in movies of the modernistic period (so called by the Americans) of the second half of the 1960s.

Depending on the needs and views of a given researcher, it is possible to perform extensions of the various models, especially the later ones (beginning with the semiotic model), reaching both back into the history of cinema and into the future (with respect to the time of the model's conception, that is to say into a future that has already come to pass) which would enable us to check their explanatory potential and to interpret the history of the film-viewer relation from the successive various viewpoints.

In many cases, the described models overlap and combine. The concept of naive viewer is inscribed both in the anthropological image proposed by Morin and in the psychoanalytical model. Similarly, the second model's assumption that the viewer remains basically passive, is also evident in other models. A component of the pragmatic model is a modified fragment of the earlier semiotic model.

The large number of models is not only a consequence of various options available to researchers and of the multitude of inspiration sources used by film theory, but also of the complexity of the medium and of the evolution of filmic art. Being generally in favour of the pragmatic model, I do not reject other propositions which possibly give a better and more adequate description of the relationships between specific types of audience and specific types of cinema in various historical periods. For example, the suggestiveness of the psychoanalytical models is best apparent not in theory (with the assumptions of psychoanalysis generally inviting objections) but in the practice of analysis. The analytical and historical verification of the other models would indicate the limits of their applicability.


1 . See Francesco Casetti, "Les yeux dans les yeux", Communications, 38 (1983); Daniel Dayan, "Le spectateur performe", Hors cadre, 2 (1984). Also see Tadeusz Miczka (ed), Autor-film-odbiorca (Author-Film-Receiver), forthcoming.

2. See Francis Dennis Lynch, Clozentropy, A Technique for Studying Audience Response to Films (New York, 1978); Anne-Marie Thibault-Laulin, Le langage de l'image: Etude psycholinguistique d'images visuelles en sequence (Paris, 1971).

3. Andrew Tudor, Image and Influence: Studies in Sociology of Film (London, l974).

4 . Calvin Pryluck, Sources of Meaning in Motion Pictures and Television (New York, 1976) .

5. Raymond Williams, The Sociology of Culture ...; Daniel Dayan, "Le spectateur performe".

6. This is discussed in Jean-Louis Baudry, "Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus", Film Quarterly, 28, 2 (1974/75); Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (ed.), Apparatus (New York, 1980); Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath, (eds), The Cinematic Apparatus (Milwaukee-London, 1980); Christian Metz, Le signifiant imaginaire (Paris, 1977); Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema (London, 1981); Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (New York, 1983).

7. Jean-Louise Baudry, "Le dispositif", (Communications, 23 (1975).

8. On this subject see John Carey, "Conventions and Meaning in Film", in Sari Thomas (ed), Film Culture, (London, 1982).

9. For more on this subject, see Jerry Lee Salvaggio, A Theory of Film Language (New York, 1980).

10. Francesco Casetti, "Looking for the Spectator' Iris, 1, 2 (1983). Subsequent references to this article will be included in the text.

11. Marc Vernet, Daniel Percheron, "Entretien avec Christian Metz", La Cinema, 718 (1975).

12. Roger Odin, "Syntaxe et semantique dans le message filmique", Iris, 1,1(1983), 70.

13. Hugo Munsterberg, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (New York, 1916).

14. Rudolf Arnheim, Film als Kunst, (Berlin, 1933).

15. For a bibliography of text and analyses of this problem see Zbigniew Czeczot-Gawrak, Zbadan nad poczatkami filmologii, [From Studies of the beginning of film science], (Wroclaw, 1975).

16. Boris Eichenbaum, 'Problems of film stylistics' in Herbert Eagle (ed), Russian Formalist Film Theory (Ann Arbor, 1981).

17. Paul Willemen, "Reflections on Eikhenbaum's Concept of Internal Speech in the Cinema", Screen, 15,4(1974/75),p.65.

18. Metz, Le signifiant imaginaire. Subsequent references will be included in the text.

19. Jean-Louis Schefer, L'homme ordinaire cinema (Paris, l980).

20. Edgar Morin, Le Cinema ou l'homme imaginaire (Paris, 1958). Subsequent references to this will be included in the text.

21. Metz, Le signifiant imaginaire.

22. This subject is elaborated by Charles Altman. See his 'Towards a theory of genre film', in Film: historical-theoretical speculations. The 1977 Film Studies Annual. Part Two. (Pleasantville, 1977.)

23. Francis Dennis Lynch, Clozentropy; John Carroll, Towards a Structural Psychology of Cinema (The Hague, 1980); Michel Colin, Langue, film, discourse: Prolegomenes a une semiologie generative du film (Paris, 1985).

24. Sol Worth, John Adair, Through Navajo Eyes: An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology (Bloomington, 1 972).

25. Semyon Timoshenko, Isskustvo kino i montazh filma (The art of cinema and film editing) (Leningrad, 1 926.)

26. Arnold Hauser, Philosophie der Kunstgeschichte (Munchen, 1958).

27. Huge Mauerhofer, "Psychology of Film Experience", Penguin Film Review, 8, (1949); Ivo Pondelicek, "Psychologia przezyda filmowego" (Psychology of film experience), translated into the Polish by Andrzej Stajowski, Kino, 7,(1972).

28. Walter Benjamin, "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierarbeit", "Zeitschrift fur Socialforschung" (Paris, 1936.)

29. Vachel Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture (New York, 19l5.)

30. For further information about this see Hugo Munsterberg, The Photoplay; Erwin Panofsky, Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures (Bulletin of the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton, 1934).

31. Andre Bazin, Qu'est-ce que le cinema? (Paris, l958).

32. Jean-Louis Cros, "Les fondements d'une langue a part", Image et son, 164 (1963).

33. See Jean-Louis Comolli "Technique et ideologie. Camera, perspective, profondeur de champ", Cahiers du Cinema, (1971); Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean Narboni "Cinema, ideologie, critique", Cahiers du Cinema, 216, (1969) .

34. For a discussion of this issue and an extensive bibliography see Robert 1. Eberwein, Film and Dream Screen (Princeton, 1984).

35. This conception derives from the work of Jacques Lacan. See his Ecrits (Paris, 1966), and was elaborated by Christian Metz in Le signifiant imaginaire; Jean-Louis Baudry, "Ideological effects ...", Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema, Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (London, 1984).

36. Karol Irzykowski X Muza, [The 10th Muse], 4th edition, Warszawa, 1977.

37. Freud's conception with reference to art is discussed by Zofia Rosinska, Psychoanalityczne myslenie o sztuce [Psychoanalytical thinking about art] (Warszawa, 1985).

38. The author of this conception is Jean-Louis Baudry in "Le dispositif"; it was later taken over by all representatives of psychoanalytical theory, headed by Christian Metz.

39. The psychoanalytical conception is challenged in Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford, 1984.)

40. See Jean Mitry, Esthetique et psychologie du cinema, vols 1 and 2 (Paris, 1963-85.)

41. Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays (London, l977.)

42. Jean-Louis Comolli Jean Narboni "Cinema, ideologie, critique", op cit.

43. Christian Zimmer, Cinema et politique (Paris, 1974.)

44. See the analyses in Communications, 23, (1975) and in Cinema: theories, lectures. Textes reunis et presentes par Dominique Nogue, (Paris, 1973); Raymond Bellour, L'Analyse du Film (Paris, 1979).

45. Casetti, "Looking for the Spectator ...". For a critical appraisal of this subject matter see also Gianfranco Bettetini, "Il corpo del soggetto enundatore", Communicazioni sociali, 314, (1981).

New: 17 February, 1996 | Now: 11 March, 2015