This essay argues that the most influential strand of contemporary phenomenological film theory, indebted to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of perception and embodiment, has tended to under-emphasize or distort the specifically aesthetic dimension of cinematic experience. This stems, in part, from a neglect of the rich tradition of phenomenological aesthetics - including (ironically) certain of Merleau-Ponty’s own writings on art and cinema - which may be persuasively seen to challenge the medium essentialism, anti-intentionalism, and disproportionate privileging of vision and space (e.g. over time) in some contemporary film theory that evokes phenomenology. A fresh and largely sympathetic analysis of Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Film and the New Psychology” and related writings on art and film helps to differentiate between an ‘existential phenomenology’ of the film medium and an existential phenomenology of film art (with the latter rooted in cinematic form and aesthetic, as distinct from ordinary or non-aesthetic, perception). In addition to explaining why the two are distinct, the essay indicates some of the ways in which a phenomenology of film art, as seldom pursued, has much to offer to film theory and the philosophy of film.


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pp. 159-185
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