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  • Introduction:"The Most Fascinating Medium"
  • Mikko Tuhkanen, Guest Editor (bio)

Their enchantment is disenchantment.

- Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (297)

Fascination is our sensation.

- Mel & Kim, "Respectable"

Speaking to students at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles in 1975, Ingmar Bergman evokes familiar tropes when he enthuses about cinema's ability to prompt a cognition closer to dream logic than to rational thought. "To me, the cinematography, the real cinematography, is very, very close to our dreams," he asserts.

You can't find in any other art, you can't create a situation that is [as] close to the dreams as [in] cinematography when it's at its best. Think [of] the time gap: you can make things as long as you want, exactly as in a dream; you can make things as short as you want, exactly as in a dream. You are—as a director, as a creator of the picture—you are like a dreamer. … That is one of the most fascinating things that exist.

Appropriately for the date (he is speaking on Hallowe'en), Bergman suggests that the medium's uncanny effects extend also to the viewer:

The reception, for the audience, of a picture … is hypnotic. You sit there in a completely dark room, very anonymous … and you look on a lighted spot in front of you, and you don't move; you sit and you don't move, and your eyes are concentrated on that white spot on the wall. I think that's exactly what some hypnotists do: they light a spot on the wall and they ask you to follow it with your eyes, and then they talk to you and hypnotize you. ("Conversation")1

Bergman not only leans on the longstanding association of cinema with dreams—the "oneiric metaphor" in film theory (Levine; Rascaroli)—but also echoes the tradition that, beginning with the earliest commentary, confers on film a hypnotic potential. At the end of the nineteenth century, the conception of cinema as an offshoot of the mesmeric arts was arguably strengthened by the screening of early films alongside various vaudeville acts, including spectacles of stage magic and hypnotism. What Stefan Andriopoulos calls the "structural affinities … [that] connected hypnotism with the newly emerging medium of cinema" (92) are evident in numerous early films that thematize the dangers of mesmerism, including Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse films of the 1920s and 1930s.2 Weimar commentators express concern about cinema's "powerful hypnotic influence" (Killen 41); Jean Cocteau in 1946 suggests film's potential for inducing "collective hypnosis" (qtd. in Andriopoulos 116); and Siegfried Kracauer, writing in 1960, alludes to the "compulsive attractiveness" of the cinematic image (Theory 158). Crowds, compulsion, loss of control: these themes are rife in discussions of industrial modernity, which frequently figure the disorientation and unfamiliarity of modern life as the undoing of the wakeful clarity of Enlightenment reason. The dangerous effects of this undoing are outlined by Gustave Le Bon and Sigmund Freud in their analyses of crowd psychology. In this way, cinema is thought to encapsulate what Mary Ann Doane calls "the fascinations and anxieties of modernity" (205).

Even as he evokes this long history in his address to students, Bergman also holds the line against a later offshoot of such conceptualizations of cinema. In the mid-1970s, when he visited Los Angeles, this tradition was being continued in the film theorizing that emerged in England and France after 1968 under the names "apparatus theory" and "Screen theory."3 The scholars connected with these theories maintained the connection between film and hypnosis; Raymond Bellour, for example, asserts in 1979 that there is "a fundamental relationship between the cinematographic apparatus and the hypnotic apparatus" ("Alternation" 101). Yet cinema's influence was now theorized under a term borrowed from Marxism via Bertolt Brecht and Louis Althusser: ideology. Brechtian theater's effort to break the thrall of ideology by developing various strategies of "alienation" (Verfremdung), in conjunction with Viktor Shklovsky's method of "defamiliarization" (ostranenie) from the Russian formalist tradition, filtered into film theorizing together with Althusser's account of the forces of subjectivation typical to "ideological state apparatuses...

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
2020-08-12
Open Access
No
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