Revisiting Mitry’s Esthétique et Psychologie du Cinéma at Fifty
L’auteur revient sur la publication des deux tomes d’Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma de Jean Mitry 50 ans plus tard. Encore mal connu dans son ensemble et rapidement mis hors circuit par le succès de la sémiologie, l’ouvrage de Mitry mérite qu’on s’y attarde encore aujourd’hui ne serait-ce que pour bien cerner comment, dans une perspective épistémologique influencée par les acquis de la mécanique quantique, Mitry cherche à réconcilier les tendances idéalistes et réalistes de la théorie du cinéma. Il ouvre par le fait même une perspective phénoménologique unique dans l’histoire des théories du cinéma.
Mots-clés :Jean Mitry, Théories du cinéma, épistémologie, phénoménologie, sémiologie, langage, esthétique
- 1 Jean Mitry’s real name was Jean René Goetgheluck Le Rouge Tillard Des Acres de Presfontaines. Born (...)
- 2 Let us dispel any possible confusion regarding this term. Intentionality is the property of represe (...)
- 3 In the lapse between the two volumes, Christian Metz had published “Le cinéma: langue ou langage” ( (...)
- 4 I mention this because both the more recent French edition (established by Benoît Patar from notes (...)
1In 1963 and 1965 Jean Mitry1 published two massive tomes that, according to Christian Metz’ review of them, bookended the period sometimes known as “classical film theory.” Just slightly under 1000 pages long and printed in a large format, the two books are colossal in both size and scope. The first book, entitled Les structures deals with the conditions according to which the worldly objects presented by film are framed, composed, organized and turned into intentional image-objects.2 These are the principles according to which film acquires form. The second volume, entitled Les formes is more concerned with the acquired forms themselves, understood historically and comparatively with other structuring forms in other media. In classical Aristotelian terms, one might say that the first book is centrally concerned with the fabric, substratum or matter of film as a mode of expression; whereas the second book is more directly concerned with the way this substance has manifested itself formally. Yet I would hesitate to strictly characterize the two books in such a fashion, for both also have several recurring concerns: for instance, the issue of “film language,” appears early in the first book and returns late in the second one;3 and there is a recurring theme throughout which consists of distinguishing between the cinema and other forms of expression with which it has often been compared, be they visual-spatial (especially painting), aural-rhythmic (especially music) and narrative-spatial-temporal (especially theatre and literature). Throughout, Mitry also spells out aesthetic principles with which to judge or ascertain the achievements (or failures) of certain films. Furthermore, readers of the original French text will also notice long (though no less stimulating) digressions that take them away from the path of film studies, at least in the limited sense of the term, leading into discussions of logic, aesthetics, philosophy of language, musicology and the study of rhythm, poetry, the history of theatrical and literary forms, epistemology, and even quantum mechanics. For instance, before discussing cinematic rhythm Mitry devotes several dozen pages to investigating the nature of rhythm in music or poetry; and before discussing (and historicizing) the temporal and spatial forms of drama, literature and film he spends no less than one hundred pages discussing quantum physics and its epistemological consequences.4
2 There is not enough space here to give a full account of Mitry’s theoretical summa, and even less to discuss his many other works. Moreover, because Mitry’s Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma (henceforth EPC) covers so much ground and offers insights on so many different topics readers have sometimes had difficulty identifying a central unifying line of argument. There is, however, a common underlying thread that joins together aspects of EPC seemingly as diverse as Mitry’s theory of film representation and film language (his semiotic), his epistemology and his conception of aesthetic goodness in the cinema. It is this thread that I wish to briefly outline.
- 5 Mitry actually completed a degree in physics.
- 6 Indeed, it isn’t clear in EPC whether it is philosophy that explains film or whether, conversely, i (...)
3The sections of EPC devoted to epistemology and quantum physics appear in volume II and have been expunged from the English translation. At the time of its publication Mitry was contemplating writing a philosophical treatise entitled Le réel physique et les données du monde sensible (Physical Reality and the Data of the Sensible World) which seems to have never been written (there are no traces of it in the small Mitry archive found at the Bibliothèque Nationale). Yet the mere mention of this book project in a footnote of EPC indicates that these were not matters that Mitry took lightly.5 Moreover, a strong current connects Mitry’s dual conception of filmic representation and the aesthetic consequences he draws from it for film art to his epistemology, which he sees as being supported by quantum mechanics. Though it might be too strong to imply that Mitry’s film semiotics and aesthetics rely on the theory of knowledge as a first principle, they are certainly cognate and, to some extent, mirror reflections of each other.6
- 7 In the end, according to Mitry, “Realism and Idealism, which become assimilated in the correlative (...)
4Mitry’s philosophical project seeks to bridge the gap that separates realism and idealism. As he sees it, the problem is that both philosophical options require distinguishing subject and object as a starting point, realism giving precedence to the object and idealism to the subject. Phenomenologists like Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, he claims, though they have sometimes come close to it, have nonetheless failed to fully overcome this age-old dualism. What needs to be shown, therefore, is that neither object nor subject precede experience, i.e., that neither one precedes the other in our dealings with the world. Mitry enlists quantum mechanics to show that even though something exists, in a rather undifferentiated state as a power or an energy, independently from our perception, such a thing is not yet an object properly speaking. “The object,” he writes, “doesn’t preexist the perceptual act, it completes it : it is an expression of it” (vol. II : 186). What is perceived, though it belongs in some fashion to a reality or totality that is external to us and from which it is extracted, doesn’t preexist perception qua object. It only becomes an object through the mediation and framing of sensation and consciousness, though consciousness doesn’t create or fabricate it nor does it precede it. “Reality perceived,” writes Mitry, “is the form of our perception, which is determined […] by sensation. To perceive is to construct a world; to be aware of it is to give ourselves this world as object” (vol. II : 191). Equally, then, the subject only emerges or becomes conscious of itself when it becomes aware, through perception, of that which it is not, namely the object of perception. Consciousness is thus likewise the completion of perception “reflecting upon itself” (vol. II : 205). In short: sensation breaks down an undifferentiated or formless manifold from which emerges an object (which appears as a given) as well as a consciousness of that object (which manifests itself as an interpretation of the given, whether that interpretation automatically registers the meaning of the object without “adding” anything to it, without “structuring” it, as Gestalt theory has it; or whether it secondarily structures it, giving it or adding a meaning — a sort of seeing as —, as phenomenology has it). Consequently, Mitry rejects any realism toward general terms as a form of empty essentialism and instead sides with Hume’s rejection of metaphysics, thus adopting an empiricist view of concepts (i.e., they only “exist in the mind of he who passes judgment or observes, not in the thing observed” [vol. II : 213]). Mitry uses the claims of quantum physics in order to illustrate how objects that emerge in perception cannot be, qua object, identical with the physical world, i.e., with that undifferentiated something which exists independently of us as power or energy (objects in potentia) and how, at the microphysical level, the principle of indeterminacy implies the impossibility of distinguishing between the objective and the subjective. Likewise quantum physics conceives of time and space not as a priori but as emergent properties of the world (quanta) expressed by fields and successions (i.e., by relations) — much like, in Mitry’s view, objecthood and subjecthood are expressions of the perceptual act whereby they emerge.7
5Let us now consider how Mitry’s epistemology reflects itself in his film theory and aesthetic prescriptions concerning the cinema. We shall see how his wish to overcome the idealism/realism divide in philosophy is echoed by his attempt to bring together the formative and realist traditions in film theory.
- 8 One might say that such signs belong to a theory of knowledge based in psychology.
- 9 Mitry here is referring to Husserl’s conception of “real objects,” i.e., sensuous objects perceived (...)
- 10 Augustine famously defined the sign by the formula: Aliquid stat pro aliquo (something stands for s (...)
6 Mitry’s approach to the issue of signification in the cinema has him use a rather uncommon distinction between two conceptions of signs : psychological and linguistic signs. To put it simply, psychological signs concern the mental representations we have of worldly objects in perception.8 Linguistic signs, on the other hand, are usually understood as forms (in some cases : concrete things that embody these forms) which come to arbitrarily or conventionally stand for abstract mental constructs such as ideas or concepts. Mitry, however, opts for Husserl’s broader characterization of these signs as that for which, “in the act of signifying, signification is not given to consciousness as an object” (vol. I : 120).9 This conception is broad enough to include both linguistic signs and film symbols. The canonical example of the latter is Dr. Smirnov’s dangling pince-nez in S. M. Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) : it stands for the doctor “or, more exactly, signifies his ‘absence’” (vol. I : 121). Even more so, through a process of association the pince-nez comes to signify “the bankruptcy of the bourgeois class ‘thrown overboard’” (ibid.). This is akin to linguistic signification, but only insofar as something comes to stand for something else — in this case, something which is not perceived or perceivable.10 However, this is not to say that verbal and filmic signification are alike in all other ways, in fact they are profoundly different. Most importantly filmic signification is not fixed or conventional, but develops entirely in context and relationally: the same pince-nez in a different film or in a different sequence could likely mean something entirely different.
- 11 Consequently, the fact that the image may be in black and white, that it may be produced by varying (...)
7 Symbols such as the pince-nez from Potemkin obviously abound in the art of literature, which is founded on the aesthetic use of verbal language. However, symbols of this sort don’t exhaust the phenomenon of filmic representation. For the pince-nez to become a symbol of something else (thanks to a chain of context-dependent associations), one must account for the representation of the pince-nez itself in the film. Here, film and verbal language part company because of the different roles played by perception. Whereas verbal language expresses ideas via concepts whose source lies in the unmediated objects of perception and whose understanding requires a mediating (though vague) mental image, film gives us a direct and concrete image of a thing that can be perceived immediately. This object, however, is not identical with the object of perception since its support is purely visual (one can’t sit on the projected film image of a chair, for instance); rather, both are analogous.11 Whence, writes Mitry, if “I don’t seek to mobilize representation in the same way I can mobilize the object represented [the “real” chair], this image appears to my gaze the same way reality itself does” (vol. I: 109. Italics mine). On the other hand, thanks to the presence of the filmmaker, film offers a framed and composed object, not the undifferentiated physical world. In other words, the image qua image is already laden with intentionality. It is this dual object — the unmediated object perceived directly and the intentional object of the image — that can acquire symbolic status through secondary aesthetic structuring, in which case film becomes both a form of language and a form of art. For Mitry, the specificity of cinematic representation lies in this duality of the film object. Let’s briefly unpack these ideas.
- 12 For Mitry the distinction between logic and psychology is very thin: “what separates pure logicians (...)
- 13 Here Mitry clearly approximates Sartre’s conception of image as consciousness.
- 14 The dual nature of filmic representation for Mitry means that he considers the contour of the image (...)
8 What distinguishes Mitry from the early structuralist film semioticians (namely Barthes and Metz) is that his conception of representation isn’t modeled on linguistics and verbal language. For him, whatever its manifestation (verbal, pictorial, filmic or otherwise), language is that which expresses and communicates thought (ideas, emotions) and its operations (viz., relations of analogy, consequence, causality, etc.12). If Mitry can be called a semiotician of the cinema, it is because he investigates the conditions for the expression of thought in film as the (non-metaphorical) basis for film language. The first condition, therefore, is the objective presence of the world on the screen as analogon (for example, this corresponds to the representation of the pince-nez qua pince-nez in Potemkin). For Mitry, however, the nature of this presence is dual. First, if one considers merely what has impressed each frame of a film, one has a “mere” image, i.e., under such conditions the thing represented tends to fade in favor of its representation (as it happens with a painting, for instance): one perceives an image and images are intentional (an image is always an image of something): it’s object is formed, framed, composed.13 Second, once the image is projected, i.e., once movement and depth enter into the experience of it, the relation between what is represented and representation is inverted: what one sees is no longer the image of something, but something through an image. Whence one perceives filmed objects in the same way that one directly perceives worldly objects: as exempt of all intentionality. As a result the “literal” film object has a double nature: as “object proper” (that which is perceived immediately in a manner analogous to the normal functioning of perception) and as “subject” or Vorstellung (the intentional object of the image). In the fist instance, the film image can be said to have recorded (and to show) a particular, singular object. If it shows a pince-nez, it is this particular pince-nez (the one that stood in front of Tissé’s camera lens at the time of shooting Potemkin) that it gives us. In the second instance, however, the now intentional object is framed, composed and caught in the force field of a form (a frame, a montage, a narrative, etc.). As such, it becomes a function and stands for something general, for a concept or an idea. It isn’t this particular pince-nez anymore that is seen, but through it (through the image of it) is expressed the idea (or function) of a pince-nez in general (this means any pince-nez, including all the ones, real or in potentia, that aren’t on the screen). In the latter case, the image as (psychological) sign becomes the “existential manifestation of an idea” (vol. I: 133). Camera angle, camera movement, montage and especially framing14 all turn what is experienced immediately into an image proper (phenomenologically speaking: an intentional object), i.e., into aesthetically structured forms or representations, and therefore serve the filmic representation of ideas. Regardless of any symbolic character, therefore, the film viewer faces a dual object: the unmediated object perceived directly and the intentional object — framed, composed — of the image. Mitry calls this dual object the analogon. And it is the intentional part of this analogon that mediates between the direct, non-intentional aspect of the film experience.
- 15 This ‘movement’ pertains to psychology since Mitry’s epistemology doesn’t recognize the mind-indepe (...)
- 16 It follows for Mitry that not every (psychological) sign in cinema is a symbol, though every symbol (...)
9Thus, unlike verbal representation, Mitry conceives cinematic representation as moving from concrete to abstract stuff.15 It is on this basis that film can become a language, or more specifically, an aesthetic language.16 In structuralist terms (and unlike Barthes or Metz) Mitry would have it that only “connotation” constitutes a language in film, not “denotation.” Film, therefore, is not genetically a language; rather it becomes so when it symbolically uses the ideas and concepts that emerge in the representation of objects, i.e., when matters of fact become relations of ideas through aesthetic structuring (vol. I : 122).
10Mitry’s conception of film language and especially his dual understanding of filmic representation clearly seek to unite the formative/realist traditions of classical film theory, a move that is cognate in his mind with overcoming the idealist/realist traditions in epistemology : in both cases one must avoid giving precedence to object or subject. If indeed the cinema can lead to this view of things, then perhaps we may understand Mitry’s bold claim that “there is more philosophy in any film than there is in all of Aristotle or all of Plato” (vol. II : 277).
11In classical film theory, the formative vs. realist debate typically seeps into film criticism, often serving to justify aesthetic prescriptions. Likewise, Mitry’s integrative theory of filmic representation and his conception of film language also serve as a basis for aesthetic evaluation.
12For Mitry, a key task in producing art consists of finding the proper form to express content, understood that form and content are two sides of a single coin. In the process, the content acquires meaning, significance or value it wouldn’t otherwise be represented as having. We have seen that this is the raison d’être of the symbol in film: through the symbol, the film signifies more than it can represent. This implies that film art is coextensive with filmic language: “every artistic expression,” writes Mitry, “results from a connotation” (vol. II : 378). In short : it is through the symbol’s associativity (analogies, metaphors, metonymies), whose skin is composed of the analogon of filmic representation — that amalgam of unmediated perceived object and intentional image-object in its various compositional and pictorial structures, rhythm or narrative form — that the film enters into the realm of art.
- 17 Mitry here is partly influenced by Eisenstein, whom he met in 1929 during the filmmaker’s famous tr (...)
- 18 Mitry fails to consider the issues raised by interpretation (do all viewers interpret the symbol in (...)
- 19 Cf. Histoire du cinéma. Art et industrie, vol. III 1923-1930, Paris : Éditions universitaires, 1973 (...)
13For the spectator, of course, what makes a symbol is the imaginative ability to see more in a concrete slice of film than what is actually depicted to the senses. The symbol essentially rests in the mental images suggested or triggered by the film’s imagery.17 Because symbols don’t exist in the sensible world, Mitry’s aesthetics eschews calls for absolute realism in the cinema (reality, after all, isn’t art). This leads him to critique realist films whose depicted reality is so utterly banal as to be devoid of any profound meaning or significance and hinder the spectator’s imagination. It is on this basis that he calls Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952) “boring and wearisome” (vol. II : 418). However, he also concedes that a film could not be made up entirely of symbols for they only make sense relative to filmic representation (the analogon) and its structuring. This is how, for instance, the symbol deepens the otherwise literal meaning of a narrative. As a result, Mitry considers that film ought to be fully comprehensible regardless of the viewer’s ability to interpret the symbol.18 Consequently, he rejects as “uncinematic” films that are overtly symbolic even if they are otherwise noteworthy (an example among others given in EPC is Bergman’s The Silence,  ; and elsewhere he also criticizes Buñuel’s Un chien andalou  and several sequences from Eisenstein on similar grounds).19 In such films, explains Mitry, the filmmaker tries to “shoot” symbols, i.e., to illustrate pre-established concepts or arbitrarily impose symbols on the depicted reality. Rather the filmmaker should strive to let the symbols grow in the spectator’s mind from the filmic representation, giving the impression that it is reality itself which is fraught with meaning. Herein lies the key to Mitry’s aesthetic. It isn’t an apology for a particular film style, mode or genre but instead an argument for a more general aesthetic attitude toward the cinema and its relation to the world it captures and structures. Though his argument tends to privilege narrative form, Mitry can nonetheless use it to justify his own avant-garde and experimental short films (the best known one being Pacific 231, 1949) whereby rhythmic forms borrowed from music are used to establish relations between things rather than between facts or events. Here, cinema becomes concrete poetry, a means to probe the “existential mystery of the world and of things” (vol. II : 430).
- 20 In his Histoire du cinéma Mitry writes that form in Murnau’s film is too conspicuous for it to be l (...)
14In the end, Mitry believed that this attitude was likely to manifest itself in two ways : as realism and irrealism. Both attain the status of cinematic art equally well. Experimental films like Pacific 231 or expressionist films like The Last Laugh (Murnau, 192420) are formally irrealistic, while films as diverse as Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel (1962) and Bresson’s Un condamné à mort s’est échappé (1956) are irrealistic in content, regardless of their attention to “details” or verisimilitude, in that they either seek to explain or interpret the meaning of the world as we know it through an unsettling chain of events (Buñuel) or attain some transcendent truth about it using concrete reality but in abstracto, i.e., without any concern for social or historical situatedness (Bresson). In all these forms of irrealism, however, understanding appears to emerge from the concrete reality represented. Realism, on the other hand, seeks to achieve understanding, to symbolically grasp the meaning of the world, by first showing it and presenting the facts and events that take place in it — immediately, concretely — as we know them to be, as they are lived (morally, historically, socially, culturally), thus limiting the degree of abstraction imposed by formal structuring to a minimum.
15If, in the end, Mitry shows a preference for realist films it is because he sees them as more relevant to the contemporary world. Less overtly formalized, they give the impression of being freer, looser, and more “open,” much like reality itself. Unlike a number of “irrealist” films they don’t appear “locked” into a formal system or limited by it. In advocating for an open cinema, Mitry supports a dramaturgy that is closer to the novel than to classical drama whose fixed and “closed” structures reflect the cosmology of Greek Antiquity. An open dramaturgy, on the other hand, corresponds more fully with a contingent world marked by change, movement and history and whose key forms are temporal rather than spatial ; a world best expressed by the art of cinema and its ability to literally and freely show and express — given the proper form — the worldly unfolding of things and events.
16Fifty years after the fact, Mitry’s grand œuvre remains an important and powerful theoretical statement, though one partly forgotten by today’s film studies institution. Quickly sidetracked by semiology’s more systematic and scientific ethos, its proto-phenomenological conceptions, its forays into logic and epistemology, not to mention its concern for aesthetic issues seemed out of step with the program Metz and his followers began developing as of the mid-60s. And like all forms of phenomenological thought Mitry’s book was also attacked on ideological grounds after ‘68 (most notably by Jean-Louis Comolli). Not surprizingly, with the rise of psychoanalysis, identity politics, the new film historiography, transnational film studies, not to mention cognitivism and “post-theory”, Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma simply fell off the grid altogether. Nowdays, however, with the upsurge of film-philosophy and — in light of the digital turn — the return to Bazinian themes (ontology, realism), the moment might just be ripe for a fresh reading of Mitry, one that would take into consideration the greater philosophical ambitions of his work and its efforts to overcome the realist/formative devide in cinema aesthetics.
1 Jean Mitry’s real name was Jean René Goetgheluck Le Rouge Tillard Des Acres de Presfontaines. Born in Soisson in France, there is some debate regarding the exact year of his birth, with some sources opting for 1904 (the correct date I believe) and others for 1907. Mitry himself was quite coy about this. He borrowed the name “Mitry” from a little commune (Mitry-Mory) which was about 25 kilometres from Meaux. He was active in the French film scene starting in the twenties, writing reviews and becoming one of many assistants to Abel Gance during the shooting of Napoléon (1924). He also assisted Pierre Chenal and Jean Epstein. He became a staple of the ciné-club culture and belonged to several of them, including “La tribune libre du cinéma” which had been founded by Fernand Léger in 1925 and which Mitry soon took over with a few friends. Still working as a film technician, he also played a few roles including that of Arsène in Jean Renoir’s La nuit du Carrefour (1932). In 1935 he founded, with Henri Langlois and Georges Franju “Le Cercle du cinéma”, which became the Cinémathèque française the following year. He was the Cinémathèque’s first archivist (1930-1945). After the war he joined the newly formed film school IDHEC where he taught film history and film theory. He also made several short films between the forties and early sixties and directed his only feature in 1959 (Énigme aux Follies-Bergères). Between 1966 and 1970 he became the first professor of film studies at a Québec University (Université de Montréal) and was perhaps even the first in Canada. He later accepted a position at Paris 1 (Sorbonne-Panthéon) where he continued to supervise theses until 1980. He died in 1988. Mitry is perhaps the most prolific writer on cinema ever. Besides publishing the two volumes of Esthétique et psychologie du cinéma, he published a large five volume Histoire du cinéma, a history of experimental cinema (Le cinéma expérimental), a critique of film semiology (La sémiologie en question), monographs and studies of John Ford, Chaplin, Eisenstein, René Clair, Thomas Ince, a Dictionnaire du cinéma, and a massive thirty-five volume universal filmography.
2 Let us dispel any possible confusion regarding this term. Intentionality is the property of representations which belong to minds (and thus to subjects). Representations are intentional because they are always representations of something. A material image, however, is a thing (or object) that is about something else. It is an intentional object that behaves in this regard like a mind or subject.
3 In the lapse between the two volumes, Christian Metz had published “Le cinéma: langue ou langage” (1964) and Mitry obviously felt he needed to return to the issue.
4 I mention this because both the more recent French edition (established by Benoît Patar from notes by Mitry in 1990) and its English translation (by Christopher King, 1999) have significantly reduced these sections. The English text is in fact a further abridged version of the abridged French edition.
5 Mitry actually completed a degree in physics.
6 Indeed, it isn’t clear in EPC whether it is philosophy that explains film or whether, conversely, it is film (or rather the experience of film) that leads to philosophy: “As in the first ages the first thinking man, moved by his reflection, suddenly intuited a ‘double’ which he turned into a divinity or a universal soul, we can now question the reality of the world by opposing to our normal perception a new perception, similar and yet different: filmic perception.” (vol. II : 277). Merleau-Ponty, in his famous essay of 1947, “Le cinéma et la nouvelle psychologie” also saw a congruence between cinema and phenomenology (and the “new psychology”).
7 In the end, according to Mitry, “Realism and Idealism, which become assimilated in the correlative data of perception, are but abstractions arbitrarily separating the two sides of a single complex phenomenon”, the latter involving the emergence of both object and subject (vol. II : 256).
8 One might say that such signs belong to a theory of knowledge based in psychology.
9 Mitry here is referring to Husserl’s conception of “real objects,” i.e., sensuous objects perceived directly and devoid of intentionality.
10 Augustine famously defined the sign by the formula: Aliquid stat pro aliquo (something stands for something else).
11 Consequently, the fact that the image may be in black and white, that it may be produced by varying focal lengths, and that it is flat do not, for Mitry, alter its analogous character with regards to the perceptual image, as long as what we are concerned with is an “ordinary” (“quelconque”) and “impersonal” film image, i.e., one exempt from aesthetic “stylings.” This, of course, is a heuristic theoretical fiction and Mitry is quite aware of it.
12 For Mitry the distinction between logic and psychology is very thin: “what separates pure logicians from psychologists or psycho-logicians is uniquely a difference in perspective — objective or subjective. The former only consider the result and the necessary conditions for achieving this result, the latter only consider the intellectual act by which the result is achieved.” (vol. I : 88)
13 Here Mitry clearly approximates Sartre’s conception of image as consciousness.
14 The dual nature of filmic representation for Mitry means that he considers the contour of the image to be both a cache (Bazin) and a pictorial/compositional frame (Eisenstein, Arnheim).
15 This ‘movement’ pertains to psychology since Mitry’s epistemology doesn’t recognize the mind-independent reality of generals. For Mitry, laws (including the laws of nature), concepts and ideas can only exist as the intentional products of our consciousness.
16 It follows for Mitry that not every (psychological) sign in cinema is a symbol, though every symbol is a sign (cf. vol. II: 443).
17 Mitry here is partly influenced by Eisenstein, whom he met in 1929 during the filmmaker’s famous trip abroad that led him to Mexico. See my “Eisenstein, Rhetoric and Imaginicity : Toward a Revolutionary Memoria” in Screen, vol. 41, no. 4 (2000).
18 Mitry fails to consider the issues raised by interpretation (do all viewers interpret the symbol in a like manner?) and possible overinterpretations. Nonetheless, his theory makes the spectator an important contributor to the art of film. A film, then, is only as rich and interesting aesthetically as the viewer is imaginative and nimble of mind. This is a most interesting idea, though Mitry didn’t seek to investigate all of its consequences.
19 Cf. Histoire du cinéma. Art et industrie, vol. III 1923-1930, Paris : Éditions universitaires, 1973, p. 349 ; Eisenstein, Paris : Éditions universitaires, Jean-Pierre Delarge, 1978, third revised edition, esp. pp. 46-92.
20 In his Histoire du cinéma Mitry writes that form in Murnau’s film is too conspicuous for it to be labeled “realist,” yet he sees it as a masterpiece of “realist expressionism” and lauds the filmmaker for his ability to draw symbols from the images he records and manipulates. Histoire du cinéma. Art et industrie, vol. III 1923-1930, pp. 208-214.Haut de page
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