Section B Spectatorship

There are 4 separate options here but the one we focus on is mainstream cinema and emotional response.

Cinema and Emotional Response explores spectatorship in relation to popular mainstream films, particularly ones constructed in such a way as to illicit very strong emotional responses. Why do we laugh, cry, scream?

You may wish to centre your study on a particular genre – such as horror or melodrama or thriller. This is perfectly acceptable and indeed adopting a mixed genre approach might produce too diffuse a study.

There is also an ideological dimension – which better students will almost certainly raise. This concerns manipulation and the pleasure of ‘surrendering’ to the film experience.

A popular film is one that sets out to reach a broad mainstream audience using what can broadly be described as a conventional stylistic approach and employing tried-and-tested film techniques to provide audience pleasure. In doing so, it is likely to be identifiable by its adherence to classical narrative and to generic features. In addition, it may play on the particular screen persona of one or more stars. A popular film need not be an English Language film and it need not be contemporary.

  • How does the film work to generate emotion, and here the emphasis may be on relatively straight forward issues like the use of mise-en-scene, staging and music or more complex issues of identification and spectator alignment with particular characters?
  • How far does the spectator feel consciously manipulated by the film and, by contrast, how far does the emotional power of the film derive from a combination of elements which are difficult to pin down?
  • How far does the emotional affect of the film derive from contextual knowledge, – in this case, our ability to respond to the film in the gap between fictional representation and historical fact?

You may take a genre approach – or identify auteurs whose cinematic approach lends itself particularly well to the study of emotion and spectatorship. You could select from the following but don’t have to…

Sports films

Coming of age films

Transgression films

Holocaust films

Animated films

Struggle against adversity films

Social realism films

Shock films

Childhood films

Miscarriage of Justice films

Action films

Horror films

Let’s just began with some basic examples of the capacity of films to create emotional response. Take a look at this 1928 celebrated surrealist masterpiece from Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou

Now let’s look at an early short from celebrated US Director Martin Scorsese. The BIg Shave, 1967.

Peter Medak’s Let Him Have It, 1991  concludes with an emotionally charged execution scene of a man wrongfully convicted of murder. There is a montage sequence which gradually builds up in pace to a brutal climax.

Quentin Tarantino made his name with shock tactics which on reflection are not as horrific as they were initially supposed to be. It’s worth questioning whether the emotional impact actually comes from the way we are forced to laugh at the brutal torture of a policeman in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, 1992.


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