Spectatorship: Popular Film 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

A couple of years ago we had three students who all elected to do something different:

Candidate One: elected to answer this section by reference to the use of the “damsel in distress” as a means of generating emotional response. His selected films are King Kong (1933); Last House on the Left (1972); Hard Candy (2005); Bridget Jones (2001); Fifty First Dates (2004).

Candidate Two: elected to examine ‘zombie’ films including Night of the Living Dead (1968); Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Twenty Eight Days Later (2002)

Candidate Three: elected to study physical impairment: Freaks (1932); The Elephant Man (1980) &  Eraserhead (1977).

Last year in the main as a group we did Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1995), Salvador (Oliver Stone 1986) and Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1987). One Student Elected to Study Holocaust films with Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Life is Beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s