Classical Film Theory

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Classical film Theory

Classical Film Theory


Classical film theory is mainly concerned with the work of four film theorists namely Sergei Eisenstein, Andre Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, and Rudolf  Arnheim . The different theories that each of these theorists presented have largely contributed in defining the essence of cinema. This was mainly done with the kind of issues that each of the theorists rose with regard to the relation between film and reality, relation between film and narrative and the question of whether film is language and if it is, then of what kind of language it is.


It was after the First World War that two groups between film criticisms were identified. Leading the first group was the Sergei Eisenstein, whose theoretical essays and film making in the 1920s helped in establishing the concept of role of cinema as primarily an aesthetic one. Eisenstein was of the view that the aesthetic value of a film relied on the ability of transforming reality and he incorporated this view in his films in the form of a montage (Murphy, 2005). For Eisenstein, pieces of unedited films were nothing other than the mechanical reproductions of reality and are not by themselves considered to be art. It is only when those pieces are arranged to form a montage pattern that a film becomes an art. Since reality for him is considered to be created by a combination of montage patterns, much of Eisenstein's theoretical writing is dedicated to the various kinds and methods of the creation of the montage. His attention is thus less on artistic units that the montage associations form or comprise of (Henderson, 1975, p. 27).

On the other hand, impressionists and surrealists were not in agreement with this theory and were of the view that although the major function of the cinema was aesthetics, but camera was sufficient for making ordinary objects sublime. This implies that they emphasized cinema to be a visual medium and hence for them narrative was in some situations something that served as a barrier that was required to be overcome. Furthermore, their emphasis was also on fragmentation and hence all these factors combined to consider this tradition as not much appropriate for the expansion and popularity that the commercial cinema was getting (Murphy, 2005).

Eisenstein's theory hence was able to overshadow all other theories for a considerable time and it was only after the Second World War that there were some significant developments in the film theory. It was the influence of Andre Bazin and the two essays 'The Evolution of the Language of Cinema' and 'The Virtues and Limitations of Montage' that he produced critiquing the two most dominant schools of thought in film of the time, that led these changes to take place. He overturned the prevailing concepts of film by asserting that the actual purpose of cinema was to objectively represent reality. He was of the view that all the prevailing theories rested on the notion of manipulating of reality in their own ...