Out of the variety of art types, cinema is probably the most controversial. As well as theatrical performances, films encourage the audience to react to the scenes they observe. However, unlike during the observation of theatrical plays, one cannot be present directly at the movie-making process. The contradictory ideas concerning this issue have been expressed by many connoisseurs and critics of cinema and art in general. One of the most renowned philosophers analyzing the features of cinema and its effects on the audience was Irving Singer. The essay offers an investigation of Singer’s account of the relationship between communication and alienation in films. Specifically, the movie The Rules of the Game, created by Jean Renoir in 1939, will be scrutinized under this angle. The ultimate argument made in the essay is that Singer considered alienation not as an entirely negative aspect of movie-making but as a possibility of reaching out to the audiences by combining it with communication.
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Singer’s Ideas on Communication and Alienation in the Film Art
The major problem of communication and alienation in the cinema is that this type of art is not viewed as the performing one. Due to the lack of simultaneous action between the creation of the art and its observation by the audience. Furthermore, in making films, there is no direct and realistic effect present in painting, sculpture, or dancing, where every move of the artist is unique and may not be the same during the next performance.
Singer starts his analysis of communication and alienation in movies by referring to the process of movie production. According to the philosopher, many people tend to view films as the “product of mechanism” (Singer 131). Cinematography is based on photography to a great extent, so Singer refers to Bazin’s understanding of the latter, which involves viewing photography as “automatic technology” (Bazin, qtd. in Singer 131). Singer compares the arguments given by Santayana and Bazin on photographic art. Santayana indirectly implies that photography is “a minor art” (qtd. in Singer 131). Meanwhile, Bazin does not see anything in photography that might allow rendering it as a minor art (Singer 131). These arguments ignite the discussion of whether cinema is realistic art and to what extent it inspires communication.
The issue of alienation, as well as that of communication, is closely associated with the problem of the reality of cinematic art. The reference to reality in films has gained the attention of many critics, including Bazin, Kracauer, and Münsterberg. When analyzing the development of the language of cinema, Bazin remarks that directors constantly have to choose between putting their faith in image and reality (“The Evolution” 95). Some directors, as Bazin emphasizes, entirely reject the “tricks of montage” to obtain “the cruelty” and “ugliness” of the world as it is (“The Evolution” 97). The argument over realism in art emerges due to the misunderstanding of the difference between “the aesthetic and the psychological” (Bazin, “The Ontology” 91). Kracauer argues that, unlike photographers, filmmakers have more dimensions to work with (35). As a result, the latter has more opportunities to stage reality “so accurately that the camera-eye will not detect any difference between the original and the copy” (Kracauer 35). When considering such an approach, the possibility to enhance communication seems less viable, and the chances for alienation increase.
Still, it is possible to discern between the two notions as related to the cinema when analyzing them deeper. As Münsterberg remarks, the core instinct to be utilized here is the ability to differentiate between the object of one’s knowledge and that of one’s impression (50). In this case, one may refer to Bazin’s statement concerning the idea that cinema “frees the human reality-search of all subjectivity” (qtd. in Singer 132). Those who consider cinema void of communication leave out the fact that the camera, though used to transform reality into a film, is being used by a living being, the director. And this director’s decisions and talent allow eliminating the reduction of the movie to an automated act (Singer 134). The meanings brought about by film directors incorporate both “affective and cognitive” carriers of interpersonal communication (Singer 135). In movies, people exchange ideas, share feelings, and speak about vital aesthetic and environmental issues. Hence, it would be wrong to say that alienation prevails unanimously in this kind of art.
At the same time, it is crucial to take into consideration both the opportunities for communication and the difficulties of alienation in the process of making and watching films. Singer remarks that even though films enable people’s communication, it is impossible to get rid of the feeling of “insidious distance” (137). In the theater, there exists a “responsive interaction” between the actors and the audience (Singer 138). Meanwhile, cinema cannot offer any of such communication due to being shown in the same way every time, without the opportunity to change anything. Thus, unlike playing music and acting, filmmaking cannot be considered as a performing art (Singer 138). The communication entitled by cinema does not offer an interaction between the actor and the viewer. Film viewers realize that, unlike theatrical performance audiences, they cannot converse with actors. Although people do not commonly practice the right to talk to theater performers, they subconsciously know that they have such an opportunity. With the cinema, such an option is not available, which makes it attainable to speak of alienation in terms of film watching.
Despite the difficulty of communication while observing a film, spectators still have an opportunity to engage in this practice at least to some extent. As Singer remarks, the absence of actors in the hall is both a barrier to and an opportunity for communication (139). In the “darkened privacy” of the movie theater, one can express one’s feelings toward the film covertly (Singer 139). More to that, the philosopher believes that some individuals might express their emotions more fully than in the case when they are observed by others. Thus, Singer concludes, the alienation, which is inherent to the cinema, is compensated by letting people demonstrate emotions they would typically hide in the usual modes of communication (139). Furthermore, when spectators become accustomed to alienation, they can learn to ignore or suppress it (Singer 140). By mixing the features of communication and alienation, cinema becomes able to confront the dichotomy existing “deep in human nature” (Singer 140). Hence, it is not viable to say that technology’s effect on communication is entirely negative.
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The dependence of cinema on technology is much higher than that of arts that had emerged before it. However, people learned to adapt to the level of alienation given by the automated distance using artistic expression embedded. As such, according to Singer, movies create a harmony “of nature and spirit” (141). Although one cannot directly communicate with film actors, one can arrange interaction at other levels, including the overlap in emotional orbits (Singer 143). As a result, it becomes possible to counteract isolation and alienation. Since directors address their professional endeavors toward other people, the level of communication can be improved even in such a non-performing art as cinema.
Communication and Alienation in The Rules of the Game
Singer illustrates his opinion on communication and alienation while analyzing Renoir’s film, The Rules of the Game. This movie constitutes perfect material for such an investigation since the core idea of its plot is the relationships between people and their endeavors to understand their feelings, as well as those of others (Renoir). As the philosopher remarks, the film raises a question far more important than that of expressing one’s emotions. According to Singer, the director exposes the issue of the difficulty people have in trying to understand their true feelings (157). The point of communication is emphasized from the very beginning of the film, with the account of André Jurieux’s heroic flight across the Atlantic being transmitted over the radio (Renoir). The significance of technology and communication is further elucidated throughout the movie.
The relationships among Renoir’s characters are entangled, which accentuates the alienation aspect. At the same time, however, the director makes numerous successful efforts to unravel the complications experienced by the characters. As Singer notes, one of the ways Renoir uses to simplify the communication problem is the distinction between love and friendship that he makes (169). Octave, performed by the director himself, is the figure combining both of these features. Singer remarks that Octave’s inability to manage the affairs of his friend not his deficiency but probably the deficiency of society by the rules of which he lives (170). One of the factors influencing people’s disposition towards alienation or communication is the tendency most of people. Singer identifies lies as such a trend, saying that modern society a priori cannot develop the highest level of communication due to people’s constant attempts to deceive one another (170).
In the case of The Rules of the Game, the biggest lie is probably when Octave sets up André by giving him his coat and sending him to the place where, as Octave knows, the looming danger is awaiting. Singer notes that the conflict between communication and alienation, as well as the one between love and friendship, is relevant both to male and female characters in Renoir’s film (172). The lack of communication leads not only to alienation but also to much more serious consequences, such as broken families and even lives.
The analysis of communication and alienation in cinematography involves the investigation of divergent approaches to and implications of different types of art. One of the most renowned philosophers who studied the art of movie-making, Singer, considered that alienation had the potential to promote communication to a great extent. The opinion was specifically explained in Singer’s account of these features in Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, which is given in his book. The review of pertinent literature and the movie itself allows concluding that Singer’s opinion on the relationship between communication and alienation was legitimate.
Bazin, André. “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema.” The Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 95-103.
“The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” The Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 90-94.
Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. Princeton University Press, 1997.
Münsterberg, Hugo. “The Psychology of the Photoplay: Depth and Movement.” The Film Theory Reader: Debates and Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, Routledge, 2010, pp. 49-56.
Renoir, Jean, director. The Rules of the Game. The Gaumont Film Company, 1939.
Singer, Irving. Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique. The MIT Press, 1998.