Ryerson Computer Science CPHL710: Philosophy and Film

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Course Overview

How to read/write for the course

  1. Title - get hints about the point of view
  2. Topic Sentence - find this in each paragraph, highlight
  3. Evidence to support topic sentence - 8 to 12 details
  4. Comparison/contrast
  5. Prediction

What is philosophy

  • philosophy: "lover of" + "wisdom"
    • love: physical, dependence, passion, giving up boundaries,
    • wisdom: reality & truth
      • reality from sensation: concrete perception. macro-level, incomplete
      • reality from abstract:

Marxist Theory

Karl Marx Key Points:

Interesting observations about the decline of human health and equality since domestication of farm animals

  • Class struggle
  • Modes of production - market economy
  • Alienation
    • work
    • fellow citizens
    • spiritual purpose
  • Commodification, commodity fetishism
  • Base/superstructure
    • base
    • superstructure: ideology
  • Use value/exchange
    • Use: something with value itself -- something you can use directly
    • Exchange: something that may be useful later -- materials
  • Materialist - our thinking, rationality, ability to judge, etc, should override our materialist needs. Marx was not an idealist. Thought we could not rise above or outside out system.

Horkheimer & Adorno - The Culture Industry


The modern culture industry produces safe, standardized products, geared to the larger demands of the capitalist economy, with no regard to the loss of high and low art.

  • all types of modern entertainment are only superficially different
  • high and low art are replaced by homogeneous art that appeals to the largest possible audience; we lose the richness of the unique
  • the article was influenced by Karl Marx (see other sections)
  • the social apparatus (capitalism) tries to suppress individuality
  • films try to blur the line between reality and fantasy; to try to suppress creativity and imagination -- this is all there is

Lecture Notes

Standardization compensates for the possibility of cultural chaos in modernity

  • High Art: truth, meaning, virtuosity, exclusivity, etc
  • Low Art: made by the people, accessible to everyone, dance, cultural heritage, etc

Milton Friedman - The Purpose of the Corporation

For a corporate executive to take social initiative outside the set of shareholder goals is tantamount to "taxation without representation." He may have a positive impact on, say, the environment but at the cost of: employee wages, shareholder earnings, customer money (through increased product prices), etc. He is in effect imposing a tax of his choosing with one hand, and deciding the proceeds with the other.

Part 1 of The Corporation

Central theme/metaphor was the corporations are like persons who have personality disorders. Can be categorized by the DSM-IV

A few points

  • corporation treated as a legal person; a privilege as a result of the 14th amendment which was supposed to protect the newly freed slaves
  • the film referred to corporations as several things including: monster trying to devour as much profit as possible, a whale swallowing up smaller fish, and Dr Frankenstein's monster
  • metaphor of a person who is a prototypical psychopath

Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning

Special Audiences

  • children, students, etc

What to Advertise

  • alcohol, cigarettes, tanning, etc

Media Considerations

Kracauer - Basic Concepts

Properties of the Medium: basic & technical

  • basic properties are the same as photography - that of reproduction of reality
  • most important technical property is editing; "serves to establish a meaningful continuity of shots ... unthinkable in photography"
  • the basic properties used to explore reality offer the most value and are responsible for cinematic quality

Realistic Tendency (pioneered by Lumiere)

  • objective movement
  • staging; reproducing the settings of reality

Formative Tendency (pioneered by Melies)

  • Artistic and free form

Issue of Art

Graeme Turner - Film Narrative Theory

Claude Levi Strass - function of the narrative

  • suggests: if narrative is universal, maybe narrative is part of the human mind
  • or maybe narrative serves an essential social function
  • Strauss attempted to relate characteristics of myth and legend to perceptual mechanisms of the brain
  • similar to Propp, Strauss suggests that mythology crosses cultural boundaries
  • myth helps deal with contradictions in experience by resolving them symbolically
  • features of myth are dependent on simple binary opposition: land vs sea, man vs woman, good vs evil, etc

Lecture note: Strauss follows the polarizing philosophies of:


  • idealism (theory of forms)
  • used to decode the truths of the world
  • a priori knowledge


  • materialism/empirical


  • both Plato & Aristotle

Vladimir Propp

  • suggests that narrative is common to all cultures (possesses common properties & structural features)
  • narrative structure and function are universal
  • 8 character roles:
    • villain - struggles against the hero
    • donor/provider - prepares the hero, or gives some magical object
    • helper - helps the hero in their quest
    • princess (or prize) - the sought after objects to be returned or saved
    • dispatcher - makes the crisis known, sends off the hero
    • hero/victim - the protagonist who seeks to right the wrong
    • false hero - takes credit for the hero, may try to take the princess
  • 31 functions, broken down into phases:
    • Preparation
      • 1. A member of a family leaves home
      • 2. A prohibition or rule is imposed on the hero
      • 3. This prohibition is broken
      • 4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance
      • 5. The villain learns something about his victim
      • 6. The villain tries to deceive the victim to get possession of him or his belongings
      • 7. The victim unknowingly helps the villain by being deceived or influenced by the villain
    • Complication
      • 8. The villain harms a member of the family
      • 8a. A member of the family lacks or desires something
      • 9. This lack or misfortune is made known; the hero is given a request or command and he goes or is sent on a mission/quest
      • 10. The seeker (or the hero) plans action against the villain
    • Transference
      • 11. The hero leaves home
      • 12. The hero is tested, attached interrogated, and as a result, receives either a magical agent or a helper
      • 13. The hero reacts to the actions of the future donor
      • 14. The hero uses the magical agent
      • 15. The hero is transferred to the general location of the object of his mission/quest
    • Struggle
      • 16. The hero and villain join in direct combat
      • 17. The hero is branded
      • 18. The villain is defeated
      • 19. The initial misfortune or lack is set right
    • Return
      • 20. The hero returns
      • 21. The hero is pursued
      • 22. The hero is rescued from pursuit
      • 23. The hero arrives home or elsewhere and is not recognized
      • 24. A false hero makes false claims
      • 25. A difficult task is set for the hero
      • 26. The task is accomplished
    • Recognition
      • 27. The hero is recognized
      • 28. The false hero/villain is exposed
      • 29. The false hero is transformed
      • 30. The villain is punished
      • 31. The hero is married and crowned
  • Stories may not consist of all 31 functions, but all storie functions will come from the list of 31

Roland Barthes

Stuart Hall

Structuralism & Narrative

  • Structuralism - culture's (and narrative's) relationship with other overarching systems
  • looking at films to see how they fit into or help define a genre, style, etc


Suggests the following structure:

  1. Narrative begins in a state of equilibrium (plentitude)
  2. Disruption
  3. Equilibrium again, but usually in a different form

Codes & Conventions

  • textual & social context
  • social change can be noted in narrative changes over time (eg, marriage used to be conventionally used at the end of novels as the triumphant finale -- life is all good now)
  • conventional view of the female body (Mulvey) -- to be scanned and viewed by both male and female viewers
  • comments upon conventions - sometimes a convention is invoked simply to break it; eg, in Raiders, Indy skips the large battle scene by simply shooting the bad guy in the bazaar -- broke convention for comedic effect
  • conventions are dynamic


  • genre depends on audience experience
  • needs to be comprehensible to specific audience

Lecture Notes


  • telling of a story
  • character (protagonist;character on a journey; transformation on the character)
  • plot
    • events / conflict
      • man vs man
      • man vs nature
      • man vs self
  • acts, scenes, shots
    • shots (smallest division): lighting or audio changes indicate changed shots
    • scenes (composed of shots): Location, time, maybe room; eg: Int/ext, Betty's room, NIGHT
    • act (largest division):

Hollywood Film

Strict Structure:

  1. Act I: Opening image; pull you into the *world of the film* diegesis
    • Tone
    • Genre
    • Period
    • Style
    • Auteur
  2. Hook/catalyst
    • pulls the protagonist into the series of events; he struggles with
      • sometimes they acheive their goals, sometimes not (drama vs tragedy)
  3. First turning point
    • usually 25 minutes into the film
    • signals the end of Act I
    • cements the protagonist on their path
  4. Act II
    • Speeding up of events
    • ~40 minutes into the film: Second turning point
    • most intense situation
    • approaches the climax of the film
  5. Climax
  6. Resolution

Other cardinal rules

  • Show, don't tell
    • use the camera, not monologue to explain things
    • no expository writing

La Belle et la Bete (beauty and the beast)

Key points as relating to Horkheimer & Adorno's piece:

  • There is a temptation to take more than what you need:
    • Belle's father takes the rose, thus raising the ire of the beast
    • Avenant (?) takes the key from Belle, later wants to steal the treasure from Diana's room, ends up being turned into a beast

Laura Mulvey - Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

It is said that analysing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article.

  • Phallocentric Order
    • male (phallus bearing) oriented society
    • females represent a castrated man; the desire to have a child is acting on the desire to have own phallus
  • A - Pleasure in Looking (scopophilia)
    • looking, not being seen; a sense of power
    • cinema satisfies priomordial wish for pleasurable looking
  • B - identification with the image
    • We take away the woman's power by looking at a physical part (fetish-ism) -- reduce them to a simple thing, can be controlled
  • "In herself, the woman has not the slightest importance" - she is never in her own right the actor
  • male represents the ego conscious ideal; upon recognition of self in the mirror; image on the screen becomes the ideal version of self

In-class discussion of the paper

  • political use of psychoanalysis: power imbalance between men & women
  • phallus - male power

Sigmund Freud

  • before mental illness was properly diagnosed
  • argued that the conscious mind only constitutes about 10% of what motivates us to think and act (the rest of "subconscious")
  • we rarely use our rational conscious mind
  1. Structure of the mind as conscious / subconscious
  2. Structure of the mind as ego, id, super ego
  3. Psychosexual stages
    • oral stage - baby trying to acheive sense of self; does symbolically by trying to put everything in their mouth; to recognize the difference between self and other
    • desires mother stage - wants her emotionally, physically; eventually realizes that he can't have her because she already belongs to another male; if he continues to desire the mother, he will become castrated; doesn't want that, so he pulls away from the mother
      • leaving the world of the body (mother)
      • leaving the world of the pre-linguistic (mother)
      • leaving the world of non-judgement (mother)
      • entering reason (father)
      • language-symbolic (father)
      • public sphere (father)
  4. Neurosis / psychosis

Structure of the Mind

  • Superego
    • Socialization
    • rules, taboos, "normal" vs "abnormal", values, behaviors, etc
    • almost as powerful as the subconscious, but mostly arbitrary
    • guilt control us
  • Ego
    • balance Superego and Id
    • "Me"; our conscious mind; our narrative
  • Id
    • subconscious drives
      • atemporality
      • multispatiality
      • pre-linguistic
      • drives must be sublimated otherwise we become socially unacceptable
      • drive to accumulate
      • death drive: stilulation without exertion;
      • libido drive: sex drive
        • losing our boundaries and blending in with that which is outside ourselves
      • subconscious not available on demand - only available during slips
      • slips are consistent patterns

Jacques Lacan

Stages, similar to Freud

  • Mirror
    • when the child realizes itself in the mirror
  • Symbolic
    • language, primarily
  • Imagery


  1. Formalist
    • Form
      • words
      • phenomes
      • etc
    • Content
      • meaning/significance
      • emotion
      • psychology
  2. Film as art, exclusively
  3. Film must acknowledge all the factors that make it illusory
  4. Gestalt school of psychology - we need to see the world in binary Foreground and Background experience
    • foreground & background
    • tension and release
    • etc
    • film maker needs to make sure to capture these patterns
  5. Film creates illusion
    • projection of solids onto 2D surface
    • the reduction of a sense of and the problems of absolute image size
    • Lighting and the absence of colour
    • the framing of the image
    • the space of the space time continuum due to editing
    • absence of input from the other senses

Discussion: we can still have color films that are non-realistic and using the color in an artful and deliberate way

  • Arnheim suggest that the real story is not narrative, but camera, editing, sound (he is a formalist)
  • says that film distorts reality
  • film/cameria is a prism - always distorts reality
  • is also an existentialist - nothing is there, no reality

Ritzer - McDonaldization

  1. Efficiency
  2. Predictability
  3. Control
  4. Calculability

Max Weber ?

  1. Substantive
    • analyze, synthesize, predict, calculate, causality, etc
  2. Formal rationality