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Film as Art [Paperback]

Rudolf Arnheim


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Film as Art: 50th Anniversary Printing Film as Art: 50th Anniversary Printing
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Book Description

1 July 1992
This is a book of standards, a theory of film. The greater part of it is an adaptation of "Film als Kunst, " first published in 1932 in the original German and in English by Faber and Faber in 1933 - an edition long out of print but still in demand because it raises fundamental questions that the intervening years have by no means answered.


Product details

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New edition edition (1 July 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520000358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520000353
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 11.6 x 1.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 618,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"More than half a century since its initial publication, this deceptively compact book remains among the most incisive analyses of the formal and perceptual dynamics of cinema. No one who cares about film can afford to remain ignorant of its insights and wisdom. As digital technology fundamentally alters motion pictures, the lessons of Film as Art commend themselves as excellent insurance against reinventing the wheel in the new media landscape and hailing it as progress." - Edward Dimendberg author of Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity "After more than eight decades, Rudolph Arnheim's small book of film theory remains one of the essential works in defining film art, understanding film less as reproducing the world than as opening up new possibilities for formal play and unexpected imagery. Anyone serious about film, whether scholar, filmmaker or simply a lover of cinema, must take Arnheim seriously." - Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang (2000) and D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (1994)" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Rudolf Arnheim is Professor Emeritus of the Psychology of Art at Harvard University. For many years he was a member of the Psychology Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, and he spent his last ten academic years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he now lives.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major contribution to film studies, remains essential for its insights into the nature of cinema 7 Nov 2007
By Nathan Andersen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Read as an essentialist treatise on the nature of film as art, Rudolf Arnheim's "Film as Art" may feel like something of a dead end or a historical curiosity -- there was a period during which some of the major questions for cultural and art critics interested in film were: is film a new art form or does it draw its artistic potential from other more traditional art forms that can be said to be integrated into film? If it is a new form of art what is new about it? how should art critics approach this new medium? To these questions, Arnheim offers a powerful and convincing defense of the idea that film is its own art form, with its own distinctive artistic potential. Now that "we" no longer need to be convinced that film is an art form, or is at least capable of rivalling any other art forms on occasion, his detailed and meticulous argument that draws upon a broad familiarity both with the history and techniques of film to his day may appear dated and reactionary. I think this need to prove that film is an art against a number of prominent art theorists is really what one of the other reviewers ("vampyroboy," in an otherwise quite interesting review) is detecting when he describes the book as characterized by "self-hatred."

On the other hand, Arnheim's book is not merely a reactionary treatise intended to prove that film really is a unique art form. Moreover, the book does more than merely defend one of the classical positions in the "realist" versus "formalist" debate -- Arnheim's position in this debate is much more nuanced than the standard histories of film and film criticism tend to attribute to "formalist film theorists." According to "formalism," the essence of film art lies in the formalist techniques available to the filmmaker, and that allow her to manipulate and transform film from a merely mechanical reproduction of reality into something genuinely creative and meaningful. This is supposed to be in contrast with "realism," according to which the essence of film art (and what makes good film art good) is its capacity to capture reality directly in its raw form. But Arnheim's position is much more interesting than either opposed position seems to allow.

First, he argues that the apparent limitations of film -- the fact that it is two dimensional, that it was originally lacking sound (and later that sound had to be captured with great difficulty and lacking in the multidimensions that our experience of sound possesses), and that film is always a selection from what is visible within a frame, etc. -- these apparent limitations are precisely what open the space for and require creativity and manipulation on the part of the film artist. Because the filmmaker can't show all of reality or even a strict simulacrum of experience she needs to be creative in deciding which aspects of reality to select in order to capture the essence of a reality, and in order to convey the precise meaning that she intends from each shot. On the other hand -- and here is where the division between Arnheim's "formalism" and the so-called "realism" of Kracauer and Bazin begins to break down -- Arnheim insists that the very best filmmakers use the formal techniques of editing and selecting available to them in the service of reality. The very best filmmakers don't simply use their creative freedom to break free from the constraints of reality but employ that freedom in order to reveal something important about the reality they film. This is true even of experimental filmmakers who seem to break beyond representation completely -- there is something missing if their work does not in some way teach us to see the world anew and more clearly. This critical perspective on film remains valid -- and explains, for me at least, what I find unsettling about some of the virtuosic CGI effects in film that ought to impress me, and the difference between films that use their effects selectively to convey a genuine experience that would be otherwise difficult to imagine (e.g. Memento) and films that use their effects as mere dazzling artifice (the examples are too numerous to mention). Arnheim's Film as Art remains important and engaging reading for anyone interested in the nature and potential of film.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a Very insightful theory about film studies! 26 Feb 2003
By Mihai N Anton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book must be read by anyone with interests in film critiques and in Cinema in general.Arnheim argued that film comes from limitations , and ideed, I believe that he was absolutely right. Because film is not an unique art, but is builded up from other fields. The first thing that an artist must know is that you always have to leave something to be interpreted, you have to send a message. And how can you do that if you show everything?How can you possibly consider art something that does not need interptretation? Because like Arnheim said "what does not have a meaning has no place in art" Indeed, in his book , he explains that the composition of the film must be intermetiated between the margins of the screen. Also, that the black and white image is far superior to the coloured one.And here you can ask yourselves that how it is possible that the black & white photography is still used even nowadays? I believe that anyone interested in film should read this book.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening analysis of the perceptual dynamics of film 1 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An amazing analysis of the perceptual principles involved in film viewing. Arnheim provides a fascinating and scholarly look at the psychological and physiological aspects of cinema. A profound and thought-provoking work.
19 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Art as Artifice 10 July 2002
By "vampyroboy" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Rudolf Arnheim's "Film as Art" is an important work of the cannon of cinematic theory. It should continue to be read, if for that reason alone; its influence on subsequent film scholarship is unquestionable and profound. It provides great insight into the aesthetics of the silent era, opening a window on the intellectual climate of the Weimar Republic. Paradoxically, it is, at once, both Comtian and Kantian. On one hand, it invites us in: Film is photography in motion and, as such, exists in the realm of the visual sense. On the other hand, it shuts us out: Film ART is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The shot is greater than the sum of its frames. Montage is greater than the sum of its shots. The finished opus, production of the auteur's complete intellectual and emotional capabilities in perfect harmony, is greater than the sum of all of its episodes. In other words, to be considered art, film must demonstrate not only the perfection of each element, but the perfection of those elements in relation to each other... melody, harmony and overall composition. Each frame must serve the whole; one frame more or one frame less and the work would be irreparably damaged.
And yet... how odd it is that the vast majority of "Film as Art" focuses on filmic techniques, the very idiosyncratic building blocks upon which the 19th century artist-photographer once mused. In a desperate attempt to justify the medium as capable of high art, Arnheim descends into a technical-scientific argument that, in effect, nullifies his efforts to establish its end product. That is to say: If film art is truly the production of the heart and mind in concert, such devices would merely be means to an end, the bridges crossed on a journey deep into the soul. Still, Arnheim time and again returns to the theme of the mechanical: "Three dimensional images projected onto a two dimensional plane," distortions in time-space via cutting, lenses, filters, emulsions, etc. Vainly, he struggles with the idea of art in opposition to the mechanical reproduction of reality by enumerating the mechanical tools employed in dodging it.
I find Arnheim thoroughly unconvincing, not only for the aforementioned reasons, but, more importantly, on a purely intuitive level. To Arnheim, the spectator is reduced to recepticle, the end-user of artistic production. Both the Kantian and Comtian in him should have provided the viewer with a more active role. He should have realized where the perception of light sensation resides; he should have understood that it is the mind that receives such perceptions that fashions them into complete images, actions, episodes and so on. Instead, he focuses intensely on cinematic tricks and devices which, by present standards, are part of the cinematographer's toolbelt. He is captivated by the means to the end rather than the end in itself. For example, he explains montage in terms of its formal aspects, failing even once to discuss what "montage" actually is (in the manner of Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, etc.) Curiously, the cinematic end becomes more of an afterthought than anything.
I also find Arnheim's assertion of the universality symbolism (much like Eisenstein's artistic notion of ideograms as fundamentally monadic) rather silly, at best. Black is bad; white is good. For some reason, Arnheim never stopped to think of other paradigms or the very possibility of their existence. At worst, the book is downright dangerous. The blond-haired, fair skinned matinee idol is inherently striking whereas the brunette begins with a decided disadvantage. And this from a man of Jewish heritage amid a rising tide of Nazism! Can we forgive this the product of a "pre-semiotics" Eurocentric modernism? Or would such forgiveness, in itself, give substance to the insidious zeitgeits, serving as yet another relativist apology for the brilliant-yet-flawed?
As a Jew, I sense "Film as Art" as the product of self-hatred. I sense that Arnheim was part of an intellectual community and yet APART. The pain derived, in that sense, from reading the book is interesting. Ultimately, however, it is another universalist blind alley: An attempt to speak in immutable terms about an ever-shifting medium of motion pictures. It argues for the preservation of the already-gone (e.g., black and white, silent film, etc.) It is illiberal, ill-conceived, unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. It can only read as yet another volley in the ongoing (and futile) battle between the formative and realistic schools.
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