Corporeality, Sensation, History, and Spectatorship

Tom Gunning writes about how, in the early days of the medium, films were based on visual spectacles and wonder, like the famous “Grand Café” screening, which allegedly caused its audience to scream in fear as the image of a train kept getting closer and closer to them.  While this may have occurred in such a dramatic fashion, there is no doubt that they were blown away by the technology, much like how we react to 3D films like Avatar.  So many entertainment-based technological developments have happened in the past hundred years that we take for granted the awesomeness that is moving pictures.

Linda Williams, in her piece ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess’, explains that there are three types of “Body Genres”, which are basically movies that cause strong emotional reactions, yet are critically ignored.  These are the ‘Weepies’, or melodramas, horror and pornography.  Melodramas elicit tears, horror films frighten us and pornography turns us on.  Nevertheless, these genres are not generally considered important or intellectual.  Williams says that these films are important because they are vehicles for our innermost anxieties.  I agree more with the general consensus that these films should not be considered so important unless they carry some other characteristic besides stimulating our senses.  I love most horror movies, but I don’t respect them as great films unless they possess some deeper meaning, like The Shining or 28 Days Later.   I enjoy watching gross-out horror films, like The Hills Have Eyes or Freddy vs Jason, but am not compelled to take them seriously as works of art.

Vivian Sobchack has a different take on films that try to bring forth a powerful emotional response.  She considers our human biological responses to film, like how our senses and our brains are manipulated by the pictures on the screen and the sounds emitted by the speakers.  This is the same manipulation we feel during a moving song or painting, but I think that movies attack our bodies with even more force because they incorporate twice as many senses.

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