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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.

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19 Films’ Dream Work

Extract

I have insinuated that the dream of eternal life might in part–approximately, nebu- lously and surely misleadingly–be fulfilled in an illusionary way by a kind of resur- rection. It appears to be provided by the moving pictures: actors/actresses, even if they died in a prior role reappear in their subsequent one–they come back from the empire of death (to quote the German-language title of Vertigo: Aus dem Reich der Toten). It’s as though Shane reappeared again on the horizon. Naturally we “know” it is a delusion but it is impossible to negate that, however unconsciously, the illusion works: there they are again, our heroes and heroines. We have also already seen that there is a second type (or subtype) of that “resur- rection.” You can make it happen at home, any time you like, by simply inserting a DVD (or, preferably, a video cassette: they worked better) or whatever you have to do nowadays to give yourself the benefit of viewing a movie. And you make them reappear: in a way you resuscitate them. Your mind’s eye, your fervent, creative imagination simulates their eternal presence. In dreams. There are conspicuously many allusions to dreams in the popular arts, think of Orbison’s In Dreams, or Dream On, Little Dreamer, Dream on (pop art and thus low-brow, never mind). It is, however, more than a wish dream because there is visual evidence (though in effect misleading): but on-screen long-dead persons come alive. The material trace has become (deceitful) proof....

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