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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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38 Using the Escape Hatch

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It is routinely said–blatantly an undignified cliché–that movies are escapist, at least the ones which aren’t sufficiently presumptuous to promise more than en- tertainment, suspense, distraction which is more or less another way of saying Hollywood–and no cultured person admits to watching these, and enjoy them (cultivated people assure you that they prefer art house movies). Speaking of es- cape hatches: there is that already mentioned Hollywood movie with Harrison Ford featuring a fictionalized version of Air Force One, in which a “real” kind of escape hatch is used. Persons who are in the loop, Secret Service agents one supposes, deny that that depiction in the aptly named movie Air Force One cor- responds with reality. In a wider–and metaphorical, “theoretical” sense–that is exactly the point of escape hatches: getting out of over-complicated reality and find some solace in easily surveyed fiction. That is neither to say that you should leave reality behind (although it can indeed be frightfully difficult to deal with), nor that film is really all that intelligible (it is just a malicious smear, still heard often, to insinuate that movies are primitive, if anything they are more complicated than novels). But it is true that films are in effect quite short, put you on a track usually not very dif- ficult to follow, and sport an end (an end that is not just death). Not to worry anyway. You can always watch movies again. (In the golden era of video cassettes,...

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