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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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8 “The Big Show Is Going on in My Head”

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This phrase is, of course, from Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. There is more to it than meets the eye. Once you take it really serious, it nicely expresses that more than habitually assumed is contributed by our minds, much more. It is by no means just a question of cognition and perception, rather, crucial mental mechanisms that have to be looked for within the recipient count for as much as the stimulus provided by phenomena of the external world. General statements about what carries more weight, the latter or its processing by the perceiving mind, make little sense. Apart from the fact that there would be no reaction without input from outside, too little is still known about the adaptive processes that happen when such outside information (in the widest sense) is digested. That is to say, there is, due to research about the functioning of the brain, quite some knowledge about what seems to be going on in individuals. As they depend, however, not least on something such as collective perception, they are under permanent influences much more difficult to gauge.

Evidently, perception in the cinema is, moreover, a special case. (But how “evident” is it really? Remember Rowan Atkinson in Bean, beginning his lecture by–desperately–stating, “well, I’m doctor Bean, evidently.” He isn’t: it’s just an embarrassed stopgap attempt to gain time, to develop an idea on how to get out of that situation, some kind of succor.) Perception in the movies is...

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