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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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11 Wanting to Be Cary Grant


In two of the preceding segments, four and five chiefly, I have already, though not really at length, referred to that desire to be another, specifically a filmic personage (the representation of a fictitious person as played by a movie actor or actress). These notices have manifestly raised more questions than they answered; far from being elucidations they did nothing but draw attention to a conundrum. And it is not even clearly circumscribed by mentioning the assumed attraction of slipping into someone else’s existence–this somebody being, to repeat, a fictional character. (I should mention that most friends and colleagues, when I told them about the project of analyzing people’s–pre-conscious?–inclination to “identify” with cinematic heroes/heroines and/or their roles reacted, at best, skeptical. Many among them asserted they’d never had the slightest inkling of such a swerve. The circumstance that they affirmed that nothing could be further from their minds makes one think of the adage that denying often expresses suppression. Sometimes cigars are just cigars, sometimes they indeed hint at other things.)

It is time now to spell out without further ado how I see things. My idea is that one could well want to be one’s own novelistic (or exactly cinematic hero/heroine), a more interesting and exciting and attractive personage than one actually is or can, realistically, ever hope to be. I see it as something altogether Barthesien. Making a movie out of life in which one oneself is starring. Remember, Barthes intended,...

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