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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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30 Come on in, Take Part in My Fiction


A couple of paragraphs ago I mentioned Cary Grant’s suit (North by Northwest!), and of course I had an ulterior motive. There is an ingenious short story by Keith Laumer, The Body Builders. In it, people literally are what they wear–the tailor makes the man–, if you wear too light a suit your adversary, wearing a stronger suit, will pound you. Identifying has something to do with putting on another’s clothes (or shoes), naturally in a metaphorical sense (you wouldn’t want to take away that man’s suit). But there is a more direct way of getting into the (motion) picture–putting someone in the picture being another one of those idioms contributing to some sort of understanding (which, though, has then to be refined by strictly explaining what and how it is supposed to explain, anyway).

In the TV-series House of Cards an extremely captivating gag or ploy–to be sure it’s more than just that–is used to draw the audience into the picture, to suck it in. Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood (taking over, so to speak, from Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the U.K. series) time and again steps out of his role and speaks directly to the camera. Clearly, by doing so he actually addresses the viewers. Sometimes it’s quite literally an aside, at other times he seems to walk up to you; now and then it is a longer commentary, an explanation, or it can also be just a...

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