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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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56 On Some More Special Inducements to Identification


A frequent experience: you talk politics with someone (that has been a favorite pastime in Viennese Kaffeehäuser) and soon find out that you do not only disagree (part of the fun, at least up to a point) but that your interlocutor understands the problem discussed better/less well than you do. Politics are chiefly about convictions; the problem intensifies when it is a matter of scientific, scholarly or technical knowledge. Assume you are in a position where you simply know more than the person(s) you make conversation with. There are two possibilities: either one will listen to you (though perhaps only with feigned interest), or the other(s) will make it known (sometimes with less than subtle signals) that your knowledge is not of interest or that they do not even lend credence to your expositions. (But of course, the breach of etiquette is your own: conversations are supposed to be about trifling matters. That makes them so utterly breathtaking.)

In this respect, too, it’s easier for movies. They do have a certain a priori credibility, less so than some content on TV or a blog, but still. While one is not inclined to listen to an expert in real life (true enough, he or she can drone on, just boring the others), an expert on screen certainly has credit (she or he is better edited too). There is no guarantee, however, that the screen’s truth is of another, let alone superior, quality; it can...

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