Let's All Go to the Movies

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Hugo Munsterberg

Text of Let's All Go to the Movies

Let's Al Go to te Moves: Two Thubs Up for Hugo Misterberg's Te Photoplay (1916) ... is it merely the law of psychcal contrast which maes me tn that there is one Wng not less important than the center of our in. erests, namely, the center of ou negiect?" . -Hugo Minsterberg, "The Problem of Beaut" (1908 Presidental Address to the APA) Intoduction In the ff editon of Film Teo and Criticism: Introductor Readings, published in.1999, there is a brief selecton fom Hugo Minsterberg's Te Film: A PJcholgical Study, a work frst published in 19161 and reissued in 1970. We thi fnd. te colleague ofWllam Jaes, Josiah Royce, and George Santayana2 in te copny. pfsuch -fm :trst as Sergei Eisenstein, Ade Bazin, Christian Metz,$iegfed.Iacauer, Rhd Bahes, Staney Cavell, and quite a few oters. The focus of the selecton in. Film Teor and Crticism is the contast between theatre and cinema; in fact it opens the part of tis anthology devoted to "Film -Naratve and the OtherAt.''3 Minsterberg's purose in developing ts contast is clearly identfed: by te editors of these Intoductor Readings: the Harvard psychologist and philosopher ''atempted in 1916 to delineate the features of the slnt 'hotoply' by contrastng it wth the theater" (1999, 395; emphasis aded).- Cinematc presentaton5 is, at least potentally, not the mechanical reprqducton ofa_ theate performance: it is truy the creatve presentation (rather than simply the reresentaton) of a sequence of actons and events in an artstc medium not reducible to any one of the more established ar (or to any combinaton of tese ari: s). It is a mode of narraton unlike any other, one ideally suited to exhibitng various asp_ects of lived temporalit and also the consciousness of living through a sequence of scenes whose meaning is, for the most pa, "e,er not yet" (to use James' expression).6 The more cinema becomes a puely visa mode of narraton, the more this ar will (in Miinsterberg's judgment, at least) realize ii:unique character. Apart fom ths contention; it seems evdent that movng pictures are ideally Tranractions of the Charles S. Peirce Societ Fall. 2000. Vol. XXVI. No. 4 adaptable to an artstc presentaton of what has a just claim to be considered the most crcial feature of our lived experience? If it is te, as Minsterberg's more famous colleague8 famously asserted, that "life is in te tansitons as much as in the terms connected"-perhaps more emphatcaly there than anywhere elsehow better to convey a sense of these transitons than wth the daatc play of cinematic images? (James 1912 [1971), 46).9 If we are interested in trritons, can we overlook flm? The alleged inadequacies of language10 in ts and oter respects are perhaps better compensated by tlls unique medium than by any other (James; Gavin 1992, 69; 81-82; 171-72; see, however, Clapieto 1995)_11 A another of hs colleagues at Harard, Josiah Royce, 12 would insist in other contexts, contrast is the mother of clearness (1901, 262)_13 Misterberg was ting to become clea about the art of flm14 by contrasting it wit other ar, including of course the one to which it seems so closely akin (theatre). To conceive cinema standing to theatre the way te gramophone stands to te concert was, for him, to misconceive the distnctive features of this narratve art (1916, 38). Hence, the selecton in Film Teory and Criticism concludes with Munsterberg stressing that: "The photoplay shows us a signifcant confict of human actions in movng pictes which, feed fom the physical forms of space;, me, and causality, are adjusted to the fee play of our menta experiences ad which reach complete isolation fom the practical world tough the perfect unity of plot and pictorial appearance" (1916, 190; italics omitted). Wereas teatre is largely bound to the forms of time, space, and causality, cinema in its feedom fom these forms can become an objectifcaton of subjectivit, a sequence of vsual images bodying forth the strea of human consciousness. The techniques of. ts medium can, perhaps must, be correlated with the functons of the percepton of depth and movement, attenton, memor, imagination, suggestion, and emotion;15 in turn, these fnctions are in cinema put into the serice of a narraton of events as consciously experienced. To tae two obvious examples, the dose-up embodies the dramatic heightening of attenton so characteristic of our conscious experience, whereas te fash-back (or what Minsterbcrg himself calls te "cutback") embodies the jagged image of an unbeckoned recollecton, te disqueting usuraton of present consciousness by involuntar memor. The complex ways in whichdistinguishable psychological fnctions are woven together-to form the subtle textures of our everday experience can also, in principle, be;.boded forth by tis unique artistc medium. Also two of te most salient 'eatres of lived time, the varing rhythms of temporal succession and the damatc jUtapoc sition of simultaneous occurences, lend themselves especially well to presentation in this medium.16 Such arc some of the conclusions for which Minsterberg argued in his very early contribution to flm theory. It is truly astonshing, on te basis of a short but intense immersion in the world of film (Margaret Munsterberg 1922, 281-282), how keenly alive Minstcrberg is to these possibilites inc herem in the newly emerging art of photoplay or moving pictures. In a sense, what Minsterberg argues in Te Photoplay is secondar to the fact that he focused O(. the phenomenon of flm at all. One might contend that he was prescient, excpt that ths contenton would ordnariy imply that what he saw witout te aid of any-intellectual tadton others eventually cae to see. Today tere i, wtout queson, an etablished interdsciplinar feld of flm sts Daughter, the silent flm Wt nncttc bccfm80 th8topened Mtnsterberg's "eyes to the dstinctve char8cter 8nOQCDIc CUcphCtCp8y" (M8rg8ret MtnsterDerg 1922, 281 . hCcnnyV8m8I8tc tBVctIyAndrsOJ; Douglas .1993 "Aerca .Lss in Cvell's Emerson." Ts,tnr of the Charles S. Peirce Sciet, VOmcX, number 1: 69-89. Adrw, J. Dudey . 1976 Te Major Film Teories: An Intoduction. London: Oxford Universit rc. Acrdt;Hana 1968[1954] Anheim, Rudolph BetJeen Par and Future: Eiht Eercises in Political Tought. N: Ving. . . 1957 Film as Ar. Berkeley, CA: Universit of Californa Press. Bazin, Ade 1967 Berga, Ronald 1999 Bloom, Alan 1987 Bourdicu, Pierre Wat Is Cinemal Selected and taslated by Hugh Gry fom te frst two volumes of Q'esce que l cinema. Berkeley, C Unversit 'of Calornia Press. Sergei Eiensein: A Lf in Cnfict. Woodtoc, N: Oeriook Press. Te Clsing of the American Mind. N: Simon & Schuster. 1999 O Teleision, tslated by Prscila Parkhust Fergson. New Press. Braudy, Leo and Mashall Cohen 1999 Film Theor and Criticim: Introductory Readings. N: Oxord. Urversit Press. Cavina, ltao 1993 Cavell, Staley 1980 1984 1996 "A Cinema-Gor's Autobiogrphy" i The Road to San GioBnni, tanslated by Tim Paks. N: Pateon Books. The Worl Vieed: Refctions o the Otolg of Film (Enlarged Edi-ton). Cambrdge: Harard University Press. Puruits of Happines T Holywood Cmedy of Remmage. Cbridge: Harad University Pres. Contesting Tears: Te Holywood Meldrama of the Unknown Woman. Chicago: Universit of Chicago Press. Cohen, Monis Rphael 1919 "Basebal as a Natona Rligon." Te Dial, volue 67 (JUy 26, 1919): 57. Reprnted in The Faith of a Liberal: Selcted Esays (N: Henr Holt & Co., 194): 334-336. Al references in ts paper are to te reprint of this essay in Te Faith of a Liberl. Colapieto, Vincent 1995 "The Vinue of Vageness ad the Vagaries of Precsion: .ReInterpretng James and Re-Orentng Phosophy/' Metaphilsoph, volue 26, nuber 3 (Juy): 300-312. Cook, David A. 1981 A Hisor ofNBrative Film. N: W. W. Norton & Co. de Lurets, Teresa 1984 Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotic, Cinem. Bloomngton, IN: Indiaa Unversity Press. Dewey, John 1917 1931 1934 "The Need for a Recovery of Phlosophy." Creative Intelience:psays in the Pragmatic Attitude (N: Hen Holt): 3-69. Rprted i Rchard ]. Bernstein (ed.), On Eerience, Nature, and Feedom (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrl, 1960): 19-69; aso in Te Midl Work of fohn Dewe (Cabondae & Edwadsile, IL SIU Press), volume 10: 448. "Context ad Thought." lter Work of John Dlve, volliiie 6: 321. Cited as LW 6. Ar as Eperience. Al references in this paper ae to voilic lO,ofTe Lter Work of John Dewey (Cabondae and 'Edwadl e, IL: SIU :Pres, 1987). Cited as LW iO. 1935 "Liberaliim and Scial Acion. Al references ae to the critcally edited verion of tis text fund in Te lte Wrtngs of Joh Dewe, volume ll (Carbndae & Edwadsle, IL: SIU Press, 1987). Cited a LW 11. 1942 "Wila, Jae as Empiricist" in In CommemotRtiun of Wiliam James, 184-194 (N: Columbia Unversity Press, 1942): 48-57. All refer,ence are to the reprnt of this paper i T lter Work of John Deey, volume 15 (Cabondale and Edwadsville, IL: SIU Press, 1989): 9-17 Emrsor, Rph Waldo ' 1841" "A" in Esays: Firrt Series. i84 "The Pot" !n Esays: Second Sres. Feyrabend, Pa