Motion Pictures, study of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Motion Pictures, study of


the science of film, the elements of motion-picture art, and the lawlike regularities determining the social nature of film. Theory and history, criticism, and, secondarily, filmography, are part of the study of motion pictures, which is also closely linked to philosophy, particularly aesthetics. In the socialist countries the study of motion pictures is guided by the general laws of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics and recognizes the internal laws of the film. Closely related to the study of other art forms, the study of motion pictures is also associated with the scholarly disciplines of history, sociology, and psychology.

In Russia the first attempts to interpret questions relating to motion pictures were made before the Revolution. The originality of this new branch of art attracted the attention of such eminent Russian cultural figures as L. N. Tolstoy, M. Gorky, V. E. Meyerhold, and L. N. Andreev. Even at that time questions concerning the specific character of the motion picture, its means of expression, and its place in society were formulated. However, the study of motion pictures emerged as an independent discipline only after the Great October Socialist Revolution. In the USSR the development of the study of motion pictures has been determined by the policies of the Communist Party, which considers the motion picture a powerful tool in political education and in enlightening the public. The important tasks set by the party in cinematic art called for the examination of the nature and artistic potential of films. Lenin’s pronouncements on motion pictures have become the foundation for the Soviet study of motion pictures.

The principal trend in the study of motion pictures in the USSR in the 1920’s was the consideration of techniques and how they were related to the imagistic and topical treatment of reality for the purpose of educating the people about the Revolution. Soviet motion-picture study took shape alongside the creative efforts of Soviet cinematic art. The Soviet motion-picture directors L. V. Kuleshov, D. Vertov, S. M. Eisenstein, and V. I. Pudovkin made an important contribution to the study of motion pictures in the Soviet Union. Among the many participants in the shaping of the discipline were the script writers N. A. Zarkhi and V. K. Turkin, the political figures A. V. Lunacharskii and P. M. Kerzhentsev, the writers V. V. Mayakovsky, Iu. N. Tynianov, and I. G. Ehrenburg, the literary critics B. M. Eikhenbaum and V. B. Shklovskii, and the first professional film experts and critics N. A. Lebedev and I. V. Sokolov, as well as musicians and theater people.

In the 1920’s a number of theoreticians mistakenly denied the role of the artistic imagination and the “performing” cinema and overestimated the role of the montage in comparison with the expressiveness of a given frame. The introduction of sound in the 1930’s presented the study of motion pictures in the Soviet Union with new tasks, the most important of which was to see that motion pictures focused on portraying the new man who had emerged during the struggle for the revolutionary transformation of the world. In the early 1930’s the establishment of socialist realism and the definition of its specific role in motion pictures promoted the ideological growth of the study of motion pictures, which concentrated on exploring the expressive devices that corresponded to the new tasks of motion pictures. Among the main trends of the period were the study of problems concerning the actor (major works by V. I. Pudovkin, for example), screen writing, and the theory of sound and picture montage (for example, Eisenstein’s articles “Vertical Montage” and “Montage”). During the same decade N. M. Iezuitov and G. A. Avenarius wrote studies on the history of Soviet and foreign motion pictures. From the late 1930’s through the early 1950’s film criticism somewhat narrowed its scope and ceased to pose general theoretical problems.

From the mid-1950’s the further development of Soviet motion-picture study was apparent in the rising ideological and theoretical level of studies, in the increasing number of writers, in the growing variety of topics, and in the scholarly treatment of prerevolutionary Russian films as well as Soviet and international films. Among the eminent film historians and theoreticians have been the film critics M. Iu. Bleiman, I. V. Vaisfel’d, S. S. Ginzburg, E. S. Dobin, S. V. Drobashenko, V. N. Zhdan, A. V. Karaganov, R. N. Iurenev, and S. I. Freilikh, as well as the motion-picture directors S. A. Gerasimov, G. M. Kozintsev, M. I. Romm, and S. I. Iutkevich.

Contemporary Soviet motion-picture study is a comprehensive discipline that makes use of sociological, psychological, and educational methods, as well as mathematics and the natural sciences, thereby successfully resolving the problems of the interrelationship of theory, history, and film criticism. Characteristic of the present stage of development of the study of motion pictures is a focus on general ideological and aesthetic problems. The portrayal of contemporary man on the screen is among the problems that have aroused a great deal of interest among film writers. During the 1960’s and 1970’s questions related to the study of motion pictures have been elaborated primarily by the All-Union State Institue of Cinematography, the State Film Foundation of the USSR, the Institute of Art History, the Film and Photography Research Institute (Moscow), the Institute of Theater, Music, and Cinematography (Leningrad), the Ukrainian Institute of Art Criticism, Ethnology, and Folklore (Kiev), and the institutes of art criticism in the other republics.

Outside the Soviet Union the constant struggle between two tendencies in the study of motion pictures is related to two different social and ideological approaches to cinematography: on one hand, the lawlike regularities of the cinematic art are analyzed as specific forms of social consciousness, while on the other hand, film theory is directed at making the motion picture into a standard, commercial show and at developing the conditions for its creation and public consumption. Even before World War I, W. Panofsky and E. Altenlob (Germany) and R. Canudo (France) published works on the sociology of motion pictures, drawing distinctions between the components of the motion picture (the actor’s art and problems of portrayal) and corresponding elements in the theater. During the 1920’s the French critics A. Antoine, L. Delluc, and L. Moussinac studied the specific characteristics of the motion picture as compared to the other arts. At this time the theories of the moving portrait and visual music emerged. Representatives of the French avant-garde came out against commercial standards and for experimentation in films. Several members of the avant-garde (H. Chaumette, for example) advocated the elitist film for selected audiences.

During the 1920’s film criticism became an independent branch of motion-picture study. Important theoretical works that treated the cinema as a complex, self-contained object were produced in the 1930’s. The German scholar R. Arnheim’s Film as Art presented a rather full description of the silent film but failed to appreciate properly the possibilities inherent in sound film. The British film director and critic P. Rotha wrote the first history of world film in 1936. Emigrating to the USA after the fascists took power in 1933, the German film critics R. Arnheim and S. Kracauer explored the possibilities of motion pictures, taking a sociological and psychological approach.

After World War II (1939–45) the Italian film critics U. Bárbaro, L. Carini, and G. Aristarco, relying on the experience of Soviet motion pictures, concentrated on studying the laws of realism in motion pictures and on affirming the principles of socially militant cinematic art, or neorealism. Associated with the rapid growth of documentary films was the study of the nature and characteristics of this genre (J. Grierson and K. Reisz of Great Britain). The French attempted to unite representatives of the humanities and natural sciences for the interdisciplinary study of cinematography in the Institute of Film Studies (Paris, 1947–62). However, lacking a firm methodological foundation, the plan failed.

The Marxist film critic G. Sadoul is the author of A General History of Film (unfinished), which is unsurpassed in the wealth of information it offers. Several film critics, including A. Bazin (France) and S. Kracauer (USA), added the study of the nature of motion pictures to their research on the relationship of films to the other arts. A number of works, notably those by J. Lawson (USA), A. Montagu (Great Britain), and E. Patalas (the Federal Republic of Germany [FRG]), have focused on the ideological functions of the motion picture in capitalist society, as well as on financial questions and the role of the film as a part of mass culture. In the West, research by J. Leyda (USA) has contributed to the knowledge of Russian and Soviet motion pictures.

A product of the late 1960’s in foreign motion-picture study was the semiotics movement, which applies modern linguistic methods to the study of motion pictures (C. Metz in France and P. P. Pasolini in Italy). The 1960’s also saw the rise of the study of the relationship between the movies and television. In the West the prevalence of violence, sex, and horror themes in popular movies engendered a film theory based on Freudian ideas (for example, A. Kyrou in France). Critics and scholars in the bourgeois countries often focus on existentialist ideas. In Catholic world film centers such as Paris, special theoretical studies are done in conjunction with the extensive use of film for religious propaganda.

Scientific research on motion pictures is also conducted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Film Institute in London, the University of Pisa, the German Institute of Film Study in Wiesbaden (FRG), the Film Institute and the German Academy of Arts in Berlin (the German Democratic Republic [GDR]), and the departments of motion-picture theory and history at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Many scholars from the socialist countries have made important contributions to the study of motion pictures. B. Balázs of Hungary, who worked in the USSR from 1931 to 1945, studied both the internal structure of motion pictures and their social functions. The Polish scholar J. Toeplitz is the author of one of the best histories of world film. Among the other outstanding scholars in this field are J. Plazewski, B. Michalek, and Z. Pitera (Poland), I. Nemeskiirti (Hungary), N. Milev and G. Stoianov-Bigor (Bulgaria), and L. Linhart and A. Brousil (Czechoslovakia). Polish film critics such as K. Zygulski have done a great deal to further the study of the audience. Important work by Czech scholars has focused on the sociological problems related to the motion picture and on the influence of motion pictures on children. In the GDR, G. Herlinghaus is studying the methods by which the future development of cinematography can be predicted.

National motion-picture archives belong to the International Organization of Film Archives.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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