Robert Pippin at nonsite:
What happens to us when we watch visualized fictional narratives, otherwise known as movies? And what must we do in order to understand what we are shown? Is there a way of working to understand a film that goes beyond working to understand the details of its plot? When, at what point, have we understood a movie? Stanley Cavell has said that what serious thought about great film requires are “humane readings of whole films.” What are readings of films? Can either what happens to us in watching, or what we do in trying to understand, result in anything of any relevance to philosophy, to philosophical knowledge, if we allow ourselves to believe there might be such a thing?
These are difficult and very controversial issues. I propose only a small step in responding to such questions, or a narrow focus, let us say; a concentration on one two minute, forty-eight second short film called “Dans l”obscurité,” “In the Dark,” made in 2007 by the Belgian team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, about whom I’ll say more in a minute.
Just what we see and hear when we see and hear movie events and movie dialogues is a trickier question than it might seem. When we see Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo, we would not be surprised in the slightest if someone were to point out that, “really,” there on the screen is the famous actor James Stewart pretending to be the fictional character Scottie Ferguson. Of course we know this. We might plausibly deny, however, that what we see when we watch this movie is James Stewart, and then we make-believe or pretend that he is Scottie Ferguson, or we see Stewart, and imagine Ferguson “in our heads,” as it were.