Intellectual Conditioning

I have been in ‘Film Studies’ now for a year and a half. I have taken three Phd classes and two undergraduate classes (a condition of heading into a Film Studies Phd with a Sociology background), one Phd and one Ugrad in progress this semester). Yet I stll struggle with translating theory into applied filmmaking. I am currently reading Deleuze’s Time-Image (among many other articles and excerpts surrounding the idea of the figure in film), and on a theoretical level, I completely understand what he is talking about. On an abstract level I can imagine my own examples when I have been discussing his work in recent conversations. When he gives examples – written examples about a film – I get it. However, I have a really hard time watching a movie and going – oh – this is an example of what Deleuze meant.

When I was in my first year of my Sociology MA, we had a few exercises where we had to read random articles and then determine which theoretical area they fell under – was it a Marxist article, was it rooted in Weberian tradition, was it post-modern, symbolic interactionism, etc etc. Then we had to iterate why we chose our particular answer. This process was started in my bachelor’s degree, since we had to do similar exercises in our upper level honour’s classes (but the professor guided us through the readings so that we could see why an article was from a particular perspective). In the end, I have been trained to be able to extrapolate from examples. As a sociologist who has done mostly ethnographic work, I have also been trained to take theory and apply it to social situations as they occured.

So why can I not grasp the filmic example? I really want to see it – I really try to see it -but more often then not, I just go back to the text and then think again about the film and THEN I can see what he was talking about – but I can’t just watch and see it unfold.

Perhaps, as my good friend pointed out to me this weekend, that it is that I have been trained … conditioned.. to think sociologically and not cinematically (is that the film studies equivalent?). I really enjoy film studies with my sociological lens, and I can even step out of the whole ‘film as social construction’ much more now – a year and a half later – than I could when I started. But how long until I can adequately use a film clip to demonstrate a theory instead of writing out four extra papers or talking for 10 extra minutes contextualizing what I am trying to say. Of course, one would tell me – but Kelly – you use games as examples all the time – shouldn’t it as least be related? And I would answer that I tend to use screen shots (the “still” being the filmic equivalent). Working theoretically from a still – in my opinion (or at least experience) is much easier, and what I think of as a visual “quote”. It is not a moving image, a fluid sequence that gives a different ‘feeling’ (for the lack of a better word at the moment) than what a ‘still’ conveys. When working with a still, I can stick to discussing what is in that particular frame without having to worry much about temporality. I have read Laurent Jullier’s text on Filmic Analysis, as well as Le Texte Introuvable (Bellour) and I am faced with the same struggle – when I read their words, I get it – when I go to put in action, I struggle with connecting the nodes between theory and applied practice.

I guess it all comes down to intellectual conditioning. During one of these conversations this weekend, my friend, who is ta’ing and leading discussion groups for an intro to Sociology course was telling me how some of the students could not grasp the concept of functional structuralism (a theory that I recoil in admitting is close to my heard). As she was telling me this, I kept saying “I don’t get it – how could they NOT get structural functionalism!!” I guess this is how my film studies colleagues see me sometimes heh. In the end, I have to remember that I have been ‘conditioned’, ‘schooled’, in a particular discipline – it does not make you master of all disciplines, and with a lot of reading, some good discussions and a bit of luck, I will ‘get it’.

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