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Film Theory

Film theory emerged in the early days of cinema, in both American film, international film and documentary film, as means of both legitimizing cinema as an art form and identifying its key features and tropes that would aid scholarly analysis of films to come.¹Early theorists include Rudolph Arnheim and his kind who were keenly interested in film's ability to reshape reality according to its needs, while later famous theorists like Andre Bazin were more concerned with encouraging films to reflect and emulate reality as precisely as possible.¹

This duality of cinema - whether should hold a mirror to reality, or be an interpretive lens - remains a point of debate and interest in film theory today, and often popular preference shifts back and forth with the current trends and visionaries.¹

Unlike film criticism, film theory offers no opinions on the worth of a film. Instead, it aims to uncover the how the portrayal of events in a finished piece relates to the viewer, society and reality itself.¹ Essentially, film theory is a set of analyzing and interpretive techniques and frameworks that help one understand a film's message or impact and how that is achieved.¹

Some major lines of film theory are¹:

  • apparatus theory
  • auteur theory
  • feminist theory
  • formalist theory
  • Marxist theory
  • language analysis
  • psychoanalytical analysis
  • screen theory
  • structuralist theory

Film theory tends to borrow from many other areas of study - sociology, gender studies, literature studies, linguistics, political science, etc. to better understand some aspects of films.¹ However, it has only gained respect as a viable area of study in universities in its own right over the last couple of decades. The future is bright for this growing field of study, especially with the spread of the internet, where ideas on films with ever-bigger budgets and dreams can be swapped and augmented easily.¹



Image source:

1. Wikimedia


1. Stam, Robert. (2000). Film Theory: an introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

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