Review of classical film theory from the neurocinematics

2019 edition

Sanz Javier

One of the main discussions in film theory is the controversy around the existence of a cinematographic language. In the 1920s the first theories appear about the cinematographic language. These first theories proposed the change of shot as the language syntax. But is in the 1960s when the positions would be clearly defined through Mitry, that affirms the existence of a cinematographic language, and Metz, that defines the cinema as an articulation of different languages. From this time, two theoretical currents were established that define the nature of the film. The debate nowadays is deadlocked, mainly due to the methodological tradition applied to film theorization, based on interpretation and not on objective data and quantifiable results.

The emergence of the ecological cognitive cinematographic theory (Anderson, 1998) and the neurocinematics (Hasson, y otros, 2008) open a new way of cinematographic research and film theorization. Recording biometric activity in the viewer we can understand the behaviour of the cognitive system triggered by the film and develop a film theory based on objective and quantifiable data. In the last 10 years several classic film theories has been reviewed by neurocinematical researchers like Smith, Nakano or Zacks. The main recording systems in neurocinematics are the electroencephalogram, the magnetic resonance and the eye tracking, although there are also interesting studies using facial recognition, galvanic skin response or heart rate.

From the neurocinematics, classic theoretical film concepts can be tested and analysed with objective and quantitative experiments and measures. This allows us to review the unresolved debate about if it exists a cinematographic language or not, and to try to solve it through the analysis of the viewer’s cognitive system. This topic has a great complexity to be solved and the neurocinematics has only 10 years of development, so it is impossible to design a single experiment to prove or refuse the existence of the cinematographic language. However, experiments can be developed that support or refute the existence of cinematographic language according to its different aspects, aspiring in the future to be able to prove one of the positions.

In our investigation we focused on checking if the change of shot acts as articulator in the cinematographic discourse, approaching the theory of a cinematographic syntax. To study it, we analysed the Event-Related Synchronization/Desynchronization in the electroencephalogram for the frequency bands Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta and Delta registered on 21 viewers while they observed film fragments extracted from 4 different films.