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"Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus"

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Jean-Louis BaudryEdit

A French apparatus theorist. His work is a strand of the ideologically-based theories of film in the late-60s/early-70s, that were influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis, Althusser's theories of ideology, and the student revolts of 1968.

This essay is one of film theory's "greatest hits", the major essay that is taught regarding the function of the camera as an ideological apparatus. This could be cited as an early form of media archaeology?

“Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus” [1970]Edit

Baudry's essay argues that we must turn toward the “technological base” of the cinema in order to understand its truly ideological function. This is constituted by the 3 technological parts of the film and film-going experience experience:

  1. projection is “difference denied”, because it restores continuity to static images
  2. the camera, aligned with the eye (and hence, the subject in the tradition of Western art) produces a “transcendental subject” who is granted movement and meaning. The eye is given a false sense of complete freedom of movement
  3. the setting of film itself, with its dark room and straight-forward gaze, reproduces the mirror stage in which secondary identification occurs, allowing for the illusory constitution of the subject

Thus, the role of film is to reproduce an ideology of idealism, an illusory sensation that what we see is indeed “objective reality” and is so because we believe we are the eye that calls it into being. The entire function of the filmic apparatus is to make us forget the filmic apparatus--we are only made aware of the apparatus when it breaks.

Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Obsever is a useful counterpoint to Baudry's progressive history of film. His concern over projection as the production of continuity between different images is mirror by Kittler's assertion that the medium of film is a corallary to the Lacanian Imaginary in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Like another major essay on the function of technology and cinema in constituting the 20th century subject, Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility", Baudry wants to know whether the “work” of cinema is made evident or concealed; this is analogous to Benjamin's “politicization of the aesthetic vs. aesthetization of the political”. Unlike Baudry, however, Benjamin considers the conditions of the apparatus ideologically ambiguous, as the viewer does seem to wield some autonomy in relation to their interpretation of material. Baudry does seem to take the audience as a “given” of absorption or consumption (he presumes a very uni-directional observer, rather than one that can think about the conditions of reception)

For Your ConsiderationEdit

  • JLB is strongly influenced by an Althusserian concept of ideology, which makes his theorizations a little rigid
  • He presumes a straight history from the camera obscura to film, believing that these relationships are contiguous. He uses phrases like “the history of film shows” by which he must mean “a progressive history of the technologies of film”, granting an unlikely autonomy to the technologies themselves. A bit technologically deterministic
  • I do like how he frames film as a form of ecriture, because of its use of discrete segments being composed as an illusory continuity of meaning.

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