INTRODUCTION to (that which is called) 'FILM STUDIES',
by a 'patient' who is certainly heretically a filmmaker

In 1985 we, in the 'refusenik' academic ward, wrote:

We feel that "psychoanalysis", as a dominant mode of film theoretical discourse in the 70's, is precisely one of the problems afflicting film theory. The reactive heritage that structuralism and psychoanalysis (currently masquerading as "post structuralism" and "post-Lacanian" discourse) have bestowed upon us must be exposed and neutralized. Unfortunately, our support of a critical position against 'Oedipus', 'castration', the 'lack' and the critical theocracy of 'subjectivity' has been misconstrued by some as 'anti-feminist'. Nothing could be further from the truth. We support socialist feminism, for there can be no advance in practice without productive dialogue across the lines of gender specificity and the many forms of cultural-social oppression. It is indeed unfortunate that feminism has been conflated with a reactive (pseudo) psychoanalysis of the cinema—unfortunate, because the latter mystifies and alienates the former and will not, in the long term, advance feminism or the psychological sciences (to which it pretends) in any way. We would anticipate that within several years the church of psychoanalytic subjectivity will undergo a kind of collective amnesia (or claim to have been misunderstood all along!), and maybe then everyone will turn their attention to issues not 'originating in infancy' or bound to dyadic binarisms and the narcissism of the cinema-as-mirror.

-- Excerpt from Editorial (by Al Razutis and Michael Eliot-Hurst) appearing in OPSIS (1985)

"We obviously underestimated the networks of influence."

The Church of Marxian Freudology - the rise of 'Film Studies'

The church of the dead

'Issues of Representation' (of the photographic image, of the 'male gaze', of 'female subjectivity') became the vogue in 80's academic publications on post-modernist analysis of film, television and media. University printing houses in the U.K. and the U.S. cranked out a steady stream of books on 'film theory' with an increasing number of corresponding student papers on 'visual pleasure', 'desire', 'theories of the gaze' testifying to the pre-eminence of these 'psychoanalytic doctrines' becoming entrenched in the 'cloisters' of film studies across North America and the U.K.

To say that there is nothing scientific in the 'feminist psychoanalytic' methods of such authors as Laura Mulvey, Constance Penley, Linda Williams, Kaja Silverman, and a host of graduate students who got their degrees in 'psychoanalysis of the cinema', is almost beside the point. They have succeeded in creating empires of 'film studies' based on the powers of persuasion, not scholarship. You won't see 'psychoanalysis of the cinema' in any university psychology departments; the old Freudology, mixed in with Marxian social analysis, never made it through the tenure or curriculum committees. These courses of study, along with the prescribed reading lists, did however become entrenched in the ideologically-driven 'Women's Studies' programs (also masquerading as 'Film Rhetoric') which themselves became the breeding grounds for a lot of the psycho-babble of the cinema.

The psycho-social determinisms (and their linguistic 'methods') of 'psychoanalysis of the cinema' were hypotheses (derived mostly from Freud's theories of adolescent voyeurism) that were applied to 'film culture' along the lines of 'we will prove that cinema is a male porno theater' full of 'perverse' positionings and 'ideological inscriptions'...'we will prove that cinema is a place where capitalism and male sadism gets played out for the unsuspecting viewer'. Yes, you could almost hear the call: 'sisters, take back the projection rooms!'

The Freudo-Marxian notions that human behavior is largely determined by narcissistic, voyeuristic, and sado-masochistic positionings/events, that society is by and large a complex of these determinations, were 'brave new world' assertions that were never proved outside of the 'study circles' of the academic film studies cloisters. Since none of the main proponents of these film theories were psychologists or clininal psychiatrists, they relied on structual linguistics and literary analysis to provide the concluding 'conversions' of hypothesis into fact. The argument was more important than the empirical data. The 'miracle of linguistic analysis' created the miracle of a new and previously unknown field of study: 'film studies' with an emphasis on 'gender relations'.

The 'film theorists' of psychoanalytic-semiotic film studies were not those making films, but those offering interpretation of films. Film Studies 'doctrines of interpretation' were produced on campus, at conferences, liberally mixing poetics and stuructural linguistics with psychoanalysis, Freud with Lacan, Marx and all his revisionists, and producing a 'miraculous talking cure' analysis of ideology and culture for the viewer / student. The intellectual adventure of 'analysis' and 'critique' became their calling, one whose intention was to subordinate cultural production to politically corrected interpretation and methods.

"Psychoanalysis is no science: it is a politico-religious movement and should be treated in the same way as all the other movements that have proposed models of behavior for particular times and contexts. Its conception of desire is 'ahead' of its time in appearance only; it is ahead only in perfecting the repressive support required by the logic of the system, and overhauling a technique of interpreting and redirecting desire and of internalizing repression. The object of psychoanalysis is, in brief what I would call collective paranoia..."

Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, p. 86.

A in-depth critique of psychoanalytic 'film theory' metaphysics, and its misinterpretation of avant-garde film can be found in Propositions for the Deconstruction of Cine-Structualism..., which was published in Opsis in the 1985. Twenty years later, the script seems all too familiar.

Who's driving the luxury cars now?

Film studies professors of course are now 'in charge'. When you replace 'film production' with 'film studies' you get a society of 'interpreters' begetting more 'interpreters' begetting more interpreters. Intellectual masturbation has become an industry and assumed the status of 'creationism' (rules of creation, as in 'Genesis').

In the 1980's a 'film theory' colleague of mine (Kaja Silverman) once proclaimed to me that there should be "no film production without TWO YEARS of pre-requisite FILM THEORY", and her 'film theory' course would be the PRE-REQUISITE for continuing on in film production (i.e. the making of films). This crypto-fascist prescription, for enforcing a prescribed form of 'theoretically informed' practice has become institutionalized in major universities.

In ideologically-driven film studies you get your 'permission' grade to continue, your degree to graduate, based on your adherence to a specious form of 'film theory' and 'film rhetoric'. Check out the Los Angeles Times article on the rise of film theory at UC. It's a story of simple betrayal (of what the student 'needs' to know). Student tuition doesn't mean a thing when the issue is 'theory'!

"Reread Marx, return to Freud, assure their peaceful coexistence...a whole program! And then isn't it marvellous to be able to serve the people this way, on the sole front of 'theoretical combat' without having to leave our lecture hall or our office?... The academician always returns to the same devices for shunning reality, by taking refuge behind the exegesis and interpretation of texts. But behind Marx and Freud, behind "Marxology" and "Freudology", there is the shitty reality of the Communist movement, of the psychoanalytic movement...Marxism and Freudianism, carefully neutralized by the Institutions of the workers' movements, the psychoanalytic movement, and the university, not only no longer disturb anyone, but actually become the guarantors of the established order, a demonstration via reduction to the absurd, that it is no longer possible to seriously unsettle that order".

Felix Guattari, Semiotext(e), Vol. 2, No.2/3 (1977)

'Opression by film theory' has now migrated to another focus: 'interactive media studies' (installation, networked art, games, virtual reality). We can look forward to more recycled essays on 'visual pleasure', 'viewer positioning', 'female subjectivity', 'the gaze', 'the lack', and the rest of the semio-babble that constituted the 'old testament' studies (Freud - Lacan), now reinvigotated as 'new testament' interactive media studies employing similarly failed psycho-social determinisms. It's already happened in media studies courses throughout North America. Check out the curriculum at Northwestern, where old marxists like Chuck Kleinhans (of 'super-8 film' and 'postcards from Nicaragua' fame) have latched onto 'new media'. Check out the fixations on pornography at UC Berkeley where Linda Williams has found her new media calling.

Ready to shoot: 'Discourse on the Production of Meaning'

Film Theory 101




('The Act of Reading Film as Text')

Academic 'film doctor' (an English or Women's Studies professor impersonating a 'psychoanalyst', quoting early Freud chapter and verse, impressing his or her audience with references to French Structuralism - Semiotics and sitting in screening room full of 'students' watching old 'Hitchcock' or 'Film Noir')... prescribes a 'psychoanalytic cure' (analysis of meaning - 'talking cure') for that uninformed and ill 'patient' (filmmaker, viewer, student), a cure which they don't 'understand' (not having made any film works themselves...), and speaking with a confortable conceit ('film theory') that their prescription 'will be good for society' ('a social construction'). Or in any case, good for tenure and promotion, and another conference. And good for those who 'agree' with them.

The Freudo-Lacanian psycho-babble of the 80's mutated into safe 'philosophical' or 'linguistic' zones, now entrenched in North American universities, still giving 'A' marks (and post-grad degrees) only to those who agree to the 'precribed cures' for what ails 'capitalism', 'imperialism', 'consumerism'. Check out the 'film studies' reading lists and 'prescribed texts' to trace the mutation and proliferation. They're still making big bucks, as Chomsky and all the marxist psycho-semioticians have migrated to 'rhetoric' and 'new media studies' with an emphasis on... you, their captives in 'knowledge' and 'politically correct meaning' in new left 'culture studies' 2003:

Al Razutis, 2004

Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology
Los Angeles Times, 2003

Related topics in Opsis Vol. 1, No. 1, 1984:   Menage a Trois: Contemporary Film Theory, New Narrative and the Avant-Garde by Al Razutis

InOpsis Vol. 1, No. 2/3, 1985:   Propositions for the Deconstruction of Cine-Structuralism... by Al Razutis