What is Film Theory?

What is Film Theory? Well… Let me narrate it simply in one line. Film theory is an academic discipline that aims to explore the essence of the film.

If I want to elaborate the concept I must say, Film theories help to understand film’s relationship to reality, the other arts, individual viewers and society at large scale.

Besides, these theories have significant overlap with the philosophy of film. Film theories are not complicate to understand. But, Film theories become part and parcel where critical cinema analysis needed.

However, Film theory is a set of scholarly approaches within the academic discipline of film studies. These theories answer the essential questions about films as well as provide conceptual frameworks of principle shooting.

Some Important Film Theories

There are some important film theories. Those theories belong to such broad concept that It is possible to write a separate article on each film theory. In a previous article, I wrote about two important film theories. They were realism and formalism. In a nutshell other important film theories are described in this article. So, Enthusiastic readers can take a look.

1. Apparatus Theory

“In such a way, the cinematic apparatus conceals its work and imposes an idealist ideology, rather than producing critical awareness in a spectator.”- Jean Louis Baudry

Jean Louis Baudry, a well known French Novelist and pioneer of Psychoanalytical film theories like Apparatus theory. Baudry’s Apparatus theory is important within the history of film theory.

In Apparatus Theory Baudry argues that cinema is based on ideas or ideological because it reproduces the reality. Ideology is not imposed on cinema but part of its nature and it forms how we think. What was created on a film illustrates different ideas on which everything has meaning include the camera and editing.

Apparatus theory circles-in about the cinema and audience connectivity relationship. This theory is based on the flag of morality, ideals and ethics. It is basically dubbed as an observer based theory. It aims to convey how a cinema or film watcher reacts and digest the events and images delivered to them through the lenses of cameras.

This theory became dominant after 1970. Above all, Apparatus theory declared that movies made to reflect some reality or ideology as well. That means every part of a movie for instance acting, cinematography, lighting, sound, editing has meaning. The main argument is that the viewer accepts all these elements as they watch and impose meaning onto the film.

2. Auteur Theory

This became a popular theory in France in 1940. American critic Andrew Sarris established this theory. The main gist of Auteur theory expresses that a film is a reflection of the director’s artistic vision. Director puts his/her stamp on a movie because they oversee all audio and visual elements of the motion picture.

Therefore, a film directed by a given filmmaker will have recognizable, recurring themes and visual cues that inform the audience who the director is. For example, Alfred Hitchcock’s films can be identified separately from other movies only for his distinctive making style.

3. Queer Theory

Queer Theory came about in the early 1990s. Like Feminist Film, it breaks films down from the perspective of how they originated. This theory’s origins are in LGBT studies – which focus on sexuality and gender. Queer theory articulates the fluid and humanly performed nature of sexualities. It questions socially established norms and dualistic categories with a special focus on challenging social classifications. Such as:

i) Heterosexual/homosexual in terms of sexuality.

ii) Male/female in terms of gender.

iii) Rich/poor in terms of social class.

iv) White/ Black in terms of race.

By breaking this barrier down, queer theory can show the limitations of that model and work to undo the norm. Some examples of Queer Theory in action are Todd Haynes’s Poison, which use the horror film genre to investigate the politics of gay sexual practices of the AIDS era. Also, Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry, which uses Feminist Film Theory and Queer Theory to expose the way society treats a Transgender protagonist.

4. Marxist Film Theory

Marxist film theory greatly differs from other theories because it is less about analysis of film and more about production. Filmmakers when apply Marxist theory in their film, they attempt to create a concrete, realistic, and unbiased structure to promote ideas especially political ideas in a convincingly truthful way.

This theory focuses on the relationship of the filmmaker to the film, and the relationship of the film to the audience. Marxist theory is based in influencing the viewer through realistic and unbiased structure. With this, Marxist filmmakers use jump cuts and jarring edits to avoid suspension of disbelief within their audience.

5. Structuralism Theory

Not only in films, but also in sociology, anthropology and linguistics structuralism takes place as an important portion. It is a general theory of culture and methodology that implies that elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader system.

Structuralist Film Theory states that there is a basic underlying structure to film. By comparing patterns and relationships of the structure within a single film, and between several films, we can better understand meaning. Structuralism focuses on recurring themes as well as the use of signs, symbols, and conventions to interpret film. This theory helps viewers to understand the implicit meaning of a film.

Why Film Theory Matters

By now you must have understood by reading this article why film theory matters. These theories are important to know not only for film studies students to enrich their academic knowledge but also for armature film makers for their practical works.

If you are a film analyst, its necessary to know how to breakdown the film elements that make a movie good or bad. Film theories will definitely help you in this case. Besides, before writing, directing or producing your initial films, you must know some core film theories. When you are well informed about important film theories, you will have enriched ideas about framing, editing as well as creating meaningful work.

Final Words

Above all, Film theory is a framework to understand what films mean and how they relate to life. Understanding film theory allows viewers to find new levels of meaning within film. For filmmakers, theory allows them to ensure better understanding of storytelling tools to create emotional and dramatic impacts on audiences.