Psychoanalysis and Film Theory Part 1:
‘A New Kind of Mirror’
Your study is located at the crossroads of magic and positivism. That spot is bewitched. Only theory can break the spell.
Film theory as we know it today did not come into existence until the late 1960’s, and since then has been dominated by psychoanalytic ideas. This article seeks to specifically investigate the influence of Lacanian psychoanalysis on film theory. Its development will be traced in two articles through classic film theory, the role of Karl Marx and Louis Althusser, the contributions of semiotics, the debates surrounding apparatus theory and the gaze, and finally the input of feminism. While this type of broad overview has been attempted in many general introductions to film theory, it is hoped here to provide a rough sketch of its formative stages of development, while filling in the detail on a number of significant issues that highlight Lacan’s influence.
Classic Film Theory
It was not until after the First World War that it became possible to identify two particular groups within film criticism. Spearheading the first of these groups was the figure of Sergei Eisenstein, whose film-making and theoretical essays in the 1920’s established a conception of the role of the cinema as a primarily aesthetic one. According to Eisenstein, a film’s aesthetic value depended on its ability to transform reality and in his films this usually took the form of montage. In opposition to Eisenstein were the impressionists and surrealists. They also believed the main function of the cinema to be aesthetic, but thought that the camera itself was enough to render ordinary objects sublime. Their emphasis on cinema as a visual medium meant that they regarded narrative in many cases as an obstacle that had to be overcome. This, coupled with