Conflicts exist between different ideas and theories of realism. Describe and explain these conflicts.
‘Realism’ permeates the very deepest level of philosophical thought. From the wildest cosmogonical fantasies to the ways in which people deal with every conscious moment, ‘realism’ is impossible to ignore. Everything is either a precept to, or a contingency of, our views on realism. The debates surrounding all these ideas lie far beyond the remit of this essay. This essay seeks to debate the arguments of the pre-eminent thinkers associated with realism in terms of film. Then to provide a philosophical basis for their opinions, by which their arguments shall be weighted. It is necessary therefore, to establish this basis - this ‘value system’ – by which the arguments shall be judged.
David Hume’s theories of epistemology shall form the basis of this ‘value system’. Every aspect of our knowledge is gained by experience: Specifically by sensual experience of the physical world. In this respect, reality is not ontological, it is the sum of our sensual and rational experiences. It is not a precept, it is an existential conclusion of the world in which we live, and the way we experience it; and the sum of this we call reality. It is purely descriptive; a conclusion of perception.
The electromagnetic radiation to which our retina is sensitive, the variations in molecular density detectable by our inner ear, the molecules which cause chemical reactions in our nervous system: These experiences we term; sight and hearing, touch and taste. This information, this knowledge, is collected and compounded according to how it affects us, and it is concluded as our physical surroundings, and termed our reality. Reality is where we exist, reality is what we see and hear, reality is the conclusions determinable by our sensual experience.
Film – by definition - delivers this kind of sensual information, but what claim can it lay to being concluded in the same ways as we conclude the actual experiences that film seeks to reproduce. The spiritual father of the New Wave, Andre Bazin wrote extensively on realism in film. The recurring theme of his argument is reproduction; duplication of reality. He argued convincingly of the exactness of film. He saw film as a realist revolution in the arts, emancipating the ‘photo-realistic’ baroque artists to the ‘4th dimension’. Bazin spoke of film as an automatic, mechanical process; “for the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man”. However, Bazin then takes a step further and tries to confirm film as being not just tantamount to reality, but actually being its equivalent: “Film is the model [what is filmed], by virtue of the way it becomes a reproduction”. He is attempting to equate the filmed reproduction to the reality that is filmed. This is where his argument begins to lose credibility. Not only in the obvious physical impossibility of coexistent replication, but also in terms of our epistemological conclusions of film and reality. Bazin actually highlights many of the features that segregate film and reality: He states that film satisfies the “minds proclivity towards magic”. However, the very fact we are considering it as ‘magic’ divorces it from reality. He terms the process ‘objective,’ yet the photographer may manipulate the reproduction in many ways; by limiting focus, exposure levels, colour levels and the like. There is an act of sub-creation in the work of the photographer. He speaks of photography ‘embalming time,’ ‘rescuing [models] from their proper corruption’. Yet again, the act of doing so distinguishes film from its model, distancing it from reality. So these features distinguish film from reality by the definition of the act of photography. However, if the film image is the only experience one has of the model, then it has to be the reality of the model. There is no choice to make comparisons to its similarity to the model. It has to be taken as the fact, mitigated only by the other fact; that it is not the model, just a reproduction! This draws me to the conclusion to be made on Bazin; mitigated reality; “a hallucination that is also a fact”.