BY Roland Kapferer in Reviews | 01 OCT 06

Modernist and Postmodernist thinking has been directed toward displacing and shattering the grand totalizing theories of the Enlightenment, especially philosophy’s claim to be able to systematize and organize all knowledge. Fundamental shifts in the natural sciences, greater specification and new developments in logic have also contributed to the unseating of philosophy as the ‘Queen of the Sciences’. Filmosophy is representative of this Postmodernist dethroning. The neologism ‘filmosophy’ is in itself highly revelatory. Philosophy – philo-sophia, or the ‘friend of wisdom’ – is to be sidelined in favour of a more specific concentration on film itself: ‘film-sophia’ – ‘film wisdom’ or ‘film thinking’. This is not to be another one of the many books currently being churned out that use film as a pretext or a vehicle to illustrate philosophical concepts (William Irwin’s The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real, 2002, for instance, or The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule them All, edited by Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson, 2003).

Frampton’s fundamental idea is that films generate their own thoughts, which are specific to their imagistic mode of ‘film being’. Film ‘is’ thinking. Every time we watch a film we are put into direct contact with a non-human mind or a ‘filmind’. A film is not analogical to our way of thinking; rather, it is ‘its own’ way of thinking. Cinema initiates a different ordering of space, time and subjectivity. In fact its hitherto unseen cinematic worlds, often digitally enhanced and reconfigured, are not tied to the representation of our world at all. Film is immediate. It is a shock to our minds, which tears us away from our ‘dead interaction’ with the world and places us in the realm of feeling and intuition. As filmgoers we are encouraged to get past dialogue and plot – to feel the film and take from it ‘our truth’.

I’m in full agreement with Frampton’s urgency to get away from the abstractions of much film theory – the reduction of film to psychoanalysis or linguistics, for example. He takes off from the brilliant effort by Gilles Deleuze to reinvent philosophy through a rigorous analysis of the technology of cinema. But Frampton slips into a quasi-new age ‘poetry’ of cinema and our ‘feelings’ or ‘its feelings’. His desire to be ground-breaking gets in the way of his more serious ideas.

A cornerstone of Frampton’s argument is that film creates meaning through its form, and therefore form and content are not to be separated. Here is an example of ‘filmosophical’ analysis. At the beginning of The Matrix the character Neo is in a position of ignorance, and the film feels this ignorance by darkening half the image. He only has half the picture. When he learns the truth about the existence of The Matrix, the film returns to full image. Or take Magnolia (1999); when the film repeatedly zooms in (or ‘pushes in’, as Frampton puts it in order to break away from what he sees as ‘technicist’ film writing) on characters and through spaces, it makes us feel their urgency to ‘move forward’ with their lives. This just does not seem to be a staggeringly new or radical way to understand cinema.

Ultimately Filmosophy is smoke and mirrors, and neither film nor philosophy. Its blurring of the two frequently descends into a New Age lyricism and individualism – the ‘poetic experience’ of the filmgoer as co-creator of the film. It completely misunderstands Deleuze’s careful and systematic work on the cinema. The point is to bring the discipline of philosophy into contact with the discipline of film. It is explicitly not to collapse one into the other. This, as Deleuze once said, is a disaster for philosophy, for art and for thought in general.