Philosophical Issues in the Practice and Pedagogy of Film

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Patricia S. Davidson


Pictures, or presentational symbols, are different in many ways from words, or discursive symbols, but both are essential for communication. This thesis explores important differences and similarities between these two symbols systems in their relationship to the creation of films. Literary, psychological, art historical, and photographic traditions have historically been applied to film. However, philosophical methodologies have not been utilized significantly in the analysis of film for practical and pedagogical purposes. The author's fifteen years of experience in all aspects of non-fiction filmmaking are drawn upon to develop a philosophical corpus of terms and concepts intended for the film practitioner, critic, and instructor. Through the process of applying ideas from the writings of philosophers, especially Susanne Langer and Nelson Goodman, to films and filmic experience, seven interrelated, operative notions are presented, investigated, developed, and applied to fiction and nonfiction films. Briefly described they are: abstraction (making symbols that are abstracted from the physical object, but still referring to them, or creating symbols that in some way refer to feelings and thought), transformation (developing and correlating symbols so that they express a new logic and meaning in order to convey ideas and feelings). Depiction and description (representing, classifying, labeling, and developing techniques of presenting images and ideas). response (providing attention, understanding, and expression), object symbolization (developing symbols that denote referents and have their own purpose), association (relating images and sounds within a frame and within a sequence of frames), and assimilation (incorporating various sources. such as modes, elements, devices and techniques, into film requirements). Especially timely with the extensive -media capabilities of computers so readily available, this thesis is intended to provide a fresh look at the wide realm of possibilities for developing film models, analyzing films, selecting and developing film techniques, and understanding film structure and film processes.


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