” Cult of Distraction” by Siegfried Kracauer

In the beginning of Kracauer’s essay ” Cult of Distraction” he seems to make a clear distinction between what he calls “picture houses” and “movie theatres.” He makes this distinction by saying that calling the former a “movie theatre” would be disrespectful ( Kracauer 323). He characterizes these “picture houses” as almost spiritual or godlike, specifically calling people who go to them a ” community of worshipers”( Kracauer 323). To me he specifically used the term worshipers to lead into his next point about how these picture houses create a culture of distraction that appeals to the masses ( Kracauer 324).  Specifically referring to the masses who frequent these places and shows seems to impart some sense of a spiritual or ritual like importance. Kracauer also examines these viewing places through a very social/ economic class oriented way which was very interesting to me. Kracauer says ” Critics chide Berliners for being addicted to distraction, but this is a petit bourgeois critique” ( Kracauer 325). Kracauer goes on to explain how this is not necessarily a bad thing or even the case when it comes to Berlin. He believes that the audiences in Berlin are actually acting more truthfully than supposed people who have more refined taste ( Kracauer 326).  Kracauer believes the shows aimed at distracting contain the same externalities that  the masses experience in there everyday lives.  The distraction appeals to the masses because it shows the disorder of everyday life and this concept that one random day it could all fall apart, the masses demand this tension from their entertainment( Kracauer 327). Kracauer outright says “distraction is only meaningful as improvisation, as a reflection of the uncontrolled anarchy of our world” (Kracauer 327).  He calls for the actual places where films are watched to stop trying to mimic the theatrical trappings, they only draw away from films power. Kracauer mentions the two dimensional  illusion of the physical world that film is able to create, it does not need help to do so, on the contrary if real physicality is displayed next to a film the illusion is destroyed ( Kracauer 328). He advocates that film must be separate from  all three dimensional surroundings or the illusion has no chance to work ( Kracauer 328).  My question lies( and it could just be my own confusion) in how Kracauer believes distraction can be used in cinema. Does he think that the use of distraction to “expose disintegration instead of mask it” will lead to better film in general? Or does he think it will lead to films that can better present ideological arguments? I guess I am trying to think through all of his references to social class and differences in taste between the classes he distinguishes as working class and bourgeois middle class, a question of his arguments scope. Does this exposure of disintegration to the masses lead to overall cultural reform or just strictly reform in cinema?


The Ontology of the Photographic Image by Andre Bazin

In The Ontology of the Photographic Image, Bazin outlines what has historically been expected from the plastic arts and how these expectations are similar and different to the what is expected of cinema. Bazin believes that the basis of the plastic arts is to act as insurance policies whose main goal is to preserve in an artificial manner the “bodily appearance” or more broadly physical reality in a certain time ( Bazin 9).  The purpose of plastic arts has transitioned according to Bazin from “survival after death, but of a larger concept, the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny” ( Bazin 10). In this way photography offered something different than what painting and other plastic arts where capable of doing. ” For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man” ( Bazin 13). Bazin sees this absence of man as a good thing. He sees photography as being able to actually be able to create, not just provide a substitute for other things. Bazin declares that photography is “clearly the most important event in the history off plastic arts” ( Bazin 16). I thought how Bazin examines cinema through these other art forms  was interesting because he seems to have a sound investment in the photographic image being superior to them, but also of a different nature. He states that ” Photography can even surpass art in creative power” ( Bazin 15). Bazin says that photography is a reality of nature, or as he puts it “an hallucination that is also a fact” ( Bazin 16). I guess his phrasing confuses me here, he  says earlier  that “photography forms an image of the world automatically without the creative intervention of man” ( Bazin 13).  When he characterizes film as a hallucination it makes me think it is more closely related to a perspective on reality, more so than an automatically created image without interference. How does Bazin reconcile the two ideas? Or is he just looking at two different ends of the photography creative capability spectrum? On one hand photography is able to capture without creative intervention and on the other hand it is capable of creating its own reality or hallucination that acts as fact.

Evolution of Cinema- Andre Bazin

In the essay the Evolution of Cinema, Andre Bazin  looks at the evolution of film through examining technological advances and their effect on cinema. A large part of the essay focuses on the transition from silent film to sound film and how this effects tendencies of film such as montage. ” The sound film nevertheless did preserve the essentials of montage, namely discontinuous description and the dramatic analysis of action” ( Bazin 39). Although he admits that sound film has the essentials of montage he elaborates on this in the following sentence by saying, ” what it turned its back on was   metaphor and symbol in exchange for the illusion of objective presentation” ( Bazin 39). Bazin seems very interested in the idea of the increasing capabilities of cinema to represent reality. I think he very specifically chose the word “illusion” to describe how cinema objectively represents reality. Using the word illusions makes me believe that Bazin believes that no film can just represent reality, it is allows illusion through perspective.Bazin discusses the idea in the end of his essay that by the 1940’s that ” Today we can say that at last the director writes in film” ( Bazin 39). This idea of Bazin openly comparing and using language of another art medium, writing, to describe cinema is interesting to me. It seems as though Bazin thinks highly of writing, but typically looks down upon theater and painting in comparison to film. Bazin does not seem opposed to the idea of realism. “The image… has at its disposal more means of manipulating reality and of modifying it from within. The film-maker is no longer the competitor of the painter and the playwright, he is, at last,  the equal of the novelist “( Bazin 40). All of the literary comparisons  seems to equate films metaphoric ability through montage very closely to how metaphor acts in literature. My question lies in what Bazin means by “the director writes in film?”  Is the basis of his comparison to the writing process in how editing takes place in both film and the writing process? Or does it lie in the comparison of the metaphoric capabilities given to film through the ability to work in realism in the sense of manipulating reality?