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Exploring the Role of Film in Creating Critical Mass

Jan 12, 2023

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Jan 12, 2023 | Essays

1. We have the advantage of living in a time many years after Walter Benjamin wrote the article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Do you think Benjamin’s ideas about film’s role in creating a “critical mass” have come to fruition? Why or why not?

Merriam-Webster (n.d) defined a “critic” as an individual who expresses an opinion on something that is unfavorable. The person judges the merits of musical, artistic and literary works by communicating their opinions and assessments in different forms of creative work. “Mass” pertains to, involves or affects a large number of people. Similarly relates to performed by or participated in by a large number of people (Merriam-Webster, n.d). Therefore, this essay will define “critical mass” as the critical judgments, may be negative, positive or even balanced after weighing different factors both for and against by many people.

The essay believes that the ideas of Benjamin, in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” about the role of film in creating the critical mass has come to fruition. The argument of Benjamin primarily focusses on the revolutionary film potential as a mode of mechanical production, although he discusses photography briefly. Unlike the stage performers, the film actor does not respond or face to an audience. The views of the audience are also synonymous with the perspective accorded to the camera that is imperious. The net effect of the mechanical production or these innovations is placing the viewer in the position of a critic. This was something which would never be allowed prior the cultic experiences (Larsen, 2010). The prevalence of mechanical productions and films also creates a culture of the minor experts who are ready to judge art and films instead of losing them in the participatory ritual. Also in his article, Benjamin notes that films majorly relies on spliced and cut images that must be combined to form an aesthetic film. The films swift movements and juxtapositions strike viewer violently, and this disrupts easy consumption and contemplation of the image, hence creating a critical mass (Larsen, 2010).

2. In his article Andre Bazin “Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake whose vegetable or earthy origins are an inseparable part of their beauty” makes a distinction between directors who put their faith in the image and directors who put their faith in reality. Choose a film which you think fits into the category of directors who put their faith in reality and explain why you chose this film, with reference to Bazin

In his thesis, Bazin directly aims at the experience of people in cinema which he termed as psychological realism. He starts by analysing psychological realism of photography that he absolutely differentiated from painting. Between the originating object, for the first time, and its reproduction there is the intervention of the non-living instrumentality agent. For the first time, the world image is automatically formed without man’s creative intervention. Bazin stated that all arts are grounded on man’s presence, and it is only photography that has an advantage where man is absent (Bazin, 1999).

Bazin, a film critic has a very strong feeling on the subject of realism and montage. In his article, he makes a distinction between the directors who always put their faith in the reality and those who put their faith in the image. The essay chose a film of “Umberto D” directed by Vittorio De Sica which it thought fitted into the category of directors who put their faith in reality (Bazin, 1967). Vittorio De Sica’s philosophy of filmmaking takes a closer examination of the world, continue doing so, and in the end lays bare for the audience all the ugliness and cruelty. For instance, the scene where the maid wakes up in the morning. The episode is broken up into units that are smaller and continuously shot turning the life itself into a visible poetry and spectacle. Moreover, the film does a job that is admirable of not over-sentimentalizing Umberto figure himself. A small, cuddly, scruffy dog is sitting on the pavement begging for money with a hat in his teeth (Bazin, 1967).

In many passages of his article, Bazin claims that realism in cinema is grounded not on the notion of reality by the physicist, but on the notion of the psychologist. Audience view cinema as they view reality and not of the way it looks because it was mechanically recorded and may look unreal. According to Bazin (1999), the inhuman world portrait intrigues the audience and makes photography and cinema of man but nature’s media.

Realism in the psychological sense does not have to do with the reproduction accuracy but with the belief of the spectator about the reproductions origin. In painting arts, the origin involves the mind and skill of the artist confronting an objecting. However, photography involves another physical process which confronts a physical object (Bazin, 1999).

3. Michael Moore often “inserts” himself into his films. Is Moore, perhaps, trying to “authenticate” his documentary as a “true happening” in Perez’s sense or is it what Perez calls a “visual lie”? Explain

Filmmaker and liberal commentator Michael Moore emerged into the scene with his debut documentary featuring Roger and Me. The documentary was a heartfelt and personal account of his hometown economic downfall. In his film, he was the main character, and it was more about him with his many attempts of trying to interview Roger Smith, the CEO of General Motors. In fact, he refers to himself as “Me” in the film title (Moore et al, 2003).

“Roger and Me” was a commercial and critical success was first of the documentaries released by Moore that were successful. However, despite the success, he receive many criticisms for the exaggeration of his real life events and also the manner he portrayed the events non-chronologically to reinforce his message better. Michael Moore’s films are what Perez described as “visual lie” (Moore et al, 2003).

Typically documentaries are subjective in nature because they are normally created to reinforce the beliefs of the filmmaker, or even to enlighten or entertain. Where the film of Moore suffer is that it tries to pass themselves as unbiased and truthful journalism works. Moreover, Moore is even proud because his film borrows from large and different sources and is well researched. This makes his film to borderline propaganda and is deceiving (Bernstein, 2010).

4. Do you agree with jean Baudrillard that we are in some way living in a “giant simulacrum” or are you more inclined to agree with the critics who call his claims “hyperbolic”?

This essay agrees with jean Baudrillard that we are in some way living in a “giant simulacrum.” I tend to believe that the contemporary world which we lives in creates a lot of simulations, symbols and representations, which stand on their own without referring to the things they represented originally, just like jean Baudrillard observed in his essay, “Simulacra and Simulation”( Lane, 2000).

Baudrillard argued that the initial relationship that existed between an object of reference in the material world and its sign representation in the form of the diagram, image, and language has been altered. Baudrillard furthered asserted that the sign has preceded the real and that new reality dimensions have come to the existence where signs are used and further re-used without referring to the material world (Gane, 2000).

To illustrate this theory, take an example of a map based on another map which is then altered with the received information from another map. This is an endless cycle where the cycle is made and used without even referring to the represented actual territory. However, this does not mean that the map which is a representation has no reality relations at all, but the entire system becomes weightless, and a giant simulacrum (Lane, 2000).

“Simulacra and Simulation” “Simulacra and Simulation” “Simulacra and Simulation”


Bazin, A. (1967). Umberto D: A Great Work, in What is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray,

Bazin, A. (1999). The Evolution of the Language of Cinema, in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen ed., Film Theory and Criticism.

Bernstein, M. (2010). Michael Moore: Filmmaker, newsmaker, cultural icon. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Gane, M. (2000). Jean Baudrillard. London: SAGE.

Lane, R. J. (2000). Jean Baudrillard. London: Routledge.

Larsen, E. (2010).The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/The_Work_of_Art_in_the_Age_of_Mechanical_Reproduction

Merriam-webster. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/online

Moore, M., Beaver, C., Prusak, J., Rafferty, K., Schermer, B., Stanzler, W., White, J. B., … Warner Home Video (Firm). (2003). Roger & me. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

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