Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Power of Movies"

Colin McGinn is an acclaimed philosopher with a long list of books and articles to his name. Many of those publications are written for professional philosophers, but two of my favorites-- The Making of a Philosopher and Ethics, Evil, and Fiction--are accessible and inviting to a much wider audience.

His two more recent books are the just-released Shakespeare's Philosophy and The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact (2005).

I was very pleased that he agreed to put The Power of Movies to the "page 69 test." Here is his response:
My book explores the power of the movie image to grip and enthrall the human mind. Why do movies and the mind seem so well-suited to one another? On page 69 I am considering the theory that the movie image is an incorporeal concoction of light analogous to the Cartesian immaterial mind—so that the interaction of screen and mind is like the interaction between two minds, yours and the one on the screen. I note that there is a crucial disanalogy between the immaterial self of Descartes and the movie image, namely that the latter is visible and two-dimensional while the former is invisible and non-spatial. This theory then gives way to the idea that the movie image is more like the “spiritual body”—the kind of body possessed by angels and ghosts. The screen image of a person is like a shadow of that person, and shadows are incorporeal (yet visible) counterparts of solid 3D people. Thus movies present us with the human body as transformed and dematerialized, rendered ethereal. Consider, say, the body of dancing Fred Astaire as he defies gravity.

The book also deals at length with the idea that movies resemble dreams, so that watching one is like being in a dream. Thus movies connect with a deep part of the psyche, both primitive and powerful. For example, movies dovetail visual sensation and emotion in the same kind of way that dreams carry emotionally charged sensory images. Accordingly, move watching appeals to part of ourselves that is activated during dreaming. Not surprisingly, then, a movie like The Wizard of Oz actually consists of a screened dream. But other movies too put images together in a “grammar” analogous to that of dreams—as when the camera jumps from one location to another without intermediate steps, just as dreams whisk us from one place to another.
Many thanks to Colin for the input.

Among the praise for The Power of Movies:
“The analogy between movies and dreams has a long history, but it has never been so thoroughly and provocatively explored as in Colin McGinn’s The Power of Movies. A must-read for anyone interested in films, dreams, or the mysteries of consciousness.”
–Walter Murch, editor and sound designer for Apocalypse Now and The English Patient
A brisk and often scintillating discourse on the striking similarities between dreams and movies.... [McGinn] fascinates as he shows how a film's narrative structure, spatial discontinuities, montage, length, even its gestation and distribution all resemble dreaming. He caps his series of analogies by suggesting that dreams and films perform cathartic functions for those in the dark, an experience he finds akin to an intense sexual ravishing. Given currency, this particular hypothesis may well raise the box office from its current slump by sending readers rushing out for a good movie. McGinn's observations will resonate with thoughtful moviegoers, who will surely annotate the text with their own dream and movie experiences.
--Kirkus Reviews
Warren Etheredge interviewed McGinn about the book, movies, and ... Tara Reid.

No philosopher has done more for a movie than McGinn did for The Matrix; click here to read "The Matrix of Dreams."

The London Times interviewed McGinn in 2004 and came away with an article titled "I have three main parts to my life: philosophy, surfing and rock 'n' roll."

Nicholas Fearn reviewed The Making of a Philosopher here--he called it a "superb intellectual autobiography"-- and puts the anecdote about McGinn's meeting Jennifer Aniston in the first paragraph.

Not interested in film, surfing, or rock 'n' roll? Then check out Jonathan Miller talking with Colin McGinn about atheism here, here, and here.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue