Formalism – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Film Theory Glossary Terms

I. What is Formalism in Film Theory?

Formalism in film theory is a critical approach that focuses on the formal elements of a film, such as its structure, style, and technique, rather than its content or narrative. Formalist critics believe that a film’s aesthetic qualities, such as its use of lighting, editing, sound, and camera work, are the most important aspects to consider when analyzing a film. Formalism emerged in the early 20th century as a reaction against the dominant literary and psychological approaches to film analysis.

II. What are the Key Principles of Formalism?

The key principles of formalism in film theory include:

1. Emphasis on Form: Formalist critics believe that the form of a film is more important than its content. They argue that a film’s style and technique are what make it a unique and artistic work of art.

2. Close Analysis: Formalist critics pay close attention to the formal elements of a film, such as its use of lighting, editing, sound, and camera work. They believe that these elements can reveal deeper meanings and themes within the film.

3. Autotelic Art: Formalist critics believe that a film should be appreciated for its own sake, rather than for any external or social meanings it may convey. They argue that a film’s aesthetic qualities are what make it valuable as a work of art.

4. Objective Criticism: Formalist critics strive to maintain an objective and analytical approach to film analysis, focusing on the formal elements of a film rather than subjective interpretations or personal opinions.

III. How Does Formalism Differ from Other Film Theories?

Formalism differs from other film theories, such as realism, auteur theory, and genre theory, in several key ways. While realism focuses on representing reality as accurately as possible, formalism emphasizes the artistic and aesthetic qualities of a film. Auteur theory attributes the authorship of a film to its director, while formalism looks at the collaborative efforts of the entire filmmaking team. Genre theory categorizes films based on their thematic and stylistic elements, while formalism examines the formal elements of a film in isolation from its genre or thematic content.

IV. What are Some Examples of Formalist Films?

Some examples of formalist films include:

1. “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929) directed by Dziga Vertov – This experimental documentary film is known for its innovative use of editing, camera work, and sound design to create a visual symphony of urban life.

2. “Breathless” (1960) directed by Jean-Luc Godard – This French New Wave film is celebrated for its unconventional editing techniques, jump cuts, and self-reflexive storytelling.

3. “Barry Lyndon” (1975) directed by Stanley Kubrick – This historical drama is praised for its meticulous attention to detail in production design, cinematography, and lighting, creating a visually stunning and immersive viewing experience.

V. How Does Formalism Influence Film Analysis?

Formalism influences film analysis by encouraging critics and scholars to focus on the formal elements of a film, such as its visual style, editing techniques, and sound design. By analyzing these elements in depth, formalist critics can uncover deeper meanings, themes, and artistic intentions within a film. Formalism also promotes a more objective and analytical approach to film analysis, allowing critics to evaluate a film based on its aesthetic qualities rather than personal preferences or biases.

VI. How Has Formalism Evolved Over Time?

Formalism has evolved over time to adapt to changing trends in filmmaking and film theory. While early formalist critics focused primarily on the formal elements of a film, such as editing and cinematography, contemporary formalism has expanded to include other aspects of film production, such as sound design, production design, and visual effects. Formalism has also influenced other film theories and critical approaches, leading to a greater appreciation for the artistic and aesthetic qualities of cinema. As technology continues to advance and filmmakers experiment with new techniques and styles, formalism will likely continue to evolve and shape the way we analyze and appreciate films.