I will focus on the spectator’s agency that remains of central importance, and the spectator’s identification with the screen. According to Michele Aaron what is important is “the individual’s own role and activity in participating in the pleasures of the text, in determining the meaning of a film and, even, the meaningfulness of cinema.” Spectatorship is a crucial issue within critical thinking in general and film studies in particular; the spectator’s involvement is important, their activity or passivity, manipulation or resistance, distance or implication. Michele Aaron makes a distinction between the Spectator and the viewer; the spectator is not the viewer, He states that the viewer “according to cultural studies, is the live, breathing, actual audience member, coming from a specific socio-historical context. This viewer exists in sharp contrast to the spectator as ‘subject’.” For Judith Mayne, whose Cinema and Spectatorship is the key book on the subject, “Spectatorship is not only the act of watching a film, but also the ways one takes pleasure in the experience, or not; the means by which watching movies becomes a passion, or a leisure-time activity like any other. Spectatorship refers to how film-going and the consumption of movies and their myths are symbolic activities, culturally significant events.” P. 1 The Spectator is not simply a passive viewer, but he/she interacts in the action of the film, taking the pleasure of watching and giving a meaning to the film. The spectator can be a ‘decoder’. Usually the film relies on signs and it is up to the spectator to decode them and give them meaning.
“The Birth of the Spectator”
Louis Althusser, a French Marxist theorist who would have a profound effect on film studies, and in particular, on the birth of the spectator. Michele Aaron emphasizes on “[Althusser’s] rethinking of Marxist notions of state control would instate the notion of the ‘subject’ into the functioning of ideology. When applied to cinema, this ‘subject’ would emerge as the hypothetical spectator of 1970s film theory.” (7)
The filmmaker anticipates the spectator’s uni-directional view: “The image is composed for the spectator’s vision yet seems to be a product of the spectator’s vision.” (10) The spectator becomes both a receiver and sender. However, it is argued by Veijo Hietala that “the quattrocentro positions the spectator as the target of its address at the same time, however, concealing this positioning by allowing the subject an illusory sense of him/herself as the producer of meaning.” (11) From this quote we deduce that the spectator is given an illusion of agency. He is reduced to the absent spectator. The ‘moving image’ opens the film to different interpretations and a multiplicity of point of views, especially through editing which gives coherence and smoothness to the film. Cinema gives the illusion of sameness. But we should not forget the function of editing which basically takes different frames separately and makes it appear wholly: “The projection mechanism allows the differential elements (the discontinuity inscribed by the camera) to be suppresses… the individual images as such disappear so that movement and continuity can appear.” (11) For Baudry it is a ‘denial of difference’ that feeds the film and furnishes the spectator with the welcomed illusion. The spectator is anyhow aware of the artifice of the cinema but they prefer to believe in it. (11)
The Significance of the Spectator’s identification
Baudry likens spectatorship to the mirror stage. He establishes the reasons for the spectator’s imaginary relation to the screen. Christian Metz in his article “The Imaginary Signifier” first published in 1975, he prioritises this initial identification with the screen image as a resuscitation of the earlier experience of the mirror. For Metz the “film is like the mirror. But it differs from the primordial mirror in one essential point: although, as in the latter, everything may come to be projected, there is one thing and one thing only that is never reflected in it: the spectator’s own body. In a certain emplacement, the mirror suddenly becomes clear glass.” (822) In the cinema there is always something on the screen but the reflection of the spectator’s own body disappears. Metz explains what makes possible the absent of the spectator from the screen is the fact that he/she had already experienced the true mirror, and is thus “able to constitute a world of objects without having first to recognize himself within it.” (822) At the cinema, “it is always the other who is on the screen; as for me [as a spectator], I am there to look at him. I take no part in the perceived, on the contrary, I am all-perceiving. All-perceiving as one says all-powerful (…) absent from the screen, but certainly present in the auditorium, a great eye and ear without which the perceived would have no one to perceive it.” (823) Metz from this quote argues that the spectator who makes the film through the great importance he has as the one who gives meaning to the film. He shows that the spectator, even if not present on the screen, is all powerful.
To conclude, because the film industry is a moneymaking enterprise, the more it learns about individual film spectators, their tastes, likes, and dislikes, the better chance it has of ensuring the profitability of its investment.