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Title:In plane sight: theories of film spectatorship and animation
Author(s):Heath, Erin
Director of Research:Curry, Ramona
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Curry, Ramona
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Kaganovsky, Lilya; Capino, Jose B.; Neupert, Richard
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
film theory
Abstract:This dissertation undertakes to assess the pertinence of established theories of cinematic spectatorship to understanding viewers’ perception of animation, particularly cel and other animating cinematic practices (like claymation) that do not attempt to approximate the look of live action filming. The study considers the usefulness of psychoanalytic theories, cognitive studies, and cultural studies approaches to film spectatorship, in particular, to grasping animation’s impact on audiences. I argue that aspects of those film theories, although developed largely in relation to live action film, not only elucidate many facets of viewer responses to animated films, but also together yield a usefully comprehensive approach to cinema spectatorship more generally. The dissertation argues that theories of film spectatorship relating to four issues––questions of realism, character engagement, and the impact of sound effects and music––generally work to analyze audiences’ experience of animation. However, those overarching theories do require revision to account for two further issues that arise due to particularities in animation’s construction and reception: spectators’ readings of animated characters’ gendered and raced bodies and the accompanying disembodied voice performances. The dissertation’s first of four chapters offers a metacritical overview that traces historical and subsequent developments in theories of film spectatorship grounded in psychoanalytic and cultural studies and more recently cognitive psychological approaches. I argue thereby that aspects of these now well-established theories can, despite some limitations of each and inconsistencies among them, complement each other in analyzing cinema spectatorship, better than can any single grand theory of film spectatorship. Chapter One thus introduces the dissertation’s thesis: meaningfully conjoining theories of film spectatorship can generate a productive, thorough-going approach to analyzing how we understand animation. Chapter Two discusses how particularly cognitive theories of film viewing can account for animation’s perhaps unexpected capacity to evoke realism and the style’s attendant ontological claims. I take up the issue of realism and animation by analyzing, with attention to contrasts between realist style and evocations of “realism” for the viewer, three variously animated versions of the classic children’s tale The Velveteen Rabbit, which itself thematizes what it means to be, seem, or even become (perceptually, as well as emotionally) real. I devote the second half of Chapter Two to a comparison of animated and live action versions of The Secret Garden. Those analyses demonstrate how established theories of film spectatorship, singly or in combination, can help us account for viewers’ responses particularly to animated characters. I demonstrate that both texts evoke and engage in the same effective invitation to experience enacted (live action or animated) interpersonal engagement and sympathy. Chapter Three considers the structuring of spectator response to bodies of animated characters which in pronounced ways engage American cultural issues of gender and racial difference. The chapter analyzes films that mix live action and animation as a locus for testing how psychoanalytic and cultural studies approaches might explain varied responses to animation film. I argue that both established approaches to spectatorship need elaboration to account for animation’s capacity to make or highlight racial and gender representation as factors of character “performance” in the animated film. The difference in filmic modes necessitating this elaboration occurs beyond shared issues of narrative and cinematographic point of view and semiotic systems operating in animation as well as live action films. I argue specifically that spectators’ comprehension of animated screen bodies requires elaboration of theories of viewing, for American animation’s conventions of representing gender and race often exaggerate social markers in ways that may caricature gender and simultaneously encode and camouflage racialized performance. In the final chapter I argue that established psychoanalytic and cognitive theories of the workings of film music and sound effects generally pertain also to animation. However, some psychoanalytic theories about cinema voices cannot without revision explicate the impact of voice in animated films because, in contrast to their impact in most live action film, voices in animation are not anchored in a body that viewers assume to have the capacity of speech. More productive analyses of voice's workings in animated features derive, I argue, from cultural studies approaches to star images of known voice actors. I also argue that dubbing films into different languages works distinctively in the reception of animated film, due to general audience acceptance of disjunction between images and sound track as a practice in all animation, in contrast to expectations of congruence in live action. The dissertation in sum demonstrates that some established theories of spectatorship apply to animated film, while other theories require modification to productively explain animation’s workings. Cognitive theories of cinema help us grasp how animated styles can create a sense of realism and structure spectators’ character engagement. Yet animation spectatorship may diverge from the account that psychoanalytic and cultural theories give of the impact of embodied figures on screen, to the extent that animation both depicts and conceals race and gender differently than do live action films. Sound effects and music do, I argue, seem to function the same way in both live action and animation; yet, again, psychoanalytic theories of voice require elaboration to account adequately for animation’s capacity to connect the voice of a performer with a body that has no indexical relation to the screen image. Finally, cultural (star) studies approaches to cinema reception can, I argue, help account for the divergent impact of voice tracks between live action and animated films, also the distinctive experience of watching an animated feature with differing star performances in varied language versions.
Issue Date:2013-08-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Erin Heath
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-08-22
Date Deposited:2013-08

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