Filmosophy: Re-imagining the Moving Image

By Tereza Hadravova


The eloquent Filmosophy by Daniel Frampton aspires to become, as one learns from its subtitle – a manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema. Speaking of understanding, Frampton refers both to its theoretical and practical sense. Not only should his book set up a new interdisciplinary field – filmosophy – and thus introduce a new approach to films in theory; Frampton also wants to revive the very reception of films and thus bring some benefits to practice. In this respect, Filmosophy subscribes to pragmatism: the way we speak about films, the way we phil(m)osophise about them is supposed to change the way we see them. Filmosophy's objective is to contribute to a full-fledged film experience, to ‘assist the filmgoer in getting the most out of cinema’ (p. 89).

‘Radically new’ is certainly Frampton's vocabulary. A brand-new set of conceptual tools includes filmind, film-thinking, film-beings, film-personalities and others. According to Frampton, films think, feel, act. Or – perhaps – they ‘think’, ‘feel’ and ‘act’. To concede ‘soul’ to cinema does not force us to any radical re-conceptualisation of humanity. But neither is it – as the inverted commas could suggest – a metaphor: Frampton means it literally. Unthoughtable thought – the so-called unthought (cf. p. 67) – is, as each sensitive reader of Filmosophy can personally experience, just the thought of a film.

The book consists of two parts. Predecessors of filmosophical approach are discussed in the first one. Besides the expected Deleuze and those referred to by Deleuze himself (Artaud, Bergson, Eisenstein), Frampton looks for the seeds of a filmosophical approach in, among others, the works of Roger Gilberta-Lecomte, Susanne Langer, Hugo Münsterberg and Vivian Sobchack. However, not even Deleuze himself (cf. p. 74) is safe from a fatal inaccuracy: the anthropomorphisation of the filmind. ‘Film cannot show us human thinking, it shows us ‘film-thinking’. Film is not a human-like mind, it is, uniquely, a ‘filmind’’ (p. 47). Frampton's call for the neglected autonomy of film serves as a motivation for another criticism he pursues: his condemnation of film theory and film criticism for their ignorance of the real cinematic properties of film, above all its sound and image.

Frampton is similarly critical when he considers the way film has been used by philosophy. The philosophical potential of film art cannot be more underestimated than by philosophers, who refer to film plots to make their dry lectures more interesting. At the very moment when philosophy acknowledges film's cinematic fullness and stops reducing it to the story, it ‘reveals film to be much more 'philosophical' than the latter method could ever produce’ (p. 10).

But not only film theory and philosophy are at fault. Film‘s viewers too are far from exploiting film's power. Filmosophy is supposed to cause a turn in film reception towards a film in its mediality, poetics, towards its formal properties, towards ‘the pure poetry of cinema’, ‘the film as pure sound-image experience’ (p. 75). As Frampton says at the beginning of the book, ‘Perhaps the study of film and philosophy should die in order to be reborn’ (p. 9). Perhaps we can add that a contemporary filmgoer should perish as well...

The second, longer part of the book focuses on the basic concepts of a filmosophical approach. The only exception is a chapter on film narratives, which is devoted to a polemic with David Bordwell. Frampton applies a pragmatic measure to cognitivism, showing how much poorer the experience of cognitivist viewers is in comparison to the filmosopher‘s one. The original task of filmosophy – ‘to feel the meanings of film’ (p. 106) – is soon considered as a criterion of success for each film theory. ‘All film theorising and writing should be about helping the filmgoer feel the film's forms and actions and styles and meanings directly’ (p. 109).

Hence, one would expect that the most important chapters of the book are ‘Filmgoer’ and ‘Film writing’, which deal with different phases of film experience, both being significantly modified by a filmosophical attitude. A spectator is thus able directly to feel the meaning embodied in a film as such. And although s/he can go back to this profoundly felt meaning after having been ‘released’ from the film's grip, words can never express it without substantial loss; the nearest expression possible is nonetheless provided by the poetic vocabulary of filmosophy, full of metaphors, neologisms and even the intentional ill-use of language (cf. p. 177).

The declared climax of the book is nevertheless the chapter called ‘Filmosophy’, whose purpose is to introduce a filmworthy use of film-thinking in philosophy. The poetisation of language reaches its peak here and possibly that is why it is so difficult to understand. ‘At the 'end' of philosophy lies film’ (p. 183) says the author and he seems to be serious. It is because film is able to reveal the unthought as a part of thought, it is noncommunication and nonconcept. And what is more, film is also – as a postmetaphysical postphenomenology – nonphilosophy.

Nevertheless, the book offers less cryptic passages, which it is worth reading for. The key motive of filmosophy, which in some way or other permeates every partial consideration of Frampton's book, is the author's emphasis on the aesthetic character of film works, which he more often calls the cinematic. Be it his accentuation of a radical difference between a filmgoer's mind and a filmind, be it his harsh criticism of cognitivists for their dominant interest in story, or his rave for a new kind of filmgoer's experience – there is always a call for the forgotten aesthetic autonomy of a film detectable in the background. And although I have some doubts regarding the often declared fuller experience of filmosophical filmogoers, I am sure that thanks to this aesthetic undertone Filmosophical readers will have more to think about.

Daniel Frampton‘s Filmosophy is published by Wallflower Press (London & New York, 2006). It has 254 pages (

An extended version of this review was published in Czech in Iluminace (19/2, 2007, p. 129–131).

Tereza Hadravova lives and writes in the Czech Republic.