Thoughts on film: critically engaging with both Adorno and Benjamin

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    There is a traditional debate in analytic aesthetics that surrounds the classification of film as Art. While much philosophy devoted to considering film has now moved beyond this debate and accepts film as a mass art, a subcategory of Art proper, it is worth reconsidering the criticism of film pre-Deleuze. Much of the criticism of film as pseudo-art is expressed in moral terms. Adorno, for example, critiques film as ‘mass-cult’, mass-produced culture which presents a ‘flattened’ version of reality. Adorno worries about the passivity encouraged in viewers. Films are narrative artworks, received by an audience in a context, making the focus on the reception of the work important. The dialogue held between Adorno and Walter Benjamin post-Second World War is interesting because, between them, they consider both the possible positive emancipatory and negative politicization effects of film as a mass produced and distributed storytelling medium. Reading Adorno alongside Benjamin is a way to highlight the role of the critical thinker who receives the film. Arguing that the critical thinker is a valuable citizen, this paper focuses on the value of critical thinking in the reception of cinematic artworks. It achieves this by reconsidering Adorno and Benjamin’s theories of mass art.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)622-637
    Number of pages16
    JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
    Issue number6
    Early online date8 Oct 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • film theory
    • aesthetics
    • philosophy
    • Adorno
    • Benjamin
    • critical thinking


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