Audience Complicity

Simon Cropp

Apparatus theory is a film theory that gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s, and while it has many names attached to it–Althusser and Lacan for example–it is Jean-Louis Baudry’s “The Apparatus” that provides perhaps the strongest singular position on apparatus theory.

The theory itself is Marxist in nature–and it maintains an audience complicity with what is seen and absorbed from the film screen. For many of the theorists who explored cinema through apparatus theory, the audience would largely be made up of the proletariat, and the film would likely have been constructed through the institutional forces of the capitalist superstructure thus perpetuating the ideological foundations of those in power.

For Baudry, the film becomes much like Plato’s allegory of the cave. The viewers are transfixed in a dark place, haunted by images on a screen they cannot fully understand, but the viewers forget themselves in this moment. They become part of what they see on the screen. No longer is the viewer his or herself, but now he is transfixed on the screen–a piece of the ideology at play (Baudry 111).

Our discussion of The Third Man in class on Thursday led me back to Baudry’s view of film and apparatus theory. The spectator as a prisoner to ideology was a powerful concept to me when I first came across it, and I consider this theory to be at work in interesting ways when Martins meets Lime at the Prater amusement park, and they take their infamous Ferris wheel ride. I searched for this theory during class, but it had been too long since I had studied it. I needed to go back and read Baudry’s article again, but as I went over the text, the connections came back.

The director Carol Reed positions the camera at the base of the wheel early in the scene, so we, the viewer, are looking up at the massive structure. This framing is very much in line with Baudry’s apparatus theory–we don’t often realize how complicit we are–as viewers–with the film’s ideological functions. Reed positions us at the base of the wheel with all of Lime’s “dots.” We don’t realize this is happening, especially if we are the intended viewer of this film–the ones who saw it originally. Locked in a dark theater with a massive screen looming in front of us.

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It is not until Reed takes us to the top of the wheel, puts us into the position of power with Lime that he subverts the ideological function of the film industry’s hegemonic role in culture. Reed’s positioning of Lime’s monologue against the proletariat, but also positioning Lime in such a negative light–literally and figuratively–creates an inverted ideological structure of the powerless assuming a role of the all-seeing eye.

In the case of this scene, and with Baudry’s apparatus theory at our disposal, what becomes fascinating, is the viewer functions as the film’s third man. We are complicit now with Martins, and whatever ideology he takes from his time with Lime is the ideology we inherit as well.

 

Works Cited

Baudry, Jean-Louis. “The Apparatus.” Communications, no. 23, 1975, pp. 56-72. Duke University PressSummon, cameraobscura.dukejournals.org.unco.idm.oclc.org/search?author1=Baudry&fulltext=The%20Apparatus&pubdate_year=1976&volume=&firstpage=104&submit=yes. Date accessed 22 Oct. 2016.

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