Cinema as an Affective Force

“Affect is a state of suspense, potentially of disruption.”


The audible, visual and tacit transformations produced by the body in reaction to a certain situation or event.

Bodies physical response to en external stimuli, it is uncontrollable.


Light bounces and reflects into our eyes,

Our eyes send these messages straight to the brain, the visual cortex,


Film and Affect

Affect is a language based system to understand how meaning works in cinema. Consider each film a text to be read.


Robin Dunbar 

1947 – Present

British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist.

Most known For:

  • Dunbar numbers :- the maximum number of people we can each sustain a social relationship with.

He learnt that each side of our brain is responsible for different things…

Right = Emotions

Left = Language

Except that both sides of the brain find it hard to communicate with each other, often why people find it hard to talk about their emotions.

Relation To Affect

Affect is a language of its own, that tries to explain our feelings.

Cogito Ergo Sum

I Think Therefore I Am

Rene Descartes

1596 – 1650

French Philosopher, Mathematician and Writer

Dualism – The mind and body are separate entities

“Matter is easily described: it is measureable, it has dimensions,”

“Mind, however, can be described as the opposite of this.”

Relation To Affect

Affect is the workings of both mind and body, just without your mind knowing it before your body has been affected.

“Of all colours those that are the most pleasing are the ones that constitute opponents.”

-Leonardo Da Vinci


Colour is attached to many meanings and signifiers, not only can their denotations be physical but symbolic.

Colour is also not a fixed entity.

Colour Opponency

Colour is created by neutrons in our brain, our brain then projects colours onto the world we see.

Colour relies on light, energy and wavelength.

Colour ——————–>neural signals————–>thalamus————>visual cortex

Different colours stimulate different areas of the visual cortex.

Every colour has a scientific affect on us, the way we perceive colour is also effected by environmental factors.


  • Stimulates adrenal gland and neurons
  • overexposure can cause stress, frustration and anger
  • stimulates heartbeat and breathing


  • Enhances creativity
  • Produces calming chemicals in your brain
  • Overexposure can cause depression


  • Relaxes the body
  • Alleviates stress
  • Associated with nature

Blue, Derek Jarman, 1993

A 79minute film consisting of a blue screen with narration.

Derek Jarman 

1942 – 1994

English director, stage designer, artist, gardener and author

He died of an aids related illness, which drove him partially blind.

Blue is a portrait of Jarmans experiences with his illness and the last film he ever made.

He was inspired to produce this film by Yves Klein monochrome painting. And wrote the script based on aids and his sufferings.

Throughout this film only one area of the visual cortex is being stimulated, whereas the rest is dormant.

Christopher Doyle “One of the most intimate films i’ve ever seen.

“The Law of Beauty does not lie in the truth to nature.”

Michelangelo Antonioni

1912 – 2007

Writer, director and editor


Known For :

  • L’Avventura
  • La Notte
  • L’Eclisse


  • Frequently worked with Monica Vitti
  • Moving figurative compositions
  • Deals with incommunicability
  • Often centred around an attractive, damaged and adulterous man or woman

Michelangelo Antonioni On Color

  • Colour brought life back into the cinema and it wasn’t long before filmmakers realised the power and affect it could have, our eyes, “caressed by the sweetness of certain combinations”
  • It provided a “perspicuously living quality,” – made the cinema feel more life like and real
  • Lighting and colour come hand in hand, “fundamental basis of color is chiarascuro” “blending of brightness and darkness” “Light and shadow must be colored”
  • There must be a “harmony of colors”
  • “in a conceivable coloristic perfection, all colors must be represented.” to provide an accurate presentation of the world, colours must be represented as they are in life.
  • Colour is “always driven by by presuppositions of an aesthetic kind” – colour in film is governed by external factors
  • BUT a director has complete control and freedom to arrange colours as they wish, “For an object itself there are no set colours.”


A term defined by Christopher Doyle when describing Wong Kar-Wai’s methods of cinematography.

“not conventional establishing shots because they’re about atmosphere and metaphor, not space. The only thing they establish is a mood or a totally subjective POV. They’re clues to an ambient world we want to suggest but not explain.”


The Devotional Object

Nathaniel Dorsky

1943 – present

American director and editor

Known for:

  • Hours of Jerome, 1982
  • Pastourelle, 2010
  • The Visitation, 2002

‘Devotional Cinema’

“We suddenly see a hidden world, one that has existed all along right in front of us. In a flash, the uncanny presence of the poetic and vibrant world, ripe with mystery, stands before us.”

Basically he is referring to ‘devotional’ as a filmmaking technique of being able to provide the audience with a completely fresh view and understanding of this everyday situation, object, location, etc.


Mroz, M. (2012) Temporality and Film Analysis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd’s_numberé_Descartes

Michelangelo Antonioni: On Color

Dorsky, N. (2005) Devotional Cinema: Second Revised Edition. Berkeley: Tuumba Press:


Films to watch:

  • Heat, Michael Mann, 1995
  • Punch-drunk Love, Paul Anderson, 2002
  • Blue, Derek Jarman, 1993
  • Red Dessert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964
  • Three Colours: Blue, Krzystof Kieslowski, 1993
  • Two or three things I know About Her, Jean-Luc Godard, 1967
  • The Angelic Conversation, Derek Jarman, 1987

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