MA Film Research Seminar: The Five Senses of Cinema

Instructor: dr. Tarja Laine

Over the last two decades, synaesthesia seems to have become the new catchword in various fields of scientific research and artistic practice, including film studies. After the predominantly visual period in film studies, we now seem to have “turned away” from the image as objectively readable text towards image as subjectively sensual event. It might even be claimed that we are witnessing a synaesthetic turn. This turn enables us to make sense of cinema in sensual ways rather than through notions of psychological identification, visual pleasure, or narrative desire. This research seminar aims to bring together an array of historical and theoretical synaesthetic approaches on a gamut that runs through all the senses – vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – in order to make sense of the multi-sensorial complexity of cinema. The concept has also been adopted, very effectively, as advertising gimmick by the Unilever company for their Magnum “5 Senses” ice cream (2005), especially in this sensual ad directed by Bruno Aveillan, which made its way to YouTube in both short and long version:

The course is organised around the five senses that function as concepts, which help us to understand the changing nature of both cinema and the cinematic experience. A leading question in this context is: what is the relationship between cinema, the five senses, and the spectator? This means that the five senses are not merely physiological capacities, but that they are also concepts. To understand a concept is to place it in a historical and/or theoretical framework of interlinked concepts. Ideally, making sense of cinema through senses offers insights into the (changing) ontology, epistemology, aesthetics and perhaps also ethics of the moving image, as well as the nature of cinema effect and experience.

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