Visual Disturbances is an essay film that proposes a new concept of film style, what I call the Invisible Cinema. Unlike Hollywood classical style, which gently guides the audience’s gaze towards important narrative details, the Invisible Cinema features characters and objects that audiences fail to see--even if these characters or objects are in plain sight.
Visual Disturbances uses psychologists Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris’ concepts of inattentional blindness and change blindness to explore how audiences perceive and mis-perceive cinematic images. Moreover, this work suggests that filmmakers across film history have intentionally utilized the Invisible Cinema as a stylistic option.
In particular, this project focuses on the French filmmaker Jacques Tati and how his films purposely betray our perception. To reveal this hidden film style, Visual Disturbances uses a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. In particular, I wanted to demonstrate how several research methods can align to support an argument. Thus, this film mixed audience focus groups with historical and industrial research, original filmed material combined with formal analysis of existing films as well as cutting edge eye-tracking visualizations.
In part, this work exists as a film essay because I wanted to raise the bar of videographic criticism. For instance, many videographic works illustrate existing concepts; this work, however, introduces a new concept to Film/Media Studies. Moreover, I wanted to show how videographic criticism can incorporate a broad range of methods rather than relying on a single mode.
However, what really drove this project’s form was my deep dissatisfaction with written research on Jacques Tati. While I have taught Tati’s films for many years, I was never happy with the readings that I assigned to accompany his films. Numerous books and articles by exceptional scholars and critics certainly expanded my knowledge on Tati’s films but they never quite “captured” exactly what interested me in his work. I realized, however, that it wasn’t so much the scholarship’s content that was lacking but the form. Put simply, analyzing Tati’s films via writing cannot fully capture nor communicate what makes his visual style unique. Thus to expand the scholarship on Tati, I had to change platforms by moving from traditional academic writing to videographic criticism.
Admittedly, this expansion requires significant labor far beyond the typical domain of writing a journal article or an academic monograph. Visual Disturbances required a large amount of research and collaboration with colleagues in a variety of departments. The project also, of course, produced a written document in the form of an essayistic screenplay that textually detailed the project but also provided a blueprint for the work’s visual and sonic design--the form in which text, voice, film excerpts, annotations, quotes, stills, music, and sound effects are rhetorically edited, layered, and mixed to produce a visual argument.
The additional labor put into Visual Disturbances pays dividends in two significant ways. First, Visual Disturbances’ form produces additional knowledge and insights that cannot be as easily achieved in traditional written scholarship. And second, Visual Disturbances is meant to be seen and shared. Videographic criticism is viral in nature and unlike the academic journal article or book, Visual Disturbances is designed to breakout of the academy and extend Film/Media scholarship into the public sphere.
Eric S. Faden is an Associate Professor of Film/Media Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.