The Photoplay, A Psychological Study, é considerado o primeiro livro que levou a sério a linguagem cinematográfica como uma nova forma de arte. Ele realiza duas manobras interessantíssimas para a época: retira a impressão que Cinema é apenas um teatro para as massas e eleva as fotos em movimento como uma nova forma de estética que atinge seu status de arte justamente por se destacar do mundo.
Hugo Münsterberg foi mais conhecido na área de psicologia aplicada, tendo escrito dezenas de livros na área. The Photoplay é seu último livro, publicado no ano de sua morte, e é um trabalho robusto, denso, que especula sobre os mecanismos que tornam o Cinema algo além do simples entretenimento.
Alemão que depois imigrou para os EUA, ganhando também cidadania americana, era uma pessoa interessada em várias áreas, como psicologia, medicina e artes. Sua família amava as artes. Crente em Deus e em vida após a morte, curiosamente ele também ficou conhecido por desbancar charlatões espíritas (talvez em uma busca incessante por provas). Foi considerado polêmico durante a primeira guerra por de certa forma defender a hegemonia alemã (isso já com sua segunda cidadania).
Trabalhando com psicologia aplicada boa parte do tempo, The Photoplay é um trabalho que inicia como uma investigação sobre os processos da mente humana, que juntos criam a impressão que aquelas fotos mostradas em sequência são figuras humanas em movimento, que transitam em diferentes lugares e tempos, muitas vezes de maneira não linear, muitas vezes exibindo apenas um detalhe em cena. Münsterberg demonstra como as deficiências na época para o cinema como a falta de som, cores, ou a própria profundidade de cenário como no teatro não eram um problema, pois se em algum momento o objetivo era se tornar um teatro barato para as massas, logo isso se tornou insuficiente, forçando os criadores dos pequenos filmes de quinze minutos mostrando uma cena cotidiana a ir além para manter a audiência.
The impression of backward movement can arise from forward motions, quick movement from slow, complete rest from combinations of movements. For the first time the impression of movement was synthetically produced from different elements.
Of course, when we are sitting in the picture palace we know that we see a flat screen and that the object which we see has only two dimensions, right-left, and up-down, but not the third dimension of depth, of distance toward us or away from us. It is flat like a picture and never plastic like a work of sculpture or architecture or like a stage. Yet this is knowledge and not immediate impression. We have no right whatever to say that the scenes which we see on the screen appear to us as flat pictures.
The art of the photoplay has developed so many new features of its own, features which have not even any similarity to the technique of the stage that the question arises: is it not really a new art which long since left behind the mere film reproduction of the theater and which ought to be acknowledged in its own esthetic independence?
The mere enjoyment of the technical wonder as such necessarily faded away and the interest could be kept up only if the scenes presented on the screen became themselves more and more enthralling.
Ele também conta um pouco da evolução tecnológica e as diferentes invenções que traziam a curiosa ilusão de fotos em movimento. Vivendo a época em que a indústria foi se aperfeiçoando, é instrutivo entender que os padrões que hoje conhecemos foram sendo escolhidos por imperativo da própria indústria como forma de otimizar a produção. Por isso usamos determinado número de frames por segundo e o tamanho dos negativos possui alguns valores aceitáveis. Este no começo acabou se tornando uma espécie de mercado auto-regulado, pois os altos investimentos em salas e projetores precisavam conversar com diferentes produtores de filmes.
The fact that every producer tries to distribute his films to every country forces a far-reaching standardization on the entire moving picture world.
Para Münsterberg a oportunidade de poder testemunhar ao vivo o que o cinema estava se tornando é a oportunidade de ver uma nova forma de arte sendo criada e aprimorada, algo que, como ele acreditava de verdade, seria uma experiência única para os amantes da arte:
If this is really the situation, it must be a truly fascinating problem, as it would give the chance to watch the art in its first unfolding.
Ainda na análise psicológica do filme, ele entende que o cinema está emulando nossa própria mente, com as memórias fazendo esse vai-e-volta entre passado, presente e futuro, e com nossa atenção para os detalhes sendo reproduzido no cinema com o uso de close-ups (o zoom). Repare que o "cut-back" é o que chamamos hoje de flashback.
The case of the cut-back is there quite parallel to that of the close-up. In the one we recognize the mental act of attending, in the other we must recognize the mental act of remembering. In both cases the act which in the ordinary theater would go on in our mind alone is here in the photoplay projected into the pictures themselves. It is as if reality has lost its own continuous connection and become shaped by the demands of our soul.
In our mind past and future become intertwined with the present. The photoplay obeys the laws of the mind rather than those of the outer world.
The objective world is molded by the interests of the mind. Events which are far distant from one another so that we could not be physically present at all of them at the same time are fusing in our field of vision, just as they are brought together in our own consciousness.
A discussão sobre estética se torna a mais prolífica do livro, pois além de explicar o que torna as outras formas de arte... arte, há uma análise profissional sobre como o Cinema deve ser trabalhado entre os críticos, exaltando principalmente como esteticamente o importante para uma obra de arte não é imitar a vida real, mas justamente se distanciar desta, para com isso criar sua própria bolha de significado, auto-contida, com começo, meio e fim, de forma a se distanciar do cotidiano e virar uma entidade independente.
We admire the marble statue and we despise as inartistic the colored wax figures.
To imitate the world is a mechanical process; to transform the world so that it becomes a thing of beauty is the purpose of art. The highest art may be furthest removed from reality.
The work of art shows us the things and events perfectly complete in themselves, freed from all connections which lead beyond their own limits, that is, in perfect isolation.
There is no reason whatever for appreciating a mere imitation or repetition of that which exists in the world. Neither the scholar nor the artist could do better than nature or history. The value in both cases lies just in the deviation from reality in the service of human desires and ideals.
If a painter renders such a landscape with his masterly brush, he gives us only the leading movements of those branches which the storm tears, and the great swing in the curve of the wave. But those forceful lines of the billows, those sharp contours of the rock, contain everything which expresses their spirit.
The fundamental condition of art, therefore, is that we shall be distinctly conscious of the unreality of the artistic production, and that means that it must be absolutely separated from the real things and men, that it must be isolated and kept in its own sphere.
Music does not depict the physical nature which fine arts bring to us, nor the social world which literature embraces, but the inner world with its abundance of feelings and excitements. It isolates our inner experience and within its limits brings it to that perfect self-agreement which is the characteristic of every art.
Um desses momentos é quando ele compara o cientista com o artista e como ambos enxergam a realidade de formas diferentes, pois ambos estão buscando objetivos diferentes. Enquanto o cientista busca explicar as conexões do mundo, o artista busca isolar o mundo real da experiência de uma obra completa em si mesma, que satisfaz por ela mesma.
The motives which lead us to value the product of the scholar are easily recognized. He aims toward connection. He reshapes the world until it appears connected, because that helps us to foresee the effects of every event and teaches us to master nature so that we can use it for our practical achievements. But why do we appreciate no less the opposite work which the artist is doing? Might we not answer that this enjoyment of the artistic work results from the fact that only in contact with an isolated experience can we feel perfectly happy? Whatever we meet in life or nature awakes in us desires, impulses to action, suggestions and questions which must be answered. Life is a continuous striving. Nothing is an end in itself and therefore nothing is a source of complete rest. Everything is a stimulus to new wishes, a source of new uneasiness which longs for new satisfaction in the next and again the next thing. Life pushes us forward. Yet sometimes a touch of nature comes to us; we are stirred by a thrill of life which awakens plenty of impulses but which offers satisfaction to all these impulses in itself. It does not lead beyond itself but contains in its own midst everything which answers the questions, which brings the desires to rest.
We saw that the aim of every art is to isolate some object of experience in nature or social life in such a way that it becomes complete in itself, and satisfies by itself every demand which it awakens. If every desire which it stimulates is completely fulfilled by its own parts, that is, if it is a complete harmony, we, the spectators, the listeners, the readers, are perfectly satisfied, and this complete satisfaction is the characteristic esthetic joy.
Por fim, na terceira parte do livro, Münsterberg tenta juntar as duas primeiras partes em sua tese, onde ele faz uma análise curiosa e temporal sobre o Cinema. Para ele, psicólogo, o mundo real perdeu seu significado, dando lugar para o poder da mente, sua liberdade sobre o tempo e a causalidade. O Cinema é apenas uma forma de arte que exibe essa consequência do nosso mundo contemporâneo.
The massive outer world has lost its weight, it has been freed from space, time, and causality, and it has been clothed in the forms of our own consciousness. The mind has triumphed over matter and the pictures roll on with the ease of musical tones. It is a superb enjoyment which no other art can furnish us.
Quando ele explica porque a projeção de filmes não é 3D, mas como seria possível implementar (e de fato já foram feitas várias tentativas de embalar o espectador em um 3D "real":
The landscape is taken from two different points of view, once from the right and once from the left. As soon as these two views are put into the stereoscope the right eye sees through the prism only the view from the right, the left eye only the view from the left. We know very well that only two flat pictures are before us; yet we cannot help seeing the landscape in strongly plastic forms.
It may be said offhand that even the complete appearance of depth such as the stereoscope offers would be in no way contradictory to the idea of moving pictures. Then the photoplay would give the same plastic impression which the real stage offers. All that would be needed is this. When the actors play the scenes, not a single but a double camera would have to take the pictures. Such a double camera focuses the scene from two different points of view, corresponding to the position of the two eyes. Both films are then to be projected on the screen at the same time by a double projection apparatus which secures complete correspondence of the two pictures so that in every instance the left and the right view are overlapping on the screen. This would give, of course, a chaotic, blurring image. But if the apparatus which projects the left side view has a green glass in front of the lens and the one which projects the right side view a red glass, and every person in the audience has a pair of spectacles with the left glass green and the right glass red¿a cardboard lorgnette with red and green gelatine paper would do the same service and costs only a few cents¿the left eye would see only the left view, the right eye only the right view. We could not see the red lines through the green glass nor the green lines through the red glass. In the moment the left eye gets the left side view only and the right eye the right side view, the whole chaos of lines on the screen is organized and we see the pictured room on the screen with the same depth as if it were really a solid room set on the stage and as if the rear wall in the room were actually ten or twenty feet behind the furniture in the front. The effect is so striking that no one can overcome the feeling of depth under these conditions.
Depth and movement alike come to us in the moving picture world, not as hard facts but as a mixture of fact and symbol. They are present and yet they are not in the things. We invest the impressions with them.
Um interessantísimo experiento com linhas, provando que é a mente humana que completa as lacunas entre duas imagens, imaginando assim o movimento (mesmo que inexistente de forma objetiva no mundo real):
The recent experiments by Wertheimer and Korte have gone into still subtler details. Both experimenters worked with a delicate instrument in which two light lines on a dark ground could be exposed in very quick succession and in which it was possible to vary the position of the lines, the distance of the lines, the intensity of their light, the time exposure of each, and the time between the appearance of the first and of the second. They studied all these factors, and moreover the influence of differently directed attention and suggestive attitude. If a vertical line is immediately followed by a horizontal, the two together may give the impression of one right angle. If the time between the vertical and the horizontal line is long, first one and then the other is seen. But at a certain length of the time interval, a new effect is reached. We see the vertical line falling over and lying flat like the horizontal line. If the eyes are fixed on the point in the midst of the angle, we might expect that this movement phenomenon would stop, but the opposite is the case. The apparent movement from the vertical to the horizontal has to pass our fixation point and it seems that we ought now to recognize clearly that there is nothing between those two positions, that the intermediate phases of the movement are lacking; and yet the experiment shows that under these circumstances we frequently get the strongest impression of motion. If we use two horizontal lines, the one above the other, we see, if the right time interval is chosen, that the upper one moves downward toward the lower. But we can introduce there a very interesting variation. If we make the lower line, which appears objectively after the upper one, more intense, the total impression is one which begins with the lower. We see first the lower line moving toward the upper one which also approaches the lower; and then follows the second phase in which both appear to fall down to the position of the lower one. It is not necessary to go further into details in order to demonstrate that the apparent movement is in no way the mere result of an afterimage and that the impression of motion is surely more than the mere perception of successive phases of movement. The movement is in these cases not really seen from without, but is superadded, by the action of the mind, to motionless pictures.
Outra famosa passagem, onde ele explica que às vezes no Cinema é possível escolher atores não-profissionais, já que o que melhor traduz o personagem é sua persona física (e não podemos evitar de fazer a comparação com os famosos atores de um personagem só que fazem filmes de ação, como os Bruce Willis e Jason Stahan da vida):
More easily than the stage manager of the real theater he can choose actors whose natural build and physiognomy fit the rôle and predispose them for the desired expression. The drama depends upon professional actors; the photoplay can pick players among any group of people for specific rôles. They need no art of speaking and no training in delivery. The artificial make-up of the stage actors in order to give them special character is therefore less needed for the screen. The expression of the faces and the gestures must gain through such natural fitness of the man for the particular rôle. If the photoplay needs a brutal boxer in a mining camp, the producer will not, like the stage manager, try to transform a clean, neat, professional actor into a vulgar brute, but he will sift the Bowery until he has found some creature who looks as if he came from that mining camp and who has at least the prizefighter's cauliflower ear which results from the smashing of the ear cartilage. If he needs the fat bartender with his smug smile, or the humble Jewish peddler, or the Italian organ grinder, he does not rely on wigs and paint; he finds them all ready-made on the East Side. With the right body and countenance the emotion is distinctly more credible. The emotional expression in the photoplays is therefore often more natural in the small rôles which the outsiders play than in the chief parts of the professionals who feel that they must outdo nature.
Aqui ele lamenta que, mesmo para o público comum, o cinema não é arte "de verdade", mas apenas uma tentativa de emular o teatro:
We have heard this message, or if it was not expressed in clear words it surely lingered for a long while in the minds of all those who had a serious relation to art. It probably still prevails today among many, even if they appreciate the more ambitious efforts of the photoplaywrights in the most recent years. The philanthropic pleasure in the furnishing of cheap entertainment and the recognition that a certain advance has recently been made seem to alleviate the esthetic situation, but the core of public opinion remains the same; the moving pictures are no real art.