Theory of the Unfilmable: An Introduction
University of Turin, University College Cork
(at time of presentation)
Bruno Surace is a Ph.D candidate in Semiotics and Media at the University of Turin and member of AISS (Associazione Italiana Studi Semiotici) and CIRCe (Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca sulla Comunicazione, Turin). He is currently working on the relationship between cinema studies and semiotics, with a special focus on the philosophical concept of the Unfilmable. His interests range from journalistic rhetorics to visual and object semiotics, imaginaries and new media. He usually adopts the semiotic point of view while at the same time encouraging an interdisciplinary approach. He has already contributed to various peer reviewed journals and given lectures in conferences and seminars in Italy and Europe on aesthetics, semiotics, film and media studies. He is co-founder of MYLF (Movies You’ll Like Festival). In the first semester of 2017 he will be a Visiting Scholar at UCC (University College Cork, Ireland), in the department of Film and Screen Media.
What do God, death, love, the soul, fear of the dark, depression and aliens have in common? You can think of them, but you cannot film them. These and many other themes manifest their strong presence in our lives, but refer always to a private, mental dimension. When we use words such as “God” to define them, we are transforming complex, ineffable concepts into code, in order to make them comprehensible to others. The result is an inevitable loss, the loss of the uniqueness of the thought. The same happens with film: it represents something, evokes concepts, in order to face their profound, innate unfilmability.
The entire history of cinema can therefore be read as the history of a battle against unfilmability; styles and linguistic structures can be seen as ways to evoke, suggest and allude. Examples are the use of out of frame in horror movies, the role of music in musicals, the Kubrickian monolyth or the entire plot of Vertigo by Hitchcock. All films not only tell a story but also try to convey something more. In rhetoric these kinds of phenomena come under the umbrella term “metaphor”. The unfilmable, as a hermeneutic category, is certainly related to metaphor, but acts on a higher level, treating the cinema as a gigantic metaphor that looks at what cannot be seen. The aim of my lecture is to provide the basis, with specific case studies, of the theory of the unfilmable.