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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

on April 30, 2013
Stanley Cavell's "the World Viewed" is a timeless piece as an opus magnus to any study of film philosophy. But you won't find the 'stuffy philosophical terms of an elite array of name dropping philosophers of film in this book. Quite the contrary. It is a wonderfully easy read and very enlightening: a real joy. And Stanley Cavell brings his personal thoughts about the infancy of film studies to light in a style that has great continuity from beginning to end. He talks about the affect of film in one instance and the creative process in another. And just like the title suggests, it is exactly that: Stanley Cavell's 'world view' comprising the creative process of film and it's affect for the individual, both explicit and inherent to the creation of a continuing art form. It is a joy to read from cover to cover, and never tedious. And he wraps it all up with a fundamental statement about where he thought the art of film for creative individuals in the world was and is going. A timeless piece like this deserves a place in anyone's library.
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on March 13, 2015
Brilliant. Period. Cavell's insights changed the way I view film and improved my understanding of my role as a viewer of film. In many ways, Cavell's point of view and unique grasp of cinema and story-telling have helped me to grow as a person.
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on October 8, 2017
One of the greatest books ever written about film.
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on March 9, 2015
I didn't immediately respond to Cavell's excessive philosophizing at first. It took time to grow on me but grow it did.

Its certainly a book written at an interesting moment in American Film Studies (1971). It seems to be the first American attempt to explain film's peculiar appeal (its "physical reality") and certainly the first book (and maybe only book) to understand film as a fulfillment of man's desire for a new kind of art form (prophesied by no less than Baudelaire) that allows man access to such heady things as "the present," "the modern," "the real," and "the world."

I very much like it that he has obviously formed a very personal connection to film and that he makes no apologies for this but treats his own personal relationship forged over a lifetime as a sort of paradigmatic case study for the way we all use the medium for our own purposes.

Cavell reminds me of Pauline Kael in three respects 1) he thinks of film as a people's medium (not as high art) 2) he is a latecomer to auteur theory (and remains somewhat suspicious of viewing film as art) 3) he really comes alive as a film critic when taking about favorite actors (or in Cavell's case actresses).

Cavell is like Susan Sontag in two respects 1) he spends a lot of time thinking about photography 2) its important to him to bring high theory (a philosophical framework) to bear on everything he does

I love that he is a philosophy professor at Harvard and that he spent thirty or more years going to films (late 1930's-late 1960's) before writing about them.

I love that Auteur Theory is a brand new thing to him and that he admits to never thinking about the authors of films throughout the majority of his filmmgoing years.

I love that he combines his two passions, philosophy and film, in interesting ways.

I love that he's hip to strong independent screen actors especially women and that he spends much time ruminating about the way they embody our conflicting desires to connect to others and to preserve our individual autonomy.

And I love that he's very insightful about the much-commented upon and written about youth culture (of the 1950's and 1960's) and that to him its not just a refusal of the adult world that inspires it but a willful attempt to keep all existential options open (film certainly feeds this voracious need to live many not just one life).

I think he goes on a bit too long in certain sections (the philosophy sections) when fewer words would do, but on occasion (when analyzing the art form in general or a favorite film or film actress) he hits upon a grand phrase/passage that knocks me over.

Since he loves actors so much it makes sense that he doesn't take to the more director-driven films of Godard. He loves BREATHLESS (probably b/c this is his most actor-driven piece) but not too many others.

I love his ruminations on the filmgoer who, he argues, enjoys a respite from being (of having to be a presence in the world) while watching a film and I love his ruminations on the "mystery of separateness" experienced by the filmgoer that is reinforced by the camera's "outsidedness to the world." I doubt you get this kind of stuff from any other film critic/theorist of his time (or ours).

He makes a point of saying films offer us very few (if any) representations of intellectuals (and certainly not any convincing ones), but I'd love to see a fictional film about Cavell's life......about his double life as philosophy prof and avid film buff. I think he enjoys the legitimacy that his philosophy pedigree affords him but he also loves the fugitive and unrespectable/unserious pleasures of film (as did a lot of painters and writers of the time).

Hmmmm.....I wonder who would play him...

In the last sections of the book, he ruminates about the form circa 1971. He worries that films are losing their ability to "carry the worlds presence." He somewhat mournfully looks back to the age of silent films as a time when films more purely (convincingly) performed this task. So it makes sense that he loves JULES ET JIM which is a film that also looks back at a previous age and (in some ways) at an earlier incarnation of an art form.

Great book.

Addendum: After reading this book I became aware of Siegried Kracauer, an earlier theorist, who offers a similar argument. The main difference between Cavell and Kracauer is that Cavell attributes man's alienation from the physical world to the western philosophical tradition (Descartes) whereas Kracauer argues that this alienation stems from modern social arrangements. What both men share is a sense that realist film offers a way to reacquaint ourselves with physical reality.
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on September 24, 2013
I have to emphatically disagree with the reviewer who called this an "easy read." Sure, Cavell doesn't use the standard theory-speak; he uses plain English, but he uses it in strange ways. He also presumes that the reader possesses not only a thorough familiarity with classic Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood cinema, and the European "New Waves" of the 1960s, but also a solid grounding in the history of philosophy, Romantic poetry, early photographic history, and the history of modern art from Manet through color field painting. I thought I had a fairly firm grasp on most of those things, and still I found the book something to wrestle with. But wrestling with it is a rewarding experience. Cavell's way of looking at cinema seems wholly unique in the history of film theory or film philosophy - there's little I can even compare it to. My reading of the book is that he views philosophy and art as two sides of the same coin, two variations of historically conditioned responses to our epistemological and ontological condition. The changes we see throughout the history of art (and throughout the history of cinema, which is but a subset of that history and whose arrival itself signals a change) correspond with roughly contemporaneous developments in the history of philosophy - both are reflections of our faith in the world, or our isolation from it. The central concepts he circles around continuously all possess a dual meaning, both artistic and philosophical - "presence," "presentness," "acknowledgement," "conviction," "automatism" - I won't attempt to define them because I can't. I don't think that I've understood more than 10% of this book. I give it 4 stars because what I have understood is compelling, and because what I haven't yet understood I feel like is worthy of trying to understand.
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on July 16, 2006
Cavell relies on his own experience of cinema in such a way that the reader is invited to try to find himself with respect to his claims. There may or may not be a meeting of the minds. But this doesn't mean Cavell is biased. He's simply calling it as he sees it. He asks nothing more and nothing less of us. I don't see that a personal judgment might not be objective. And if it is very difficult to experience what Cavell is gesturing towards, that seems like all the more reason for being cautious when referring to what you might wrongly be calling "subjective prejudices." This book is worth the hard work.
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on May 7, 2000
Since Stanley Cavell was an esteemed philosophy professor at Harvard University, when he wrote this book, it was a boon for film theorists everywhere; the academic elite were finally taking film theory seriously. However, even though in the book there are great moments of insight into the spectatorship of films, Cavell is very biased towards his own cinematic experience and will often make broad claims to the superiority of the classic films with which he grew up over any recent film. His predilections are often purely personal and do not involve an objective understanding of the films. The book contains many wonderful moments that stem from a thought-provoking philosopher yet it is very difficult to experience them through the author's subjective prejudices.
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