AW: Rudolf Arnheim

Roland Domenig roland.domenig
Mon Jun 11 09:43:12 EDT 2007

I forgot to mention that Arnheim spent a year in Japan as a
Fulbright-Professor in 1959/60, teaching at the Tokyo University and
Fukuoka University. I'm wondering whether he's seen any (silent) film


Von: owner-KineJapan at
[mailto:owner-KineJapan at] Im Auftrag von Mark
Gesendet: Montag, 11. Juni 2007 14:57
An: KineJapan at
Betreff: Re: Rudolf Arnheim

Thank you for letting us now about this, Roland. Arnheim lived in town
here, but I only managed to meet him once. He was a kindly old man (just
shy of 100 at the time, but sharp as nails). For those of you unfamiliar
with his work, Arnheim is notorious for taking the hardest of hard lines
on the artlessness of the sound film. This was a commonly held view at
the coming of sound, but it didn't take too many films to convince
people that things were OK. Film art wasn't dead. But Arnheim wouldn't
budge, preferring the glories of the late silent era to the clunky
realism of the classical sound cinema. This is perplexing, but I have to
admit it makes for great material for pedagogy. We teaching Arnheim
every semester here, not simply for the canonical status of Film as
Art-he challenges students to pay close attention to the riches of
silent cinema, to recognize the pressures the given state of the art
places on theoretical and critical discourses, and to puzzle through
their own ideas on what constitutes artful cinema.  

He basically claims that he stopped watching when he gave up on the
form, started writing on other media, and settled into teaching here at
University of Michigan. So when I met him, the pressing question was if
he watched any films in the last half-century. The answer: "Oh, not so
many." I pressed him. Surely he must have watched films. No way could he
have made it through the 20th century, having started out as a critic
and scholar of cinema, and simply stopped watching. 

"Well, I did watch this one film. What was it? A musical, set in

"Could it have been Sound of Music?" I suggested. 

"Yes! Sound of Music. That was nice." 

A formalist to the end!

As for the impact of his thought on Japan, this is a good question. You
really don't see that much mention of him in the 1930s. Munsterberg and
Balasz pop up quite a bit, along with the French (Epstein, Dulluc,
etc.). But Arnheim didn't seem to take. 

We might flip the question over: why didn't Arnheim capture the
imagination? Some Japanese critics griped about the artlessness of the
sound film.  And so many Japanese theorists, critics and filmmakers were
entranced by Soviet montage theory, you'd think that they'd find Arnheim
useful when the government started cracking down on the left; this was,
after all, the same moment when Arnheim gets translated. 


On Jun 11, 2007, at 3:43 AM, Roland Domenig wrote:

	German Papers reported today that the German-born author, art
and film theorist Rudolf Arnheim has died on Saturday at age 102 in Ann
	His preoccupation with film led in 1932 to the publication of
his first book, "Film als Kunst" (Film as Art), in which he examined the
various ways in which film images are different from literal encounters
with reality. A Japanese translation by Sasaki Norio was published by
Oraisha in early 1933, less than a year after its publication in
Germany. It was probably the first translation of this influential book
in any language. A second Japanese translation by Shiga Nobuo from the
English translation was published in 1960. Other books by Arnheim such
as "Art and Visual Perception" or "Visual Thinking" have also been
translated and are to this day standard lecture for Japanese art
students as well. 
	Does anyone know about the Japanese reception of "Film as Art"
in the 1930s?

	Roland Domenig
	Institute of East Asian Studies
	Vienna University 

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