The Road Not Taken in Film Studies

Searching through the internet for something completely unrelated, I came across this piece of research that I think is worth sharing with the world.

Marks JN 1974 The Effects of Television Pacing Rates on Viewer Attitude and Interest Levels. Concordia University, Unpublished MA Thesis.


Three differently edited versions of the same TV presentation consisting of ‘rapid,’ ‘moderate,’ and ‘original’ pacing rates were shown to 120 grade 10 Ss to ascertain their differential effectiveness in changing viewer attitudes and maintainance of viewer interest. Ss were randomly divided into three TV viewing treatment groups and one non-viewing control group. Attitudes were measured by a 32 item post attitude questionnaire with reliability of m0.90. Interest was measured by a 20 item post interest questionnaire with reliability of 0.96. Single classification ANOVA and HSD Tests revealed significant differences (P < 0.05) on the attitude measure between the treatment groups and the control group and between the faster paced versions and the original version. the rapid paced version was found to be the most effective. While no significant difference were found in interest levels, the rapid pacing rate significantly increased viewer attention.

The thesis can be downloaded from the repository at Concordia University here.

It is worth reading this piece because it gives us an insight into early empirical  research of film and film viewership at a time when the hegemony of contemporary film theory was being established. 1974 was the year in which Screen published Colin McCabe’s ‘Realism and the cinema: notes on some Brechtian theses’ and Raymond Bellour’s ‘The obvious and the code;’ Jump Cut was founded; Film Theory and Criticism first appeared; and Christian Metz’s Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema and Language and Cinema were unleashed upon the world.

The thesis begins with a review of early research on film in an education context, and provides a series of references of research on the cinema before film studies. There are several references to research conducted on behalf of the US Army on the impact of the Why We Fight series. There are references to research going back to the early 1920s that are concerned with the nature of the viewer’s experience.

A couple of things stand out regarding this early work:

  • The concern with practical consequences for this early research – the apparent purpose behind much of this early research on educational film and television is to inform how future programmes should be produced to achieve their pedagogical aims
  • The concern with how people understand media texts – we would now consider this research to be a part of cognitive film theory as it is looks at the relationship between style (editing pace) and experience (attention and interest). The section on ‘Effects of Pacing on Cognitive and Affective Learning’ (from page 20) provides a summary of work in this area from the 1950s, but which would not be taken up in film studies until long after.

On page 6, Marks bemoans the fact there has been little research on style and its relationship to the viewer:

Although a great deal of film theory is based on the editing process, and has been since the beginning of motion picture production, there has been little to no systematic testing of the effects that the editing of films or television programs have on viewers.

It was not until the mid-1990s that film scholars began to address this lack as cognitivism began to become recognised as a central part of film theory. Marks sets out to address precisely this issue and asks a very simple question:

What relationship exists between the rate of pacing a highly visual information TV presentation and the attitude scores and interest levels of viewers?

This is carried out as a psychological research project, and clearly sets out the hypotheses being tested, the methodology being used, and the statistical analysis conducted. It therefore adopts a very different approach to the mainstream of film theory that had emerged in the examples given above.

This thesis is an example of how film studies could have been done – but instead it chose a different path.

About Nick Redfern

I am an independent academic with over 15 years experience teaching film in higher education in the UK. I have taught film analysis, film industries, film theories, film history, science fiction at Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Central Lancashire, and Leeds Trinity University, where I was programme leader for film from 2016 to 2020. My research interests include computational film analysis, horror cinema, sound design, science fiction, film trailers, British cinema, and regional film cultures.

Posted on June 30, 2011, in Cognitive Film Theory, Film Analysis, Film Studies, Film Style, Film Theory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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