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What’s The Effect of Apparatus Theory on Films Today?

According to apparatus theory film viewing generates a relationship between films and film viewers but in light of adjustments to the apparatus in which films are viewed, particularly the introduction of DVD and now digital viewing, it would appear that apparatus theory is rather different as the relationship between films and film viewers has changed. Former modes of film viewing largely fostered the passive viewer whereas the introduction of DVD technology and digital video technology is distinctly different from previous forms of film viewing. So what’s the effect of apparatus theory on films today?

What is Apparatus Theory?

Apparatus theory represents a school of thought in regards to the study of film which seeks to provide a theoretical explanation of how films affect viewers based upon the apparatus in which films are produced and later viewed.  Originally, apparatus theory would be based on early modes of film viewing such as watching in a theater, on television, or via VHS. However, new technology, including DVDs which were introduced in the late 1990s and the rise of digital video which can be experienced via phone, tablet, and a wide range of other devices have changed the apparatus upon which a film is experienced. But what’s the effect of apparatus theory on films today as a result of these changes in technology?

Apparatus theory focuses largely on the technical machinery that is responsible for how a film is experienced. The theory, originally introduced by Jean-Louis Baudry, was the result of studying the cinematic apparatus of camera movement and editing to deliver theoretical examination of how a film is experienced particularly the relationship between the film viewer and the film technology. 

The Role Digital Video Technology Plays in Film Experience

As we examine the effect of apparatus theory on films today, it’s important to note that the method in which films are experienced has changed substantially over the years. No longer are films experienced only in theaters or via VHS. In fact, films can now be experienced in a plentitude of manners including DVD or BlueRay, and video on demand via smartphone, tablet, and in a variety of other manners such as projection. 

Apparatus film theory sought to explain the relationship between films and film viewers with a focus on the viewing experience taking place in primarily in a theater. Thus, where there was once a single version of the film available and therefore the viewing experience in the theater would be rather specific, changes in technology give rise to things like:

  • Viewing different alternative versions of the film rather than the theatrical version.
  • Viewing additional details about actors, the Director, or other snippets that are uniquely included in DVD or other formats which were not possible in theaters.
  • Bonus features such as additional audio commentary, behind the scenes features, or other add ons that are unique to DVD or digital viewing and would otherwise be unavailable.

In essence, guided film viewing, in which the spectator has the opportunity to adjust their viewing experience, was not possible when films were originally produced for theaters only or on VHS. However, the rise of the digital product as well as the introduction of DVD viewing and similar technology has certainly given rise to a need to change how we think about apparatus film theory.

It’s likely that viewers experience films much differently as a result of these features. In fact, it’s also likely that different viewers experience the same film in very different ways, particularly based on the fact that the viewer can choose different outcomes, they can choose to experience the theatrical version or other versions of the film, and they even have the opportunity to experience additional features of the film that would not be experienced in the theater setting or on television. 

Undoubtedly, as we progress and digital film experiences evolve, so too will the way that people experience films. No longer will we all experience the same film the same way. Instead, we will experience a variety of features and functions in a variety of ways all due to the apparatus by which a film is created and experienced which is really where apparatus theory on films focuses.

Changed Apparatus Equals Changed Experiences

Film experiences today are largely different than they once were. Where we once went to a movie theater, with a group, and experienced a continuous and uninterrupted film, people now experience film more frequently via personal devices such as smartphones and tablets. They are interrupted and certainly not alone. The film experience is thus fragmented and the way the spectator understands the work is certainly not the same nor is the way the film created the same as it once was.

So what’s the effect of apparatus theory on films today? The reality is, apparatus theory has affected films in a number of ways. Today’s cinema is no longer dominated by the idea that it will be experienced in a theater. In fact, filmmakers often consider the apparatus in which the viewer is most likely to experience a film while they are creating the work. Certainly, we still see films in theaters, but we’re also seeing a rise in the number and type of films that are created for personal devices, for movie-on-demand function, and for completely different experiences in which the film never actually hits the theater or is experienced on the big screen.

The effect of apparatus theory on films today is that films are experienced differently, the outcome is different, and the relationship between viewer and the apparatus upon which a film is produced is entirely different. The cinematic apparatus is moving away from the theatrical projection that was the focus of Baudry’s film study towards personal consumption and is likely to continue in that direction as video on demand continues to grow.