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Summary Article: Munsterberg, Hugo
From Encyclopedia of Early Cinema

b. 1863, Germany; d. 1916, USA

psychologist, USA

A German émigré, Munsterberg was a prominent psychologist (Harvard University) who often popularized his ideas in leading illustrated magazines such as Munsey ‘s. His The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916) was arguably the first major work of film theory. Anticipating later classical formalist currents, he affirmed film's legitimacy and independence as a fine art by stressing the unique ways in which cinematic devices transform the world recorded on film. He was particularly interested, however, in exploring a film/mind analogy, highlighting correspondences between cinematic processes like flashbacks and close-ups and mental processes like memory and attention. With this conception of film as an objectification of the inner workings of the mind, Munsterberg situated cinema within the prevailing framework of idealist aesthetics derived from Kant and Schopenhauer. Cinema, he argued, could be built on the same foundation as all genuine art—namely, harmonious isolation from practical interests, connections, and strivings of the will.

Further reading
  • Langdale, Allan (ed.) (2002) Hugo Munsterberg on Film—The Photoplay: A Psychological Study and Other Writings, New York: Routledge.
    © 2005 edited by Richard Abel

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