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Film and Philosophy

Volume 24, 2020

Frank Boardman
Pages 43-62

Realism about Film and Realism in Films

Realism has a significant place in the history of film theory. The claim that film is essentially a realistic art form has been employed to justify the art-status of films as well as the distinctness of film as a form. André Bazin and others once used realist ontologies of film to try to establish realist teleologies and universal critical standards. I briefly sketch this history before considering the prospects for various versions of realism: Bazin’s, as well as Kendall Walton’s and Gregory Currie’s less ambitious but more plausible accounts. I argue that these theories, though they are the best cases we have for realism, are not adequate ontologies of film. However, while prior realist philosophers and critics were wrong to think that realism can provide a critical standard for all films, realism is nonetheless a praiseworthy filmic achievement - one that the opponent of ontological realism should not dismiss.

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