Jean-Louis Baudry “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus” – A Review

Jean Louis Baudry

Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus


In such a way, the cinematic apparatus conceals its work and imposes an idealist ideology, rather than producing critical awareness in a spectator.”


Baudry sets up the questions he will answer throughout the rest of the text:

  • How the “subject” is the active center of meaning.
  • How the cinematic apparatus is actually more important for transcendentalism in the subject than the film itself.
  • The hidden “work” of the cinematic apparatus, that is, the progression from the “objective reality” (what is filmed), through the intermediary (the camera), to the finished product (a reconstructed, but false, “objective reality”, not the “objective reality” itself, but instead a representation of it)


Baudry then discusses this “work”. This, he claims, is what distinguishes cinema as an art form. This process of transformation from “objective reality” to finished product. He asks, in this finished product is the “work” made evident, does viewing the final product bring about a “knowledge effect”, or in other words, a recognition of the apparatus, or is the “work” concealed?


He finishes the section by stating, “concealment of the technical base will also bring about a specific ideological effect. Its inscription, its manifestation as such, on the other hand, would produce a knowledge effect, as actualization of the work process, as denunciation of ideology, and as a critique of idealism.”


It’s important to stop here and question what Baudry means by “idealism”?

Sociologically, idealism emphasizes how human ideas – especially beliefs and values – shape society. Philosophically it asserts that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial.


The Eye of the Subject


Baudry discusses the viewpoint of the “subject” in both Greek and Renaissance art histories. While both static, the Greeks “subject” is based on a “multiplicity of points of view” while the Renaissance paintings utilize a “centered space”. “The center of this space coincides with the eye…so justly called the “subject”.


Baudry then continues and discusses the camera’s vision, which he calls Monocular. “Based on the principle of a fixed point by reference to which the visualized objects are organized, it specifies in return the position of the “subject” the very spot it must necessarily occupy. What Baudry has done here is created the “subject” for the finished product, the entity into which the exterior world will attempt to intrude and create meaning.

Question – If the subject is a “fixed point”, then does one’s positioning in a theater affect the ability for meaning to be created? Is the “mirror” as affective?


Baudry then discusses the necessity of transcendence which he will touch upon more later in his essay. Briefly however, the ideal vision of the “virtual image” with its hallucinatory reality, creates a total vision which to Baudry, “contributes…to the ideological function of art, which is to provide the tangible representation of metaphysics.”


Projection: The Difference Negated


Baudry discusses the paradox between the projected film. It consists of individual frames, separate, however minutely, from each other in image. However, when projected the frames create meaning, through the relationship between them, creating a juxtapositioning and a continuity. As Baudry states, “These separate frames have between them differences that are indispensable for the creation of an illusion of continuity, of a continuous passage (movement, time). But only on one condition can these differences create this illusion: they must be effaced as differences.” This is a critical notion as we will see in just a moment.


“We should remember, moreoever, the disturbing effects which result during a projection from breakdowns in the recreation of movement, when the spectator is brought abruptly back to discontinuity, that is, to the body, to the technical apparatus which he or she had forgotten. When such discontinuity is made apparent then to Baudry both transcendence, meaning in the subject, and ideology can be impossible.


So what is the importance of this effacement of discontinuity in frames. Baudry states, “We might not be far from seeing what is in play on this material basis, if we recall that the “language” of the unconscious, as it is found in dreams, slips of the tongue, or hysterical symptoms, manifests itself as continuity destroyed, broken, and as the unexpected surging forth of a marked difference.” We must note the similarities between Baudry’s Freudian idea of the unconscious and of the language of the cinematic apparatus. Both, fool the subject (the viewer and the self) into believing in a continuity, while both occasionally providing glimpses of the actual discontinuity present in the construction. Thus a relation is established between the unconscious of the “subject” and what is being presented on screen. Or as Baudry puts it….


“Thus one may assume that what was already at work as the originating basid of the persepective image, namely the eye, the “subject”, is put forth, liberated by the operation which transforms successive, discrete images (as isolated images they have, strictly speaking, no meaning, or at least no unity of meaning) into continuity, movement, meaning; with continuity restored both meaning and consciousness are restored.”


The Transcendental Subject


Baudry begins by describing how when a camera follows a trajectory, it becomes trajectory, seizes a moment, becomes a moment. It’s a little clunky but what I believe he is saying is this. As the camera follows the arc of a ball flying through the air, the frame itself mimics this arc, becomes an arc itself. And if we believe that the consciousness of the individual is projected upon the screen then as Baudry puts it, “in this way the eye-subject, the invisible base of artificial perspective (which in fact only represents a larger effot to produce an ordering, regulated trascnedence) becomes absorbed in, “elevated” to a vaster function”.


“The world will not only be constituted by this eye but for it. The movability of the camera seems to fulfill the most favorable conditions for the manifestation of the “transcendental subject”.


Baudry moves on to how he believes the subject is so able to become consciously enmeshed in the film. “There is both fantasmatization of an objective reality (image, sounds, color) and of an objective reality which, limiting its power of constraint, seems equally to augment the possibilities of the subject.” It is the belief in the omnipotence of thought and viewpoint. The subject sees all, he or she ascends to a nobler status, a god perhaps, he or she sees all of the world that is presented before them, the visual image is the world, and the subject sees all. Add to this that the ego believes that what is shown is shown for a reason, that whatever it sees has purpose, has meaning. And you have a subject who is given great power and a world in which he or she is entitled to meaning.


Film derives meaning from the subject.


The importance of narrative continuity as well, “The search for such narrative continuity, so difficult to obtain from the material base, can only be explained by an essential ideological stake projected in this point: it is a question of preserving at any cost the synthetic unity of the locus where meaning originates [the subject] – the constituting transcendental function to which narrative continuity points back as its natural secretion.”


The Screen-Mirror: Specularization and Double Identification


The physical confinements and atmosphere of the theater help in the immersion of the subject. Indeed Baudry notes that the atmosphere mimics not only Plato’s analogy of the cave but also Lacan’s formation of the imaginary self.

“This psychological phase, which occurs between six and eighteen months of age, generates via the mirror image of a unified body the constitution or at least the first sketches of the “I” as an imaginary function.

Lacan is so abstruse its as if he’s using a different language, but here’s what I can gather. The child upon seeing his or herself in the mirror for the first time, is hitherto, a fragmented conscious and unconscious, his or her recognition of his or herself in a mirror creates an imaginary “I”, imaginary in the sense that 1. The “I” is a organic, singular unit, which contradicts the idea that the being is actually a fragmented entity, also paralleling the concept of the “continuous image” upon the screen, and 2. The child takes the mirrored image and makes it an “ideal self”. This is problematic for two reasons, 1. The mirrored image is not the child itself but instead a reflected image, and 2. The reflected is image presents a whole, something the child will continually strive for but never reach. It is a continually unfulfilled desire, an empty signifier. Note the similarity between this and the constructed image on screen.


The screen as a “mirror” but not one that reflects an objective reality but one instead one that reflects images.


“Thus the spectator identifies less with what is represented, the spectacle itself, than with what stages the spectacle, makes it seen, obliging him to see what it sees; this is exactly the function taken over by the camera as a sort of relay.” And this is because..


“Just as a mirror assembles the fragmented body in a sort of imaginary integration of the self, the transcendental self unites the discontinuous fragments of phenomena, of lived experience, into unifying meaning. Through it each fragment assumes meaning by being integrated into an “organic” unity. Between the imaginary gathering of the fragmented body into a unity and the transcendentality of the self, giver of unifying meaning, the current is indefinitely reversible.


The relationship between the camera and the subject. The camera needs to seize the subject in a mode of specular reflection. The forms of narrative adopted, the contents, are of little importance so long as identification remains possible.


“Everything happens as if, the subject himself, unable to account for his own situation, it was necessary to substitute secondary organs, grafted on to replace his own defective ones, instruments or ideological formations capable of filling his function as subject.” The image replaces the subjects own image as if it is now the mirror.


“The cinema can thus appear as a sort of psychic apparatus of substitution, corresponding to the model defined by the dominant ideology.”


Think of it this way, the consciousness of the individual, the subject, becomes projected upon the film, as both the consciousness and the cinematic apparatus work in similar ways. This allows the exterior world, the “objective reality”, to create interior meaning within the subject. The success or failure of a film is therefore its ability to hold this consciousness through a perpetual continuity of the visual image and the effacement of the means of production, therefore allowing the subject a “transcendental experience”.


“Film functions more as a metaphysiological “mirror” that fulfills the spectator’s wish for fullness, transcendental unity, and meaning.”




What is the dominant ideology?

How might one’s position in a theater affect their reaction to a film according to Baudry?

What type of editing pattern would Baudry believe to be most consistent with a “continuity”?

What is the difference between the meaning between image and the meaning created within the “subject”?

What might some criticisms of Baudry’s theory? Do you believe it?

One thought on “Jean-Louis Baudry “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus” – A Review”

  1. I understand some of Baudry’s points as they’re made, but what exactly is the thesis of this essay? I can’t quite grasp it on my own. If someone could distill it into plain English, I think I can actually start making sense of this essay.

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