SCSMI2017 Helsinki has ended
The annual conference of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI) welcomes you to the Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, June 11th – 14th, 2017

SCSMI2017 Helsinki program is under construction and changes are to occur. Meanwhile you may complete your personal information with a photo and some tags, so the other attendees and speakers will get to know more of you and your interests, and vice versa.

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Monday, June 12 • 14:00 - 14:30
SP Alaina Schempp. What’s So Scary About Time? The Temporality of Cinematic Suspense in Horror and Suspense-Thriller Films

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Suspense is a naturally occurring emotional state for human beings and, in the real world, we are at risk of feeling it any time we wait for our name to be called at the doctor’s office or stare intently at a traffic light to change from red to green. What interests most cognitive film scholars of suspense, however, is not the suspense of everyday experiences found in everyday places like doctor’s offices and congested highways, but the suspense of aesthetic experiences found in cinema viewing. This special case of suspense, which I characterise as aesthetic suspense, differs from everyday suspense in that people often go out of their way to experience it. Unlike waiting for a traffic light, presuming most commuters would drive along happily if they encountered no delays, aesthetic suspense represents what may be thought of as a pleasurable emotion, one sought after while engaging in aesthetic activities such as watching films. Put another way, aesthetic suspense may be thought of as purposeful suspense; suspense that is, presumably in some ways, enjoyable and experience for its own sake. To further narrow my study of aesthetic suspense, I am specifically interested in cinematic suspense, which I take to be a kind of temporal affect and feature found in the temporal art of film. The primary aim of this paper is to evaluate the ways in which our perception and cognition of time and timing affect our emotions in suspense-thriller and horror films. Using an interdisciplinary, cognitive approach, I will demonstrate how aspects of time and timing have been little understood in the literature of film suspense and argue that in order to more fully understand the experience of cinematic suspense, one needs to seriously consider the ways in which time and timing factor into this experience. 

When applied to cinema, the word suspense implies a temporal component both for film as a broadly temporal art and more narrowly as a narrative one. As the word implies, suspending dramatic action is the keystone to narrative suspense. Yet, suspense can also be thought of in terms of emotions. Suspense is the feeling one gets from willing Indiana Jones of Raiders of the Last Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981) to outrun a giant boulder that threatens to crush him or hoping the innocent swimmer in Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) escapes the water before the bloodthirsty shark wins a snack. In short, suspense is an affective temporal aspect of cinema that requires the viewer to have expectations, hopes, and sometimes simply curiosity. But suspense as it relates to cinema, what I will characterise as cinematic suspense, may also be thought of as a feature of a work and not just a feeling that arises while viewing that work. For instance, films falling into the genre of “suspense- thriller” such as No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) or There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) will not only use suspense as an affective feature, it may be characterised as an essential feature of the genre as a whole. Even if one disagrees that there are any essential features of a genre, it would, in any case, be difficult to imagine the same films without suspense. That is to say, even if it were somehow possible to “edit out” the suspense from No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood, we would, nevertheless, be left with drastically different films from the originals. Harkening back to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, these updated, contemporary westerns rely so heavily on the generation of suspense, even the titles of the films hint at that affect. The theoretical and aesthetic ground covered in this paper is, as the titles of these films imply, (respectively) "no country for old men" and "you can most definitely expect to see some blood." 

avatar for Alaina Schempp

Alaina Schempp

PhD Candidate/Assistant Lecturer, University of Kent
I am a 4th year PhD candidate in Film Studies at the University of Kent supervised by Murray Smith and Margrethe Bruun Vaage. My dissertation takes a cognitive-analytic approach to the study of time, timing, and temporality in contemporary narrative film, television, and video. This... Read More →

Monday June 12, 2017 14:00 - 14:30 EEST
A-301 Room, Töölö Campus, Aalto University (3rd floor) Runeberginkatu 14-16, Helsinki