The playing spectator : a study on the applicability of the theories of D.W. Winnicott to contemporary concepts of the viewer's relationship to film.
This thesis presents an exploration of the relationship of the viewer to
film from the perspective of the theories developed by the English
psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971) on playing, transitional objects,
potential space, and a view of the subject that includes a concept of the
True Self or Self.
The transitional object is defined as the baby's first play object which it
uses to achieve subject-object differentiation. Potential space is the
transitional psychic area between subjective and objective reality, which
Winnicott posits as the location of cultural experience, the adult's form of
playing. Playing involves a creative relationship with the subjective and
the objective worlds and encompasses both specific, cultural activities and
a general orientation to living.
These concepts are applied to film through a model of a playing spectator,
whose wish for cinema is to take a full part in the film-play as agent and as
maker. The vicissisitudes of the spectator's playing from the opening to
the ending of the film are traced through analyses of Meet me in St. Louis
(Minnelli, 1944, USA), which is explored as both a musical and a
The specificity of the notion of a playing spectator is clarified through a
comparison with contemporary film studies of spectatorship. It has
similarities with theories that stress process and movement in the film
viewer relationship while the differences arise from the differences
between Winnicott's views of subjectivity and those adopted in film
studies. The playing spectator engages with a film in ways that partake of
both conscious and unconscious processes and makes use of it as her play
object to obtain an experience of the Self. From this perspective an
argument is made for the psychic significance and value of the experience
of cinema for the viewer.