Freie Universität Berlin

Service Navigation

Perceived Perception

Film scholar Thomas Morsch studies the media aesthetics of cinema

Apr 02, 2012

Verschiedene filmische Mittel, z.B. Licht- und Toneffekte oder die Bildschärfe, können laut Filmwissenschaftler Thomas Morsch dazu beitragen, dass das Filmerlebnis zu einer ästhetischen und körperlichen Erfahrung wird.
According to film historian Thomas Morsch, various film techniques such as lighting and sound effects, or image resolution, help make the film experience both aesthetic and physical. Image Credit: froodmat /
In seiner Dissertation erklärt der Filmwissenschaftler Thomas Morsch den Zusammenhang von ästhetischer und körperlicher Erfahrung im Kino.
In his doctoral thesis, the film historian Thomas Morsch explained the relationship between aesthetic and physical experience in movie theaters. Image Credit: Privat
A spaceship dances gracefully around a space station to the music of Johann Strauss’s waltz The Blue Danube. In addition, a woman, held to the ground by weighted shoes, moves toward a sleeping man whose arm floats in the air – choreographies of weightlessness. In his 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick used Oscar-winning special effects, intense images, and orchestral music to create a film world that “means a physical experience,” according to film scholar Thomas Morsch.

Morsch, a junior professor, is daring to change perspectives. For Morsch, the focus of consideration is not on cognitive or psychoanalytical film theory, but the body or “the physical.” He believes it is possible not only to understand a film, but also to grasp it physically. When the protagonist of a movie falls off the roof of a tall building, we are able to feel the echoes of the situation physically, “because we have a body and know what it means to have a body,” as Morsch says.

For film scholar Morsch, the main focus is on the aesthetics created through the use of filmic tools and methods – such as certain camera techniques, image resolution, slow motion, light reflections, and audio effects – which influence the viewer’s perceptions. Other factors involved include the atmosphere of the movie theater, which enables a different cinematic experience than an evening spent watching DVDs on the couch at home. “I understand film as ‘perceived perception,’” Morsch explains. “That means that something that has already been captured by the camera and the microphones, and thus perceived once, is perceived by us as viewers a second time.”

Aesthetics of TV Series

Morsch backs his arguments with examples from early cinema, around 1900, and from avant-garde and experimental film, alongside patterns of depiction used in action and horror films. He points in particular to director Philippe Grandrieux as a representative of experimental film. French filmmaker Grandrieux plays with image and sound, distorts faces past the point of recognition, uses oversaturated colors, and creates surprising accents with penetrating sounds. In Germany, Grandrieux is mainly known by film buffs, while in his home country of France, he has made a name for himself not only as a director, but also as an instructor at major film schools. “That level of theoretical reflection is evident in his films,” Morsch says.

Also in evidence is the enthusiasm that many students feel for the film scholar’s latest project: As part of the collaborative research center entitled “Aesthetic Experience and the Dissolution of Artistic Limits,” Morsch is studying the aesthetics of TV series. For the project, he is especially interested in programs considered “quality TV.” This makes him part of a current trend in film studies, in which TV series are growing more important in terms of research. With programs such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men on his seminar plan, Morsch has garnered great interest among students. “It was like something finally clicked,” he says. The tremendous response may be due to the drive, experienced by many students, to take an academic view of their private passions and set them in relation to what they have learned so far.

Further Information

Junior Professor Thomas Morsch, Institute of Theater Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 (0)30 838-50343, Email: