Why subjective perception in film and video really matters

Thrown out with the bathwater

Why subjective perception in film and video really matters
Why subjective perception in film and video really matters

When answering the question of what subjective perception is and could be, one of Switzerland’s most popular daily newspapers had bemoaned the fact that – during the last few years and not least because of YouTube – films and videos were now (quote) “… mercilessly subjective and mercilessly random …” and had lost most of their effect. I beg your pardon? My related comment in this article: this perception is rubbish and an old hat!

Those hammering answers such as these into their computer keyboard not only hinder the knowledgeable person from gaining an insight into the reality of current trends in moving image communication, but also only permit conclusions about their own lack of expertise:

Mercilessly subjective. Mercilessly random.

Films and videos are filmed by cameras or generated on computers. Either way, it’s always about working with image sections. The term image section already says it all: with a detail, or a part of the whole. With that and that alone, films and videos already have a perspective, whether intentional or not. Just like photographs, a film or video is not and never able to reveal objective reality.

However, it’s not just a section and not just reality that is depicted and reproduced, but a reflection of a documented (real) or staged moment. Even if, at the end, many of these sections (called “settings” in cinematic speak) result in a greater whole (the film) after film assembly: every piece of the puzzle is subjective. Subjective, not objective. The overall work therefore remains equally so, and in some cases, even has to be so. Because without a strong narrative perspective, strong storytelling is not possible in the first place.

Whatever is objectively measureable is created through the subjective forces and factors effective in the “object” or at least influenced in an objectively uncontrollable way. Gerald Hüther, Professor for Neurobiology

Therefore, objective moving image communication does not exist. Subjective information is a component of the film’s fundamental characteristics.

POV (Point of View)

videothink Son-of-Saul-Filmposter - Why subjective perception in film and video really matters
“Son of Saul” by László Nemes: merciless subjective perception! Mercilessly good!

The subjectivity of cinematic narrative culminates in the so-called POV setting. The three-letter abbreviation means “Point-of-View”.   This does not denote the camera angle in itself but that the camera, as a representative of a protagonist in the film, assumes the perspective of this one person: In a POV setting, the viewer sees the action from the perspective of the actor, whereby the camera is not merely the eye of the audience but also (!) the eye of the acting party.

360˚ videos

Those claiming that 360 videos can serve to refute the argument of perspective are wrong. This trendy type of video communication may show an all-round image of the environment, through which the user may and can scroll in more or less interactive manner. However: whether positioned randomly or as a result of the location, whether deliberately positioned at the filming location in line with the required expression after tests and loving deliberation, a 360° video will also only show a visual point of contact to the environment, only a selected location at a selected time, and is therefore … subjective.


For marketing and communication, and especially in the fight for attention, merciless randomness has never been a recipe for success.

Although you can’t do much wrong with “me-too videos”, you can’t do much right either.

Films are not just a means of transport and an economic commodity but also a medium with inherent artistic potential. Lamentations regarding randomness are nothing new. Even the de’ Medici in the 16th and 17th centuries dealt with the question as to how much creative independence and creativity an image had to possess in order to represent more than the sum of its individual parts as a painting.

What is subjectivity?

Subjectivity comes from Latin and stands for subservience. The exact definition of the term has been philosophically disputed since antiquity. However, philosophers do agree that subjectivity distinguishes humankind from objects (similar questions are increasingly characterising our perception of and our dealings with animals).

Those subservient to a perspective or a view are not objective.

In science, subjectivity is only recognised as an error source. Whatever is not objective creates fear.

In psychology however, as in the social sciences, the epistemological value of subjective research methods has been mostly recognised for quite some time. Probably also because subjects, humans, take central place as the subject matter of this research. Studies in this area are subject-oriented per se.

In education, subjectivity is also understood in the sense that it helps us humans to define our capacity for action and the maintenance of our self-esteem.

Subjectivity, and not only objectivity, allow us humans to master crises and to successfully face the constant flow of challenges in everyday life.

An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark –  that is critical genius. Billy Wilder, Director (1906-2002)

With reference to subjectivity, we can therefore use good arguments to even go as far as claiming that reality consists of the sum of the subjective perception of all humans.

Reality would therefore not be objective and independent of subjectivity; instead, objectivity would only be created by the combination of the individual opinions of all involved in the first place.

Film and video are always: subjective perception

Irrespective of how widely and broadly the term subjectivity is interpreted, films and videos are like our perception: always subjective.

Even better if films are mercilessly subjective! It is not the pointless question whether films are allowed to be objective or subjective that should be central to the examination of the effect of moving image communication. It is far more important to ascertain how subjectivity is dealt with. This is only possible when subjectivity in film and video is accepted as inevitable.

There are only films with subconsciously handled subjectivity, or those in which subconscious, uncontrolled subjectivity comes into effect for reasons of ignorance.

Those negating subjectivity in visual communication leave the answers, the effect and therefore the achievement of their communication objectives to change, because this opens the door to the uncontrolled development of subjectivity. This may be acceptable for amateurs and people wanting to entrust their films to the world’s greatest moving image cemetery, YouTube (more than 97% of videos uploaded to YouTube are not clicked more than 3 times).

For professionals, ignorance should not be an option. It costs nothing to ask. In criminal law as in communication, the same applies to humans: ignorance does not protect you from punishment.

Film tip:  A gruesomely grandiose, unsurpassed example for life, perception, subjectivity, subjective reality and cinematic work with a subjective camera can be found in the feature film “Son of Saul”, awarded in Cannes and this year also bestowed with an “Oscar”.

The masterpiece by director László Nemes Jeles and camera man Mátyás Erdély not only depicts humanity and atrocities far beyond our wildest imagination, but – as no film has for a long time – trusts more the force of restrictive perspective, in the sound level and in the imagination of the viewer.

Film poster: Son of Saul (2015), by Director László Nemes. Actors: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont

© filmpuls

Über Kristian Widmer 27 Artikel

Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

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