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dr. M. (Miklós) Kiss

Associate Professor of Audiovisual Arts and Cognition



Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Complex Cinema

(joint project with Steven Willemsen)

Narrative complexity is a trend in contemporary cinema. Since the late 1990s there has been a palpable increase in complex storytelling in movies. But how and why do complex movies create perplexity and confusion? How do we engage with these challenges? And what makes complex stories so attractive?

By blending film studies and cognitive sciences, this project looks into the relation between complex storytelling and the mind. Analysing the effects that different complex stories have on viewers, the research addresses how films strategically create complexity and confusion. It introduces the specific category of impossible puzzle films to examine movies that use baffling paradoxes, impossible loops, and unresolved ambiguities in their stories and storytelling. By looking at how these films play on our mind’s blind spots, this project explains their viewing effects in terms of the mental state of cognitive dissonance that they evoke.

[books: published at Edinburgh University Press / published at Berghahn]


The Audiovisual Research Essay as an Alternative to Text-Based Scholarship

Raymond Bellour’s 1975 article, ‘The Unattainable Text’, marks a pivotal moment within the theory of film analysis by reflecting on the then irresolvable medium divide. “[T]he text of the film is unattainable because it is an unquotable text” – Bellour (20) famously concludes, struggling with the gap between the audiovisual medium studied and his textual means of analysis. What once was unattainable, today becomes a feasible practice: in his 2012 contemplation of the video essay’s potential to contribute to ‘the future of academic film and television criticism’ Erlend Lavik states that “[f]or the first time, there is material equivalence between film and film criticism, as both exist – or can be made to exist – simply as media files.” What once was a theoretical speculation has now become a much simpler, practical and technical question.

As an editorial board member of [in]Transition (the first peer-reviewed academic journal of videographic film and moving image studies), I see the creative potential of videographic practice not only in transferring text-based academic qualities to an audiovisual container, but also in addressing Bellour’s frustration, and supporting Lavik’s ideal. Through its multimedia affordances, audiovisual work could evolve to become a novel scholarly technique that might complement the longstanding tradition of the written paper. [for the rest of the argument, accompanied with a practical realization of the idea, visit my curatorial notes on Thomas van den Berg’s excellent AV essay / also, for a selection of my own AV essays visit my  Vimeo account]

Our (co-written with our ex-student Thomas van den Berg) media rich,‬‪ open access‬ ‪‎Scalar‬ ‪‎e-book‬ on the audiovisual essay practice has been launched at the 2916 NECS Conference in Potsdam:



From Narrative to Cognitive Approaches: Mapping Cinematic Experiences

Challenging the conventions of literary and film narratives inspires fresh analytical methods. Narrative mapping is the practice of visualization of the narrative experience, where visualization is not an arbitrary exercise but a graphic extension of one’s natural, ordinary efforts towards comprehension, appearing as an analytical tool with hermeneutic advantages. Similar to readers who ‘read for the plot and not for the map’ (Ryan 2003: 238), viewers are willing to draw sketches of narrative maps only if their investment seemingly benefits their comprehension. The manifold benefits of narrative maps become tangible when one is confronted by diversely complex disruptions in narrative compositions (Buckland 2009).

Narrative maps, unlike topographic maps, are not mimetic transpositions of spatial diagesis data (i.e. ‘narrative cartography’ [Ryan 2003]), but spatial visualizations of one’s (narrative) comprehension. If ‘narrative is a perceptual activity that organizes data into a special pattern which represents and explains experience’ (Branigan 1992: 3), then narrative maps are visual representations of this structuring activity. Although narrative mapping is a metaphorical expression to describe comprehension of narratives through mental or graphical visualization, it is based on actual real-life skills of orientation and navigation, allowed by the extension of kinaesthetic image schemata (Lakoff 1987, Johnson 1987) to narrative comprehension (Slors 1998, Menary 2008). Ultimately, one’s mapping activity, as part of a general real-life analytical routine (mental, situation, or event models), results in cognitive maps of story structures (models of narrative compositions), which may be stabilized in graphic spatial visualizations (narrative maps).

The point of the project is to reveal the activity of narrative mapping: its embodied-cognitive foundations, its practical process, and its analytical possibilities leading to interpretive benefits related to complex narrative experiences.


Cinematic 3-D Representation – From Visual Celebration to Narrative Appropriation

(joint project with Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology; University College Dublin, Ireland)

Present-day discourse about 3-D cinematic representation revolves around the technique’s initial questions. As an inherently optical feature 3-D representation and its viewer experience prompt, and maintain arguments purely on visual grounds. The discussion seemingly got stuck by the technology’s limited evaluation to its visual aspects, dividing optimistic voices celebrating 3-D images stunning aesthetic qualities (Weetch), from pessimistic tones condemning the new spectacle as empty visual embellishment (Ebert, Kermode). Instead of participating in these shoreless debates, now it is high time to acknowledge the fact that 3-D technology does not necessarily able to enhance visual realism, representational fidelity, or viewer-immersion. It is (just) a different optical method to create the known illusion of the third dimension, made already available from the film historical beginnings by various techniques of the traditional 2-D cinema. Noteworthy reminder: The technique what the enthusiastic industry baptized as ‘3-D’ is actually a simple stereoscopic trick on one’s eye-brain co-operation (whether provided by the early ‘anaglyph technology’ (through those chromatically opposed – red and cyan – glasses), or by recent polarized glasses).

Present empirical research – utilizing media archaeological scholarship on early silent film’s ‘maturation’ (Gunning 1986) – offers an alternative study that finally moves away from the unproductive discussion paralyzing the development of the new technology. As it happened with early cinema, the discourse on the possibilities of 3-D cinema should move from the technique’s visual celebration to its narrative appropriation. 3-D, like sound, colour and other film language elements won’t be dominant until it becomes motivated by the attributes which viewers do care: narrative development and characters. My research’s goal is to redirect the main focus related to 3-D technology from its effectiveness of enhancing reality, fidelity and immersion, to its potential of providing narrative clues. My aim is twofold: on the one hand to reveal 3-D representation’s place within the visual hierarchy of cinematic clues, and, on the other hand, to outline 3-D technology’s narrative potential with the help of a comparative empirical analyses (methodology: theorizing comparative eye-tracking experiments on 2-D screening against 3-D screening).

Progressive direction of addressing the field (3-D from visual attraction to narratively motivated style) by new, empirical methods (3-D eye-tracking) resulting in objective and, for creative art industry, attractive insights.

Last modified:17 October 2023 2.44 p.m.