Dr Maria Poulaki
I studied Psychology at a bachelor level and continued with postgraduate studies in Psychology and Media, Cultural Analysis and Media Studies (University of Amsterdam), with a focus on film and moving image media.
I have been teaching in arts and media departments in the Netherlands (University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University College) and the UK for over ten years.
My research interests span moving image and cinematic psychology and aesthetics. The monograph I am currently completing focuses on kinds of images and ways of perception that seem unnatural or illusional in cinema and other cinematic and post-cinematic media. The framework of analysis combines film theory with psychology, (neuro)phenomenology and philosophy.
Since my doctorate research and PhD thesis ('Before or Beyond Narrative: Towards a complex systems theory of contemporary films', University of Amsterdam 2011) I have been promoting the intersection of complexity theory with narrative studies, and I have a long-lasting commitment to interdisciplinary research of media that crosscuts sciences and humanities.
I have co-edited two books: with Pepita Hesselberth, the volume Compact Cinematics: The Moving Image in the Age of Bit-Sized Media (Bloomsbury 2017), featuring contributions from a number of prominent film and media scholars on the short, brief, small and miniature forms and processes of the new moving image and screen culture. <https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/compact-cinematics-9781501322266/>. And with Marina Grishakova, the collection Narrative Complexity: Cognition, Embodiment, Evolution (University of Nebraska Press 2019), which includes novel interdisciplinary contributions to the notion of narrative complexity. <https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803296862/>
My previous publications include various book chapters and articles in journals such as Screen, Projections, Cinema & Cie, Empedocles, Film-Philosophy, New Review of Film and Television Studies.
I have been collaborator and member in various international academic and research groups and networks, among which NECS, SCMS, SCSMI, ENN and have participarted in numerous conferences in Europe, US, Canada and Japan. I am also collaborating with various research funding bodies, academic presses and journals as a reviewer of research projects, books and article proposals.
In terms of teaching, modules I have written and taught through the past years cover film and media theory, history and analysis, narrative theory, digital aesthetics, research methods and academic writing. I have also enjoyed supervising several graduate and postgraduate dissertations, including PhD dissertations.
In this paper, I attempt to reread the 2004 film The Final Cut (Omar Naim) through its connection with the complex narrative tendency, and especially its puzzle, mind-game and modular aspects. I argue that The Final Cut's complex and reflexive mode of communication - with its roots in cyberpunk sci-fi - transforms its already discussed intense narratological self-reference. Reflexivity in The Final Cut finds expression in the plot's loops and mise-en-abyme structures, which, like the implant of the story, create interplay between narrative and database. Arguing that reflexivity is an important conceptual tool for theoretically approaching such interplay, I suggest an alternative theoretical framework to rethink reflexivity and self-reference in the context of complex narratives, through Niklas Luhmann's account of reflexivity in temporalized systems. Although this systemic framework has been in development since the 1970s, it is only recently that complex systemic views have influenced the humanities. Through this alternative framework, complexity enhances the communication between the film-system and the viewer-system, including the latter in a participatory and dynamic procedure of meaning-making. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.
Compact Cinematics challenges the dominant understanding of cinema to focus on the various compact, short, miniature, pocket-sized forms of cinematics that have existed from even before its standardization in theatrical form, and in recent years have multiplied and proliferated, taking up an increasingly important part of our everyday multimedia environment...
This article questions certain assumptions concerning film form made by the recent (neuro)psychological film research and compares them to those of precursors of film psychology like Hugo Münsterberg and Rudolf Arnheim, as well as the principles of Gestalt psychology. It is argued that principles of Gestalt psychology such as those of ‘good form’ and good continuation are still underlying the psychological research of film, becoming particularly apparent in its approach to continuity editing. Following an alternative Gestalt genealogy that links Gestalt theory with more recent dynamic models of brain activity and with accounts of brain complexity and neuronal synchronisation, the article concludes that psychological research on film needs to shift the focus from form to transformation, both in conceiving the perceptual and cognitive processing of films and in approaching film aesthetics more broadly.
This book puts into focus the tendency for increasingly complex forms of narration in post-1990s cinema. I argue that, because of the fragmentation and nonlinearity that contemporary complex films display—in all three narrative dimensions of time, causality and space—it is not enough to approach them solely as complex narratives. The notion of narrative holds onto an idea of coherency, wholeness and causal-temporal linearity of the story, against the backdrop of which narrative ‘complexity’ is defined. Instead, this book suggests a radically new framework for the analysis of contemporary narrative films, a framework able to shed light to the processes of organization that nonlinear systems follow. Tools from complexity theory are thus derived in order to address complex films as complex systems, and their dynamic forms of textual and cognitive organization.
Contemporary techno-cultural conditions bring a qualitative shift in cinematic communication, which arguably becomes increasingly complex in its structure. This chapter suggests a complex systems framework to approach this shift. Using the films Antichrist and Melancholia as a twofold case study, I argue that, in them and other complex or “mind-game” films, film form becomes a machine of multiple observation, expressed through many instances of systemic self-reference that create mise-en-abyme structures, where viewers repeatedly locate and lose themselves. Complex cinema engages film and viewer in a mutual systemic constitution and communication, of which uncertainty is the basic principle.
Compact Cinematics challenges the dominant understanding of cinema to focus on the various compact, short, miniature, pocket-sized forms of cinematics that have existed from even before its standardization in theatrical form, and in recent years have multiplied and proliferated, taking up an increasingly important part of our everyday multimedia environment.
This article examines the trend of looping videos online. It distinguishes between different types of loops (photography-based and video loops) and their functions (background and foreground). It also argues that the loop through its unit multiplication serves the human need for duration, self-reference and communication.
This paper uses the recent ‘network film’ of Mateo Garrone Gomorrah in order to let Alain Badiou’s theory of subjectivization-in-decision percolate through the immanent networks of contemporary ‘risk societies’ and the narrative structures through which they find expression in cinema. Adumbrating a tension between choices and decisions I seek to create ‘edges’ between two worlds that in the most part of Badiou’s work have been decisively and platonically separated: the world of being and the one of our embodied social experience. Cinema lends its dynamical and ‘tensed’ mediation in order for this new and open topology to be explored.
This article addresses the issue of causality in multi-character films that have been characterized as complex, and more particularly, network narratives. In these films, causality, in the classical sense of a logical connection between the depicted events, appears to be rather loose, as certain film theorists have argued. Using the film Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008) as the primary point of reference, and adopting a framework of analysis derived from complex systems theory and network theory instead of film narratology, I suggest that it is possible to gain insight into the particular characteristics of the loose causality of complex films, and to move towards a positive rather than negative definition of it. I will argue that an emergent type of causality is at play in network films, which follow the organizational laws of complex systems, rather than those of narrative organization.
This article offers a close reading and a critique of Hasson et al’s Neurocinematics, focusing on its treatment of the notion of control, meaning a predictable neural and cognitive activation triggered by film stimuli. In the first part of the article I suggest that the use of control in neurocinematics on the one hand relies on a similarly problematic—but still more nuanced—use of the notion in cognitive film theory, and on the other hand reflects a unidirectional model of communication which brackets out noisy cases that diverge from predictable behavior. In the second part, I argue that these “noisy” cases are exactly the ones that pertain the most to a complex and dynamic view of brain activity and film-mind communication. The dialogue between film studies and neuroscience can become more complex too, escaping from a problematic definition of film effectiveness with regards to predictable viewer reactions.
This article proposes a bridge between an early and a late work of Gérard Genette, namely his article Frontières du récit and his collection of essays Fiction et diction. In Frontières du récit, Genette points at two instances of “anti-narrative” intrusion into narrative. The first is what Emile Benveniste called “discourse,” meaning the self-reflexive comments of the nar- rator, and the second is description, a mode of utterance that when found in a narrative, tem- porarily withholds the flow of the story. In the context of the proliferation of these instances in current narrative films and in the light of Genette’s observations in Fiction et diction, I will suggest that these anti-narrative elements provide us with a chance to fundamentally recon- sider the notion of narrative and to configure a paradigm shift in narratology, which Genette had already foreseen in his early work.
The connection between film elements and brain responses has been suggested by a number of neurocognitive studies. The studies of event segmentation by Zacks et al in particular support that film editing conditions cognitive responses. After discussing the findings of these studies I will draw on Münsterberg’s and Arnheim’s classical cognitive approaches to film as well as from poststructuralist film theory to argue that the event segmentation approach still falls short of accounting for the impact of non-continuous film stimuli on the brain’s event segmentation, while it shares with other neurocognitive film research the tendency to naturalize narrative and continuity editing. Finally, it is suggested that by approaching the findings of event segmentation studies from the perspective of complex systems neuroscience, new hypotheses can be drawn on how non-continuous and complex film stimuli condition our brains by mediating (enabling or disrupting) event segmentation and cognitive patterning.
Complex forms of film narration, almost two decades after their popularization in the mid-1990s, make now a come-back through Hollywood productions. This chapter discusses the return of complex films and studies their storytelling modes from the scope of a broader epistemological paradigm shift towards the complexity of systems. The author suggests that this different perspective lets us address complex films not as deviant and alternative narratives, but as complex systems in their own right. Certain processes of complexity such as self-reference and pattern formation are highlighted as principles of organization of the complex filmic forms, and at the same time as new directions for film analysis and criticism.