Surface and Affect: The Texture of the Film World

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


Films are full of surfaces we see and hear, and which inform our comprehension of space and the bodies that move through it. The detail of these surfaces might be drawn attention to through narrative or emotive importance or elided in their inconspicuousness. Surfaces are functional, as the filmic world, like our own, is constituted of a variety of objects and spaces. They are also affective, providing the tangible parameters of an intangible object, giving depth and materiality to cinema. Through detailed examples, this paper will seek to explore the form and meaning of surface in film, through consideration of texture. In visual art, texture is used to describe the tactile quality of surface and its function, the way it works to relate content and affect. The character of material chosen is functional both in the creation of substance and meaning. The material properties of surface in a film, communicated both visually and aurally, indicate the constitution of a space (is it hard, rough, smooth or soft?) and therefore indicate the qualities of a fictional world (is it precarious or treacherous, luxurious or comforting?). By attending to and trying to describe the fine detail, the consistency of a surface as it is perceived, we can be more precise about the nature or quality of the film world. For example, shiny and smooth, though very similar, evoke different consistencies: shiny can be hard, brittle or reflective, while smooth can be matt, soft or elastic; shininess can be a result of light on a surface, while sound can smooth over. Texture for film, therefore, channels concern with affect through concrete description, foregrounding the importance of arguments about film that are grounded in the text, in its consistency.

Film-Philosophy, St Annes College, University of Oxford
PeriodJul 2015
Event titleSurface and Affect: The Texture of the Film World
Event typeOther


  • film design
  • texture
  • film affect
  • surface
  • materiality