‘the moment that made me smile’: affect, empathy, texture

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


In her now seminal account of her embodied engagement, ‘What My Fingers Knew’ (2004), Vivian Sobchack recounts her recognition of the opening images of The Piano (Jane Campion, 1990) through her ‘carnal comprehension’ (63). This is a critical encounter, repeated across scholarship attending to the sensory qualities of cinema, in which film is considered through an empathetic engagement with the body or bodies onscreen. In his 1990 article ‘Must We Say What They Mean?’, V.F. Perkins closes with a striking statement concerning criticism and affect:
The starting point for my inspection of the Caught fragment was a desire to figure out what it was in the moment that made me smile. The evidence of feeling demands an acknowledged place in the process of interpretation. Without it, learning to construct readings of film becomes as empty an achievement as learning about music at the Dorothy Dale school. (6)
Here, the connection between critic and film is also concerned with a desire to comprehend response, but rather than a feeling embedded within/shared with the film’s world, it is at the heart of feeling about the film. Such evidence of feeling is present throughout Perkins’ work, found in the motivation to write about particular moments and in their precise evocation, in his invitation to view interpretation as building an ongoing and attentive relationship with a film’s texture. In this paper I will engage with Perkins’ prose, as well as film moments that make me smile, in order to address the undervalued contribution of V.F. Perkins’ writing to questions of affect.
PeriodSept 2018
Event titleFilm as Film Today: On the Criticism and Theory of V. F. Perkins
Event typeConference
LocationCoventry, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Film aesthetics
  • film criticism
  • empathy
  • texture
  • VF Perkins