We might winder why cinema, relying as it does on sounds and images, is not content with representing the sounds and images of a reproduced or invented reality. As I see it, this is because any art based on imitation (what the Greeks called mimesis) tries sooner or later to reproduce what is sensorily unavailable to it. And art that solely addresses the eye will try to suggest sounds; some music tries to conjure up images; a text meant to be read in silence attempts to evoke the specific presence of a voice. Literature endeavors to make the characters’ sensations seen and heard, starting with Balzac and especially Flaubert. (In Madame Bovary, for example, Flaubert gets us to smell dust.) Purely instrumental music, lacking text and voice, tries to speak as an articulate language. The monocular painting of the quattrocento aims to translate the perspective, relief, and depth it lacks, as well as movement. Classical sculpture strains to convey motion, showing Hercules fighting lions; Rodin and Degas depict acrobats and dancers; Giacometti creates a man walking; and so forth.

Silent film took an interest in conveying music visually, but also in translating sounds through images. Monocular sound film often works to re-create a sense of three-dimensionality. Real three-dimensional cinema, as is obvious in 3D screenings of Jim Cameron’s Avatar, tackles the tactile, suggesting richer sensations than mere three-dimensionality.

I do not believe that this pursuit of rendering complex sensations, in auteur as well as popular cinema, merely serves the film’s narrative or message. Do filmmakers show and create sensations to tell the story more clearly, better illustrate an idea or a message, or create a dramatic effect? I think not: in film there is an inherent pleasure in the sensory per se. I argue that people go see certain films also to enjoy figurative pleasures: to get the feeling of the wind (whose coolness they can’t feel on their skin) and the rain (whose drops don’t reach them). We find this appeal in Spielberg, and also in films by Kurosawa and Tarkovsky, who, if only because of their training as painters, are great sensory filmmakers.

Michel Chion in his Sensory Aspects of Contemporary Cinema. The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics. London: Oxford University Press. 2013 (pp. 326-327)