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The playing spectator: a study on the applicability of the theories of D.W. Winnicott to contemporary concepts of the viewer's relationship to film

Creme, Phyllis (1994) The playing spectator: a study on the applicability of the theories of D.W. Winnicott to contemporary concepts of the viewer's relationship to film. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86273) (KAR id:86273)


This thesis presents an exploration of the relationship of the viewer to film from the perspective of the theories developed by the English psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971) on playing, transitional objects, potential space, and a view of the subject that includes a concept of the True Self or Self.

The transitional object is defined as the baby's first play object which it uses to achieve subject-object differentiation. Potential space is the transitional psychic area between subjective and objective reality, which Winnicott posits as the location of cultural experience, the adult's form of playing. Playing involves a creative relationship with the subjective and the objective worlds and encompasses both specific, cultural activities and a general orientation to living.

These concepts are applied to film through a model of a playing spectator, whose wish for cinema is to take a full part in the film-play as agent and as maker. The vicissisitudes of the spectator's playing from the opening to the ending of the film are traced through analyses of Meet me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944, USA), which is explored as both a musical and a melodrama.

The specificity of the notion of a playing spectator is clarified through a comparison with contemporary film studies of spectatorship. It has similarities with theories that stress process and movement in the film viewer relationship while the differences arise from the differences between Winnicott's views of subjectivity and those adopted in film studies. The playing spectator engages with a film in ways that partake of both conscious and unconscious processes and makes use of it as her play object to obtain an experience of the Self. From this perspective an argument is made for the psychic significance and value of the experience of cinema for the viewer.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86273
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Film studies
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:47 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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