cinematographic vision


“But  while architectural changes in the window were coincident with changes in perspective in modern painting early in the twentieth century, the media of film and television retained  a perspectival frame through the “modern” period. The moving image offered  multiple perspectives through the sequential shifts of montage and editing; yet, aside from a few historical anomalies, it has only been with the advent of digital imaging technologies  and new technologies of display in the 1990s that the media “window” began  to include multiple perspectives within a single frame.

Now, a variety of screens — long and wide and square, large and small, composed of grains, composed of pixels — compete for our attention without any (convincing) arguments  about hegemony.”

Anne Friedberg, “The Virtual Window” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Kindle Edition, 2003), 4710-4714. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Hardcover Edition, 2004), pp. 347-348.

On the dramatic stage the method of interpreting a theatrical production lies with the actor who expresses the theatrical idea through the creative will of the director and gives it individual form. In cinema, because of its unusually high technological component — the quintessence of the machine and electricity — and because of the surprising significance of montage, the actor takes second place. In view of the fact that cinema must be based on a purely external (i.e. visual) artistic influence on the public the cinema artiste must learn to create the required impression not just by acting with the face but by acting with the whole body; by an expressiveness of lines.

– Kuleshov, Lev. “The Art of Cinema” [1918]. In The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, edited by Richard Taylor, and Ian Christie. London; New York: Routledge, 1994: 46.

Heightening the oral-aural element in a culture does much more than merely de-emphasize vision. It subtly heightens the personalist element in a culture. For the plenary development of sound, the human voice, is a manifestation of the person. Even more than it is a manifestation of an understanding of objects, speech is a calling of one person to another, of an interior to an interior. Sight presents always surfaces, presents even depth as a lamination of surfaces, whereas sound presents always interiors, for sound is impossible without some resonance.

– Walter J. Ong. “Wired for Sound: Teaching, Communications, and Technological Culture.” College English 21, no. 5 (1960): 248.

… modernity is always citing primal history…. Ambiguity is the appearance of dialectic in images, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image. Such an image is afforded by the commodity per se: as fetish. Such an image is presented by the arcades, which are house no less than street. Such an image is the prostitute — seller and sold in one.

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006), p. 41.

Instead of attaching ourselves to the inner becoming of things, we place ourselves outside them in order to recompose their becoming artificially. We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality, and, as these are characteristic of the reality, we have only to string them on a becoming abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge, in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself. Perception, intellection, language so proceed in general. Whether we would think becoming, or express it, or even perceive it, we hardly do anything else than set going a kind of cinematograph inside us. We may therefore sum up what we have been saying in the conclusion that the mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographic kind.

– Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution [1907] (Dover: Mineola, N.Y., 1998),  p. 306.

Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. Beneath the haze stirred up by the winds, the urban island, a sea in the middle of the sea, lifts up the skyscrapers over Wall Street, sinks down at Greenwich, then rises again to the crests of Midtown, quietly passes over Central Park and finally undulates off into the distance beyond Harlem…. The spectator can read in it a universe that is constantly exploding. In it are inscribed the architectural  figures of the coincidatio oppositorum formerly drawn in miniatures and mystical textures…. Having taken a voluptuous pleasure in it, I wonder what is the source of this “pleasure of seeing the whole,” of looking down on, totalizing the most immoderate of human texts.

To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp. One’s body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed, whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of the New York traffic. When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators. As Icarus flying above these waters, he can ignore the devices of Daedalus in mobile and endless labyrinth far below. His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was “possessed” into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god. The exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive; the fiction of knowledge is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more.

– Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 91-92.

“… Colouring the world is always a means of denying it (and perhaps one should at this point begin an inquiry into the use of colour in the cinema). Deprived of all substance, driven back into colour, disembodied through the very glamour of the ‘images’, the Orient is ready for the spiriting away which the film [The Lost Continent] has in store for it. … our studio anthropologists will have no trouble postulating an Orient which is exotic in form, while being in reality profoundly similar to the Occident, at least the Occident of spiritualist thought. Orientals have religions of their own? Never mind, these variations matter very little compared to the basic unity of idealism. . . . “It is this same ‘all things are alike’ which is hinted at by our ethnographers: East and West, it is all the same, they are only different in hue, their essential core is identical. . . . If we are concerned with fishermen, it is not at all the type of fishing which I shown; but rather, drowned in a garish sunset and eternalized, a romantic essence of the fisherman, presented not as a workman dependent by his technique and his gains on a definite society, but rather as the theme of an eternal condition, in which man is far away and exposed to the perils of the sea, and woman weeping and praying at home. . . . All told, exoticism here shows well its fundamental justification, which is to deny any identification by History. By appending to Eastern realities a few positive signs which mean ‘native’, one reliably immunizes them against any responsible content. A little ‘situating’, as superficial as possible, supplies the necessary alibi and exempts one from accounting for the situation in depth. Faced with anything foreign, the Established Order knows only two types of behaviour, which are both mutilating: either to acknowledge it as a Punch and Judy show, or to defuse it as a pure reflection of the West. In any case, the main thing is to deprive it of its history. We see therefore that the ‘beautiful pictures’ of The Lost Continent cannot be innocent …. ”

From “The Lost Continent” in Roland Barthes, Mythologies [US ed. 1972], pp. 94-96.

Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is aready changed. It cannot be arrested. . . .  The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden, change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 238.

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of our far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. . . .  a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye—if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. . . .  the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics . . .

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 237.

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