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Narrating a History of Cinema and the ‘Invention’ of Cinema. Lecture 1. Where does one begin a history of the cinema?. Three possible models Masterpiece tradition approach Technological determinism Screen practice. 1. Masterpiece tradition.
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Narrating a History of Cinemaand the‘Invention’ of Cinema Lecture 1
Where does one begin a history of the cinema? • Three possible models • Masterpiece tradition approach • Technological determinism • Screen practice
1. Masterpiece tradition • “The historical question which has been asked most frequently about the history of cinema may be stated thusly: What are the significant works of the cinema art?”
Masterpiece approach assumptions: • Film history is the study of film as an art form. Economic, cultural, or technological concerns are secondary. • Subject matter of film history is the individual work of art (i.e. the film itself and the personal vision of the director) • Most film falls outside of film history since most films are not considered works of art. • Film historians are basically evaluators of film. • The evolution of film owes to the genius of great men.
Critique of the masterpiece approach • Viewer reception is conditioned by historical circumstance and these change over time (i.e. the criteria of evaluation changes over time) • The problems with the cliché of timelessness
2. Technological Determinism • “Cinema depends on machines.” • Machines are invented by great men of genius.
2. Technological Determinism • Holds that film language (i.e. technique) is made possible by technological invention: first the technology, then the art form) • Defends the idea of “invention”: Cinema was invented! • Embraces a period that could be called ‘pre-cinema’ • Subscribes to the three phase account of film history • A. the invention of the basic apparatus (i.e. the camera-projector all in one)--1895 • B. the history of film techniques (i.e. the close-up, development of narrative, parallel editing) • C. history of film as an art
Critique of technological determinism • Same technology can produce a number of different forms • Why the stories (i.e. the history of narrative film)? • Why 1.5 to 2 hours lengths? • Why single frames and not multiple frames?
3. Screen practice • Cinema is a continuation of older practices • Emphasizes the cultural determinants (nurture) over technological determinants (nature) without negating the technological dimension • Looks at the links between popular culture, theater, dime novels, popular songs, comic strips, magic lantern • Emphasizes the interrelatedness of cultural expression • Emphasizes change over time • Distinguishes itself from a “pre-screen practice” period
History of Screen Practice vs. History of the Pre-screen • Screen practice begins in 1646 with the publication of Ars magnaluciset umbrae by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680)
Athanasius Kircher (1601-1880) http://kircher.stanford.edu/gallery/
History of Screen Practice vs. History of the Pre-screen • Kircher developed and describes in his book a device, the ‘catoptric lamp,’ for projecting images on the wall of a dark room
History of Screen Practice vs. History of the Pre-screen • Kircher illustrated this apparatus and explained in detail how it worked. And he encouraged those using the apparatus to explain to audiences how it functioned. • All screen practice starts with Kircher, but not because he developed this device. • But rather, because he DEMYSTIFIED it. • With Kircher, the SPECTATOR was born.
History of Screen Practice vs. History of the Pre-screen • Charles Musser (1990): • “The history of the pre-screen is therefore concerned with the period before this demystification took place, the period when projecting apparatus were used to manipulate the unsuspecting spectator with mysterious, magical images.” • Kircher in Ars magna: • “We’ve read of this art in many histories in which the common multitudes look on this catoptric art to be the workings of the devil.”
Magic Lantern • Invented by Christiaen Huygens (Dutch) in 1659 • Commercially exploited by Thomas Walgensten (Danish) in the 1660s in Paris. • Magic lanterns remained in use until the 1940s
Walgensten’s magic lantern as represented by Kircher in his 1671 edition of Ars magna
London, ca. 1860, magic lantern show in the family context (taken from a children’s Christmas gift book) Unknown German artist, early 19th century
Magic lanterns Late 17th, early 18th century ca. 1850 ca. late 1800s
Magic lantern slides Produced in Bavaria, Germany ca. 1895 Ca.1900, U.K., “Alice in Wonderland”
Magic lantern slides • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqNfr7ISCgc&NR=1 (collector) • http://www.galanteeshow.be/laterna.html (short lantern recreation)
Photographic dimension of developing screen practice: the Stereopticon • Langenheim brothers developed (in the 1840s and 50s) a process whereby the photographic image could stick to a glass surface rather than only to paper or copper surfaces. • Magic lanterns that projected photographic images rather than painted images were called “stereopticons.”
One photographer J.W. Bryant put on photographic magic lantern evening shows. Here is what he said about improving his business: • “At the beginning of winter I commenced preparing for the lantern entertainments, and although I employ three assistants, and work constantly in the [photography] gallery myself, I am making more clear money from the evening entertainments than from my regular business. In addition to the slides obtained from…, I make slides of my best negatives, being careful to take those best known and most respected. My experience is, there is nothing that pleases better than portraits of persons well known by the audience. I also display outdoor pictures, taken of scenery, public buildings, and private residences, which I have taken in and around the city; in short, anything I can get of local character.” (from the magazine Magic Lantern, April 1875)
Other prerequisites for the development of moving images: • Perception of motion if images are flashed at at least 16 images per second • What accounts for the illusion of motion when still images are changed at a fast enough pace? Or as scholars Barbara and Joseph Anderson put it: “why do the separate frames appear continuous rather than as the intermittent flashes of light which we know them to be? And why do the figures on the screen appear to move about in smooth motion when we know they are in fact still pictures? • Principle of apparent motion/ principle of flicker fusion • Optical devices • Phenakistoscope (1832) • Zoetrope (1833)
Other prerequisites for the development of moving images: 2. Projection of a rapid series of images on a surface 3. Use photography to make a series of images in quick succession (1 second of movement broken down into sixteen distinct parts) = short exposure times 4. Where to print the photographic image (i.e. on paper, on glass, on copper plates) 5. How to get that base through the camera and through the projector fast enough