Transformations in Film as Reality (Part 5)
The Spectacle of Reality and
In connection with the centenary of cinema, Documentary Box ran in issues 5 to 8 a series of articles entitled "Transformations in Film as Reality" that explored the history of film's relation to reality--how documentary as a genre, as well as the "realistic feel" of cinema, have evolved over the last century. Due to an overwhelmingly favorable response to that series, the editors have decided to resume it with an essay by Elizabeth Cowie discussing the issue of spectacle and desire in documentary's presentation of reality.
When John Grierson used the term "documentary" to describe Robert Flaherty's second film, Moana (1926)--thereby giving the English-speaking world a new film genre--he was articulating and promoting the emerging concern in the 1920s with forms of filmed reality distinct and separate from other forms of actuality film such as the travelogue, newsreel, and the "topical." This project emerged in the work of a number of filmmakers, such as Esfir Shub and Dziga Vertov in the Soviet Union, while the "photography film," Manhatta, made by Paul Strand with Charles Sheeler in 1921 anticipated later city films, not only Walther Ruttmann's aesthetic analysis of a city in Berlin: The Symphony of a Great City (1927), but also films of social comment such as Alberto Cavalcanti's Rien que les heures (1926), Jean Vigo's A propos de Nice (1930) and Joris Ivens's Misére(Je au Borinage (1933). These films were at the center of new debates about reality and realism and the role of photography and cinematography in modern society, for example in the Soviet cultural journal Novy Lef which published debates, critiques and manifestoes on the "fact film," debates taken up by Walter Benjamin in his essays "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and "A Short History of Photography." 1
In this new approach there is a concern with the meaning of the reality presented--it is an epistemological project, requiring that we not only see but are also brought to know. Hans Richter poses this as an opposition between "the beautiful village and the true village," between the scenic view and knowledge of the social and economic articulation of the community inhabiting the village:
The task of the documentary film is, on the contrary to make such a village understandable in its functions, too, i.e., socially, not just as a beautiful landscape. Only in this way can the true face, an authentic picture of how men live together, be produced. 2
What arises here is a shift from actuality film as spectacle to the documentary as an epistemology. It is a question not of what we see but how this is put forward for our understanding. Although what was central to these debates and to the films in the 1920s which came to be defined as documentary was an oppositions to the dominant mass cinema of fictional narrative, yet neither narrative, nor even fiction, were simply eschewed by these filmmakers, and the devices of filmic illusion were directly drawn upon. Indeed Moana not only documents the daily life of the Samoan islanders but also presents a dramatization of the lives of Moana and his family who became characters in a story of real life. (This approach was already present in Flaherty's earlier film Nanook of the North (1922)). Grierson later focused on this element in his appeal for documentary to be the "drama of the doorstep," showing the citizen the world and himself to himself, not through mere recordings of scenes from real life but through a creative and dramatized representation of reality. Documentary film emerges as a particular form of narration with actuality and as a result it comes to be associated with the serious. It is, in Bill Nichols's words, one of the discourses of sobriety alongside--albeit as a junior player--such discourses as science, economics, politics, education, and, I would add, the law. 3
Yet, for all its seriousness, the documentary film nevertheless continues to involve more disreputable features of cinema usually associated with the entertainment film, namely the pleasures and fascination of film as spectacle. Thus at the same time that photography and cinematography opened up new vistas for visionary pleasures, they also posed the dilemma of vision for spectacle or for knowledge, a division between a subjective and experiential engagement with the seen and an objective and intellectual appraisal. Lewis Hine, a pioneer of social and documentary photography who was committed to the use of photographs as evidence, also acknowledges that
Whether it be a painting or a photograph, the picture is a symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality. . . . [T]he picture continues to tell a story packed into the most condensed and vital form. In fact, it is often more effective than the reality would have been, because, in the picture, the non-essential and conflicting interests have been eliminated. The picture is the language of all nationalities and all ages. The increase, during recent years, of illustrations in newspapers, books, exhibits and the like gives ample evidence of this. The photograph has an added realism of its own; it has an inherent attraction not found in other forms of illustration. For this reason the average person believes implicitly that the photograph cannot falsify. 4
We believe the evidence of our own eyes, including the visual evidence of photography and cinematography, even though we know that our eyes are easily deceived and that, as Hine also notes, while "photographs may not lie, liars may photograph." Nevertheless there is an "attraction" in seeing for ourselves which sustains our belief over and above any knowledge of the falsity of our seeing. Or, to put it in its properly confusing way, seeing is more real than knowing. What arises here as well is, I suggest, the desire for the evidence of our own eyes. In the following I want to explore some aspects of this desire for seeing and consider its role for contemporary documentary and "reality television."
In recording actuality the documentary film seems to address two distinct and apparently contradictory desires. On the one hand there is a desire for reality held and reviewable for analysis as a world of materiality available to scientific and rational knowledge, a world of evidence confirmed through observation and logical interpretation. It is a desire for a symbolic or social reality ordered and produced as signification. The camera-eye functions here as a mastering all-seeing view, as well as a prosthesis, an aid and supplement to vision whereby we are shown a reality which our own human perceptual apparatus cannot perceive. On the other hand there is a desire for the real imaged in film, a real not as knowledge but as spectacle mastered by the camera-eye which brings to our view the extraordinary, the hidden, the never-before seen.
The desire for a reality held and reviewable had been articulated within science as well as the arts well before cinematography. For Daguerre, however, the impetus which led him to develop a method of chemically recording the image of the world provided in the camera obscura, rather than reproducing it by a painted scene, centered on a desire to produce a realistic view of reality which would reproduce the spectacle and sensation of views in the real world, as his earlier dioramas had done. 5 The Daguerreotype, moreover, also reproduces the evanescent quality of the dioramas in their requirement that they be viewed from a certain angle and thus position of view. Only when held from this angle does the image emerge, for if turned slightly the surface appears merely as a blank silvery screen; it therefore produces a now-here-now-gone quality to the image which contemporaries noted--and enjoyed (a quality found, too, in the painterly device of anamorphosis, where a smudge on the canvas becomes, with the next step, a skull in Holbein's "The Ambassadors"). In these two respects the Daguerreotype is a more direct precursor of the moving pictures than the photography of Fox Talbot.
In the context of cinema the desire for reality re-presented has been described most forcefully in the writings of André Bazin. 6 The assumption of an epistemological realism in Bazin, as well as what has been taken to be the adoption of the conventions of perspective of the Renaissance by the cinema, has been critiqued by Jean-Louis Comolli. 7 Jonathan Crary has argued in Techniques of the Observer, however, that the invention of photography constitutes a rupture in the classical subject of the camera obscura by separating the apparatus from the observer, 8 while the camera obscura as a metaphor for the observer's relation to the external world, a relation in which vision is knowledge, and knowledge is seeing, had already been superseded well before the experiments of Niépce, Daguerre, and Fox Talbot. Following Goethe's experiments showing the subjective and partial function of the eye as a biological optics, and in the wake of Kant's work, the human eye was no longer considered an infallible source of information for understanding, while observation as an intellectual and scientific project was no longer identified with human vision. On the contrary, human vision becomes a realm of the fallible and is replaced or supplemented by new mechanical and chemical registers of observation such as the barometer.
With photography the observer of the camera obscura becomes the consumer of an already recorded and reproduced view; thus, Crary argues, photography concludes the separation of the subjective, human, viewer from the objective observer. A subjectivity of sight comes to the fore at the same time and as a corollary of a heightened scientificity/objectivity of apparatus. It was just this separation which Bazin valued, for by encountering the objectivity of the photograph, human vision could be brought to see anew, to see again, what convention and daily cares caused to be overlooked. For Crary, however, because "The eye is no longer what predicates a 'real world,'" 9 the separation produces a rupture or divorce of the subject from the realm of the referential as a domain of physical certainty, a world knowable through the physical senses and pre-eminently through sight. Instead "The 'real world' that the camera obscura had stabilized for two centuries was no longer, to paraphrase Nietzsche, the most useful or valuable worlds. The modernity enveloping Turner, Fechner, and their heirs had no need of its kind of truth and immutable identities." 10 Nevertheless, as Mary Ann Doane has noted, the demand for such a referentiality and with it a realist imperative continue to be apparent and indeed are central to the emergence of photography and cinematography. Subjectivity was simply a hurdle to be overcome by mechanized modes of vision; thus she concludes, "Hence we are faced with the strange consequence that the cinema, as a technology of images, acts both as a prosthetic device, enhancing or expanding vision, and as a collaborator with the body's own deficiencies." 11
The conflation between the eye as a mechanism of sight and the mind or brain as the location of a comprehension of the visible nevertheless remains compelling--as shown by the use of "I see" for "I understand," and its extension in the exhortation "you see," puncturing our everyday speech in which we invoke the wish and demand for understanding from our addressees. Sight as a mental process, however, depends on much more than optical information received by the eye and the retina. It includes not only non-optical physiological information such as the changes in the musculature of the eye, but also memory. Indeed memory is central to vision in that what we see is in large part seen because we already know it for what it is. The "new" is very difficult to "see" until organized into our visual conventions. The optical stimuli only become information when they "make sense." The camera obscura offers the pleasures precisely of the separation of the body as site of vision and the object of sight, a whole apparatus of overlooking, a panorama of the seen world in the palm of one's hand, or so it seems as you gaze down at the curved dish upon which friends, relatives or strangers stroll, unaware of one's look. The fixing of such a scene through photography expands the fantasy arising here, of reality beyond oneself but graspable and available to be fixed down. The question arises then of its truth, for the process of recording both fulfills the wish and brings with it the question of how far the mechanism of recording nevertheless intervenes on the reality to transform--and pervert--it. The problem or possibility that the recorded image lies as well as tells the truth is an issue of theology and philosophy such that it might be hazarded that the very dilemma is the locus of a desire, as well as of course, of anxiety and thus of a repeated returning. Documentary films therefore figure both in the discourse of science, as a means of obtaining the knowable in the world, and in the discourse of desire, in relation to the question--is this really so, is it true?
The interdependent role of the science of the visible and the seen with the pleasure of the visual is made clear by the example of the stereoscope. Unlike photography, the stereoscope was the direct development of scientists. Invented by Charles Wheatstone, it was developed by Sir David Brewster with the aim of democratizing knowledge of the real and opposing illusory magic. For Crary the stereoscope is paradigmatic of the new techniques of the observer but it is also for him exceptional, a limit case, falling into "obsolescence" because it was insufficiently "phantasmagoric" (the term "phantasmagoria," used for earliest forms of magic lantern or slide projector from the 1790s which used back projection to hide the apparatus, was adopted by Theodor Adorno, Benjamin, and others to describe forms of representation which similarly disguise their mode of production). 12 The stereoscope is paradoxical in its mode of representation. On the one hand the stereoscope reproduces the vision of the human eye very closely, creating three-dimensional images, unlike the photograph and cinema. The realism and sense of tactility of the stereoscope image was frequently commented on, and Crary notes "Even as sophisticated a student of vision as Helmholtz could write, in the 1850s,(IT(Jthese stereoscopic photographs are so true to nature and so lifelike in their portrayal of material things, that after viewing such a picture and recognizing in it some object like a house, for instance, we get the impression, when we actually do see the object, that we have already seen it before and are more or less familiar with it.' . . . No other form of representation in the nineteenth century had so conflated the real with the optical." 13 On the other hand the viewing device is intrusive on the experience of vision; indeed initially the viewer has to concentrate hard on bringing the stereoscopic scene into focus, while the eyes held close to the glasses are excluded from any peripheral vision beyond the encased images. It is here that, as Crary notes, the observer is "disciplined," subject to the viewing process effected by the apparatus. He emphasizes the undisguised nature of their operational structure and the form of subjection they entail. "Even though they provide access to (IT(Jthe real,' they make no claim that the real is anything other than a mechanical production. The optical experiences they manufacture are clearly disjunct from the images used in the device." 14 At the same time and in contrast to the vivid reality of the appearance of three-dimensionality in the image, the viewer holding the apparatus is also made fully conscious of the means of production of the viewing process itself. It thus fails to be simply illusory. 15
In arguing that the stereoscope became obsolescent with the rise of the more-fully phantasmagoric cinema, Crary offers a similar argument to standard accounts of film history, namely, that the thrill of the spectacle of actuality in the new form of representation gave way to the pleasures of narrative in so far as fiction film produced a fully-illusionistic world, whereby the process of production is hidden in favor of the perfect illusion of a real world up there on the screen, complete and whole and integral. Crary's assumptions about the decline of stereographs is inaccurate, however, for both stereographs and stereoscopes continued to be sold in their millions even after the establishment of cinema, and the period 1910-1920 seems to have seen a development and growth in their popularity. 16 More importantly Crary's dismissal of the stereograph passes over the enormous impact it had on popular or mass encounters with the photographic envisioning of the world. It was as stereographs that the photographed world was primarily circulated and consumed, becoming ubiquitous items in homes and libraries alike. 17 That such views, as Crary shows, involved a break with classical painterly space and its conventions of perspective make it the more extraordinary that histories of photography have ignored the very widespread use of stereoscopes. The disjuncture of the stereograph lies not only is its three-dimensionality but also and in some ways more strikingly in the lack of a single point of view--a focused scene in the photographic or painterly sense. Instead the eye must roam the view and while, as Crary says, "these taken together never coalesce into a homogeneous field," 18 this is also how we see the everyday world. The appearance of three-dimensionality, whether in a reproduced scene in the stereograph or reality, requires a cognitive process, primarily of memory, in order for the spatial relations to be understood. What the stereoscope makes apparent as the viewer attempts to bring the scene together is the very incoherence of vision. It is indeed the case that, as Crary says, "each observer is transformed into simultaneously the magician and the deceived." 19 Which is also the structure of disavowal, where the subject knows very well the truth but all the same believes its opposite.
Like the stereoscope as well as the "views" of early film, documentary marks the disjunction between the film and the reality recorded, whether as fragments from a larger absent world figured here only partially, or because of the voice-over narration which poses the images as objects of view, rather than a simply unfolding reality. Spectacle, a sheer pleasure in looking, is typically cited as the key and initial element in cinema's popularity and fascination for audiences, rather than and in opposition to narrative. In The Struggle for the Film Hans Richter presents a variant of the urban myth about the responses of audiences to the first projected films. His story is set in 1923 and involves a Jewish emigrant to Palestine:
He had few possessions, only an old projector and a single ancient film. With these he installed himself in the poorest Arab quarter of Jerusalem. His film ran for several months. The audience never failed him; indeed, he noticed many faces that returned again and again.
One day by mistake the last reel was run first. Surprisingly, there were no complaints. Even the "regulars" failed to stir. This intrigued the cinema owner. He wanted to find out if anyone objected, and if not why not, so he ran all the reels in any order. No one seemed to mind. "Why?", he wondered in some amazement, and asked one of his oldest customers. It turned out that the Arabs had never grasped the plot, even when the film was shown in the right order. It was clear that they only went to the cinema because there one could see people walking, horses galloping, dogs running. 20
The foundational role of spectacle for cinematic pleasure was quickly disavowed, however, for with the commercial dominance of the narrative fiction feature film it was argued by contemporary commentators and film producers as well as by later theorists that it is an inadequate means of pleasure, inadequate at least for building a major industry upon, for which narrative was required. Neither the phenomenon of spectacle nor its pleasures are defined in such accounts.
Moreover the elaboration of this cinema and its visual pleasures has been rather fitful. Indeed it has been caught up in quite different debates, notably as an other and an alternative to dominant narrative cinema as some sort of better form of visual pleasure. For Noël Burch spectacle, the primary characteristic of the "primitive mode of production" of early cinema is non-narrative and is valued because it opposes the closure and transparency of the "institutional mode of production." 21 Spectacle appears to be antithetical to narrative, suspending the story in favor of the view and of viewing, the seeing/seen.
The role of spectacle in early film has been articulated most suggestively by Tom Gunning in his notion of a "cinema of attractions." 22 Gunning adopted the term from Eisenstein for whom an attraction "aggressively subjected the spectator to (IT(Jsensual or psychological impact,'" and Eisenstein contrasted this to an absorption in illusory--narrative--depictions. 23 Gunning argues for the autonomy of pleasures in such films and outlines a distinct and specific mode of spectator engagement. As he notes, film appeared as one attraction in a vaudeville program of a wide range and succession of usually unconnected acts, as a non-narrative series of performances. This arbitrary aspect to vaudeville--and equally to nickelodeon presentations--was attacked by middle-class reform groups for its danger in stimulating an "unhealthy nervousness." 24 This is the same nervousness or visual over-stimulation which for Baudelaire and later for Benjamin characterize the new urban subject--the flanêur. In his later discussion "Now You See It, Now You Don't: The Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions," Gunning suggests that "This encounter can even take on an aggressive aspect, as the attraction confronts audiences and even tries to shock them (the onrushing locomotive which seems to threaten the audience is early cinema's most enduring example)." 25
Centrally for Gunning, this cinema is characterized by the ability of film to show something, but it is a display which acknowledges the viewer through the recurring look at the camera by actors, creating a complicity of gaze in the sharing of a secret or a joke with the spectator. Such direct address to the camera and hence by extension to the cinema audience breaks the narrative illusion and hence was excluded from later fiction feature films, appearing only exceptionally in certain forms of comedy such as the Marx Brothers films, and in titles or voice-over. As a result Gunning distinguishes the exhibitionism of the cinema of attractions with its solicitation of the audience's look from the voyeurism of narrative film as analyzed by Christian Metz in which the spectator, as the camera had earlier, overlooks a scene of action apparently unknown to the characters. Part of early film's attraction was clearly voyeurism itself, however, and Gunning himself points to the role of scopophilic pleasures in early film when he concludes the cinema of attractions directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle--a unique event, whether fictional or documentary, that is of interest in itself. "The attraction . . . may also be of a cinematic nature, such as the early close-ups." 26
The role of exhibitionist display in actuality film is not so straightforward, however. The exhibitionism of early film in part at least adopts the convention of music hall or vaudeville entertainment where performers directly addressed the audience, hence the camera was positioned as the stand-in for the spectator and while the direction of the look is for and at the camera as a recording machine, the performance is for an expected and imagined future look--of the cinema spectator. This is not true--or not in the same way--for actuality film, for the look at us so often recorded in actualities could be one or all of three different looks: a gaze at the camera as an extraordinary machine and a wish to see it functioning, or a gaze at the cameraperson, or a look at an imagined future audience. This last look is perhaps less likely in the earliest actualities but it is certainly quickly a feature of actuality filming, as marked by the tendency of people in films to wave at the camera--a tendency especially disconcerting in World War One film footage of what we would perceive at first as lines of forlorn and desperate refugees walking past the camera, but who--when they suddenly turn and smile or wave at us--transform their relation to us and disrupt our understanding of their victimhood. The look back at the camera disturbs the actuality shot by reversing the object of fascination from inside the scene to outside--a disjunction not merely because the spectator becomes aware of her or his look as well as becoming the--imagined--object of another's look, but also because such a look rivals the spectacle which is the "topic" of the actuality, for the camera's gaze is narratively undercut when all the by-standers appear quite uninterested in the scene behind them, which we are being shown, and instead are avidly watching the camera.
The cinema shows the spectator a world to see. In the fiction film this world is constructed for the story telling and questions or problems of knowledge are posed within and by this story world; its knowledge relations are posed and answered within itself. The documentary film shows the "real" world but it does so as a knowable place, aligning the spectator's scopophilic and epistemophilic drives, that is, a curiosity to know satisfied through sight. This pleasure is aligned with the scientist's project of knowing the world, and with the scientific use of optical devices, including film, in order to "see" what the human eye cannot. The optical devices become prostheses for human sight in order to enable us to really know the object of view. The early work of Muybridge and Marey illustrates this, in their search to record physiological movement imperceptible to the human eye. What is involved is the wish to see what cannot normally be seen, that is, what is normally veiled or hidden from sight. Such a wish is evoked literally in the widely-acclaimed early British series in the 1920s, The Secrets of Nature, which used microscope and time-lapse cinematography to reveal the unfolding processes of nature.
Of course, when the desire to see what is normally hidden or forbidden is associated with pleasure rather than science it is more usually termed voyeurism. Such a pleasure is clearly afforded by documentary film notably--as has been widely discussed--in the "observational" film where, as a "fly on the wall" the spectator/camera intrudes or roams with impunity (depending on how one evaluates this) through the scene. This pleasure in overlooking and overhearing the scene is heightened whenever an action not normally seen in public is shown, or when someone exposes their real feelings or thoughts accidentally. Such moments, caught in home-video movies or in documentaries, have become the material for television comedy shows--once called Candid Camera , now more honestly named You've Been Framed in its current British version.
The lure of the spectacle of the hidden revealed has, however, also become a feature of much "serious" documentary and factual television. A new sub-genre of the factual film has arisen in the editing together of footage from the video cameras of the police and security firms as well as recordings of medical procedures in hospitals. The public concern at the commercial marketing of these recordings has led to the withdrawal of a number of such video releases in Britain, however. In contrast, the BBC program, Police, Action, Camera (broadcast in 1994), was featured as a factual program on the work of the police, its claim to seriousness supported by the presence of Alastair Stewart, a regular BBC news broadcaster, who introduced the program. The program's visual material, however, offered a highly entertaining mix of specular pleasures. We are shown police video footage from surveillance cameras on motorways and railway crossings in which motorists, coach and lorry drivers all take horrendous risks with their own and others lives. We are invited to condemn the criminal stupidity of such drivers as we watch--voyeuristically--with the same view as the hidden camera. Later the skill of police drivers is demonstrated in a series of video recordings of car chases, all shot from within the following police car giving an immensely exciting visual experience with the added pleasure of not only being with the "winners"--the police always caught the driver--but also on the side of the Law. The specular is followed by the spectacular in the video footage of police collaboration with rescue agencies. The prosthetic function of film is foregrounded here, but now it is electronically-recorded video which "sees" not in relation to light but to heat as a helicopter pilot, flying at night and using a heat-sensing "camera," "sights" the still-living body of a man who has fallen into the River Thames and guides police and rescue workers to him. Later we are shown the video footage from the same kind of "camera" which is guiding fire officers fighting a huge inner city blaze to the hottest spots of the fire and to areas about to become engulfed in flames. The fascination with the spectacle of actuality here follows the tradition established by the early actualities such as the Warwick Trading Co.'s Fire Call and Rescue by Fire Escapes (1899), and Edwin S. Porter's The Life of an American Fireman (1903).
The pleasure of the specular as access to knowledge is centered in the recent development of "undercover" filming using hidden microcameras carried by investigators disguised as customers, supporters, etc. We expect or hope to see those filmed expose themselves as liars, as heartless, or as corrupt. The clandestine footage heralds access to a greater or underlying truth about the event or topic, while the inevitably poor lighting, sound, and vision connote veracity. The Channel Four series Undercover Britain, broadcast in 1995, developed this approach using "ordinary" people, often themselves formerly on the receiving-end of the situations they now investigate. The Samson Unit, a "Dispatches" program for Channel Four made by an Israeli production group (broadcast in 1994) attached cameras to some of the men serving in the crack Israeli undercover army group, the "Samson Unit," in order to record their raid on a house in the occupied West Bank as they attempt to capture suspected Palestinian gunmen. The documentary thereby creates the expectation that we will see not so much the hidden but the normally inaccessible, at the same time giving a subjective sense of "being there" as the men run forward. The cameras, placed below eye-level, record very little intelligible action but connote realism effectively. The privileging of and our pleasure in our audio-visual senses as access to knowledge which the film itself subscribes to is questioned, however, when it is revealed that the Palestinian man killed in the raid--shot after repeated calls to halt which we hear on the film--was not only not a gunmen but was deaf.
1.Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Fontana, 1973); "A Short History of Photography" (1931), trans. P. Patton, Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven: Leete's Island Books, 1980).
2.Hans Richter, The Struggle for the Film--Towards a socially responsible cinema (London: Scolar Press, 1986 (1976)), p 47. Richter drafted this book in the 1930s but it was published much later.
3.Bill Nichols, Representing Reality (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p 3. Nichols argues that "these systems assume they have instrumental power; they can and should alter the world itself, they can effect action and entail consequences." Such discourses are opposed to the world of make-believe; instead they assume a relation to reality which is direct and transparent. "Documentary, despite its kinship, has never been accepted as a full equal" (pp. 3-4).
4.Lewis Hine, "Social Photography, How the Camera May Help in the Social Uplift," Proceedings, National Conference of Charities and Corrections, June 1909. Reprinted in Classic Essays on Photography.
5.Daguerre first established himself as a scene designer and was famous for the realistic spectacles he portrayed in his sets. He later constructed the Diorama--a room entered through a dark corridor in which was displayed painted scenes on transparent cloth that, as a result of the manipulation of light, appeared to change from day to night or sun to storm. By contrast, Fox Talbot recounts that he was drawn to discover a means to chemically record the image given by the camera obscura as a result of the frustration of his efforts to record the image by his own hand. I am grateful to Jon Carrit for pointing out the connections between Daguerre's work in the theater, his Dioramas and his painting, and his development of the Daguerreotype.
6."Only the photographic lens can give us the kind of image of the object that is capable of satisfying the deep need man has to substitute for it something more than a mere approximation, a kind of decal or transfer. The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model." André Bazin, What is Cinema?, vol. 1, trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 14.
7.Jean-Louis Comolli, "Technique and Ideology: Camera, Perspective, Depth of Field," Film Reader 2 (1977), pp. 128-40. (This is a partial translation of "Technique et Ideologie," Cahiers du Cinéma 229-35 & 241 (1972).)
8.Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), p. 55.
9. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 138.
10. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 149.
11. Mary Ann Doane, "Technology's Body: Cinematic Vision in Modernity," Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 5.2 (1993), p. 5.
12.Theodor Adorno, "In Search of Wagner," trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: New Left Books, 1981), p. 85. Benjamin, "Paris--The Capital of the Nineteenth Century," Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Quintin Hoare (London: Verso, 1983), p. 166.
13.Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 124. In contrast to Crary's skepticism, the contemporary American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, and inventor of the Holmes stereoscopic viewer, presents an enthusiastic case for the stereograph, and one which Bazin's own views on cinema seem to echo.
The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us.
("The Stereoscope and the Stereograph," Atlantic Monthly (1859), reprinted in Classic Essays on Photography, p. 77.)
14.Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 132.
15."Even in the later Holmes stereoscope, the 'concealment of the process of production' did not fully occur," Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 133.
16.John Jones claims that the firm of Underwood & Underwood were producing 25,000 stereographs a day and selling 300,000 Holmes-type viewers annually. They developed the formula of producing subjects in sets and these were extremely successful in America, Europe, Russia, and Japan. In Wonders of the Stereoscope (London: Roxby Press Productions Ltd., Jonathan Cape, 1976), pp. 28-29.
17.In Points of View: The Stereograph in America--A Cultural History, ed. Edward W. Earle (Rochester: Visual Studies Workshop, 1979), Earle notes that, like the periodical, the stereograph became accessible to a large international audience as prices became lower by the transition from glass transparencies to paper photographs, and he cites The Times in London which called it "the poor man's picture gallery" (p. 12).
18.Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 126.
19. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, p. 133.
20. Hans Richter, The Struggle for the Film, p. 41
21. Noël Burch, "A Primitive Mode of Representation," Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. Thomas Elsaesser (London: British Film Institute, 1990), pp. 220-227. Burch also introduces here the notion of "primitive externality," which emphasizes the spectacle, and early film, as confronting the spectator as an externality.
22. Tom Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde," Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative.
23. Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions," p. 59.
24. Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions," p. 69.
25. Tom Gunning, "Now You See It, Now You Don't: The Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions," The Velvet Light Trap 32 (Fall 1993), p. 5.
26. Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions," p. 58. In his later article "Now you See It, Now You Don't," Gunning cites a diverse range of effects and themes as "attractions" (pp. 5-6) and attaches these to surprise, in contrast to the role of suspense in narrative, which he places with voyeurism. The opposition between the drive to narrative in film and the cinematic playing for spectacle cannot be aligned with a division between voyeurism as narrative pleasure and some non-voyeuristic, non-narrative pleasure. Neither fetishism nor exhibitionism can fulfill this role.
Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, U.K. Was founding editor of m/f, a journal of feminist theory, and co-edited with Parveen Adams, The Woman in Question. Also author of the recently published Representing the Woman: Psychoanalysis and Cinema.