The Evolution of Film


I seem to have accumulated a disproportionate bunch of notes on one chapter. Not quite a review… a summary [with crit in square brackets] of Janet Harbord’s ‘Innocent Monsters: film and other media’ in her “The Evolution of Film: Rethinking Film Studies” 2007 Polity Press.

In a book critical of foundational, fixed, homogeneous, located notions of film – ‘film isn’t what it used to be’ – Janet Harbord pursues an expanded notion of what film is when it escapes the cinema, starting in this chapter [I’m only reading chapter 5 here] with an archive of images of terror [not detailed] ‘stacked and layered on top of each other’ (118) in Hoolbooms ‘Imitation of Life’ (2003).

She asks if we might reconfigure the story of the decline of cinema (no more celluloid products) as a story of escape? The escape of film, not of us – escaping from fixed, viewer controlled (the view decodes and digests) contingency, escape from the cinema hall… So that film haunts new spaces, walks the streets like the uncanny zombie resurrection [not unlike fetish objects with their own lives and brains].

The question of the constructed nature of the non-human world arises – the model of human construction has no dynamism, maybe the non-human is not to be reduced: is the alterity of the non-human irreducible to human experience, as claimed as foundation for those who deploy the concept of affect (120)? Affect defies distinction between emotional response and rational comprehension, conscious and unconscious, mind and body. Affect belongs to sensory apprehension of rampant image-based multinational capital (cites Deleuze translator Brian Massumi) in a post-grand narrative, post ‘belief’ realm –as pursued by intensity theorists – Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza.

This appeals to Capitalism since it attracts but does not fix. Capital today is shifty, always seeking renewal [wasn’t it always?]

Harbord cites a certain SLash who distinguishes film as old media from information as new, non-narrative, not cinema. Harbord makes three points here: she questions Lash’s division of film as content, information as form. [This also goes against her interest in film as escape – but wasn’t running away always too easy, always a way of making new tracks for commerce? Lash’s information is the new terrain for capitalist growth]. She notes that film as aura in the cinema, in Lash’s version an old media, is different to film on DVD, and she points out that film in the cinema hall is being reworked ‘after’ recognition of contingencies in the expanded context of film (her examples will bear this out – ie that films like “Momento” are no longer ‘in sequence’ is related to fwd and rwd of video and DVD).

Then a discussion of early cinema and contingency in Doane and Kracauer.

New reworkings of classic films such as Gordon’s 24 hour version of “Psycho” ‘wrench open this desire to look’ that was examined by Doane and Kracauer – so that new more than ever we see it all – still more focussed upon shot, close-up, edit, contingency – but in a way that moves beyond Kracauer’s assertion of transience of the image (it flows past us) and Doane’s ‘staging’ [in the frame of the story?]. Contingency mutates as film escapes from the cinema (DVD, stop, pause, rwd, fwd).
[Does this overstate the case for the digital as expansion, and the domestic control of the remote control?]

3 areas to examine new contingencies
– domestic use of technology, DVDs etc
– rang of viewing contexts (airports, galleries, phones)
– changes in narrative structure [which feedback into films in the cinema]

This chapter attempts to theorise films’ escape from the cinema hall as both new contingency, and in terms of affect. The examples are detailed: non-linear DVD Iranian taxi film ‘Ten’; the station screen with Laurel and Hardy at Victoria BR; ‘My Architect’ in the cinema; Tate Modern video installation.

Films in stations, galleries or malls have a quality of ghosting (141), phantasmatic animation a la Benjamin’s arcades for the flaneur – who turns out to be the ghost. Yet film, having left the cinema, walks the streets and refuses to die. Indeed, contingency multiplies its affective charge. Film reasserts (affectively):
– through its historical attachment, capturing us in time
– through its not yet worked through mutations of format
– through interplay of narrative and inventory

Results: its futile to search for film’s ontology [? She has been doing just this, no?] because film’s mutations escape, they reinvent, cannot be defined by what film has been.

At the end of the chapter a turn to Derrida to recognise film as the realm of the supplement – it evolves, and incorporates its new emergent forms [ah, a mobile ontology then? – this turn to Derrida sits strangely with what comes next…]

Then a final return to the question of affect, which is also a return to Massumi, and the idea of rumour governing the stock market- [but this comparison is underdeveloped, the stock market is not wholly governed by rumour, there is also profit, greed, accumulation, glee]

[can we say that film does not still fix – the close up, the edit/juxtaposition – just as much as the stock market fixes brand value via rumour – what is needed here is a Marxist understanding of value – not branding, not prices – a critique of the hauntology, the fetish, the ghostly rumours that are the surface of film/stock/life]

[Affect theorists fail to comprehend the social aggregation of value that emerges via affect – rumour, fetish, image accretion, archive, hauntology. And this amounts in effect (and affect) to an alibi for mutating capitalism – where capitalism is ‘critiqued’ but only as an image-site for a new post-cinema. I think Harbord’s chapter does indeed want to say this, but doesn’t actually do so because it is stuck amongst three divergent angles: old Kracauer, shorn of materialism; affect, read critically, but not in all its implications; and Derrida’s supplement that could be better read through the essay on hyperbole in ‘Writing and Difference’]

[The chapter’s last line etymology – contingency, from tangere = touch, does not clinch the argument; and Chambers Dictionary gives more: Contingency, from Latin contingentum = befall, happen, touch and contagion - which would have infected this affect stuff nicely! ]

Good chapter. Glad I took time out to read it.

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Comments

  • maria_technosux  On 11/01/2008 at 18:07

    “The escape of film…[the film escapee] walks the streets…”

    How can a Marxist read this crap and not think to himself: fetishization?

    Anthropomorphizing “film” (what film?) as something that can “escape” and “walk the streets” is nothing but the typical poetic babble we have come to expect from semiotics obsessed film buffs. I don’t think that we should let them invoke “literary licencse” to pop off the hook with such crap.
    From the Polity promo page (which is even worse!):

    “Film here is action, energy, matter, moving across space to forge connections, provide encounters, and create schisms in our knowledge of others”
    http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745634760

    Stop peddling this semiotic babble right now! If you wanna talk about “escape”, how about discussing American media conglomerates “running wild”, for example after one Ronald R relaxed the media rules? Oh, but American Cultural Imperialism (still valid last time I checked the “film-ladder” chock-full of Hollywood-only productions), is invalid according to her, because “the common frameworks for studying film – the nation, identity, representation, Hollywood industry – have ceased to yield explanatory power” (same promo as above). Hahahaha! Did I just read the last line of babble?

    I am really glad you respond with:


    but wasn’t running away always too easy,
    always a way of making new tracks for commerce?
    Lash’s information is the new terrain for capitalist growth

    Janet Harbord, with all due rest, American films are still AMERICAN films. I don’t care how many John Woo’s from all over the world Hollywood imported this year to save Belgian Jan Claude van Damme’s career. All I have to do is put you in front of an American Hollywood film with the sound switched off, and you’ll be perfectly able to tell this is an American Hollywood film. American Cultural Imperialism is alive and kicking, and so are the “common frameworks” – may we never forget those and insist on using them!

    And of course, like with any semiotic babble nowadays, we get a mouthful of Massumi/Affect:


    is the alterity of the non-human irreducible to human experience, as claimed as foundation for those who deploy the concept of affect (120)? Affect defies distinction between emotional response and rational comprehension, conscious and unconscious, mind and body.
    Affect belongs to sensory apprehension of rampant image-based multinational capital (cites Deleuze translator Brian Massumi) in a post-grand narrative, post ‘belief’ realm –as pursued by intensity theorists – Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza.

    As for the hype around Massumi’s Affect (brought to you by all the people who have never heard of Tomkins), as I have explained before, this Affect deal is just the capitalist emotion-industry perversion of Brecht’s V-effect.

    Read all about it there:
    http://www.damoclash.nl/showPage.php?id=218

    Try this at home:

    Turn the V of V-effect on it’s head,
    The V is now a ^, it becomes a pyramid, the hierarchy of capitalism.
    Next: put the slash in the middle to form an A.
    Now, you have the glass ceiling in the pyramid of capitalism.

    Congratulations: you now have turned Brecht’s revolutionary Marxist V-effect into Massumi’s emotion-industry informed Affect.

    The capitalist perversion at work is encoded in the transformation of capital letter itself. This is not occult, this is intentional. People in theatre studies obsess over Affect, because it allows them to strip the V-effect of its political (read:Marxist) load.

    Now you can see that the Affect-hype and the Massumi-hype is the capitalist, emotion-industry perversion of Brecht’s V-effect.

    Not a single one of these new converts to Affect Theory by way of Massumi ever bothers to point out that Tomkins published *his* volumes about affects (or: subjectively experienced feelings) in the 1960s at the height of the Human Potential Movement hype.

    I am willing to bet that this writer to uses Massumi without researching Tomkins. I bet she does not name-drop Tomkins anywhere in her book, nor does she explain that Massumi had obtained the term from Tomkins and thus from psychoanalysis (which regressed to marketing research).

    So Massumi’s Affect is really just a dusting off of old hat psychoanalysis for those who have not read or heard of Tomkins.

    If you wish to learn more about Affect Theory in psychoanalysis, you can read this:

    http://www.affectivetherapy.co.uk/Tomkins_Affect.htm

    Like

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