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TitleThe cinema effect / Sean Cubitt
PublisherMIT Press
ISBN 139780262532778
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size10.9 MB
Total Pages467
Document Text Contents
Page 1

“This is one of the most

ambitious books I’ve ever

read — a sweeping survey

of film history that is as

much theoretical as histori-

cal. The close discussion

and analysis of important

individual works and film-

makers is most welcome

in the context of the com-

plex larger arguments the

author advances. Both the

range of material covered

and the appropriate theo-

retical frameworks are

simply stunning in their

breadth.”

STEPHEN MAMBER,

DEPARTMENT OF F ILM,

TELEVIS ION, AND DIGITAL

MEDIA, UNIVERSITY OF

CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

“Cinema is an elusive,

fascinating, often troubling

object. Sean Cubitt has

provided us with a lucid

and rich account of the

changing nature of the

cinematic object in all of

its forms, from cinema

as magic to cinema as

commodity and as special

effect. The strange, uncanny,

sublime, and baroque—

Cubitt explores all elements

of the cinema effect in this

excellent and timely book.

He writes with authority and

wit, drawing often stunning

associations between film

and other art forms. This is

essential reading for all

scholars interested in the

history of the cinematic

object and its ever-changing

status over the past

hundred years.”

BARBARA CREED, ASSOCIATE

PROFESSOR OF C INEMA STUDIES,

UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE

“I read Sean Cubitt’s lucid

and lyrical The Cinema

Effect with wonder and

pleasure. This is a theoreti-

cal book on cinema itself

as a special effect as seen

from the horizon of digital

media. Cubitt draws new

insights from films that are

touchstones of cinema dis-

course and makes refresh-

ingly strong aesthetic and

ethical judgments about

them in relation to cinema’s

commodity status in the

context of globalization.

This beautifully written book

fulfills the author’s own

mandate: ‘The job of media

theory is to enable: to extract

from what is and how things

are done ideas concerning

what remains undone and

new ways of doing it.’ The

Cinema Effect will occupy

the position of a classic on

my bookshelf—that is,

always at hand.”

MARGARET MORSE, PROFESSOR

OF F ILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA,

SANTA CRUZ

“Readers will be fascinated

by Sean Cubitt’s novel study

of the radical instability of

the moving image. In his

urgently philosophical

reflection on cinematic

form, Cubitt ponders the

history of cinema as read

from the age of the digital

image. In this invigorating

and polemical text, Cubitt

traces the sublime tensions

of vector and pixel as they

crosscut from cinema’s ear-

liest experiments with dura-

tion to its current obsession

with CGI. The Cinema Effect

positions the communicative

as the primal ground of cine-

matic relations in contrast to

our cultural bondage to the

media commodity.”

TIMOTHY MURRAY, DIRECTOR

OF GRADUATE STUDIES IN F ILM

AND VIDEO, CORNELL UNIVERSITY

of movement, different kinds of time, and different

kinds of space.

He begins with a discussion of “pioneer cinema,”

focusing on the contributions of French cinematic

pioneers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth

centuries. He then examines the sound cinema of the

1930s, examining film effects in works by Eisenstein,

Jean Renoir, and Hollywood’s RKO studio. Finally he

considers what he calls “post cinema,” examining the

postwar development of the “spatialization” of time

through slow motion, freeze-frame, and steadi-cam

techniques. Students of film will find Cubitt’s analyses

of noncanonical films like Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett

and Billy the Kid as enlightening as his fresh takes on

such classics as Renoir’s Rules of the Game.

S E A N C U B I T T is Professor of Screen and Media

Studies at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

C O V E R I M A G E © 2003 Dig i t a l Vis ion J A C K E T D E S I G N Patr ick C iano

T H E C I N E M A E F F E C T

S E A N C U B I T T

It has been said that all cinema is a special effect.

In this highly original examination of time in film

Sean Cubitt tries to get at the root of the uncanny

effect produced by images and sounds that don’t

quite align with reality. What is it that cinema does?

Cubitt proposes a history of images in motion from

a digital perspective, for a digital audience.

From the viewpoint of art history, an image is

discrete, still. How can a moving image—constructed

from countless constituent images—even be consid-

ered an image? And where in time is an image in

motion located? Cubitt traces the complementary histo-

ries of two forms of the image/motion relationship—

the stillness of the image combined with the motion

of the body (exemplified by what Cubitt calls the

“protocinema of railway travel”) and the movement

of the image combined with the stillness of the body

(exemplified by melodrama and the magic lantern).

He argues that the magic of cinema arises from

the intertwining relations between different kinds

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The Cinema Effect

Page 233

duration, enjoying both spectacular technique and the spectacle itself, illu-
sion and the machinery of illusion.

Cleverly providing himself with an Aristotelian unity of place and time
(the boxing stadium in Atlantic City, the ticking clock), de Palma sets him-
self the problem of delivering all necessary back-story in audiovisual terms
that can be naturalized in the diegesis. The hypervisible, hyperaudible pro-
tagonist bedeviled with delusions is the willing victim of a charade, a mas-
sive event designed for the sole purpose of deceiving him. The theme has
occupied de Palma over a large part of his career (Blow Out and Body Double
spring instantly to mind). Nor of course is de Palma alone here: the intri-
cate, obsessive, and if necessary total manipulation of reality to secure an
illusion, the willingness of its victims, and often enough the tragic conse-
quences of piercing it, form the single most popular topic of the Hollywood
baroque, from Sex, Lies, and Videotape to Schwarzenegger’s The Last Action
Hero, Total Recall, and True Lies, from House of Games to The Truman Show.
Our double role as integrated onlookers is enshrined in the complexity of
the shot, in which we shift fluidly from panorama to point of view, between
sharing and observing the illusory nature of his experience. In fact, the pro-
tagonist is alone in failing to perceive the construction of his world: to
everyone else, including the other actors whose unnecessarily camp perfor-
mances ought to give the game away, the artifice is not only transparent but
heavily signaled at every turn.

Illusion, then, is not only a spectacle: the spectacular collusion in its
construction, and the spectacular innocence of protagonists who cannot
perceive its artificiality combine in an entirely artificial diegesis. Truisms of
the contemporary well-made script—there should be no exposition that
cannot be accommodated into the diegesis, and no loose ends—have be-
come sufficient qualities for a baroque film since William Goldman’s script
for The Sting. Here the qualities of vraisemblance and probability are sus-
pended in favor of the construction of a transparently artificial script of al-
gorithmic elegance.

Classically, the story is a ritual construction in time that works through
the conflictual structures of reality and finds for them a magical resolution.
But the baroque story in its purest form is a purely abstract construction of
time. In this new mode, stories seek not to control but to imitate nature.
This imitation needs to be understood not as nineteenth-century realism

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Page 234

but as sixteenth-century Imitatio, a concept Rosamund Tuve characterizes
as possessing three levels. At the first level,

the artifact was designed to please on grounds of its formal excellence rather than
by its likeness to the stuff of life. . . . On [the] second level images must assist in
Imitation conceived as involving the artist’s ordering of Nature, and his interpre-
tation must have coherence . . . on a third level: Imitation as truth-stating, as
didactically concerned with the conveying of concepts—not simply orderly pat-
terns but what we should commonly call “ideas” and “values.” (Tuve 1947: 25)

The blockbuster movie does indeed, in its elaboration of “right artificiality,”
produce just such ritual incantations of unexceptionable truisms: do right,
don’t mess with nature, look after your own. These truths are open to ideo-
logical analysis, but such analysis can scarcely deliver more interesting re-
sults than that many of our most successful movies have themes as banal as
the vade mecums of the sixteenth century. But such Eisensteinian images are
not the point of the film, any more than the desultory narratives over which
they are stretched, for example, in Jan van Bont’s Twister. The point is that
such ideological motifs, such clichés, provide the basis for the intricate
weaving of spectacle and narration into a braided web on whose embroidery,
abstract as a Bach fugue, the audience will sit in final arbitration. As we reach
the end of a film like Snake Eyes, we should survey the whole plot as if it were
a knot garden, a spatial orchestration of events whose specific attraction is
its elaboration of narrative premise into pattern, its reorganization of time
as space.

The intrinsically decorative structuring of narrative, the extrusion of
elaborations and fugal variations from basic premises, form part of the fun-
damental spatializing project of the Hollywood baroque. In the opening se-
quence of Snake Eyes, camera mobility and plotting are synonymous, both
contrapuntally constructing elaborations on the motif of spectacle (boxing,
policing, life) as illusion. In Strange Days, a film only slightly more elaborate
than Snake Eyes, there are few shots in which the image is not at least re-
framed, and far more frequently caught in the pirouettes and rotations of
Matthew F. Leonetti’s hallmark steadicam cinematography. The character-
istic establishing shot of Bigelow’s millennium movie, as in films as various
as Super Mario Bros. and Fatal Attraction, not only features fluid camera

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Page 466

Star Trek, 218
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 266
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 266
Star Wars, 112, 218, 224, 228
Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the

Clones, 238
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, 266
Steichen, Edward, 23
Steiner, Rudolf, 274
Sternberg, Josef von, 50, 161, 179
Stevens, Wallace, 199
Sting, The, 222
Stone, Oliver, 198
Strange Days, 223–225, 228–229, 234,

236–237
Stroheim, Eric von, 235
Subway, 274
Sullivan’s Travels, 228
Sunset Boulevard, 228
Super Mario Bros., 223
Surrealism, 287–291, 294, 295–296,

326
Swadeshi, 57, 313
Swidler, Ann, 260

Tati, Jacques, 283, 284
“Teddy” Bears, The, 248
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 282
Teo, Stephen, 319
Terminator 2, 84, 252
That Thing You Do, 258–259
Theunissen, Michael, 253
Theweleit, Klaus, 294
Things to Come, 101
Thirteenth Floor, The, 239, 259, 278
Thompson, Kristin, 149, 243, 391n2
Three Kings, 228
Tilak, Bal Gangadhar, 60
Time Bandits, 297

Tissé, Edouard, 121, 123
Titanic, 245, 252, 260–261, 270
Todorov, Tzvetan, 325
and Oswald Ducrot, 103

Toland, Greg, 161
Toni, 159
Top Gun, 101, 112, 306
Top Hat, 177–178
Total Recall, 222, 349
Toy Story, 266
Triumph of the Will, 101
Tron, 258, 266
True Lies, 222, 396n3
Truman Show, The, 222, 234, 256
Tsui Hark, 317–322
Turing, Alan, 73
Turner, W. M., 17
Tuve, Rosamund, 223, 353–354
Twelve Monkeys, 234, 239, 246
Twister, 223, 314
Tynianov, Jurii , 161, 166
Tyrell, Harry, 27

Usual Suspects, The, 238

Vampyr, 327
Vanishing Point, 240
Varma, Raja Ravi, 59
Vattimo, Gianni, 185, 267–268
Vaughan, Dai, 29, 31, 224
Vector, 70–98
Vertov, Dziga, 108–111, 255
Vie est à nous, La, 130
Virilio, Paul, 6, 7, 34, 127, 141, 153,

251–252, 326, 384n3
Visiteurs du soir, Les, 291
Voyage à travers l’impossible, 43, 55–57
Voyage dans la lune, 55
Vygotsky, Lev S., 91

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Ward, Vincent, 261, 300, 323–330,
333

Warner, Marina, 6
Wasko, Janet, 8
Wasteland, The, 274
Watchmen, 218
Waterworld, 265
Watson, Mary Ann, 209
Weber, Andrew Lloyd, 54
Wedding, A, 225
Wells, Paul, 77–79, 94, 96
Wenders, Wim, 205
West, Mae, 161
Westerner, The (TV series), 195–196
Weston, Jesse L., 275
What Dreams May Come, 244, 252,

261
White, Hayden, 210
Wicked City, 303
Wild Bunch, The, 190–198, 207–216
Wilde, Oscar, 54
Wild One, The, 219
Wild Strawberries, 287, 337
Willemen, Paul, 91
Williams, Alan, 136, 166
Williams, Tony, 319, 321
Williams, William Carlos, 190, 213
Wings of Desire, 205
Wings of Honneamise, 303–307, 317,

320–321, 322
Winston, Brian, 8
Wizard of Oz, The, 265
Wolfenstein, Martha, and Nathan

Leites, 160
Wölfflin, Heinrich, 230
Wollen, Peter, 143
Woo, John, 320
Wood, Robin, 359

Wray, Fay, 166, 175
Wyler, William, 165

X-Files: The Movie, The, 241

Yeats, William Butler, 273
Youngblood, Gene, 364

Zalta, Edward N., 33
Zecca, Ferdnand, 54–56
Zeno’s paradox, 73, 183, 361
Zero, 33–35, 38–40, 386n3
Zhdanov, Andrei, 8
Zielinski, Siegfried, 7
Zizek, Slavoj, 157–159, 315

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