CinemachinesAn Essay on Media and Method

CinemachinesAn Essay on Media and Method

Garrett Stewart

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226656564

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Recent emphasis on digital imaging in screen narrative as “post-cinematic” tends to misdirect attention. The real breakpoint comes with the “post-filmic” image: a shift in how motion pictures move their picture elements (now, etymologically, pix-els). This shift in material substrate, with the rearview mirror it provides on film history, offers a marked point of vantage, and of fresh critical leverage, on the media archaeology of screen operation in the move from electrical to electronic process. Each operative medium—originally photochemical, now digital—discloses its own unique, and sometimes overtly showcased, impact on narrative sequence. So-called apparatus theory in the critique of classic Hollywood cinema, with its frequent psychoanalytic emphasis on the passive and gendered gaze, has lost its grip on academic discussion. But only some renewed mode of “apparatus reading” (as proposed here in two senses) can register certain manifest technical facets of the serial image so as to read, with them, the optical ironies and technological reflexes of the motivated—and motorized—screen view. Guided by accounts of projection’s illusory special effect(s) from Jean Epstein through Stanley Cavell and Christian Metz to New Media theory, the aspects of cinemachination called out in this essay range from the mirror effects noted by Weimer film commentary through the optical slapstick of American silent film to the latest pixel-busted image plane of the CGI blockbuster—with discussion always on alert for moments that, in openly channeling the possibilities of their medium, route it back through the coils of narrative inference.