[-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Fri Jul 6 05:57:24 EST 2012

This is great. The month's theme is justified, if only for eliciting this reference to an 1896 critique of such sophistication! Looking forward to the rest of the discussion...



On 5 Jul 2012, at 16:52, Christian McCrea wrote:

> Ian + others,
> I think screen materiality studies have produced some great work over
> the last decade; I look forward to seeing the discussion evolve.
> I want to offer a reference that hasn't made it out into the world
> very often and which grounds all of my thoughts on screen materiality.
> I absolutely adore it, and I endorse it here shamelessly. It's an
> extraordinary 1896 essay reprinted by the editors of Sight and Sound
> in 1982, and largely unknown but described in the issue as the ‘first
> piece of British film criticism’ and certainly amongst the first
> pieces that could lay claim to that honour anywhere in the world. The
> author, O. Winter, expounds on his first experience with the
> cinematograph, as well as a demonstration of that other great
> fin-de-siècle invention, the X-ray machine.
> Winter’s essay compares the two at their root; the capability to
> produce images that compose reality for their audience. The essay is
> pretty sagacious, describing the potential for the moving image to
> tend towards the violent and sexual as a completely natural mode of
> viewership, while ascribing a pre-medical understanding of the X-ray
> as a deeply personal machine, that can cut ‘right to the core of
> person’s being.’
> Winter’s thesis about the cinematograph – and watching the infamous
> Lumière film, Train Pulling Into A Station (1895), no less - is one of
> discombobulated distraction, generating a very different picture to
> that of shocked viewers stumbling out of the theatre scared to death.
> Rather, Winter notices a deep curiosity and dissatisfaction with the
> act of viewership, and one he is absolutely explicit to determine is
> not about the poor representative quality:
> "In the moving image thrown upon the screen, the crowd is severally
> and unconsiously choosing or rejecting the objects of sight. But we
> find the task impossible. The grey photograph unfolds at an equal pace
> and with a sad deliberation. We cannot follow the shadows in their
> enthusiasm of recognition; the scene is forced to trickle upon our
> nerves with an equal effect; it is neither so quick nor so changeful
> as life. From the point of view of display, the spectacle fails,
> because its personages lack the one quality of entertainment:
> self-conciousness.  (Winter, 1896/1982)"
> The images being ‘neither so quick nor so changeful as life’ are
> interesting, given how cinema would develop technologically and
> culturally. Describing an apparatus he saw as funereal and deliberate,
> he instead lauded the potential of the X-ray, which had the
> self-conciousness that the cinematograph lacked. The crowd ‘severally
> and unconsciously choosing or rejecting the objects of sight’,
> however, is a recognition given how over a century of cinema culture
> and technical mastery has shown up the same central problems. Images
> which unfurl with equal effect are for the crowd, are deigned to be
> ‘cinematic’ in nature; not real, not deliberate, not self-conscious.
> I like to think about this weird distinction over and over again,
> especially when thinking about the borderlands of cinema and other
> screens. What cinema always lacked, under this concept, was self
> consciousness.  This yawning lack, through the advent of sound,
> colour, editing, techniques of time and space, montage, animation,
> computer generated imagery – everything that has been assembled on top
> of those early sad and deliberate images – was that simple fact that
> ANY sequential footage of a past event is a procession. It cannot be
> 'lifelike'. The X-ray offered the far more humane element, the
> opportunity to break down topics and people into component pairs, and
> presumably that made it a potential heir to the higher arts. X-ray as
> entertainment, cinema as medical marvel. I'm sure I don't need to
> point out the cute elision here between X-rays and other technologies
> such as game engines.
> And because like any historian, he knew that focussing too much on the
> material would destroy the thesis, he offered this:
> "He who insists on a minute and conscientious vision, is forthwith
> hampered by his own material, and is almost forced to see
> discordantly."  (Winter, 1896/1982)
> Reference is - Winter, O. (1896/1982, Autumn). "Ain't It Lifelike!"
> Sight and Sound , pp. 294-296.
> I'm also hoping to see some reference to the excellently lunatic
> manifesto The Death of Cinema by Paolo Cherchi Usai, as among many
> other fragments, offers a very lucid speculative materialist take on
> the screen.
> -Christian McCrea
> On 5 July 2012 06:44, Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu> wrote:
>> On Jul 4, 2012, at 8:24 AM, Brian Holmes wrote:
>> Our mobile
>> screens do not offer us anonymity, they relay and record our movements
>> (via GPS); they can capture and convey our images as much as they can
>> record images. Or they can create another type of image (data, or
>> information about us).
>> It seems to me that the passage reveals the need for some more circumspect
>> way of conceiving these things. After all, screens _as such_ neither track
>> us, nor relay information about us, nor even capture our images. Networked
>> and programmed interactive devices do that, usually in combination with
>> databases and operators. Kriss, you get at that further on: "These
>> interactive screens / machines respond to our voices, our touch, our
>> gestures, but they are at the same time programmed."
>> Thanks for saying this, Brian. I had similar questions but you summarized
>> well. What is it we are talking about when we talk about screens? Is there
>> such a thing as "the screen"? What do we gain when we look at specific kinds
>> of screens and understand screens separately
>> Just to throw one example out that I was just discussing with someone
>> yesterday: the cathode-ray tube is nearing the end of new production.
>> Innumerable CRTs will still exist for some time, but they will be impossible
>> or very costly to produce new. The CRT may seem undesirable and outmoded,
>> but it also has very specific properties that make its picture appear in a
>> particular fashion—a manner that invisibly imbued several media, most
>> obviously television, video games, and video art, for fifty years. Matters
>> of preservation and experience of these works, from Electronic Superhighway
>> to Dallas to Pac-Man, are bound up with the life and death of the CRT.
>> Ian
>> _______________________________________________
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Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk http://www.littlepig.org.uk/ @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk

s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh
http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/ http://www.elmcip.net/ http://www.movingtargets.co.uk/

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