Cinematographic Objects

Cinematographic Objects

International Conference of the Junior Fellow Program
»Theory and History of Cinematographic Objects«

July 11-13, 2012, IKKM, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

In recent years, studies in the history of science, social sciences, and ethnology have prompted cultural theorists to return to the realm of things. However, the potential contributions of film and the study of film to our understanding of what constitutes a thing or object, and how they operate for and within film, remains an open question. One may ask, for instance: “What do things do in or to film?” And conversely: “How do film and media theory affect objects and existing concepts of objecthood?”

Films are assemblages of things: suitcases, revolvers, cars, shower curtains, bones that turn into spaceships within a split second. Insofar as these »things« make their peculiar appearance on film, they can be called cinematographic objects. The complexity of cinematographic objects resides in the fact that their very definition is always implicated in an ever-evolving network of associations with: 1) things on film, 2) the materiality of filmic images, and 3) the mechanical and operational relationships between the apparatuses necessary for their production (i.e. cameras, editing equipment, projectors, microphones, etc.)

»Cinematographic objects« are characterized by a specific relationship between thing and operation. The screen is full of props, artifacts, material objects either made explicitly for the cinematographic apparatus or merely picked up and recorded by it. Yet these things and objects only acquire certain cinematic qualities once the lights in the theater dim and their visual and temporal configurations unfold. It is only here that they begin to move, change shape, emerge, then vanish through zooms, tracking shots, pans, cuts, and editing. It is only here that they are enlarged and isolated in close-ups, arranged and gathered in ensemble-staging medium shots, and rendered landscapes and scenery with the long-shot. Likewise, things find a particular form of expression in filmic diegesis and narration when they align the various looks and gazes, motivate the development of the plot, distinguish characters, and circulate between protagonists. And not least of all, the film seems to chart the extra-filmic routes along which a cinematographic object as an artifact will migrate—as a piece of cinephilic memorabilia or in an exhibition in a film museum, or as iconic gestures associated with six-shooters, sunglasses, and cars—as visual motifs in art, as archival objects, or as fetishized images.

Following the »Cinematographic Objects« workshop in 2011, the conference »Cinematographic Objects II: Things and Operations« is organized around precisely these relations between artifact and operation. On the one hand, it seeks to closely interrogate the specificities of film and cinema according to film and media theoretical concerns with the cinematographic operations of object construction, as well as the peculiar nature and properties of things objects, and artifacts in film. And on the other hand, it also welcomes discourses on the transformations and migrations of things between film and other disciplines and areas of study such as art history, natural sciences, politics, and the everyday.

Conference Program

MEDIA/CITY

Image

Media/City. New spaces, new aesthetics
7-9 Giugno 2012, Triennale di Milano
Convegno a cura di Francesco Casetti

Per la prima volta a Milano studiosi di comunicazione, media, architettura e urbanistica si incontrano per discutere, comprendere e capire quale strada ha intrapreso lo sviluppo della città. Quali nuove forme assumono gli spazi pubblici e privati, sotto la spinta di una crescente presenza dei media? Quali nuove forme di bellezza emergono, in un paesaggio che tende spesso ad apparire trasandato e casuale? Quali nuovi servizi si impongono ai cittadini? Quali nuove pratiche sociali? Quali forme di cittadinanza?

Media/City: new spaces, new aesthetics è un seminario internazionale che cerca di rispondere a queste domande. E’ un contributo al fatto che in un momento di grande svolta la città comincia a ripensare se stessa e a ridefinire il tradizionale spazio urbano. E vuol testimoniare come  media non siano più solo strumenti, ma guidino i movimenti e le scelte dei cittadini e generino anche nuove forme di estetica urbana.

Il seminario è promosso dalla Triennale di Milano che si propone ancora una volta di decifrare nella sua complessità la città contemporanea e del futuro. Importanti guru come Henry Jenkins, architetti affermati come Kurt W. Forster, Mirko Zardini, Pierluigi Nicolin, giovani architetti di Yale, studiosi di media e contesti urbani come Vinzenz Hediger e Will Staw (responsabile del maggior laboratorio canadese su media e città), tecnologi come Alfonso Fuggetta, studiosi dell’organizzazione urbana come Giuliano Noci, studiosi di estetica come Mauro Carbone, per la prima volta insieme cercano di fare il punto su uno dei temi più attuali e discussi di questi anni.

La prima sessione del convegno – che si concluderà con la relazione di Henry Jenkins – sarà trasmessa in diretta streaming, per coinvolgere il pubblico della rete ed espandere la partecipazione anche all’estero. Sarà inoltre possibile — durante l’evento — dialogare con la redazione live, attraverso la chat presente sulla pagina dello streaming e attraverso twitter.

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The Little Magic Machine

From the beginning, cinema has been a peculiarly controversial object: it has been deeply loved by many, who saw in the reality on the screen the fulfilment of their desires, but it has also been hated by many, who were scared by the intensity of the represented world, and by the social effects that such representations could trigger. One of the roots of this controversial attitude is precisely cinema’s technical nature. This will be the subject of my lecture in the congress “The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Theory and Historiography of Cinema,” held at the University of Montreal on 1-6 November 2011. The lecture, entitled The Little Magic Machine. Technology and Iconophobia in Early Film Theories, will retrace the presence in early film theories of an “iconophobic” attitude towards cinema as a “mechanical eye” or as “mechanical art,” as opposed by a more positive appreciation of cinema as a “witness” (even if a “creative” witness). Among the iconophobes, we meet for example Pirandello (who calls cinema a “little magic machine” and claims that a mechanical copy steals life from reality); among the iconophiles we may list Epstein and its idea that the camera provides a gaze “without hesitation or scruples.” Both sides are highlighted in the debate between Paul Souday and Emile Wuillermoz in the mid ‘10s. A late reconsideration of the mechanical nature of cinema is provided during the ‘20s by ideological and anthropological discourses. A re-reading of the book by Eugenio Giovannetti, Il cinema e le arti meccaniche (a complex anticipation of some Benjamin’s issues) will drive the lecture to its end.

Screen Cultures Conference

I will deliver a keynote speech at the Screen Cultures Conference organized by Dr Catherine Fowler and Dr Paola Voci at the Department of Languages and Cultures of the University of Otago (3rd-4th June 2011).

Some remarks on the relocation of cinema
Keynote speech
Friday 3rd June 2011

Thanks to convergence, media now overlap and merge. This does not mean that media have reached their end: although they no longer depend on a specific apparatus, they still have an identity, linked to the specific experience they offer. Cinema survives because there still exists a certain way of wathcting things. Relocation designates the movement through which media migrate to new environments and to new devices, where they reenact their basic mode of experience. The concept of relocation is important for at least three reasons within the context of the digital revolution: it focuses on permanence within a great process of change; it highlights the experiential dimension over the technological one; and it reveals the relevance of a spatial dimension – where space acts both as a phisical environment and as techno-virtual setting.

My essays on relocation are available at the Research page.

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I will also lead a masterclass open to postgraduate students and early career researches in film and media studies.

Early film theory and the problem of modernity
Postgraduate Masterclass
Sunday 5th June 2011

A discussions of film, modernity, and iconophobia  through a selection of (pre-read) texts. These will include Giovanni Papini’s, Luigi Pirandello’s, Jean Epstein’s, Georg Lukacs’ writings.

Cinema is a peculiarly controversial object: it is deeply loved by many, who see in the reality on the screen the fulfilment of their desires, but i, but i t is also hated by many, who are scared  by the intensity of the represented world, and by the social effects that such representations could trigger. More precisely, film is a controversial object as an emblem of modern life: it unfolds all the possibilities, but also all the risks, tied to a new model of life. It is a controversial object from the aesthetic point of view, too: if it is often devoid of any artistic qualities, it also entails another  an  kind of art – one based on totally new values. And finally it is a controversial object because through its impressive work on space and time, it liberates us from any constraints – it releases our bodies and our minds – but in the meantime, because of its excess of freedom, it needs a control, a discipline, that channels its action towards a positive, though even limited, goal. Film is good and is evil: behind such oscillation of confidence and apprehension, we may read the resurrection of iconophilia and iconophobia (if not iconoclasm), which, in film, find their last battlefield.