Vibrating Existence: Early Cinema and Cognitive Creativity
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This thesis collects together technical, historical and neurological evidence to examine how our perceptual and cognitive experience of cinema has changed diachronically and especially as a result of the transition from analogue to digital cinema projection. The slow arrival but sudden dominance of digital projection technology has provided a historic opportunity of renewed interest in the means by which cinema is created. This research attends to a particular aspect of the experience of cinema which has failed to survive the industry-wide changeover: the seemingly advantageous deletion of the shutter and its attendant flicker from the cinematic dispositif – the ‘flicks’ are literally no more.
The transdisciplinary approach employs a combination of historical film technological research, especially focussed on the Early Cinema period (1895-1915), experimental media archaeology, and empirical electrophysiological study, to investigate the cognitive impact of historical (flickering) and modern day (effectively flickerless) cinema technology. The research uncovers the prominence of the relation of the mechanical and the perceptual in the early cinema period and thickens our understanding of its texts and contexts, ultimately adding a new dimension to the substantial existing body of work on early cinema.
The argument of the thesis is situated particularly in the sector of film archives and museums (Film Heritage Institutes) where recent work has concentrated on transferring films of the analogue era to data files for display on an all-pervasive network of digital screens. However, while digitisation may preserve the content of these films it does not preserve the experience. These digital copies speak only to traditional film histories based on literary or auteurist ideas and do not communicate the visceral sensory impact on the late nineteenth century viewer. It is suggested that through reinstating the connectedness of the mechanical and perceptual our understanding of early cinema experience can be transformed. The research also has further implications for other forms of moving image exhibition such as the continuing use of analogue film in artistic practice.