The experience of cinema is both private and public at once, as the audience members are isolated by darkness witnessing a film shown in the public space. As well, certain noteworthy characteristics of cinema itself can be viewed through this dichotomy of private and public. Leo Braudy’s “Acting Stage vs. Screen” looks at the nonchalance of film actors as a reflection of the audience’s intimate selves while André Bazin’s “Theater and Cinema” sees cinematic space as a substitute for the shared space of reality. George Bluestone’s “The Limits of the Novel and the Limits of the Film” examines the spatialization of time in cinema to create a more authentic presentation of how the audience experiences time in their own minds, and Judith Mayne, in “Readership and Spectatorship,” demonstrates how the cinema might serve the audience’s collective needs at a given point in time. P. Adams Sitney discusses the highly subjective qualities of Stan Brakhage’s lyrical films in “The Lyrical Film,” and Timothy Corrigan’s “The Essay Film” explores the object-centric nature of Chris Marker’s photo essays and essay films.
Drama requires a privileged space apart from the world as it “must not be confused with nature under penalty of being absorbed by her and ceasing to be” (Bazin 227). Contrary to the locus dramaticus as an “aesthetic microcosm” of the public space—simultaneously in the universe but distinct from it, the projection screen in movie theaters acts as a portal to an artificial world that, so long as it is sufficiently similar to the world as the audience understands it and for as long as the audience is viewing it, becomes “the Universe” (Bazin 228, 230). The screen though is “centrifugal” in that it requires a center, obscuring much of that world as it focuses the audience’s attention (Bazin 228). The artificial proximity this centering naturally creates a heightened sense of intimacy with the characters, which better facilitates the audience’s personal identification with the characters; and for Bazin, that means homogenizing and depersonalizing the audience members, but for Braudy, it means providing them with something more recognizable as part of the human condition. This identification is further strengthened by the process through which film actors occupy their roles: As “[f]ilmmaking is a discontinuous process,” actors must learn their lines and embody their characters piecemeal and non-sequentially, so they define their characters by their “presence” (Braudy 234).
These more fully present film actors operate as imagistic units of information such that when their is dialogue, the image of the actor “so floods our consciousness that his words have the thinnest substance only” (Bluestone 248). On the surface, this use of pictures as informational currency is problematic because pictures only have the one tense—present—as opposed to language’s three, but through the compression and distention of time through the use of accelerated motion and decelerated motion, respectively, or montage, “variations in rate” can be created approximating the audience’s psychological experience of time (Bluestone 250). While any individual film can convincingly simulate “time-in-flux” through the manipulation of motion within the screen, the temporal and spatial context of the screen medium itself cannot be ignored as it informs what occurs within the screen: During World War II, cinema acted as a “‘living display window’ for the products of consumer society” as well as upheld the “nineteenth-century ideal of family life as a separate, isolated realm” (Bluestone 246; Mayne 258). Straddling the worlds of the public and the private—indulging “private fantasies” “within the public space of the movie theater,” cinema served “an important function in the war effort,” but this social trajectory that film advocated for created a great deal of tension for women who precariously occupied both the public space of the workforce and the private realm of the home.
According to Corrigan, the redefinition of the self for the essayist occurs “thinking in and through” such “historical, social, and cultural particulars” of the public space (276). This public, object-centric endeavor organizationally hinges on a subject who acts as an “active and assertive consselfciousness that tests, undoes, or recreates itself through experience,” both internal and external, and “produces ideas and a process of thinking that extends subjectivity through an outside world” (Corrigan 280, 282). Images stand as artifacts of this endeavor with “temporal hole[s]” existing between them, which allow for the “transcendence of both existence and finitude within existence and finitude” through the provision of a space of sorts that “can be filled with every meaning, any meaning” (Corrigan 286, italics mine). Similarly centered on the self but ultimately more subject-centered, Sitney seeking to create a more authentically private expression of personal experience ground his cinematography in the imperfections of human sight—Thigh Line Lyre Triangular was entirely “painted over with colored dots, smears, and lines” to simulate what one sees with the eyelid closed (265).
Bazin, André. “Theater and Cinema.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 223-231.
Bluestone, George. “The Limits of the Novel and the Limits of Film.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, 239-251.
Braudy, Leo. “Acting Stage vs. Screen.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 232-238.
Corrigan, Timothy. “The Essay Film On Thoughts Occasioned by … Michel de Montaigne and Chris Marker.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 274-294.
Mayne, Judith. “Readership and Spectatorship.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 252-261.
Sitney, P. Adams. “The Lyrical Film.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan. Routledge, 2012, pp. 262-273.