Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Start anywhere. Dip in at random. Begin with name recognition if the temptation can’t be resisted. From 1925, from Der Tag, this, for instance, from Béla Balázs (no. 23, “Reel Consciousness”) on the auto-documentary impulse of the new medium, including the record of a filmmaker’s own death in certain celluloid cases. Balázs’s is a reaction to motion capture extraordinary for its time and proleptic of ours:
This is a new form of self-reflection. These people reflect themselves by filming themselves. The inner process of accounting for oneself has been externalized. This self-perception until the final moment is mechanically fixed. The film of self-control, which consciousness used to run within the brain, is now transposed onto the reel of a camera, and consciousness, which has mirrored itself for itself alone in internal division until now, delegates this function to a machine that records the mirror image for others to see as well. In this way, subjective consciousness becomes social consciousness.
More than film theory, a whole ambient field of psychoanalytic criticism is anticipated there. (Read more)
Ripples of Sound
Contemporary German sound artist Carsten Nicolai is internationally known for his experimental music performances and installation works such as wellenwanne (2001/2003/2008), in which water trays visualize musical sounds through changing wave and interference patterns. In fall 2015, Nicolai presented a new work of immense proportions, unitape, at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz.  Twenty-five meters in length and four meters in height, unitape puts to work different encodings of sound and music, its visual structure recalling the look of punch cards as they had first been used in the weaving industry around Chemnitz in the mid-1800s. Cascading from the gallery’s ceiling, ever-changing arrangements of quadrilateral marks trigger the production of acoustical signals, their vibrations so intense that we can literally sense them with our entire bodies. (Read more)
Hans Richters Frauen im Pelz
It is not true that so-called avant-garde artists, if they even exist, harbor utopian goals.
Hans Richter, Avant-garde in the Realm of the Possible (1929), text no. 214
Hans Richters Film Die neue Wohnung, uraufgeführt 1930 auf einer Ausstellung des Schweizer Werkbundes, beginnt mit elegant ausschwingenden, von keinen Zwecken gesteuerten Kamerafahrten entlang den Weißen Kuben der Architektur des Schweizer Werkbundes. Die Kamera passiert mühelos die Schwellen von Innenräumen und angrenzenden Naturräumen. Ein Fest der Mobilität.
Das Schwarz-Weiß der Fotografie scheint der Natur der Gebäude zu entsprechen. Starke Linien- und Kantenbetonung der Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografien hatten schon die BAUHAUS-Architektur berühmt gemacht, sie verstärkten die perspektivischen Fluchten, denen nun auch Richters Film folgt. (Mehr lesen)
The Promise of Chaplin
The fifth and final act of Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) begins at the close of day, as electric lights stream from apartment windows, film palaces and car headlights. Ruttmann shifts from rain-swept, glistening streets to crowded sidewalks, as people go up and down one of Berlin’s most fashionable thorough-fairs, Tauentzienstrasse, looking for an evening’s entertainment. Such entertainment is represented first and foremost by the cinema, as we see the impressive facades of the Berliner Kino and the Atrium, the latter’s awning advertising in dazzling lights the New Woman-themed romantic comedy, Venus im Frack (Land, 1927). Outside a series of smaller, storefront cinemas, so-called Ladenkino, a placard for American cowboy Tom Mix and photographs of other movie stars surround a box office busy with customers queuing for tickets or waiting for their film-going companions. For Berlin’s own audience, a sense of expectation builds as we wonder what film and which stars these surrogates for ourselves are seeking inside the cinema. Concluding the film-themed introduction to his final act, Ruttmann shows, in a quick glimpse lasting no more than five seconds, the interior of a cramped Ladenkino to give an answer: a pair of all too familiar, ragged and over-sized shoes gambol forward, accompanied by equally iconic bamboo cane and baggy trousers. (Read more)
On Benjamin’s Theory of Film
A highly condensed note in The Arcades Project, dating probably from the late 1920s, offers what is possibly the broadest and boldest statement on film that we have today from Walter Benjamin. The note has its place in the context of methodological formulations concerning the temporality of historical interpretation and what is conceived of, in this serendipitous study of nineteenth-century Paris, as historical dream and historical awakening. One awakens from “that dream we name the past” only by descending back through remembrance into the convolute of the dream itself; one wakes simultaneously from and to a dream past in order to waken a present day. So historical awakening is prepared in dreaming of the past. It is nothing short of a “Copernican revolution in historical perception” that Benjamin announces here, in Convolute K of the Arcades: a momentous theoretical turn toward a dialectical method of historical remembrance pivoting on “the higher concreteness of now-being.” Such perception is dialectical because it is turned toward past and present at the same time; it is their virtual convergence as monad and mutual tension in an experience of recognition. In this precipitous constellatory temporality, in which time at once shrinks and expands, the moment of remembrance is thus “preformed” in its object. (Read more)
A Dancer on Film: Rudolf Laban’s Film Theory
The fact that film became an object of analysis at a time when dance, body culture and life reform movements were on the agenda has received comparatively little attention in film historical scholarship to date. Yet, especially in Germany, gymnastics and modern dance formed an important context that clearly resonated in the debates surrounding the new medium. Not only were the same people—intellectuals, artists and critics—commenting on contemporary events in film and dance, but early film theory and modern dance were also surrounded by similar concerns and inquiries: When is a movement “beautiful”? What makes a body expressive? And which specific forms of a viewer’s aesthetic experience are addressed through movement? (Read more)
The Promise of Television
Which came first—cinema or television? Until recently, the origins of moving images were usually taken to be synonymous with those of “the movies,” and the year 1895 was commonly considered the annus mirabilis in the history of cinema. Despite some dissenting work on the development of moving images over the millennia, the date remained significant in mainstream film studies for marking at least three decisive conditions of possibility for the appearance of the medium: the availability of the cinematograph; the genesis of production and exhibition practice; and the emergence of aesthetic considerations. In television studies, on the other hand, there was never a similar consensus. Over two decades before the consolidation of cinema, there were already models for televisual machines, and the earliest patent for a mechanical television system, which looms especially large over the German historiography of television, was granted a decade prior to the first patents for cinematographic devices. Nevertheless, the promise of electronic television would remain unfulfilled throughout the anni horribiles of two world wars, an extended incubation period representing a long-standing source of irritation for media studies. As the editors of a recent collection on German Television observe, “Until the mid-twentieth century, television remained only an epistemic object, not fully realized and thus partly latent in the history of media.” By extension, one of the editors wonders, “Might television be a latency or blind spot of media theory?” (Read more)