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September 1995, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Gene Stavis <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 20 Sep 1995 09:42:57 -0700
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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. . . but more important [i think] . . . is the claim that images are SOMEHOW
more objective than speakers . . . is this always true? . . .  is it true in
cinema specifically or is it a generalization about all images vis a vis
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One of the great fallacies connected to the development of motion pictures is
this one. Images are, in fact, illusions. Motion picture images are doubly
illusory. Even the phenomenon of motion in films is an illusion: the product
of "presistence of vision" by which our eyes and brain trick us into
believing that we are witnessing true motion, rather than the serial
registration of still pictures.
The optical metaphor is mirrored by the distortions of reality with which
motion pictures present us. At the very beginning, the die was cast between
the Lumiere Brothers and George Melies. Lumiere gave us the illusion of
reality, Melies the illusions of fantasy.
We have steadily tried to capture that elusive "reality" rather than seek the
"truth" which is far more elusive and often comes, not through slavish
striving for an ersatz realism, but from an skillful and artistic
My students are ignorant of such things by and large. They expect realism
every way they turn. They reject musicals because they are not "real". They
reject black-and-white. They reject silent films. They reject process work
and obvious miniatures and seize upon them to attack older films. They
swallow the commercial illusions of today because they look "real" in a
formulaic way.
My favorite experience in class is when I showed the '50's sci-fi film "This
Island Earth". One student protested that the film was terrible. When I asked
him why, he said that the aliens in the film did not look like "real" aliens!
I never turned my back on him after that. :-)
Gene Stavis, School of Visual Arts - NYC
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