David Issac Humphrey writes:
> Political discussion about the cinema strikes me as *far*
> more important than debating the relative merits of Todd-AO
> or Super VistaVision or arguing about which aspect ratio
> "Miller's Crossing" is meant to be shown in.
If you think that the role of technology in political representation is
unimportant, then you should be concentrating your efforts on virtually any
medium other than film. Theatre requires only a performance space and
performers (although admittedly, a range of other technologies are
routinely used as well), music requires only the human voice (although
admittedly, ditto), whilst literature and journalism can be produced using
comparatively simple technology that has been widely available for several
centuries. Cinema, together with radio and television, cannot exist at all
without a complex and inter-related range of mechanical, electrical,
electronic and chemical technologies. The bottom line is that without a
camera, film, lab infrastructure and projector, it is quite simply
impossible to produce and show a film. Far too many humanities scholars
have chosen to ignore that fact for the simple reason that they do not
grasp the basic technical concepts needed to engage with these issues.
I could cite the most amazing rubbish that has been published by supposedly
leading academics, which a high school leaver with science 'A' levels would
laugh his or her head off at. My favourite example is a densely-theorised
paper in Screen by Stephen Heath, in which he procedes to analyse a scene
from 'Death by Hanging' in considerable detail. As Barry Salt lucidly
observes, his conclusions are somewhat flawed, as the editing techniques
used by Ozu, "had less to do with the intricacies of 'narrative space'
than with the difficulties of getting a cat to behave as directed within
the restrictions of low-budget film production".
Determining the correct aspect ratio to project MILLER'S CROSSING in might
seem to you like a worthless exercise, but learning these skills in print
examination would also teach you how to (i) see where cuts have been made
either in the print itself or the negative it was printed from, (ii)
discover the year and country in which the print was made, and (iii)
discover other evidence printed through from the negative onto areas of the
print stock which are not projected or transferred to video. All of this
could be pretty useful for a political historian, don't you think?
Incidentally, I would find it a challenge indeed to debate the relative
merits of Todd-AO and Super VistaVision, because the latter does not exist.
We all know the standard jokes - WILDE (special presentation - in
SodomyScope) or any slushy, romantic genre film (a new motion picture
experience - in Retch-O-Rama), or even the colloquialism 'Technicolor
yawn', meaning to vomit. But all of the products being satirised came
about for specific economic, cultural and technical reasons, and casually
writing them off in the way you seem to be doing is to undermine virtually
any argument or conclusion which casually ignores them.
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