Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

The Screen

In the chapter “The Screen” (from the book The Virtual Window) Anne Friedberg discusses how cinema theatres by their design promote the isolation of the spectator and the limited area off of which to reflect light. She suggests that the viewers are isolated because they are facing the image and side-by side in a dark room so that they cannot see each other, this consequently discourages personal interaction. Much like Plato’s cave (which she briefly mentions) the captivated audience watches images that are “immaterial” and produced by artificial light(s) and shadows. The cinema screen becomes a virtual window, because it plays a role in allowing artificial light to be in the room, however unlike actual windows, the source of light is pointed at the screen rather than coming from it.
Friedberg also discusses how spectatorship has changed from early cinema from a single-user peepshow device to a multi-viewer experience. As these multi-viewer audiences became larger, specialized buildings were constructed to house the cinematic apparatus and experience were mimicking theatres. They were created with the intention of making the screen the focal point but by doing this, the projected images were confined to the prebuilt frame.
She also strengthens her argument for the screen as virtual window by referring to early cinema pioneers’ (Thomas Edison for example) claims that through their device they may confuse the viewer into believing that they are seeing reality. The cinematic apparatus’ promoters would show people moving and shifting in their seats as if to dodge immaterial objects even though there actually is nothing for them to avoid. Thus the claim would be that cinema has the capability to open a portal onto a world in which the viewer becomes a voyeur. Spectators would thus be treating the screen as a window through which one may see an alternate environment. One extreme example of this would be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXi6xsq_dYs&feature=related
What makes this so shocking is that the filmic diegetic world is reacting to the filmic non-diegetic world. The fourth wall is broken and one of the characters is disobeying the law that everything stays confined to the frame.
Friedberg however, does not mention how viewership has changed with acceptable audience behavior and theatre regulations. Interactivity, walking into a theatre in the middle of a showing, and talking during screenings were regular occurrences in early cinema. Ending these practices increased the passivity of the spectator by ensuring that they are obeying rules, and made not engaging with the images as active viewers. I feel that this emphasizes Friedberg’s argument that the structure of cinema theatres created immobile passive viewers.
She ends this chapter with a note on how claims of the fantastic (like the cinema being able to convince the spectator that they are viewing actuality) is very much a part of postmodern technology claims such as the idea that the latest in viewer technology will bring you closer to the future. Friedberg ends with an advertisement that makes claims that it uses technology from the future. At first this may seem absurd because one can possess artifacts from an epoch that has not yet occured. One may, however, know what technical innovations are most current and through this knowledge of technology, estimate what potential it has for application the immediate future. High Definition cable provides high resolution images, allowing spectators to see with clarity. Recent advertisements have implied that the spectator(s) of High Definition television may confuse the image with reality, would this mean that this is a digital window?

Another question I have is about the structure of the cinema theatre which makes the screen the focal point in a quadrocentric room. Is it possible to make films or performances for another kind of structure or has the idea of the whole audience facing the same direction been so heavily embedded in our culture that we can not conceptualize anything else.

Sun, October 18 2009 » Futurecinema_2009, early cinema