The Department of Art & Art History presents "Starting from Fear: Cinephobic Instances in Early Film Theory," a lecture by Francesco Casetti, Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Humanities and Film and Media Studies at Yale University.
The emergence of cinema was paralleled by a great number of discourses that expressed fear of the new invention. During the twentieth century, the progressive acceptance of film as a positive social phenomenon erased the memory of these early cinephobic instances. New attempts to discredit film—like the one heralded by the so-called “Grand Theory”—were compensated by an appreciation for radical artistic experimentations.
Against the grain, I will contend that cinephobia can contribute to a better comprehension of film’s multifaceted nature. Retracing some of the more drastic condemnations of film during the 1910s and 1920s, especially in Europe, I will try to show how they were able to grasp some of film’s crucial aspects that cinephiliac approaches totally ignored. In particular, I will analyze the recurring metaphor of film as “plague” that infects the social body with outrageous representations and illicit behaviors. Quite paradoxically, this fear of contagion anticipates a consideration of film as a medium—and not merely as art— which has only recently become common.
Francesco Casetti is the Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of Humanities and Film and Media Studies at Yale University, where he also teaches as affiliated professor at the school of architecture. He previously taught in Italy at the Catholic University of Milan and the University of Trieste, and has been a visiting professor at the New Sorbonne University Paris 3, University of Iowa, and Harvard University. In 2000 he was the recipient of UC Berkeley's Chair of Italian Culture for distinguished scholarship.
Casetti has largely written on cinema and visual media, in a perspective inspired by semiotics and cultural studies. After an expansive study on the implied spectator in film (Inside the Gaze, Indiana, 1999, or. 1986) and in television (Tra me e te, 1988), he combined in an original way close analyses of media texts and ethnographic researches of actual audiences (L'ospite fisso, 1995), defining the notion of "communicative negotiations" (Communicative Negotiation in Cinema and Television, 2002). He has also written extensively on film theories (Theories of Cinema, 1945-1995, Texas, 1999, or. 1993). More recently he explored the role of cinema in the context of modernity (Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity, Columbia, 2008, or. 2005), and the reconfiguration of cinema in a post-medium epoch (The Lumière Galaxy. Seven Key Words for the Cinema to Come, Columbia, 2015). His current research focuses on the early film theories, with a particular regard for the cinephobic stances in the first half of the twentieth century, and on a genealogy of screen that underlines its environmental aspects and its propensity to become a component of our current “mediascapes.”
Image: Francesco Casetto. Photo by Laila Pozzo.
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