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The Invisible Seen in French Cinema before 1917
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Cinema Studies.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Since the inception of cinema, an important strand of the medium has focused on itself, on what it depicts, and its indexical relation to the profilmic. Such concerns were most conspicuously put forward by the trick-film genre which bypassed conventional realism in its toying with the photographic image as well as cinematic movement. The main concern of the trick genre’s multifarious manipulations was directed towards the principal focus within the frame, the malleable bodies of figures/characters. Incessant transformations of the content of the frame turned the cinematographic representation into a state of flux by creating an apparently realistic space, but one permeated with fantastic occurrences. Questions of what was visible or not, and possible to depict or not, became focal points within these not only synthetic versions of filmic space, but spaces that routinely severed their profilmic links.

This dissertation probes two somewhat different but interrelated practices: vision made difficult, and making visible what is otherwise not seen with the naked eye. The construction of cinematic invisibility furnishes a paramount example of a counter-visual tendency manifested within the frame of a medium not only based on the visual but on the idea of being an indexical imprint of reality. Invisibility therefore challenges the replicating abilities of the cinematographic medium, but simultaneously displays the medium's prowess to depict phenomena impinging on reality in different fashions. The many guises of this theme were gradually transferred from a performance context within a theatrical setting to a quasi-realistic narrative of sorts. These simple stories were often set in urban surroundings, where the phenomenon of invisibility was explained by means of technologies, inventions or other aspects brought about by modern society.

Trick work played a central role when it came to the development of cinematic techniques and changes in narrative strategies. The complexity of the trick-film genre and its hybrids exceeds the purely spectacular and the apparent simplicity of the tricks themselves. This study displays and analyzes the wide range of applications of the trick mode. The same underlying conception to make visible the otherwise invisible can be found not only in trick films proper, but also in féeries, early animated films, biblical films, and scientific films, and in a less obvious sense even in comic films, detective and crime films. By this process of colonization or absorption, the cinematic depiction of invisible realms became conspicuous facets of filmmaking during the years 1896-1916, especially in three of the main production companies in France, namely Star-Film, Pathé Frères and Gaumont. The multitude of approaches to invisibility offers insight into the non-visual dimensions of a visual and technological medium, apart from upgrading the historiographical importance of trick films.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Aura förlag , 2001. , 314 p.
Keyword [en]
trickfilm, vetenskaplig film, fransk tidig film
National Category
Studies on Film
Research subject
Cinema Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-16919ISBN: 91-7265-343-4OAI: diva2:183439
Public defence
2001-10-26, Föreläsningssalen, Filmhuset, Borgvägen 5, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2008-12-30 Created: 2008-12-30 Last updated: 2009-12-10Bibliographically approved

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Dahlquist, Marina
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