Eye of the Century

Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity

FRANCESCO CASETTI
ERIN LARKIN
WITH JENNIFER PRANOLO
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/case13994
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eye of the Century
    Book Description:

    Is it true that film in the twentieth century experimented with vision more than any other art form? And what visions did it privilege? In this brilliant book, acclaimed film scholar Francesco Casetti situates the cinematic experience within discourses of twentieth-century modernity. He suggests that film defined a unique gaze, not only because it recorded many of the century's most important events, but also because it determined the manner in which they were received.

    Casetti begins by examining film's nature as a medium in an age obsessed with immediacy, nearness, and accessibility. He considers the myths and rituals cinema constructed on the screen and in the theater and how they provided new images and behaviors that responded to emerging concerns, ideas, and social orders. Film also succeeded in negotiating the different needs of modernity, comparing and uniting conflicting stimuli, providing answers in a world torn apart by conflict, and satisfying a desire for everydayness, as well as lightness, in people's lives. The ability to communicate, the power to inform, and the capacity to negotiate-these are the three factors that defined film's function and outlook and made the medium a relevant and vital art form of its time.

    So what kind of gaze did film create? Film cultivated a personal gaze, intimately tied to the emergence of point of view, but also able to restore the immediacy of the real; a complex gaze, in which reality and imagination were combined; a piercing gaze, achieved by machine, and yet deeply anthropomorphic; an excited gaze, rich in perceptive stimuli, but also attentive to the spectator's orientation; and an immersive gaze, which gave the impression of being inside the seen world while also maintaining a sense of distance. Each of these gazes combined two different qualities and balanced them. The result was an ever inventive synthesis that strived to bring about true compromises without ever sacrificing the complexity of contradiction. As Casetti demonstrates, film proposed a vision that, in making opposites permeable, modeled itself on an oxymoronic principle. In this sense, film is the key to reading and understanding the modern experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51149-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. A Hundred Years, A Century
    (pp. 1-6)
  5. 1 The Gaze of Its Age
    (pp. 7-26)

    Stupor, appreciation, expectation. Since its invention, film has provoked debate about its significance and much speculation about what it might contribute to the new century. The conviction soon emerged that film could make us look at the world anew. It taught us not only to take a second look at the world, but to look in a different way. Film set our sense of vision free, restoring it to us with an invigorating potential.

    This idea became a leitmotif of film criticism in the 1920s. Bela Balázs summed it up in a formulation that would become popular:

    From the invention...

  6. 2 Framing the World
    (pp. 27-54)

    Since its invention, film has distinguished itself in its unprecedented visual capabilities. Yet its particular “gaze” has presented many ambiguities. A parallel reading of two books by Bela Balázs—The Visible Man (Der Sichtbare Mensch, 1924) and The Spirit of Film (Der Geist des Films, 1930)—gives us precious proof of this fact.¹ In The Visible Man, the idea emerges of a device that leads us to regain our sense of sight. Balázs writes:

    The lens of the cinema reveals to you the single cells of the vital tissue, it makes you feel the material and substance of the concrete...

  7. 3 Double Vision
    (pp. 55-82)

    In realizing a single point of view on the world, the shot not only bears a limited gaze rather than an all-encompassing one but also a subjective gaze instead of an objective one. Béla Balázs developed this theme in The Spirit of Film (Der Geist des Films), particularly in the chapter “The Shot.”¹ He analyzed both the subjectivity of the camera (“the camera shot corresponds to an inner shot”), and that of a character who offers onscreen his or her vision of things (in this way eliciting an “identification” on the part of the spectator, who is able to feel...

  8. 4 The Glass Eye
    (pp. 83-110)

    “A hand that turns the handle”—so says Serafino Gubbio, operator at the Kosmograph film company and narrator of Pirandello’s early twentieth-century novel The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio.¹ He feels like “A hand that turns the handle”: a person so connected to a machine—the camera—that he becomes a mere appendage. This machine is, in appearance, a “little device,” yet its action is nonetheless devastating. It consumes and changes the shape of whatever passes before it. “The machine is made to act, to move, it swallows up our soul, devours our life. And how do you expect them to...

  9. 5 Strong Sensations
    (pp. 111-140)

    In one of his most significant contributions of the 1920s,“Cult of Distraction: On Berlin’s Picture Palaces,”¹ Siegfried Kracauer invites us to consider the cinema not only as the building in which films are projected, but as an actual place of worship. The religion practiced is that of entertainment. But what are the principles of this religion? And what are its collective rites? Kracauer’s response is clear: “Elegant surface splendor is the hallmark of these mass theaters.”² There is no search for intimacy, depth, or origins. The splendor of superficial appeal, immediate attraction, and appearances is majestically displayed. The style of...

  10. 6 The Place of the Observer
    (pp. 141-168)

    “Sicily! The night was an eye full of gaze”: The Cinema Seen from Etna (Le cinématographe vue de l’Etna), one of Jean Epstein’s most fascinating essays, starts with this evocative image.¹ The essay describes, in a sort of diptych, an ascent and a descent. The ascent is the one to the volcano, “the great actor that explodes his show two or three times a century” and of which Epstein came to film “the tragic fantasy.”² On this journey—both physical and moral—the filmmaker finds himself crossing a threshold: the carabineers have set roadblocks, but the “colored leaflet of the...

  11. 7 Glosses, Oxymorons,and Discipline
    (pp. 169-186)

    I have examined a number of films in order to reconstruct the gaze elaborated by the cinema, as well as to understand these films’ departures from and intersections with twentieth-century modernity. The selection might seem obvious to some and slightly random to others: too many well-known works, and too many loose reciprocal ties. I have never, however, been tempted to construct an ideal pantheon of great works. What interests me is the possibility of gathering together a series of proofs in the cinema that are able to show its collective work, in particular the broad assumptions and consequences upon which...

  12. Remains of the Day
    (pp. 187-194)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 195-236)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 237-252)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 253-270)
  16. FILM + CULTURE A SERIES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS
    (pp. 271-272)