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Surveillance Cinema

Surveillance Cinema

Catherine Zimmer
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Surveillance Cinema
    Book Description:

    In Paris, a static video camera keeps watch on a bourgeois home. In Portland, a webcam documents the torture and murder of kidnap victims. And in clandestine intelligence offices around the world, satellite technologies relentlessly pursue the targets of global conspiracies. Such plots represent only a fraction of the surveillance narratives that have become commonplace in recent cinema.

    Catherine Zimmer examines how technology and ideology have come together in cinematic form to play a functional role in the politics of surveillance. Drawing on the growing field of surveillance studies and the politics of contemporary monitoring practices, she demonstrates that screen narrative has served to organize political, racial, affective, and even material formations around and through surveillance. She considers how popular culture forms are intertwined with the current political landscape in which the imagery of anxiety, suspicion, war, and torture has become part of daily life. FromEnemy of the State and The Bourne Series to Saw, CachéandZero Dark Thirty, Surveillance Cinemaexplores in detail the narrative tropes and stylistic practices that characterize contemporary films and television series about surveillance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7685-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Surveillance Cinema in Theory and Practice
    (pp. 1-30)

    In Paris, a video camera’s unblinking gaze fixes on the exterior of a bourgeois home and eventually leads to the disintegration of two families. An American labor attorney sprints through a Washington, D.C., high-rise hotel as he evades satellite surveillance and NSA assassins seeking to cover up the political murder of a congressman. A webcam in Portland documents the torture and death of kidnap victims, while each visitor to the host website hastens the death of the subject and each site “hit” thus becomes a literal act of violence. A terrorist attack in New Orleans is prevented by an experimental...

  6. 1 Video Surveillance, Torture Porn, and Zones of Indistinction
    (pp. 31-72)

    Since Alfred Hitchcock’sPsychoand Michael Powell’sPeeping Tomredefined cinematic terror in the 1960s, there has been a prevalence of surveillance narratives within the horror and “erotic thriller” arenas. The psychosexual slasher as offered up by those films became a central figure of monstrosity for years to come, and in these foundational texts as well as the films that followed, the violence and narrative structure are defined by voyeuristic stalking well before any knife is raised or blood spilled. From Norman Bates’s peephole inPsychoand Mark Lewis’s 16mm camera inPeeping Tom, on through the closed-circuit television systems...

  7. 2 Commodified Surveillance: First-Person Cameras, the Internet, and Compulsive Documentation
    (pp. 73-114)

    Despite the historical understanding of surveillance as an instrument of institutional or political power, it is by now commonplace to note that surveillance—in practice, in representation, and in critical discourse—is no longer something that can be discussed in the mode of a purely unidirectional or top-down activity in which surveillance is something donebythe state, the market, or the voyeuristic predatortothe citizen, the consumer, or the victim. While it is certainly true that state authorities surveil individuals and that companies track consumer activity, the proliferation of these practices are attended by the corollary, though far...

  8. 3 The Global Eye: Satellite, GPS, and the “Geopolitical Aesthetic”
    (pp. 115-156)

    Political action-thrillers such asEagle Eye,The Bourne Ultimatum, and theMission: Impossibleseries, which make extensive aesthetic and structural use of satellite imaging and global positioning systems to construct tales of international espionage, constitute some of the most recognizable examples of surveillance cinema. And unlike the great majority of the films discussed in the prior chapters, they also seek to widen, rather than narrow, the focus of their surveillant gaze. At every level—massive budgets, expansive international distribution, casts of A-list celebrities, explosive action designed for a large-screen theatrical experience, the grand scale of their thematized surveillance operations and...

  9. 4 Temporality and Surveillance I: Terrorism Narratives and the Melancholic Security State
    (pp. 157-180)

    The politics of the films discussed in the preceding chapter were characterized largely in spatial terms. But the politics of surveillance are also structured by considerations of time. The temporal logic of surveillance is one that cinematic narrative production accesses in pronounced ways, insofar as narrative itself is based upon the ordering of events, and thus a number of surveillance films point to the temporal aspects of broader surveillance structures. Temporality, as was already clear in Chapter One’s discussion of the temporality of video surveillance and its function as a narrative “zone of indistinction,” is integral to a number of...

  10. 5 Temporality and Surveillance II: Surveillance, Remediation, and Social Memory in Strange Days
    (pp. 181-208)

    Thomas Levin has suggested that the surveillance cinema of the 1990s represents a kind of technological and rhetorical flashpoint in which cinematic narration becomes increasingly intertwined with surveillant narration.¹ Technologically—and this is central to both cinema and surveillance—the 1990s served as a theoretical and practical transition between analog and digital modes. Within film and media studies, the phenomenological, aesthetic, and philosophical assessment of this transition has dominated theoretical circles since that time, prompting a return to (and myriad reformulations of) critic and theorist André Bazin’s still pivotal question: “What is cinema?”¹ On the surveillance front, the exponential expansion...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-220)

    In the spirit of the temporalities outlined in the preceding two chapters, it seems appropriate to follow up with a few words about chronology and retroaction that, summed up with a certain crude extremity, might simply be this: I take it back. The concluding chapter on Strange Days was actually one of the first to have been written, in somewhat different form.¹ Though I am still invested in the political and theoretical arguments offered therein, my impulse to end the book with a bit of optimism and “possibility” should not be read as either my most recent thoughts or my...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 221-250)
    (pp. 251-260)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 261-272)
    (pp. 273-273)