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The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded

The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded

Edited by Wanda Strauven
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded
    Book Description:

    What have Lumière in common with Wachowski? More than one hundred years separate these two pairs of brothers who astonished, quite similarly, the film spectator of their respective time with special effects of movement: a train rushing into the audience and a bullet flying in slow motion. Do they belong to the same family of "cinema of attractions"? Twenty years ago Tom Gunning introduced the phrase "cinema of attractions" to define the essence of the earliest films made between 1895 and 1906. His term scored an immediate success, even outside the field of early cinema. The present anthology questions the attractiveness and usefulness of the term for both pre-classical and post-classical cinema. With contributions by the most prominent scholars of this discipline (such as Tom Gunning, André Gaudreault, Thomas Elsaesser, Charles Musser, Scott Bukatman and Vivian Sobchack) this volume offers a kaleidoscopic overview of an important historiographical debate. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0553-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-10)
    Wanda Strauven
  4. Introduction to an Attractive Concept
    (pp. 11-28)
    Wanda Strauven

    Die Grosse Attraktion (Max Reichmann, 1931), Nie yuan (Keqing Chen & Kuang-chi Tu, 1952), Novyy attraktsion (Boris Dolin, 1957), L’Attrazione (Mario Gariazzo, 1987), Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987), Atração Satânica (Fauzi Mansur, 1990), Attrazione pericolosa (Bruno Mattei, 1993), Family Attraction (Brian Hecker, 1998), The Last Big Attraction (Hopwood DePree, 1999), The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002), Animal Attraction (Keith Hooker, 2004), Futile Attraction (Mark Prebble, 2004), Laws of Attraction (Peter Howitt, 2004). This is just a selection of movie titles that over the last seventy-five years have ensured the film spectator diegetic attractions; from shorts to feature length films; from...

  5. Theory Formation: [“The Cinema of Attractions”]

    • Attractions: How They Came into the World
      (pp. 31-40)
      Tom Gunning

      Someone once said (it might even have been me) that historians begin by studying history and end by becoming part of it. Bearing in mind that oblivion remains the ultimate fate of most writing (and even publishing), and hopefully avoiding a hubristic perspective, I would like to embed my concept of the cinema of attractions, or at least the writing of the essays that launched it, in a historical context, largely based on personal memory. That, rather than a defense or further explanation of the term, forms the modest ambition of this essay, which will hopefully provide an additional context...

    • A Rational Reconstruction of “The Cinema of Attractions”
      (pp. 41-56)
      Warren Buckland

      In this chapter I aim to rationally reconstruct (in the sense defined by Sklar above) the conceptual structure of, and assumptions underlying, Tom Gunning’s essay “The Cinema of Attractions.” I use Rudolf Botha’s philosophical study into the conduct of inquiry to analyze the way Gunning formulates conceptual and empirical problems and how he deproblematizes them.² In terms of my reconstruction strategies, I shall rearrange the parts of Gunning’s essay according to the four central activities Botha identifies in the formulation of theoretical problems: (1) Analyzing the problematic state of affairs; (2) Describing the problematic state of affairs; (3) Constructing problems;...

    • The Cinema of Attractions as Dispositif
      (pp. 57-70)
      Frank Kessler

      Raymond Bellour once characterized Christian Metz’sGrande Syntagmatiqueas an “opérateur théorique,” a theoretical operator, because to him this widely discussed model of a cinematic code actualized the possibility of a semiotics of cinema “by bringing its virtualness onto a material level.”¹ In a similar, though obviously different manner, the concept of “cinema of attractions” has become such a theoretical operator by creating a framework thanks to which early cinema could be seen as an object different from classical narrative cinema, as something which was not justearlycinema, that is an earlier form of what cinema was to become,...

    • Spectacle, Attractions and Visual Pleasure
      (pp. 71-82)
      Scott Bukatman

      The impact of Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” continues to be widely felt, well beyond the parameters of film studies. Debates around its premises and methods continue; and it remains a fundament of film theory. Since it appeared in 1975,¹ the only essay that has come to rival it in the breadth and depth of its influence, has been Tom Gunning’s “The Cinema of Attraction(s): Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.”² The rise to prominence of Gunning’s essay mirrored (and helped instigate) the shift in film studies away from a theoretical model grounded in the analysis of...

  6. Attraction Theories and Terminologies: [“Early Film”]

    • From “Primitive Cinema” to “Kine-Attractography”
      (pp. 85-104)
      André Gaudreault

      In the late 1970s, a new generation of film scholars set themselves the task of re-examining from top to bottom the period of cinema’s emergence. This did not fail to provoke major upheavals within the – quite young – discipline of “cinema studies,” which had only recently been admitted to university and was still far from having acquired complete legitimacy. What is more, the forceful arrival of this enquiry into the “source” most certainly contributed to the remarkable reversal witnessed within the discipline in the 1980s, when questions of filmhistorytook their place alongside questions of filmtheory. For...

    • From “Primitive Cinema” to “Marvelous”
      (pp. 105-120)
      Wanda Strauven

      In 1912, three years after the foundation of the Futurist movement, F.T. Marinetti acknowledges in his literary program the wonderful mechanics of cinema and its possible inspiration for the new generation of Futurist poets. Marinetti seems to be intrigued by the mechanical writing of the new medium, or rather by the transformation it induces from human to non-human, from man to matter. On screen, human movements are turned into “movements of matter which are beyond the laws of human intelligence, and hence of an essence which is more significant.” In the Futurist poetics, theorized by Marinetti in three successive manifestos,²...

    • The Attraction of the Intelligent Eye: Obsessions with the Vision Machine in Early Film Theories
      (pp. 121-138)
      Viva Paci

      One of the key elements of the “new film history” which arose in the wake of the Brighton conference in 1978 was that it put forth amodel of attractions, one both heuristic and quite real at the same time; the tenets of this model and where it has led us today are the subjects of the present volume. This simultaneously theoretical and archaeological concept has produced another way of thinking about the relationship between viewer and film, taking as its starting point precisely the web of relationships found in early cinema and its connection to the era’s popular entertainments...

    • Rhythmic Bodies/Movies: Dance as Attraction in Early Film Culture
      (pp. 139-156)
      Laurent Guido

      At the turn of the 20th century, cinema emerged in a context marked by the vast expansion of interest in bodily movement, at the crossroads of aesthetic and scientific preoccupations. Already developed by Enlightenment philosophers and Romantic poets, the quest for the origins of nonverbal language and mime permeated the discussion of disciplines such as psychology or anthropology,¹ which were in the process of being institutionalized. Furthermore, new images of the body were created and distributed via experimental sciences, which considered the mechanism of physical movement as stemming from circulation and energy consumption. Therefore, the 1882 founding of the Station...

  7. Audiences and Attractions: [“Its Spectator”]

    • A Cinema of Contemplation, A Cinema of Discernment: Spectatorship, Intertextuality and Attractions in the 1890s
      (pp. 159-180)
      Charles Musser

      This present anthology confirms what has been obvious for some time: the turn of phrase “cinema of attractions” has captured the enthusiastic attention of the film studies community as well as a wide range of scholars working in visual culture. It has not only provided a powerful means of gaining insight into important aspects of early cinema but served as a gloss for those seeking a quick, up-to-date understanding of its cultural gestalt. In his many articles on the topic, Tom Gunning has counterposed the cinema of attractions to narrative, arguing that before 1903-04 or perhaps 1907-08, cinema has been...

    • The Lecturer and the Attraction
      (pp. 181-192)
      Germain Lacasse

      “Come here! Come here! Ladies and gentlemen, come to see the most surprising and exciting fairground attraction, the cinematograph.” Such was the commentary of dozens, if not of hundreds of barkers (bonisseurs¹) in front of theaters where the first “animated photographs” were presented all over the globe circa 1895. They invited passers-by to come to experience a “state of shock.” This expression is appropriate to portray the first film spectator because the views represented the quintessence of what art historians have named the distraction, which characterized modernity, and that cinema historians have named “cinema of attractions.”

      Still, the ambivalence of...

    • Integrated Attractions: Style and Spectatorship in Transitional Cinema
      (pp. 193-204)
      Charlie Keil

      In the twenty years since “the cinema of attractions” introduced a compelling periodization schema predicated on an attentiveness to early cinema’s formal norms, the exact nature of the attraction’s relationship to narrative remains open to debate. Linda Williams has suggested that “[Tom] Gunning’s notions of attraction and astonishment have caught on […] because, in addition to being apt descriptions of early cinema, they describe aspects of all cinema that have also been undervalued in the classical paradigm”³; according to this account, attractions stand as a refutation of classicism’s reliance on causality and its appeal to a viewer’s problem-solving capabilities. But...

    • Discipline through Diegesis: The Rube Film between “Attractions” and “Narrative Integration”
      (pp. 205-224)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      “Life imitates the movies” is a phrase that nowadays only raises eyebrows because it is so clichéd. But one of the conclusions one can draw from this truism is that if we are in some sense already “in” the cinema with what we can say “about” it, then the cinema needs atheorythat can account for the historical processes that put us “inside,” and ahistorythat takes account of the ontological anxieties to which this interchangeability of inside and outside gives rise.

      In what follows I want to treat this sense of “life” imitating “the cinema” rather than...

  8. Attraction Practices through History: [“The Avant-Garde”: section 1]

    • Circularity and Repetition at the Heart of the Attraction: Optical Toys and the Emergence of a New Cultural Series
      (pp. 227-244)
      Nicolas Dulac and André Gaudreault

      For nearly 200 years the term “attraction” has seen a host of semantic and theoretical shifts, becoming today one of the key concepts in cinema studies. According to theOxford English Dictionary, the meaning of “attraction” as a “thing or feature which draws people by appealing to their desires, tastes, etc.,esp. any interesting or amusing exhibition which ‘draws’ crowds” dates from as early as 1829 (“These performances, although possessing much novelty, did not prove sterling attractions”). This sense of attraction as something which “draws crowds” had by the 1860s come to mean both an “interesting and amusing exhibition” and...

    • Lumière, the Train and the Avant-Garde
      (pp. 245-264)
      Christa Blümlinger

      The history of cinema began with a train, and it is as if this train has been driving into film history every since; as if destined to return unendingly, it criss-crosses the Lumière films and their ghost train journeys, it drives the phantom rides of early cinema and is then embraced with open arms by the avant-garde as one of the primary motifs of thecinématographe, a motif which, more than almost any other, allows us to engage with the modern experience of visuality. Thus it is no coincidence that the development of an independent language of film can be...

    • Programming Attractions: Avant-Garde Exhibition Practice in the 1920s and 1930s
      (pp. 265-280)
      Malte Hagener

      The cinema program – the sequence of films and numbers within a circumscribed performance space and time – has recently become a focus of film historical research, mostly in relation to early cinema.¹ The program, at least until the 1960s, was an integral and vital part of film exhibition and therefore of the reality of cinema-going. Most often, the implicit (or explicit) imperative of cinema programs was to create a harmonious and well-rounded whole in which the constituent elements (entire films and live addresses, outtakes and excerpts, musical interludes and stage spectacles) would blend into one another in order to...

    • The Associational Attractions of the Musical
      (pp. 281-288)
      Pierre-Emmanuel Jaques

      In use again in the 1980s, the concept of attraction first provided a way to analyze the discourse features of early cinema. However, since his first article on this concept, Tom Gunning has not failed to note that attractions, far from disappearing with the development of integrated narrative cinema, continue to exist within certain genres: “In fact the cinema of attraction does not disappear with the dominance of narrative, but rather goes underground, both into certain avant-garde practices and as a component of narrative films, more evident in some genres (e.g. the musical) than in others.”¹ In the same article,...

  9. Digital Media and (Un)Tamed Attractions: [“The Avant-Garde”: section 2]

    • Chez le Photographe c’est chez moi: Relationship of Actor and Filmed Subject to Camera in Early Film and Virtual Reality Spaces
      (pp. 291-308)
      Alison McMahan

      In the original formulation of the cinema of attractions theory, Tom Gunning and André Gaudreault conceived of the attractions phase as a mode of film practice discernible before the development of classical cinematic editing and narration. InAlice Guy Blaché, Lost Visionary of the CinemaI argued, building on work by Charles Musser,¹ that attractions represent only one possible approach to filmmaking in the earliest phase of cinema. Another approach, characterized by a sophisticated use of on- and off-screen space, was in full use at the same time – most notably in some of the earliest one-shot films produced at...

    • The Hollywood Cobweb: New Laws of Attraction (The Spectacular Mechanics of Blockbusters)
      (pp. 309-320)
      Dick Tomasovic

      The metaphor is not new: the cinema, like a cobweb, traps the spectator’s gaze. This quasi-hypnotic preoccupation of the image rules nowadays contemporary Hollywood production, and more specifically what forms today a type of film as precise as large, the blockbuster. If the analysis of these extremely popular, very big budget entertainment films, produced in the heart of new intermediality, can be based mainly on questions of intertextuality,¹ it can also, far from any definitive definition, be fuelled by a rich and complex network of notions which carries along in its modern rush the term of attraction.

      During the 1980s,...

    • Figures of Sensation: Between Still and Moving Images
      (pp. 321-336)
      Eivind Røssaak

      It was Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten’sAesthetica(1750), which gave the new discipline of aesthetics its name. Aesthetics was concerned with a special faculty of perception that Baumgarten titled “sensuous knowledge” (cognitio sensitiva). In contrast to clear and distinct conceptual knowledge, sensuous knowledge is acognitio confusa, a confused knowledge form. “It is not aimed at distinctions; it pursues an animated intertwinement of aspects even when it is a matter of a stationary object. It lingers at a process of appearing,” Martin Seel remarks.¹ These processes of aesthetic appearing involve compounds of sensation or what I will call figures of sensation....

    • “Cutting to the Quick”: Techne, Physis, and Poiesis and the Attractions of Slow Motion
      (pp. 337-352)
      Vivian Sobchack

      In “Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century,” a remarkable essay that furthers his investigation of “attraction” and “astonishment,” Tom Gunning asks two related questions: first, “What happens in modernity to the initial wonder at a new technology or device when the novelty has faded into the banality of the everyday?”³; and second, “Once understood, does technology ever recover something of its original strangeness?”⁴ Although it has attracted and astonished us since the beginnings of cinema, in what follows I want to explore the particular appeal of “slow motion” cinematography as it...

  10. Dossier

    • Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy
      (pp. 355-364)
      Donald Crafton

      Whether judged by production statistics, by contemporary critical acclaim, by audience popularity or by retrospective opinions, it is abundantly clear that the American silent film comedy (in its two-reel and its feature version) was flourishing in the mid-twenties, and that it rivaled the drama as the dominant form of cinematic expression. My aim is to rethink the function of the gag in relation to the comic film as a classical system – not to examine or catalogue all the possible variations of the gag (as joke, as articulation of cinematic space, or as thematic permutations¹), but rather to examine its...

    • Early Cinema as a Challenge to Film History
      (pp. 365-380)
      André Gaudreault and Tom Gunning

      In 1927, Boris Eichenbaum claimed for theory the right to become history.³ In 1969, in this very same room here in Cerisy, Gérard Genette affirmed it was more a necessity than a right: “a necessity,” he said, “that originates from the movement itself and from the needs of the theoretical work.”⁴ In his paper, Genette tried to explain why what he calls the “history of forms” took so long to establish itself. Along with a number of circumstantial factors, Genette stressed two causes that we would like to take into consideration. Let’s let him speak: “The first of these causes...

    • The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde
      (pp. 381-388)
      Tom Gunning

      Writing in 1922, flushed with the excitement of seeing Abel Gance’s La Roue, Fernand Léger tried to define something of the radical possibilities of the cinema. The potential of the new art did not lie in “imitating the movements of nature” or in “the mistaken path” of its resemblance to theater. Its unique power was a “matter ofmaking images seen.”¹ It is precisely this harnessing of visibility, this act of showing and exhibition, which I feel cinema before 1906 displays most intensely. [Its] inspiration for the avant-garde of the early decades of this century needs to be re-explored.


    • Rethinking Early Cinema: Cinema of Attractions and Narrativity
      (pp. 389-416)
      Charles Musser

      We are in the midst of a multiyear centennial celebration of cinema’s beginnings. Motion pictures had their first première just over one hundred years ago, on 9 May 1893, when George M. Hopkins gave a lecture on Thomas A. Edison’s new motion picture system, the kinetoscope and kinetograph camera, at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science. When the lecture concluded, at least two twenty-second films were shown: Blacksmithing Scene and Horse Shoeing. Four hundred people in attendance lined up in front of Edison’s peep-hole kinetoscope and one by one looked into the viewer and saw one of these two...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 417-420)
  12. General Bibliography
    (pp. 421-434)
  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 435-444)
  14. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 445-450)
  15. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 451-460)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 461-463)