Aspects of the Fuller online essay reminded me of the Pickford Paradox article we read last week. Specifically, it was the contrast between early film’s visual vocabulary and contemporary videogame’s almost identical aesthetic, i.e., the noticeable similarities of an older medium with a newer one— and how in Fuller’s article she referred to how early audiences were initially considered “raucus” (76) and how film was considered by many 20th century denizens as a “narcotic.” All of this helped me realize, “Hey!, this sounds a-heck-ov-alot like Youtube!” Although this analogy may be imperfect, a lot of similarities still hold. Youtube, like early early film, isn’t viewed in a stately theatre, but is instead seen in a public environment, with friends, who may or may not be cavorting, conversing and complaining all at the same time. It is, in part, this communal element of Youtube and the benefit of sharing new video gems with friends, that make Youtube so popular, and perhaps was what also helped early film-going be so compelling in the first place. Returning to the previously mentioned second parallelism, that of early film/ new visual media being a narcotic, I’ve had many a friend who disabled Facebook because of its addictive nature, and others who equally avoided frequenting Youtube due to a similar concern. Whether these fears, modern or old, were ever justified is certainly up for debate. But, nonetheless, these parallelisms do exist and, perhaps, can even help us understand better audiences’ degree of engagement with visual media, and how boundaries of participation have been established throughout film’s history.
Discussing the differences between the cinema of attraction and the narrative films that followed, I believe that both provide its audience with realism, but from opposite ends of the realism spectrum. That is to say that the cinema of attraction draws upon realism in its visuals while narrative films utilize realism via psychology and through character motivation. To clarify, I am definitely not stating that all of the cinema of attraction’s visual are purely grounded in realism. Melies’ illusions and camera tricks attempt to defy a degree of realism. They attempt to awe and encourage us. as an audience, to marvel at the ingenuity behind its inner-workings. What I want to say is that the visuals can be deemed realistic due to their attention to detail. An even better example than Melies’ illusions is a Lumiere actuality entitled Baby’s Lunch. In the background of this actuality (if I remember correctly), one can see the subtleties of leaves swaying with the wind. It is those details, the barely perceptible yet pristine motion, and the newness of film as a medium that astonished viewers and maintained their engagement and convinced them of film’s realism. With the arrival of narrative, on the other hand, the importance of visuals diminishes. The subtleties of everyday life may make their way into the frame in these narrative films, but they are no longer the focus of the film but instead an ancillary element augmenting another type of realism: an internal realism that is dependent upon characters and their goals.
A crucial element of any discussion of Lumiere’s Arrival of a Train is the division between reality and fiction. Did the spectators truly belief the train was real and endangering their safety or were they aware of the illusion and its mechanisms? Was it just the realism of the image that was so surprising? Either way, I’m curious as to how early audiences reacted to the lack of colors in the images. To a modern viewer, the black and white images immediately signify a more primitive era of filmmaking. They represent a different style of editing, which is slower and therefore, for the modern viewer, less believable and, unfortunately, often considered less captivating as well. My question then is to what extent did the audience members notice the lack of color in the black and white images. Did they fill in the color mentally? When Gunning quotes Blackton and his description of the “belching smoke and fire” that he insures the audience will see, did audience members actually go on to create and envision the reds and oranges and yellows that are necessary to bring such imagery to life? Did they not associate the images with the still photographs that were so common during the time period? I’m not sure, but if there’s more discussion of the psychological phenomenon that the audience must have undergone and its relation to mental imaging and color, I’d be interested in hearing about it (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
I agree, from reading and watching the clips linked to the article, that there does indeed appear to be a shared visual vocabulary between early film and the birth of contemporary video games. As a writer and a storyteller, I’m curious how this vocabulary affected early filmgoers and affects modern-day gamers’ understanding of narrative. Along these lines, the visual vocabulary common in early film is an assortment of images of escape. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd run over and around a variety of obstacles to avoid capture. In said medium, the viewer associates with and roots for the protagonist. The audience, like the protagonist, is undergoing the challenge of escaping an antagonizing force, but it is doing so passively, from a physical standpoint, in that the spectator is seated and his or her own movements do not affect the film’s plot. With video games, on the other hand, the viewer interacts with narrative conversely, physically manipulating the character with simple hand movements, but never truly creating a paralleled relationship with the character and his goals. I say this not because the gamer does not feel like he is associating with the character or carrying out the character’s actions, but because the goals never belong to the character. They are merely a facet of the game and its gameplay. In simpler terms, I want to say early videogames dictated their own objectives: to get from screen left to screen right or whatever they may have been— and the characters had no real influence over said objectives.
Starting off with the more obvious, hopefully moving onto deeper complexities, the entire film is based upon the belief that the medium of film is definable and therefore well suited for parody. It depicts audience members with expectations, who enter a cinema with an understanding of film as a medium. These audience members view film as a group of genres, each genre with its own genre standards, and are willing to voice their displeasure when these expectations are not met. The resulting effect is comic. It is a continuous intellectual mind-game. The actual-real-blood-and-flesh audience, in my circumstance being me, in your circumstance being you, is constantly aware of the film’s reflexivity, how it is commenting upon its own existence and creation, and said audience derives its pleasure and its laughs from possessing this privileged knowledge. We are all in on the game. We all know the secret to the magic trick. And yet, we still find ourselves being members of the audience, watching a film with a plot and a drama whose ending we are anticipating but are yet unaware of. We probably do not foresee that the film is going to end with Cecilia returning to her old miseries and with Baxter reentering the silver screen, but if we were to pause the film, literally, and contemplate the plot’s direction and the dramatic questions it proposes we would realize the following: firstly, that the film’s genre although slippery and difficult to get a hold of, could most likely be defined as a Romantic Comedy inverted and flipped on its end. That is to say, instead of being about an unlikely couple meeting each other, disliking each other and then inevitably falling in and out of love until we end happily-ever-ever-after, the pattern is reversed. We begin with love-at-first-sight— with two people hopelessly desiring the other— instead of with loathing and conflict, and therefore the film must also end with the opposite. The pattern is reversed. The reversion to a degenerated and depressed life is predictable and makes sense considering the trajectory of the story’s arc. Secondly and along the same lines, a crucial dramatic question is whether and when Tom Baxter will reenter the silver screen. To have a satisfying resolution, the film must answer this question and have Tom choose and make a permanent decision—i.e., to live in the real world or to solely exist fictionally. From there, we must ask what is most satisfying for the viewer’s experience. I would conclude as the film’s writers did, that it is more interesting visually and dramatically if Tom is able and forced to re-traverse the silver plane. But such a response is subjective. The point being is that The Purple Rose of Cairo recognizes that the medium of film is reflexive and that it has an audience that is willing to question and analyze the medium of a film as a medium while taking part on its adventure and thrills. That is the secret to the beauty and humor of the film.