Vol. XXXIX, No. 2 – New Approaches to Cinematic Identification
The Vicarious Look, or Andy Warhol’s Apparatus Theory
by Damon R. Young
The so-called “apparatus theory” that developed in France, England and the US in the 1970s, moving beyond formalist and aesthetic approaches, produced an analysis of the structural conditions (technological, social and economic) of the cinema. The concept of voyeurism was central to those accounts: the “cinematic apparatus” aligns the spectator’s look with the “all-seeing” look of the camera (the famous “primary identification” theorized by Metz). In offering him a “vicarious look” onto a world to which he is not responsible, the apparatus constructs the spectator, through technical means, as a voyeur: he (for this position was also shown to be gendered) sees without being seen. Subsequent approaches in film and media theory have attempted to de-prioritize vision, invoking a spectator who is embodied, synesthetic, proprioceptive, or involved in an “intersubjective” exchange with the “film body.” Exploring the virtues and limitations of such approaches, this paper argues that the idea of a technically mediated “vicarious look” remains crucial to an account of the “cinematic apparatus” and suggests a basis for understanding post-cinematic media as well. The argument proceeds through an analysis of the films of Andy Warhol, which offer, it argues, a profound reflection on the very “ontology” of the medium. Warhol’s proto-strutural ‘60s films, in isolating the operations of primary identification, restored to those operations a sense of their erotic foundation. Treating Warhol not as a gay iconoclast but as a film theorist, and putting him as such in conversation with Metz and Baudry, as well as Stanley Cavell and Linda Williams, the paper argues—clearing up some misapprehensions about the term—that the ontological “voyeurism” of the cinematic apparatus, though not always specifically sexual, is fundamentally queer. Finally, it suggests that even as apparatus theory describes a set of technological and spectatorial conditions that are no longer paradigmatic, its signal achievement was to lay bare the relation of technological elements to psychically dense modes of subjectivity, a relation which (far from universal) is both historical and ideological. This in turn gives us a crucial foundation for asking in what ways post-cinematic media produce a new orientation of, and technical infrastructure for, desire.
Gifts of Ubiquity
by James J. Hodge
This essay examines the legacy of Christian Metz’s pioneering theorization of cinematic identification for cinema in the digital age. Engaging recent work in film theory and digital media studies, this essay argues for the significance of non-visual forms of embodied address in Spike Jonze’s Her. The prominence of voice and amodal sensation in the film generally correlate with the non-visual and generally indirect address of digital media, which predominately operate at scales and speeds beyond human perception and cognition yet continue to affect human experience.
New Food Documentary: Animals, Identification, and the Citizen Consumer
by Belinda Smaill
The last decade has seen an increase in feature length documentaries concerned with the food system and a crisis of industrialization. Frequently, animals, animal slaughter and meat are posed as a preeminent site of food crisis. This essay aims to both map this new cycle of documentary and to explore how the relationship between meat and animals is organized poetically and aesthetically in the films, producing particular modes of identification for the viewer. It focuses on a selection of films including Food, Inc. (2008), King Corn (2007), Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), Our Daily Bread (2005) and The Moo Man (2012). I identify three sites of identification across this cluster that invite the viewer to engage with the intimate sensory process by which “things” become edible or inedible, empathize with the human body of the consumer, and identify anthropomorphically with animals. In each case, I argue, the films address a “citizen food consumer,” inviting both an embodied and a social response to the problem of food and its relation to the materiality of animals. This chapter draws on the work of scholars such as Elizabeth Cowie, Bill Nichols and Vivian Sobchack to develop an approach that synthesizes approaches to documentary film and phenomenology in the social context of ethical consumption.
Tenuous Frames: Ming Wong’s Persona Performa
by Homay King
The Singaporean contemporary artist Ming Wong extends his work in film, video, installation, and live performance along a path taken by R. W. Fassbinder, Tom Kalin, Todd Haynes and others: he revisits the cinemas of Hollywood and the European New Wave with the aim of teasing out these films’ latent queer, brown, and politically subversive elements. In Wong’s work, though, the performing body is not simply a means for inserting queer and ethnic identities into canonical films; it is a vehicle through which identity is rendered impersonal, collective, unstable, and transitional. This essay traces these ideas through Wong’s Persona Performa (2011), a work of film, video installation, and live performance, mounted at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, that enacts a critical transformation to Bergman’s 1966 film. Wong’s gesture continues a theme that was already present in Bergman’s film, that of the tenuousness of singular personhood.
This Was Not Cinema: Judgment, Action, and Barbara Hammer
by John David Rhodes
In this essay I work with Kant’s theory of aesthetic judgment, Hannah Arendt’s theory of human action, and Linda Zerilli’s theory of judgment, developed from her own readings of both Kant and Arendt, as being integral to politics (and to feminist politics, in particular), in order to think about filmmaking as a mode of action because it is a mode of judgment. Barbara Hammer’s filmmaking offers an especially useful territory for examining the possibility that making a film might be a mode of acting, given that her accounts of her filmmaking practice emphasize the organizing role that judgment plays in her practice. Hammer’s films, which have often been celebrated for their representational dimensions, and in particular their vivid and challenging representation of lesbian lives and lesbian sex, are, I argue, also powerful demonstrations and enactments of aesthetic judgment as a mode of action.