First person shot. Technology and New Forms of Subjectivity in Post-cinema Landscape Prof. Ruggero Eugeni (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan)
Paper originally presented at the Conference ―The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Historiography and Theory of Cinema‖ Montreal, November 1-6 2011. This text, entirely re-written, is going to be published in « Techniques et Technologies. Modalités du dispositif cinématographique à travers l‘histoire », sous la direction d'André Gaudreault et Martin Lefebvre, Rennes, Presses Universitaire de Rennes, à paraitre.
1. Introduction In this article1, I will analyse a semiotic figure which is widespread within the contemporary audiovisual media landscape. I will call it "first person shot". First person shot appears in different occasions throughout different media: from combat videos recorded with helmet cams and distributed via Internet, to video surveillance footage reused in art installations; from video clips of live events taken with video cell phones and broadcasted by television news, to video games in first person, and many other more. In all these cases, two features characterize the instances responsible for the perceptual constitution of the diegetic world. On the one hand, they are clearly situated within the diegetic world and connected to a network of relationships with the objects and subjects who inhabit it; on the other hand they manifest a hybrid consistency, since they combine and alternate a subjective – bodily nature and an objective – mechanical one. The first feature resumes and amplifies a feature that is already present in the point of view shot, or subjective shot, of the classical and modern cinema; on the contrary, the second feature is radically new and typical of the intermedia and post – cinema landscape2. The presence and the combination of these two features define the first person shot beside the apparent multiplicity of its manifestations. In the next two sections I will consider first person shot as an audio-visual figure of style; consequently, I will reconstruct its technological and formal genealogy (section 2), I will define its basic characteristics
I had the chance of discussing this article with many friends and colleagues. I particularly thank Francesco Casetti, Elena Dagrada, Miriam De Rosa, Adriano D‘Aloia, Roberto de Gaetano, Vinzenz Hediger, Frank Kessler, Charo Lacalle and Antonio Somaini for their useful hints. 2 PETHÖ Á. (ed.), Film in the Post-Media Age, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. 1
and draw a typology of its forms (section 3). In Section 4, I will rather assume first person shot as a figure of thought; more precisely, I will argue that it translates into audio-visual forms a specific idea of subjective identity and its constitution, which is found in various areas of contemporary research including film studies. Finally, my Conclusions will be devoted to a short discussion about the relationships between the two aspects of first person shot. 2. For a genealogy of first person shot First person shot derives from five major technological and stylistic innovations that have affected the media landscape since the beginning of the eighties. The first one is the introduction of the Steadicam, marketed in 1975 but used extensively from the beginning of the eighties. During these years, many film directors have used Steadicams in order to reinvent the classical tracking shot3. Moreover, the new television series of the nineties have made extensive use of Steadicams, which proved to be the ideal means to smoothly pass through confined spaces, such as police stations rooms, hospital corridors, etc. Steadicam implies a "subjective" gaze of the camera: in other words, it expresses a perceptive and active grasp of reality, and therefore it manifests a living, lived, ongoing process of experience, made by an embodied and embedded subject4. A second innovation is the introduction of portable digital cameras at the beginning of the nineties. On the one hand digital cameras reached an image quality close to that of movie equipments; on the other hand the lightness of the devices allowed operators to re-enact hand-held camera practices, typical of militant cinema, combat film or anthropological movies. These processes were intensively exploited in information shootings and video documentaries; at the same time, they became assets of docudrama or mockumentary productions, before being finally included in both independent and mainstream feature films. Consequently, many expressive forms manifesting a situated and active presence of the cameraman within the framed world (shaky cameras, "dirty" quality of the images, over and underexposures, etc.) are currently widespread in documentaries and protest film, television series5,
Steadicam was used for the first time in Bound for Glory (Al Ashby, USA, 1976). Among other notable films using steadicams, consider at least The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, USA – GB, 1980), Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1995), La mort en direct (Deathwatch, Bertrand Tavernier, Fr. - West Ger. - UK, 1980), Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma, USA, 1998), The Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, Russia - Germany, 2002) Elephant (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2003). 4 ―What is unique about the Steadicam as a tool for reproducing our vision is the continual balancing that gives it the same stability as our head on our body, for which we can be likened to a good tripod with a stable and movable ‗pan head‘. […] The most important characteristic of the Steadicam is the quality of movement it gives: movement which is not perceived through its defects, but rather through its perfection […]‖ FERRARA S., Steadicam. Techniques and Aesthetics, Oxford – Woburn (Mass.), Focal Press, 2001, p. 19-20 and 73. 5 Like for instance Homicide, created by Paul Attanasio, from 1993 to 1999; Lars von Trier's Riget , from 1994 to 1995; The Shield, created by Shawn Ryan since 2002, and many others. 3
action and war movies6, reality TV shows, viral web videos, horror movies pretending to be the assembly of found footage materials, which survived the operator‘s death7, etc. A third innovation is the introduction of miniaturized digital cameras, such as helmet cameras (invented in 1987 by Mark Schulze, a director of photography from San Diego, with the aim of shooting motorcycle racings), lipstick cameras, combat cameras fixed on weapons, video cameras integrated into cellular telephones, personal computers webcams, and so on. Once again, these devices exhibit a strong and direct involvement of the subject within the actions that are represented. Videos produced by this type of micro-cameras are today widespread, especially throughout the web: think for example of videos produced during military combat; their homemade parodies or remakes; car or motorcycle accidents recorded from the point of view of the victims; the video genre of ―urban explorations‖; historical events captured "live" with the cell phone8 (earthquakes in Japan or Turkey, revolts in the North Africa countries, the death of Qaddafi, just to mention some recent cases), etc. The fourth area of technological innovation that has influenced the establishment of the first person shot is that of surveillance technologies. Since the late nineties, digital technology pushed up the market of CCTV (Close Circuit Televisions), thanks to three factors: most sensitive sensors, the possibility of controlling multiple cameras simultaneously, and a significant reduction of prices9. These cameras (the so-called "pinhole video cameras", miniature still cameras, spy cameras, etc.) were easy to connect to digital communication networks, thus enabling remote video surveillance of public and private spaces. As a result, video monitored areas spread rapidly and, at the same time, watching surveillance video shootings became a common practice, especially on computers and portable devices, both for practical purposes and for pure entertainment10. Also surveillance cameras manifest the situated presence of the shooting devices within the framed world; moreover, the possibility for the watcher to re-frame the shot (with zooms and pans) highlights the active nature of the involved perceptual practices. See for example Saving the Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, USA 1998), Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, USA, 2001), The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 2008), etc. 7 Let‘s remind The Blair Witch Proiect (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, USA, 1999), Rec and Rec II (Jaime Balaguer and Paco Plaza, Sp., 2007 and 2009), The Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, USA, 2007), Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, USA, 2007) and its sequels, Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, USA, 2008), etc. Consider also the television series inspired by the same aesthetical criteria, such as The river (Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli, Usa, 2012). 8 On this last phenomenon, see AMBROSINI M., MAINA G., MARCHESCHI E., I film in tasca: videofonino, cinema e televisione, Ghezzano, Felici Editore, 2009, and ODIN R. (ed.), « Il cinema nell‘epoca del videofonino », Bianco e Nero, 568, settembredicembre 2010, p. 5-92. 9 PETERSEN J. K., Understanding surveillance technologies. Spy Devices, Their Origins and Applications, Boca Raton – London – New York – Washington, CRC Press, 2001. It‘s worth pointing out that the uses of video surveillance cameras are different and heterogeneous: they are used to monitor public and semi-public spaces (hotels, art galleries, etc..), road traffic and weather conditions, domestic environment, etc. Furthermore, the use of video control extends to the use of scientific observation of phenomena, the aerial surveillance and remote areas, remote control of automatized tools and weapons (such as military drones), video cameras placed on robotic devices managed by a human operator (with military or surgical purposes, etc.), or on the back of cars to control the reversing, etc. 10 For example, many apps for Iphone and Ipad (such as Live Cams by Eggman Technologies) allow the users to watch on their mobile devices thousands of public or private surveillance cameras shootings. 6
The fifth innovation responsible for the emergence of the first person shot is the development of video games which are playable in first person with sufficient speed, fluidity and realism11. Within the video game domain, the term ―first person shot‖ refers to the possibility for the player to perform the actions planned by the game, keeping the visual and aural position of a specific character, whose body isn‘t usually entirely visible and which is commonly called "avatar". Three videogames genres normally use this figure: the shooters, the vehicle (flight, drive tanks, racing) simulators, and some graphic adventure games. The roots of these genres are established in the seventies with games such as Maze War (1973) and Spasim (1974); however, the first person shot videogames spread in the Nineties thanks to Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and its direct successor Doom12; the incredible success of the latter opened the doors to products such as Duke Nukem 3D (1996), Quake (1996), Half Life (1998). At the same time, the first-person point of view was adopted for many point-and-click graphic adventure games, in particular for the popular series opened by Myst (Cyan - Broderbund Software, 1993; it was followed during the following years by Riven and Myst III: Exile). Since the late nineties up today, first person videogames have been evolving in two directions: on the one hand they became more realistic, on the other hand videogame narrative designers contaminated shooters, adventure game and drive simulators. As a result, we find today a new generation of war games such as the Medal of Honor series (Dreamworks - Electronic Arts, since 1999), Call of Duty (Activision / Infinity Ward, since 2003), Crisis (since 2007); and a new kind of driver and racing simulators such as the Grand Theft Auto series (Zachary Jones & Dave Clarke, since 1997). Critical to my argument is the fact that the first person shot doesn‘t derive from a simple juxtaposition or superimposition of stylistic solutions resulting from the five areas of technological innovation highlighted above. Rather, it stems from a network of exchanges and loans involving different media agencies and actors – from mainstream cinema to independent television and video producers, from video game industry to the art world, from software programmers to prosumers‘ grassroot activities –. Notably, these different agencies have been progressively reproducing, simulating, transforming and
BRICE J., RUTTER J., « Spectacle of the Deathmatch: Character and Narrative in First-Person Shooters », KRZYWINSKA T, KING G. (eds.), ScreenPlay: Cinema/videogames/interfaces, London - New York, Wallflower Press, 2002, p. 66-80; MORRIS S., « First-Person Shooters - A Game Apparatus », in Krzywinska T., King G. (eds.), ScreenPlay, cit., p. 81-97; REHAC B., « Genre profile: First-Person Shooting Games », in WOLF M.J.P. (ed.), The Video Game Explosion. From PONG to Playstation and Beyond, Westport (Conn.) – London, Greenwod Press, 2008, p. 187- 195; NITSCHE M., Video Game Spaces. Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Game Worlds, Cambridge (Mass.) – London, The MIT Press, 2009; HERLANDER E., First Person Shooters. The Subjective Cyberspace, Covilha (Portugal), University of Beira Interior Labcom, 2009; VOORHEES G.A., CALL J., WHITLOCK K., Guns, Grenades, and Grunts: First-Person Shooter Games, London – New York, Continuum, 2012. On the relationships between video games and new media see the influential anthology WARDRIP-FRUIN N., HARRIGAN P. (eds.), First Person. New Media as Story, Performance and Game, Cambridge (Mass.) - London, The MIT Press, 2004. For a comparison between video games first person shot and analogous forms of subjective shot in early cinema, see MCMAHAN A., « Chez le Photographe c’est chez moi: Relationship of Actor and Filmed Subject to Camera in Early Film and Virtual Reality Spaces », in STRAUVEN W. (ed.), The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, Amsterdam, Amsterdam U.P., 2006, p. 291-308. 12 For many interesting observations on Doom‘s first person shot see MORRIS S., BITTANTI M. (eds.), Doom. Giocare in prima persona, Milano, Costa & Nolan, 2005. 11
hybridizing the single stylistic solutions resulting from the five sectors of technological innovation. The figure of the first person shot emerges precisely from this complex process of moulding that involves the entire network of audio-visual media. Therefore, if the point of view shot was a figure closely tied to cinema institution, the first person shot is a radically intermedial and post-cinematographic figure. In this regard, I make just a few examples. Firstly, the use of the Steadicam in Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1995) or Elephant (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2003) was inspired by first person shot videogames; similarly, many online videos shot with helmet cams are actually parodies of contemporary videogames. Conversely, various videogames reproduce hand-held camera effects, e.g. when the ―camera‖ follows the character along a war action or a football match. Moreover, CCTV and video surveillance devices were re-used in many artistic video installations13, in television information and docu-fiction, in tv crime series14, and became a critical feature of tv reality shows; moreover, surveillance shootings were simulated in many feature film, such as Raising Cain (Brian de Palma, USA, 1992), Enemy of the State (Tony Scott, USA 1992), Caché (Michael Haneke, France – Austria - Germany – Italy, 2005), and so on. Finally, we can find movies which reincorporate and recombine almost all the different technological tools mentioned above: a clear example is Redacted (Brian De Palma, USA, 2007). 3. For a definition of first person shot The different manifestations listed in the previous section may suggest that first person shot is a scarcely defined figure, a fuzzy concept or simply a label of a vague "family-resemblance". On the contrary, in this section I will argue that first person shot is a clearly defined figure, and that the same identification criteria enable to articulate a proper typology of its regimes. Two features define the first person shot. Firstly, the instance responsible for the perceptual constitution of the diegetic world is exhibited as bodily situated within itself, and as something or someone embedded in a network of living relations with subjects and objects that inhabit this very world. We can say that first person shot expresses an intentional stance of the subject of perception, and that in some cases this intentionality is reciprocated by the intended subjects and objects of the diegetic world: both one-way and two-way directions of relations can be indeed expressed.
LEVIN T.Y., FROHNE U., WEIBEL P., Ctrl [Space]. Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, Karlsruhe – Cambridge (Mass.) – London, ZKM – The MIT Press, 2002; SOMAINI A., « Visual Surveillance. Transmedial Migrations of a Scopic Form », Acta Univ. Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies, 2, 2010, p. 145-159; PHILLIPS S.S. (ed.) Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870, London, Tate Publishing, 2010. See also the overview by KAMMERER D., « Surveillance in Literature, Film and Television », BALL K., HAGGERTY K.D., LYON D. (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, London - New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 99-106. 14 DOYLE P.A., Arresting images: crime and policing in front of the television camera, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2003. 13
It‘s worth pointing out that the first person shot partially shares this feature with the cinematographic point of view shot15. However, the latter requires a particular syntactic construction implying a first framing of the viewing character and a second framing of the viewed scene; moreover, it is a local and temporary shot, as it is almost impossible to find large portions of film or entire movies filmed in point of view shot16. On the contrary, first person shot escapes any kind of syntactic rules, and may be extended as long as the audiovisual product duration. For instance, in first person video games the avatar‘s face can never appear; soldiers shooting combat video can be seen only by accident, usually at the end of the clip when they remove their helmet; full-length movies can be shot with a hand digital camera (for example, the horror movies mentioned above), etc. The second feature defining first person shot is the hybrid nature of the instance responsible for the perceptual constitution of the diegetic world; namely, it ranges between a subjectual pole characterized by human nature, and an objectual one endued with a mechanical nature, constantly re-defining and negotiating its nature between these two poles. This second feature represents a marked difference between first person shot and point of view shot. More specifically, the latter is grounded on an implicit and non-negotiable distinction between the characters looking inside the diegetic world, and the cameras that take their perceptual position for a while17. On the contrary, in the case of first person shot the human subject and the camera as mechanical object form a unitary entity that assumes the characters of both. I will call this hybrid and unstable entity a body sensor. As I mentioned, on the basis of the two features identifying first person shot, it is also possible to construct a typology of its configurations or regimes; we can thus combine the possibility of one-way or two-way directions of the intentional relations lived by the body sensor (first feature) with its oscillation from a subjectual to an objectual nature (second feature). Hence, four major configurations take place. (A) Two-way intentional relations and subjectual nature of the body sensor. The body sensor is going through a web of reciprocal relations with the diegetic world and at the same time its nature is
A number of studies focused the emergence, evolution and semiotic characteristics of the point of view shot in cinema: BRANIGAN E., Point of View in the Cinema. A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical Film, Berlin - New York, Mouton, 1984; CASETTI F., Inside the Gaze: The Fiction Film and Its Spectator, Bloomington – Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1998; DAGRADA E., Between the Eye and the World. The Emergence of the Point-of-View Shot, Brussels, PIE-Peter Lang, forthcoming. On the point of view shot evolution in contemporary cinema see Laurent Jullier L'écran post-modern. Un cinéma et de l'allusion du feu d'artifice, L‘Harmattan, Paris - Montreal 1997. 16 With the exception of a few isolated cases of ―Camera I‖ which are not by chance very close to contemporary first person shot. I‘m referring to well-known examples such as the first part of The Dark Passage (D. Daves, USA, 1947) or the entire Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, USA, 1947). Vivian Sobchack analysed and compared the two films, paying special attention to the issues we are discussing: SOBCHACK V., The Address of the Eye. A Phenomenology of Film Experience, Princeton (NJ), Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 230-248, and « The Man Who Was not There: The Production of Subjectivity in Delmer Daves‘ DARK PASSAGE », CHATEAU D., (ed.), Subjectivity. Representation and filmic Spectator's Experience, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2011, p. 69 – 84. 17 On the shifting of the term ―camera‖ from the original physical and mechanical meaning to a metaphorical usage in film theory see BRANIGAN E., Projecting a camera. Language-Games in Film Theory, New York – London, Routledge, 2006. 15
exhibited as specifically human. This is the closer case to the cinematographical point of view shot. I will call this configuration subjective first person shot. (B) Two-way intentional relations and objectual nature of the body sensor. The relations between the body sensor and the diegetic world are bidirectional: the body sensor is both intentioning and intentioned by diegetic objects and subjects; at the same time, the prevailing nature of the body sensor is mechanical. The most common case is that of images produced by a camera handled by one or more characters situated and acting within the fictional world – like, for instance, horror movies pretending to be constituted by found footage material, or video recorded in the middle of a more or less dramatic event with mobile phones, and so on. In all these cases, we find a living and lived relation between the diegetic world and a camera which in turn refers metonymically to the operators‘ body. I‘ll define this configuration a prosthetic first person shot. (C) One-way relations and subjectual nature of the body sensor. In this case, the body sensor manifests a human nature (particularly thanks to the sensorial quality of its movements), but the subjects of the diegetic world do not notice its presence. Therefore, first person shot is used as a purely discursive device in telling a fictional story: for instance, many television series use Steadicams or hand-held cameras, especially in moments of emotional intensity, without implying the presence of the cameraman as a character who is actually involved within the diegetic world. I will define this configuration the scriptural first person shot. (D) One-way relations and objectual nature of the body sensor. In this last case, images are recorded by machines physically present and located within in the diegetic world, which act independently both from characters‘ awareness and from the presence of any operator. This complete automation of the shooting is typical of video surveillance cameras and, more generally, of hidden or unperceived cameras. In some cases, the introduction of zooms, pans and other camera movements acted at a distance by a human agent can vary this zero degree of subjectual presence. I will speak in this case of a panoptic first person shot. It‘s worth pointing out that these four great configurations or regimes of first person shot are fluid and negotiable; furthermore, most interesting are the cases of shifting from one configuration to another. For example, a frequent case is the transition from a prosthetic first person shot to a panoptic one, occurring when the characters decides to use the camera as a surveillance device (as happens in some sequences of Paranormal Activity, with the placement of the machine on a tripod), or when the character handling the camera is killed (as in Rec or Cloverfield): in both cases, we perceive the suddenly shift from a body sensor featuring human qualities to a mechanical one, a pure automatic activity of recording, voided of any perceivable quality of human living perception.
4. For a conceptualization of first person shot In the previous two sections, I considered first person shot as a figure of audiovisual style and language. In the present section I will argue that it can be also analysed as a figure of thought18, i.e. a perceptual configuration expressing an abstract idea by means of pure visual – dynamic and auditory cues. More precisely, I think that first person shot gives a perceivable form to a specific conception of the processes of constitution of subject; according to this conception, subjectivity is linked to perceptual experience and action, so that it involves a close interaction of mind and body. In this sense, first person shot can be considered a "symbolic form", as central perspective was19; moreover, we can assume that it has overlapped and partly replaced central perspective as the dominant model of the constitution of subjectivity within the contemporary cultural landscape. Thus, the shift from central perspective to first person shot can be related to the turn from a "positional" and static conception of subjectivity to a "relational" and dynamic one. Without pretending to exhaust this argument, I will simply point out some trends of contemporary research that support it; in particular, I will focus on the disciplinary fields of neurocognitive science and film studies. As it is well known, contemporary neurocognitive sciences challenge the ―computational‖ model of the constitution of subjectivity proposed by the ―classic‖ cognitivism. This model is allegedly based on the original "Descartes' Error"20, i.e. the separation between mind and body, and implies central and unitary subjects placed "outside" the fields of phenomena they have to tackle. On the contrary, contemporary conceptions assume as a starting point the phenomenological idea21 that the process of constitution of the subject is based on a close relationship between mind and body; as a consequence, subjects are conceived as entities emerging from the vortex of experiences, perceptions, actions, emotions, representations and self-representations in which they are constitutionally "thrown". From this point of view, both the uniqueness, centrality and consistency of the self should not be considered as original data; on the contrary, all these features would result from the coping with the environment requested to the organism22. In particular, perceptual activities should not be conceived in terms of external
AUMONT J., A quoi pensent les films, Paris, Séguier, 1999. PANOFSKY E., Perspective as Symbolic Form, New York, Zone Books, 1991. 20 DAMASIO A.R., Descartes’s Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, New York, Putnam 1994. 21 GALLAGHER S., ZAHAVI D., The phenomenological mind: an introduction to philosophy of mind and cognitive science, London - New York, Routledge, 2008. 22 See for instance the seminal ideas proposed by Antonio Damasio: ―Conscious minds begin when self comes to mind, when brains add a self process to the mind mix, modestly at first but quite robustly later. The self is built in distinct steps grounded on the protoself. The first step is the generation of primordial feelings, the elementary feelings of existence that spring spontaneously from the protoself. Next is the core self. The core self is about action—specifically, about a relationship between the organism and the object. The core self unfolds in a sequence of images that describe an object engaging the protoself and modifying that protoself, including its primordial feelings. Finally, there is the autobiographical self. This self is defined in terms of biographical knowledge pertaining to the past as well as the anticipated future. The 18 19
observation of a scene, but rather as intimately related to the planning, performing and monitoring movements, and thus as forms of relational actions taking place within the perceived world23. In short, it is clear that contemporary neurosciences shifted from a stable "positional" conception of subjectivity (typical of classical cognitivism) to a "relational" and dynamic one - a shift which is actually expressed in figural terms by first person shot -. A similar situation can be observed within the field of film studies. In this area a phenomenological wave led to both a retrieval of the question of subject and subjectivity, and its radical reformulation. In particular, phenomenologist film scholars distinguish themselves from the film theorists of the seventies, and in particular from Jean Louis Baudry and Christian Metz24. In his 1970 influential article "Ideological effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus"25, Baudry proposed the idea that cinema, as an Apparatus (i.e. a set of technological devices allowing the appearance of the filmic images and sounds26), is responsible for the constitution of spectator as a subject. This process is structured in three steps: firstly, the single ―photographic‖ image defines a punctual viewer‘s spatial location, on the basis of its perspective construction27; secondly, the moving images define a "transcendental subject" who subsumes the fragmented and diversified flow of film pictures into a coherent unity of consciousness28; finally, the entire apparatus produces an identification of the spectator with the
multiple images whose ensemble defines a biography generate pulses ofcore self whose aggregate constitutes an autobiographical self.‖ DAMASIO A.R., Self Comes to Mind. Constructing the Conscious Brain, New York, Pantheon Books, 2010, p. 18. See also (with different emphasis) LLINAS R., I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self, Cambridge (Mass.) - London, The MIT Press, 2001 and METZINGER T., The Ego Tunnel. The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self, New York, Basic Books, 2009. 23 See for instance NOË A., Action in Perception, Cambridge (Mass.) – London, The MIT Press, 2004. 24 For an overview of this theoretical field, see CASETTI F., Theories of Cinema, 1945 – 1995. Revised and updated by the Author, Austin (TX), University of Texas Press, 1999, p. 184-203. For a more critical exposition see AARON M., Spectatorship. The Power of Looking On, London – New York, Wallflower Press, 2007, p. 9-15. 25 BAUDRY J.-L., « Ideological effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus » (or. published in Cinéthique, 7-8, 1970), Film Quarterly, 28, Winter 1974-1975, p. 39-47, reprinted in ROSEN P. (ed.), Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. A Film Theory Reader, New York, Columbia University Press, 1986, p. 286-298. I‘ll quote from the latter American edition. 26 On the concept of ―Apparatus‖ (which shift in Baudry‘s theory from the term of ―appareil de base‖ to that of ―dispositif‖) see also BAUDRY J.L., « The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema », (or. published in Communications, 23, 1985, p. 56-72), Camera Obscura, 1, Fall 1976, p. 104-128, reprinted in ROSEN P. (ed.), Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, cit., p. 299-318. 27 ―The centre of [the perspective] space coincides with the eye which Jean Pellerin Viator will so appropriately call the ‗subject‘ […] Based on the principle of a fixed point of reference, to which the visualized objects are defined, it specifies in return the position of the ‗subject‘, the very spot it must necessarily occupy‖ (BAUDRY J.L., « Ideological effects.. », cit. art., p. 289). 28 ―Thus one may presume that what was already at work as the originating basis of the perspective image, namely the eye, the ‗subject‘, is put forth, liberated (in the sense that a chemical reaction liberates a substance) by the operation which transforms successive, discrete images (as isolated images they have, strictly speaking, no meaning, or at least no unity of meaning) into continuity, movement, meaning. With continuity restored, both meaning and consciousness are restored» (Ivi, p. 291).
transcendental viewing subject, by means of a re-enaction of the Lacanian ―mirror stage‖ - where the movie screen takes on the function of the mirror29. Therefore, Baudry's theory of subject constitution assigns a key role to the "positional" model linked to the symbolical form of central perspective. In contrast, phenomenologist film scholars argue that the constitution of subjectivity is a "relational" and dynamic process. For example, following Vivian Sobchack, ―the film is the expression of a [living and embodied] experience, and this expression is itself [bodily] experienced [by the spectator] in the act of watching a film, becoming as a consequence the experience of an expression‖30. Consequently, the subject constitution is based on a twofold dynamic relation: on the one hand, that of the experiencing "body" of the film with the intentioned objects of the perceived world; on the other hand, that of the spectator‘s body with the film as ―viewing subject‖31. From this point of view, Baudry‘s conception is considered completely insufficient, for two reasons. Firstly, he conceives the constitution of the subject as proceeding "from the outside in", while it should be thought as a process "from the inside out"; secondly, he conceives the subject as a disembodied entity, grounded on a punctual, abstract, void position defined by the perspective centre32. 5. Conclusions In the first part of this article I considered first person shot as a well-defined figure of style, emerging from the interactions of different technologies, agencies and practices within the contemporary intermedia landscape. In the second part of the article I introduced a slightly different point of view, since I proposed to consider first person shot as a figure of thought, which expresses in sensorial terms a specific conception of the subject constitution. From this new point of view, I opposed first person shot, as "symbolic form" of the relational and dynamic conception of the subjectivity, to the central perspective, as structure referring to a positional and static one. In these conclusions I will briefly discuss the relationship between these two aspects of first person shot. We can begin by noting that there is an overlap in time between the construction and the spread
―[…] just as the mirror assembles the fragmented body in a sort of imaginary integration of the self, the transcendental self unites the discontinuous fragments of phenomena, of lived experience, into unifying meaning‖ (BAUDRY J.L., « Ideological effects.. », cit. art., p. 295). 30 ELSAESSER T., HAGENER M., Film Theory. An Introduction Through the Senses, London - New York, Routledge, 2010, p. 116. 31 ―The direct engagement, […] between spectator and film in the film experience cannot be considered a monologic one between a viewing subject and a viewed object. Rather, it is a dialogical and dialectical engagement of two viewing subjects who also exist as visible objects (if of different material and in different ways to be elaborated further)‖ SOBCHACK V., The Address of the Eye, cit., p. 23. 32 Following Sobchack‘s arguments, the two points are linked and both stem from Lacan‘s psychoanalysis influence. Other phenomenologist film scholars have criticized the idealistic aspects of Baudry‘s theory: CASEBIER A., Film and Phenomenology. Toward a Realistic Theory of Cinematic Representation, Cambridge - New York, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 73-78 and SHAW S., Film Consciousness.From Phenomenology to Deleuze, Jefferson (North Carolina) - London, McFarland, 2008, p. 74-79. 29
of the first person shot as a new figure of audiovisual style on the one hand, and the diffusion of the idea that the subject is the result of an embodied, situated, dynamic relation with a world on the other one: indeed, they both developed over the last thirty years or so. At first glance, we can assume that there is a simple analogical relation between the two phenomena: actually, first person shot would have gradually emerged from the intermedia network of technological and stylistic ―remediations‖, and at the end of this process would be resulted as expression of the relational and dynamic constitution of the subject. However, this explanation seems to me simplistic and unconvincing. I rather prefer to introduce the hypothesis that the relation between the two phenomena should be considered a kind of mutual causal determination. According to my interpretation, the development and widespread diffusion of first person shot has been influenced by the emergence and spread of the new dynamic and relational conception of subjectivity. In turn, first person shot has been responsible for the spread of a ―new‖ conception of subjectivity, both in the general field of culture and in specific disciplinary areas, such as neurocognitive sciences and film studies -. This influence is linked to the fact that first person shot doesn‘t simply express in abstract terms this new conception of subjectivity, but is rather able to provide the subjects with a direct experience of a relational, living, active and dynamic constitution of their own subjectivity. This hypothesis has two critical implications. Firstly, the concept of a relational and dynamic constitution of the subjectivity currently advocated by neurocognitive sciences and clearly present in film studies, is itself the result of a complex cultural process of construction and mediation – a process in which the ―techniques of the visible‖ played and still play a key role33 -. Secondly, and consequently, the aura of naturalness and immediacy that surrounds the new concept of subjectivity, actually results from technological innovations, stylistic transformations, cultural mediations. In conclusion, following this hypothesis, first person shot is based on a strange paradox: through the moulding of a figure of style, a number of techniques of the visible critically contributed to the naturalization of the self.
In this sense, the first person shot would fit in a long-term history of relationships between subjective vision, construction of the subject and technologies of visuality, such as that outlined by CRARY J., Techniques of the Observer, On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century, Cambridge (Mass.) - London, The MIT Press, 1990. In particular, first person shot directly involves the two key problems of this story: on the one hand the degree of embodiement of the human eye, on the other one its relation with the machines of vision. 33
Paper originally presented at the Conference “The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Historiography and Theory of Cinema” Montreal,...
Published on Feb 15, 2013
Paper originally presented at the Conference “The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Historiography and Theory of Cinema” Montreal,...