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MLN 119.5 (2004) 1090-1097

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Tracing the Photogram

University at Buffalo
Garrett Stewart, Between Film and Screen: Modernism's Photo Synthesis Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999, 386 pages.
. . . to examine more particularly the way the stylistic "cues" of film narrative work to structure our access to screen action's photogrammatic basis. What should soon grow clear is that the reframed photograph and the consecutively rephotographed film frame can operate as systemic alternatives to each other within the same metatextual field. This is crucial. . . . Between photographic input and cinematic output, spectation's middle term is the cognitive photo synthesis of subliminally determined movement. Much that attaches to this motion can be specified in four related ways. Between optic signal and cinema's viewed world, the event of filmic manifestation. Between photographic still and motion picture, the photogram in motion. Between strip and screen, the track in action. Between footage and image, the text in process.
(Between Film and Screen, 17)
I am concerned from here on out with the photographic or photogrammatic moment on—because in and of—film: the nodalized scopic materiality of still image (filmed photograph) or stalled imaging (photolike halt of film). Indeed the former (photo) may implicate the latter (seized frame) by bringing to mind the fixed imprint within the chain of represented action. Whether rippling or rupturing the cinematic continuum with such traces of its own propellant frames, both the reset photo and the arrested (and so asserted) track depend on a spatial disjunction between filmic record and cinematic apparition.
(Between Film and Screen, 19) [End Page 1090]

We would with good reason expect any extended study by master narratologist Garrett Stewart to tell a story. In this respect, Between Film and Screen does not disappoint. With verve, authoritative erudition (visual as well as literary), and the commitment to thinking evidenced only by authentic theorists, Stewart relates the story of film's relation to its subtexts, paradigms, targets, and supplements in photography. This is by no means the only account of film that could be given. Stewart furnishes meticulous scrutiny to the alternative renditions. He extracts what is productive and suggestive from these interpretations, whether by Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, or Vivian Sobchack. But then, having surveyed the broader culturo-exegetical environment in which he tells his tale—the play of the "photogram" in the constitution of film narrative, convention, and form and the emergence of cinema in its wake as a complex scene of textual production and synthesis—he fulfills his task with the resolve and ethical mission we expect from a thoroughgoing original. (The photogram amounts to photographic elements, whether images themselves or formal aspects of photographic composition, framing, focus, depth of field, and lighting, embedded within the sequence of film.) Without the benefit of some central national or international forum on the current status of the visual and on its interrelation to the textual, at a remove from the Montparnasse or cultural center-stage on which stellar philosophers and critics debate this and related issues, Stewart nonetheless configures highly acute and responsive frameworks for the taking in of visual artifacts which he then illuminates over an astonishing telephoto field of production and exegetical possibility. Whether the films of Between Film and Screen or the genre paintings of more recent work (he has discovered the painting sub-genre, a corollary to the "photogram" in film, in which the subjects are invariably engaged in the reading, deciphering, or recitation of texts), Stewart subjects the visual artifacts of his selection to readings of unrelenting sense and astonishing illumination. In so doing, he claims a leadership role in the inevitable and overdue discourse surveying the boundaries and interfaces between the visual and the textual. Critics who address textual artifacts to the exclusion of this conversation and the translations it occasions do so increasingly at the risk of their own cultural irrelevance.

Stewart's canvas is a vast one. The multiple critical POVs (points of view) he enlists into his account, ranging from film and photographic history to the theoretical exposition of experimental cinema to the theories of narrative, textuality, and allegory...


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