The Moving Image Reclaimed
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The Moving Image Reclaimed

Preface

“The Moving Image Reclaimed” is a twofold experiment. On the level of textuality, it is an attempt to write about films with moving-image examples present and available to be viewed, the way a paragraph from a novel or lines from a poem are available to the reader of literary criticism. But to make this experiment possible, much technical experimentation was necessary. Moving images are packed with detailed information. They are analogue events. Digitizing them is a prodigious task and transmitting them over the Internet is even more prodigious. They are big, ungainly, and consume a lot of computer resources, so you will need to have patience as they come across the network. If you are receiving the clips over a dialup (SLIP) connection, you will need more than patience—you will need something to occupy your time (maybe a good book?). The clips in this essay are in MPEG format, but a Quicktime version is also available (on average, the color QuickTime clips will be at least 50% larger than their MPEG equivalents; black-and-white QuickTime clips may be as much as ten times the size of the MPEG clips). Whatever format you choose, you will need appropriate viewing software installed on your system. If you find that you don’t have such software, you can find some unsupported programs, for various platforms, here. Please note that, in viewing these clips, you may occasionally experience problems with color or frame-rate (if you are using the default MPEG viewer for Windows, you might try choosing “ordered (256)” or “hybrid” under the “dither” menu; you will also find that some clips exceed the size allowed under the free version of the Windows MPEG viewer. We recommend that you support shareware by paying for the full version of that software). All the images will look best on a video-display capable of 16 thousand or more colors: on 256 SVGA and VGA displays there may be a phenomenon called palette flash, where colors look less than attractive. Please also note that, although the QuickTime clips do have a soundtrack, the MPEG clips are without sound (“MOS” they called it in Hollywood, mimicking German filmmakers just gaining a hold of the language: “Mit Out Sound”).

Textual access has been a major problem in the work of cinema studies. Unlike our colleagues in literary and art criticism, film scholars’ access to the text has been absolutely limited to still images, which are often enough not taken directly from the film under discussion. Computer imaging is changing that. With relatively inexpensive video-capture hardware and software, it’s now possible to digitize film images from a videocassette or laserdisc and put them to critical use, making the film as quotable as a novel or poem. Published on-line, with image text and written text wrapped around one another, the work of film and television criticism becomes linked to its source, gives up a certain innocence, and claims a heightened authority (even responsibility). In fact, sources become reversed. The critical act becomes the source for the imagery and its meaning: the imagery is reclaimed, meaning becomes a result of the reclamation process in ways that correct and advance older methodologies of the field.

I recently wrote an essay on Martin Scorsese’s debt to Alfred Hitchcock. Its purpose was to discover a viable structure in Scorsese’s Cape Fear, a film that is part of that other reclamation process I spoke about: a work that calls to itself images from many other films as it plays and teases its audience with them. Cape Fear is many things: a popular film Scorsese made to help pay back a debt to Universal Pictures, the company that supported his earlier work, The Last Temptation of Christ; and a remake of a 1962 film of the same name, which itself owes a debt to Hitchcock’s Psycho. Scorsese has always been interested in reclaiming Hitchcock, and in fact made his own version of Psycho in 1976, called Taxi Driver. But the calls Scorsese makes on Hitchcock in Cape Fear are nested very deeply. Unlike the film’s references to more...