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Animation and Alienation: Bergson’s Critique of the Cinématographe and the Paradox of Mechanical Motion
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Animation and Alienation
Bergson’s Critique of the Cinématographe and the Paradox of Mechanical Motion

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Cinematic animation could be defined as the technological production of images in motion. Thus all cinema can be approached as animation.1 Over time, the novelty of mechanical motion, so central to film’s first reception, declined to the point where “animation” became a specialized genre within cinema, referring to films that endowed the apparently inanimate (drawings or objects) with motion. Today the novelty of new media has once more foregrounded technological motion, as the “moving image” asserts its priority over the more limited entity “film.” But does film theory offer an account of cinematic movement that parallels its traditional topics, such as montage or the ontology of the photographic image? The technical production of motion may form the Freudian repressed subject of film theory.

Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the “movement-image” would seem to promise a theory of cinematic motion.2 However, his concept, carefully examined, deliberately devalues the mechanical production of motion that I am calling animation. It would be a great mistake to equate Deleuze’s movement-image with the moving image. The moving image is first of all a technical concept. It depends on the interrelation of frames or photograms, the movement of the projector and the viewer. This is not at all what Deleuze means by the movement-image, which cannot be explained as a technical or perceptual process and relates rather to larger cinematic figures.

Rather than to the appearance of motion, Deleuze relates the movement-image to the shot: the traditional unit of film theory and practice. Through the movement-image, the shot mediates between its roles as a closed set of elements within a frame and its transformations related to a Whole, a process of change that Deleuze derives from Bergson’s sense of time as duration. The movement-image is not simply a process of abstract movement in space that could be graphed geometrically as a trajectory along a series of points but rather is a fundamental alteration (Bergson’s classic example is sugar being dissolved in water), a creation of something new, which Deleuze calls the Open. More than cinema’s production of movement, the movement-image involves either a sequence of shots, that is, a montage sequence, or a mobile shot, that is, an instance of camera movement.3 Thus, however useful Deleuze’s concept may be to understanding cinema as a Whole, he actually differentiates the movement-image radically from the production of motion I am calling animation. In effect, Deleuze excludes animation from his philosophy of film, based on a critique of mechanical motion that he inherits from Henri Bergson.

Deleuze’s movement-image not only limits the importance of animation, it also creates historical limits to his concept of cinema. His exclusion of the cinematic movement “of people and things,” which constituted the fascination of the first filmmakers [End Page 2] and their audiences, explains Deleuze’s lack of interest in early cinema, which he describes as “primitive.” “We can therefore define a primitive state of the cinema where the image is in movement rather than being a movement-image.”4 The cinema Deleuze discusses begins only after this primitive state, both historically and theoretically. The movement-image did not emerge with the invention of cinema at the turn of the century but rather evolved during film’s second decade as a consequence of its encounter with narrative. A number of commentators, from Dana Polan in an early review to David Rodowick and, most recently, Eivind Røssaak, have noted Deleuze’s lack of attention to early cinema.5 Although I agree that this is a serious lack for someone dealing with film studies, I do not find it inconsistent for a thinker whose interest remains very much focused on the philosophical dimensions of narrative and commercial cinema (and it is important that we do not read Deleuze as if he were either a film historian, something he explicitly denies, or even, broadly speaking, a film theorist). Thus his exclusion of early cinema is not due simply to oversight or ignorance but follows...