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A Military Use for Widescreen Cinema: Training the Body through Immersive Media


This essay presents the history of the Waller Flexible Gunnery Trainer, a wartime antecedent of a popular 1950s widescreen film technology that was put to use by the US and British militaries to train spectators in anti-aircraft gunning combat. The device combined cinema and the shooting gallery: it comprised an engulfing five-panel domed screen, realistic sound effects, and electronic dummy guns modelled accurately after army and navy weaponry. The Waller Flexible Gunnery Trainer was designed to affect the movements, gestures, attitudes, and reflexes of trainee machine-gunners by generating a routine for the embodied user that would be repeated through aerial warfare. Emphasizing the ways in which tactics of display were structured technically and formally through both the machinery and the films made specially to accompany it, this essay investigates how the trainer’s optic, auditory, and haptic stimuli were used to create an immersive viewing space that moved the spectator both emotionally and viscerally.

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