Innovation and experimentation have been a central part of the development of film, television, radio, and other media practices. Throughout the histories of both mainstream and alternative media, innovations in technology such as sound, Technicolor, and digital video have bred further innovations in style, even as attempts to create a certain style for films or television programs have often encouraged technological experimentation. Popular discourse about the media these days tends to center on issues such as the increasing availability of digital cameras, the dominance of special effects at the box office, the emergence of new storytelling techniques in films and television shows like Memento and 24, the viability of new media forms, and the adoption of new distribution outlets, including the World Wide Web and the cellular phone. Certainly, all of these topics invite further scholarship, but in addition to these issues we also hoped to receive submissions on the history of stylistic and technological innovations and on "experimental" or avant-garde media—and we did.
When our call for papers went out, however, we were hardly prepared for the reaction it generated. A stimulating discussion of our call appeared on the Frameworks listserv in the summer of 2003. Several contributors felt that we unfairly relegated "experimentation" to the research-and-development wing of mainstream media industries. While this was not our intention, it is an important point, and we agree that this is often how media scholars and print journalists alike tend to discuss the concept, creating a false hierarchy, with Hollywood studios at the top and avant-gardists toiling away at the bottom. We hope that some of the articles in this issue serve as correctives to this misperception and indicate the extent to which experimental media is often tied to what one of the Frameworks contributors called a kind of "exploration."
The papers represented in this issue tackle a number of important questions. What drives experimentation? What effects do innovations have within the field where they occur? How have media artists managed to cope with changes in technology? Experimental, avant-garde, and documentary filmmakers have often consciously aimed at finding new ways to depict the human experience and the world around them. Moreover, they have also studied and challenged ways of capturing reality and constructing audiovisual spaces, and they have examined from the inside-out the traditions, conventions, and effects of their chosen media. Institutions—be they media corporations or a critical establishment—have often reacted to innovation and experimentation with a mixture of reservation and opportunism.
The first two essays in this issue deal with specific reactions of institutions to innovations. In the first essay, "Defensive Transcriptions: Radio Networks, Sound-on-Disc Recording, and the Meaning of Live Broadcasting," Alex Russo investigates the National Broadcasting Company's conflicted relationship with recorded programming during the late twenties and thirties. Russo argues that despite the use of recordings in some of early broadcasting's signal moments, such as Reginald Fessenden's Christmas Eve broadcast of 1906, by the beginning of the thirties transcriptions constituted an innovative intervention into established broadcasting practice and a threat to NBC's commercial interests, aesthetic preferences, and status in its relationships with affiliates, competitors, and corporate siblings. Relying on NBC archival material and the trade press, Russo traces the circuitous path recorded programming took to the center of broadcast practice and the ways in which [End Page 1] electrical transcription disrupted and provoked reconstitutions of the definition of quality broadcasting.
The second essay, "Eisenstein in America: The Qué Viva México! Debates and the Emergent Popular Front in U.S. Film Theory and Criticism," again deals with questions of definition. Here Chris Robé examines the critical anticipation and debates surrounding Sergei Eisenstein's American projects and argues for the centrality of Eisenstein's theory and practice to shifts in liberal and leftist U.S. film theory and criticism of the 1930s. Drawing on both the critical discourse and a close reading of Eisenstein's treatment of religion in Qué Viva México!, Robé argues that the shift to a Popular Front strategy within liberal-leftist critical circles was pre-figured by Eisenstein's recognition of the potential of bourgeois institutions to serve...