- Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies by Ariel Rogers
How do “moving pictures” move us? Ariel Rogers sets out to answer this question [End Page 77] in Cinematic Appeals, unpacking the discourses associated with three types of movie movement: affective impact, bodily address, or how movies produce physical and emotional reactions in viewers, and the shifting technologies that influence the creation and presentation of the moving images on the screen. While Rogers provides useful histories of several cinematic technologies—widescreen and 3D in the 1950s, digital filmmaking and digital 3D in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries—her book is not so much a study of technology as of the discourses about new cinematic technologies. Rogers’s analysis focuses on the “culturally rooted tensions” that arise in discussions of new cinematic technologies because these tensions reveal what people think cinema “can and should do for, with, and to viewers” (5, 2).
In this wide-ranging study, Rogers discusses postwar CinemaScope spectacles, big budget special effects showcases, and independent films. Rogers situates it in the tradition of classical theorists such as Kracauer and Benjamin, and acknowledges her indebtedness to apparatus theory’s insistence on considering how technology, the “apparatus” of projector and screen, situates spectators to receive films in a particular way. Informed by theorists such as Vivian Sobchak and Laura U. Marks, who recognize the very individual experience of cinema-viewing and the political potential of the “otherness” viewers may experience as a result of cinema’s bodily address, Rogers both underscores the body’s central role in film spectatorship and recognizes the ability of individual spectatorships “to negotiate and challenge” the spectatorial frameworks established by various technologies (10). Her work is, however, more grounded in a materialist history that recognizes a variety of signifying practices and social forces, which interact with technology to shape viewers’ responses to cinema. In addition to the films themselves, Rogers analyzes popular and trade reviews of the films and the cinematic technologies, situating each film in the sociohistorical context necessary to understand its appeal to its contemporaries.
The work’s double-pronged approach to studying both technology and bodily address becomes evident in Rogers’s analysis of “the anxious appeal of widescreen cinema” in chapter 1, especially in her discussion of how that medium’s presentation of the human form was discussed in the popular press (19). While early Cinerama adventure films immersed the viewers in thrill rides that gave them the sense of motion, discourse on CinemaScope imagined the possibility not only of an audience member who would “no longer […] merely have Marilyn Monroe in your lap and breathe her intoxicating perfume,” but, according to the Salem (OR) Statesmen, “would now be able to intimately caress her” (cited in Rogers 32). As Rogers points out, discourse on CinemaScope illustrates a tension between proclaiming its increased realism and underscoring the mechanism used to construct that realism. Discourses on CinemaScope also fantasized about intimacy with the overwhelmingly large bodies of actors while expressing an anxiety about the nearly grotesque proportions of those bodies. The format itself “offered viewers a bodily experience of participation that both promised to align them with a powerful apparatus and threatened to submit them to it” (Rogers 60).
In chapter 2, East of Eden (1955, Kazan) provides a test case of the widescreen format’s ability to use conventional filmmaking techniques such as [End Page 78] close-ups and canted framing. East of Eden, Rogers argues, certainly demonstrates how the widescreen format allows the spacing between characters to tell an affective story by increasing distance while maintaining the visibility of facial expressions. More significant is director Elia Kazan’s use of the close-ups and canted framing that had been absent in other widescreen films, presenting a smaller part of the human body at a larger scale. These tactics, alongside the Method acting of James Dean in his first major film role, simultaneously suggested greater intimacy with and greater monstrosity of the human figure on the cinema screen. CinemaScope close-ups and Dean’s (and later, Monroe’s...