The Cinema and Its ShadowRace and Technology in Early Cinema

The Cinema and Its ShadowRace and Technology in Early Cinema

Alice Maurice

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816678044

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Abstract

Focusing on American cinema, The Cinema and Its Shadow argues that “race” has defined and supplemented the cinematic apparatus since the earliest motion pictures, and especially at times of transition and technological vulnerability. In particular, the book explores how racialized bodies and the rhetoric of race difference became central to the working out of specifically cinematic problems: the problem of the stationary camera, the problem of developing narrative form, the problem of realism, the problem of synchronizing image and sound, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the problem of the absent or “immaterial” image—the cinema’s “shadow.” The “shadow” of the title figures both the material reality of the screen image (its status as a two-dimensional projection) and its inescapable history (a history bound up with racist images). Beginning with the earliest motion pictures, the study identifies the tension between performing body and performing image that develops in the new medium’s attempts to capture the “essence of reality.” This tension informs the development of cinematic narrative and is tied, I argue, to the performance of race. The study discusses early “race subjects,” arguing that these films shaped cinematic narrative in lasting ways by helping to define the relation between stillness and motion, spectacle and narrative drive. The book goes on to examine the ways in which discourses of motion picture technology related to discourses of race, embodiment, and authenticity at particular junctures in the cinema’s development (the development of early narratives, the transition to the feature film, the coming sound, etc.).