Is it true that film in the twentieth century experimented with
vision more than any other art form? And what visions did it
privilege? In this brilliant book, acclaimed film scholar Francesco
Casetti situates the cinematic experience within discourses of
twentieth-century modernity. He suggests that film defined a unique
gaze, not only because it recorded many of the century's most
important events, but also because it determined the manner in
which they were received.
Casetti begins by examining film's nature as a medium in an age
obsessed with immediacy, nearness, and accessibility. He considers
the myths and rituals cinema constructed on the screen and in the
theater and how they provided new images and behaviors that
responded to emerging concerns, ideas, and social orders. Film also
succeeded in negotiating the different needs of modernity,
comparing and uniting conflicting stimuli, providing answers in a
world torn apart by conflict, and satisfying a desire for
everydayness, as well as lightness, in people's lives. The ability
to communicate, the power to inform, and the capacity to
negotiate-these are the three factors that defined film's function
and outlook and made the medium a relevant and vital art form of
So what kind of gaze did film create? Film cultivated a personal
gaze, intimately tied to the emergence of point of view, but also
able to restore the immediacy of the real; a complex gaze, in which
reality and imagination were combined; a piercing gaze, achieved by
machine, and yet deeply anthropomorphic; an excited gaze, rich in
perceptive stimuli, but also attentive to the spectator's
orientation; and an immersive gaze, which gave the impression
ofbeing inside the seen world while also maintaining a sense of
distance. Each of these gazes combined two different qualities and
balanced them. The result was an ever inventive synthesis that
strived to bring about true compromises without ever sacrificing
the complexity of contradiction. As Casetti demonstrates, film
proposed a vision that, in making opposites permeable, modeled
itself on an oxymoronic principle. In this sense, film is the key
to reading and understanding the modern experience.
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