A Space and Time Machine: Actuality Cinema in New York City, 1890s to c. 1905

Walsh, John (2005) A Space and Time Machine: Actuality Cinema in New York City, 1890s to c. 1905. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Urban actuality films are short, single shot views of street scenes, skyscrapers or construction sites, or views from moving vehicles. They are, typically, regarded as simple filmic snap-shots. Conversely, early cinema is conventionally thought to be a complex hybrid medium, a crucible for the idea and representation of the modern. Through close, contextualised analysis of a series of New York films, this study addresses the discrepancy between the putative insubstantiality of actuality films and the evident complexity of early cinema. A hitherto overlooked historical coincidence of actuality cinema, the modernisation of New York and its intermedial culture is shown to provide both a subject and setting for filmmakers.

Actuality cinema is a technology of the present; accordingly, temporality is pivotal for this study. Tom Gunning's 'cinema of attractions' thesis and a neurological conception of modernity posit a familiar shocks-and-jolts axis of the relations between cinema and modernity. In contrast, I argue for an alternative axis, founded in periods, rather than moments, of time and seek to demonstrate cinema's role as a technology of an expanded present time. Fifteen films of transport systems, skyscraper building sites and ways of seeing New York's streets, make up the primary source material. In these films, time provides a space for the representation and negotiation of the modern.

An expanded present fosters a thickened visuality. Within New York's intermedial culture, the adoption of stereoscopic visual practices was key to constructing a coherent filmic present, and a place for the spectator within a cinematic world. As a functioning space and time machine, a cinema of simultaneity, the complexity of actuality filmmaking practices increasingly moved actualities towards, and enabled their interrelation with, an emerging narrative cinema. Rather than a failed experiment, New York actuality cinema is here demonstrated to be an example of cinema working.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Tallack, Douglas
Keywords: early cinema, early film, actuality cinema, actuailty film, New York City, skyscraper, Flatiron Building, vision, visuality, visual culture, ways of seeing, representation, cultural history, photography, intermedial, intermediality, temporality, temporal, simultaneity
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion pictures
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
Item ID: 10142
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2006
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2017 11:23
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/10142

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