Yesterday I posted a response to David Rodowick's talk in which I explored the logical consequences of branding movement that reflects an ontological reality as "true" and that which does not as "false." The problem as I see it is that we're making unnecessary distinctions between kinds of moving images that are phenomenologically not all that dissimilar. But then again, I'm not at all clear on what would be at stake by branding movement as "true" or "false." While there appears to be some value judgment associated with the terms that automatically strikes me the wrong way ("true" being more immediately desirable than "false" for some reason), I don't actually believe that Rodowick means to privilege one over the other. What I want to do here is bring some of the points made by Tom Gunning today into the mix and see what we can come up with.
Gunning spoke at length today about the importance of persistence of vision (as an explanatory concept, regardless of its truth value), afterimages, nineteenth century optical toys, and the nature of human vision: in short, about the paradox that is the moving image. I enjoyed his talk thoroughly (I, like my colleague Julien, have long admired his work and was thrilled by the opportunity to see him speak in person) and believe that it can help me to expand on what I was trying to get at in my earlier post on Rodowick (which was itself largely inspired by Gunning's question during the discussion period).
I'd like, then, to invoke once more the idea of "true" and "false" movement, which seems to be at issue in Gunning's talk as well. Again, "true" movement describes that which corresponds to an ontological reality while "false" movement does not. The question becomes, for Gunning, whether the movement captured and projected by cinema - that is, movement that is doled out a frame at a time - can be described as "real" movement at all. To this, I have to arrive at much the same conclusion as Gunning, namely that if we experience it as movement, then why should we think of it as "false?"
I enjoyed the revelation that one of the root words from which phenakistoscope is derived means "deceiver," that it sets itself up as a simulator of movement by definition. Indeed, all moving images could be considered in this way. But what exactly does it afford us to do so? It strikes me as analogous to considering a novel as a series of discrete letters, or to draw on a cliche, to not see the forest for the trees.
I recently wrote a paper theorizing 3-D cinema, in which I drew upon Gunning's "cinema of attractions" (I'm sure I'm one of many to have made such a comparison). But what I saw as the fundamental intervention of 3-D cinema was its reassertion of the apparatus's role in the phenomenology of the moving image. By placing the 3-D glasses on his/her face, the spectator agrees to be tricked by the film and indeed participates in his/her own deception. This is analogous to the experience of the optical toys outlined by Gunning today. As Jonathan Crary points out, the nature of their mechanical operation is not being disguised, but is rather on display. We can look at the still images before we spin the wheel and make them "move." The average cinema does, in contrast, disguise the means of its operation by placing the projector behind closed doors. This is where the 3-D glasses come in. They require the consent and participation of the viewer to function, like the direct participation required of the phenakistoscope or to zoetrope. Also, we can take the glasses off and reveal the "truth" underneath the illusion, just as if we were to arrest the movement of the phenakistoscope's wheel. As such, I think that the popularity of 3-D cinema provides us with some anecdotal evidence that audiences are aware that cinema is based on a visual trick, but that they don't mind one bit. To bring it back to the "true" or "false" question, 3-D also provides us with a suggestion as to the answer. Nobody would argue that 3-D provides us with "real" spatial depth. But if we experience it as such, and our viewing of the film is enhanced by its addition, then phenomenologically speaking, it's "true" enough.