On Morgan Fisher's Lecture at the Guggenheim

Article excerpt

It is the overcoming of theater that modernist sensibility finds most exalting and that it experiences as the hallmark of high art in our time. There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theater entirely-the movies.

-Michael Fried, "Art and Objecthood"

Contrary to Michael Fried, Morgan Fisher argues that movies do not escape theater, at least not entirely. If just one film can demonstrate that movies do not entirely overcome theater, then all movies are essentially theatrical. That one film is none other than Fisher's very own Projection Instructions. Counter to Fried's claim that in "the movies the actors are not physically present," Fisher's film unveils the physically present projectionist. This is achieved by means of simple instructions that the projectionist must carry out, a kind of "script" that appears doubly on the screen and by voice-over. Basic operations, such as throwing the projector lens in and out of focus or turning the projector off and on, are designed to call attention to the invisible "actor" who is present during the film's projection.

If just one film is capable of demonstrating theatricality in the movies, it is from the perspective of Fisher's exemplary film that all projected films harbor the potential to be understood and experienced as theater. Once you've experienced Projection Instructions, a trip to the movies will never be quite the same, at least not the same thing twice. A different projectionist or even the same projectionist will never perform the same film in exactly the same way. And to de-anthropomorphize the scenario, no two projectors will ever be alike, even the same models. Which is to say that the props of cinema are just as important to acknowledge as the star-projectionist. Thus, contrary to Fried's claim that "the screen is not experienced as a kind of object existing, so to speak, in a specific physical relation to us," it is, in fact, a specific object to be perceived as such. …