H.G. Wells, Modernity and the Movies

H.G. Wells, Modernity and the Movies

H.G. Wells, Modernity and the Movies

H.G. Wells, Modernity and the Movies

Excerpt

The motion picture is a triumph over tenses. It is a Time Machine in
which we all ride with Lumen.

H. G. Wells's first 'scientific romance', The Time Machine: An Invention (tm)(1895), was published as a novel the year the Lumière brothers invented their Cinématographe. Though no one could possibly have foreseen the sociocultural impact this would eventually have, the lack of imaginative insight into cinema's potential at the beginning, even by its own makers, seems astonishing to us now, epitomised by Louis Lumière's belief that it had little future. However, the new medium was not a single scientific invention, subsequently hijacked by the Barnumism of the culturally unscrupulous. Its origins and outcomes were complex. As Ian Christie puts it, cinema 'was the invention of an era. a collective progress towards something which turned out quite differently from most expectations.' Writers and artists were, in some respects, more prescient than cinema's inventors. Wells's speculations about, and technical foreshadowings of, cinema and other related new media were particularly remarkable.

The protagonist of tm is an expert in physical optics. What I call 'optical speculations' in Wells's early writings and their self-reflexive visuality were also an important culmination of trends in both Victorian science and culture. His fiction was a symptomatic product of a common matrix of factors that seems to render cinema inevitable in retrospect. However, most discussion, by largely restricting itself to historicising Wells's connections with cinema per se – the most obvious outcome of these trends, neglects its embeddedness in the connective tissue of film's wider technical context and cultural prehistory. Wells made a crucial contribution to understanding and advancing not just the possibilities of cinematic narrative, but also the impact of other forms of recording technologies. We need to account for the fuller creativity involved in Wells's response to, and investigation of, one of the shaping forces of modernity. Consequently, this book also examines how his interaction with cinema's wider context makes him a principal pioneer of the media-determined parameters of modern subjectivity.

Significantly, a mere decade later, Wells was already using film narrative as a principal metaphor for his own imaginative method. in A Modern . . .

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