The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production

The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production

The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production

The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production

Synopsis

Landon's book is wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and near state-of-the-art. It concerns science fiction film and, toward the end, almost becomes SF itself in its provocative speculations on the future of such film. The first part of the book argues that most criticism of SF film has been inadequate because it is based on literary rather than film-specific standards. The second argues that SF film will soon become either obsolete or be totally transformed through new computer technology. Science fiction can be seen to encompass not only SF in print, film, TV and comic books, but has become all-pervasive in contemporary culture.

Excerpt

If he will be so indulgent with his author, let the reader approach the photoplay theatre as though for the first time, having again a new point of view.

--Vachel Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture

Most histories of SF film identify Georges Méliès as the genre's first significant practitioner, with his Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) being its first significant work. Méliès gets the nod, in great part, simply because Le Voyage dans la lune stuck with its comic narrative--cobbled together from works by both Verne and Wells--for all of twenty-one minutes, making it an epic compared with the one and two minute shorts then more the norm. But, discounting this film's length and its very tenuous tie to prior SF writing, even a slightly tendentious critic could make a strong case for any number of other films, starting with the Lumières' Charcuterie mecanique (1895), as equally deserving of being designated SF's first film. In fact, it is not at all hard to imagine revisionist histories of the early days of SF film that would persuasively argue that all films before--say--1906 were SF, or that none of them were.

Either case would start with the recognition that "primitive" cinema, the period beginning with the first commercial uses of moving picture technology in 1894 and lasting until around 1906, was primarily a non-narrative phenomenon. "During most of the primitive period," Kristin Thompson reminds us, "films appealed to audiences primarily through simple comedy or melodrama, topical subjects, exotic scenery, trick effects, and the sheer novelty of photographed movement" (Bordwell 157). Tom Gunning calls this period--in which actuality films depicting . . .

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