This dossier addresses a twin set of commonplaces. The first one is that work and its figuration are ambiguously central to the history of cinema, from Louis Lumiere's Workers Leaving the Factory (FR, 1895) onward. The Lumiere film begins with the end of the working day; thus, we never see the actual labor inside the factory walls. The actors, Lumiere's own employees, are put to work by the new invention of the cinema precisely at the fulcrum point of the day which signals their escape from the rationalized, mea sured time of the industrial workplace. Spilling out from the shop floor and through the factory gates, the workers make their way past and beyond the camera's stationary gaze, their movement impressed upon, captured by film. The dividing moment between labor and leisure, between work and that which exists outside it- spatially, temporally- folds into an inscription of a medium's foundational instant. This example reminds us that all of cinema is in some sense a spectacularized product of a labor that remains consistently off- scene-be it the labor behind the camera, in the bodies placed before it, or in those exertions that evade its view, transpiring offscreen, out of frame, before, after, and beyond it.
The second commonplace thus follows that although work is central to a collaborative, effort- intensive medium, human labor often remains the repressed of filmic repre sen ta tion. As Harun Farocki notes regarding the Lumiere film, and more broadly on cinema's historical avoidance of the factory as subject or mise- en- scene: "the resolution of the workers' motion represents something, that the visible movement of people is standing in for the absent and invisible movement of goods, money, and ideas circulating in industry."1 On the one hand, a materialization of labor, its traces, and effects, and on the other, a dissipation into abstraction so central to the constitution of capital's circulations, exchanges, flows, and substitutions. Films screen and also screen out the labor that subtends them as aesthetic "works," as works of art.
The essays in this dossier seek to explore this paradox of labor's simultaneous visibility and invisibility in order to use work as a heuristic to think about the film experience in history and in its bearing on contemporary trends in global cinema, aesthetics, and politics, and, indeed, the inherence of politics in aesthetics. Proceeding from David James's claim that "as every film ... internalizes the conditions of its production, it makes itself an allegory of them,"2 the essays collected here are all interested in how films bear the residue- formally, aesthetically- of relations of production. Thus, the dossier proposes that labor has aesthetic consequence and urgency: the image is the product of work and does a certain kind of work, but also makes the spectator work.
Yet there is also a necessity to think of labor as not only a structural aporia of a repre sen ta tional medium, its aesthetics and technology, but of our economic present as well. In the wake of post- Fordist, neoliberal policies of flexibilization, casualization, and atomization, the crux of work is made increasingly "immaterial," precarious, abstract, and even further alienated- alienated from any form of disaffection that may mobilize, agitate, or make a demand. In a po liti cal moment in which the profit motives of late capitalism proceed unabated by economic crisis and collapse, bankruptcy, and public protest, and in which, in the United States, an assault on public- sector employees and collective bargaining attempts to negate any modicum of accountability of corporate entities to the socius, of employers to employees, and makes self- determination through worker collective action a receding, seemingly foolhardy aspiration, we must attend to labor's value in both its concrete and conceptual registers.
Approaches to questions of labor in film studies scholarship have generally employed analyses of modes of production, industrial structures, studio or ga ni za tion, trade unionization, and repre sen ta tions of social class in film narratives, and have primarily focused on Hollywood cinema. …