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Cinema’s Bodily Illusions

Flying, Floating, and Hallucinating

2016
Author:

Scott C. Richmond

Cinema’s Bodily Illusions

On the history and theory of perceptual illusions in cinema

In a powerful challenge to mainstream film theory, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions bridges genres and periods by focusing on cinema’s power to evoke illusions: feeling like you’re flying through space, experiencing 3D without glasses, or even hallucinating. Arguing that cinema is a technology to modulate perception, Scott C. Richmond demonstrates that cinema’s proprioceptive aesthetics make it an urgent site of contemporary inquiry.

In laying out his theory of proprioceptive aesthetics in cinema, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions makes a boldly provocative contribution to the study of bodies, film screens, and media technology. Rescuing cinematic illusion from the perjorative sense with which modernist film scholarship disparages it, Scott C. Richmond finds a visceral (rather than cerebral) thematization of the resonance between ordinary perception and cinematic perception.

Jennifer M. Barker, author of The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience

Do contemporary big-budget blockbuster films like Gravity move something in us that is fundamentally the same as what avant-garde and experimental films have done for more than a century? In a powerful challenge to mainstream film theory, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions demonstrates that this is the case.

Scott C. Richmond bridges genres and periods by focusing, most palpably, on cinema’s power to evoke illusions: feeling like you’re flying through space, experiencing 3D without glasses, or even hallucinating. He argues that cinema is, first and foremost, a technology to modulate perception. He presents a theory of cinema as a proprioceptive technology: cinema becomes art by modulating viewers’ embodied sense of space. It works primarily not at the level of the intellect but at the level of the body. Richmond develops his theory through examples of direct perceptual illusion in cinema: hallucinatory flicker phenomena in Tony Conrad’s The Flicker, eerie depth effects in Marcel Duchamp’s Anémic Cinéma, the illusion of bodily movement through onscreen space in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. In doing so he combines insights from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and James J. Gibson’s ecological approach to perception. The result is his distinctive ecological phenomenology, which allows us to refocus on the cinema’s perceptual, rather than representational, power.

Arguing against modernist habits of mind in film theory and aesthetics, and the attendant proclamations of cinema’s death or irrelevance, Richmond demonstrates that cinema’s proprioceptive aesthetics make it an urgent site of contemporary inquiry.

Cinema’s Bodily Illusions

Scott C. Richmond is assistant professor of cinema and digital media in the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.

Cinema’s Bodily Illusions

In laying out his theory of proprioceptive aesthetics in cinema, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions makes a boldly provocative contribution to the study of bodies, film screens, and media technology. Rescuing cinematic illusion from the perjorative sense with which modernist film scholarship disparages it, Scott C. Richmond finds a visceral (rather than cerebral) thematization of the resonance between ordinary perception and cinematic perception.

Jennifer M. Barker, author of The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience

Cinema’s Bodily Illusions

Contents
Introduction. Proprioceptive Aesthetics, or the Cinema
1. The Unfinished Business of Modernism: Anémic Cinéma
2. Beyond the Infinite, At Home in Finitude: 2001
3. Ecological Phenomenology: Merleau-Ponty and Gibson
4. Proprioception, the Écart: Koyaanisqatsi
5. The Body, Unbounded: Gravity
6. Aesthetics beyond the Phenomenal: The Flicker
Conclusion. The Technicity of the Cinema: Apparatuses and Technics
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index