Hand and Eye: The Thaumatrope and a New Era of Images
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, 5 pm
View a recording of the lecture
Tom Gunning has established himself as one of the leading scholars of film in the United States. The Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, he works on problems of film style and interpretation, film history and film culture. His published work has concentrated on early cinema (from its origins to World War I) as well as on the culture of modernity from which cinema arose (relating it to still photography, stage melodrama, magic lantern shows, as well as wider cultural concerns such as the tracking of criminals, the World Expositions, and Spiritualism). His book D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (1994) traces the ways film style interacted with new economic structures in the early American film industry and with new tasks of story telling. He has also written on genre in Hollywood cinema and on the relation between cinema and technology. He has also authored The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity (2008), well as over hundred articles on early cinema, film history and theory, avant-garde film, film genre, and cinema and modernism. With Andre Gaudreault he originated the influential theory of the "Cinema of Attractions." In 2009 he was awarded a Andrew A. Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award, the first film scholar to receive one and in 2010 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is currently working on a book on the invention of the moving image.
In his Master Classes lecture, Gunning examines the thaumatrope, a simple device that in the nineteenth century was used to optically superimpose images. It was one of a series of optical devices known at the time as "philosophical toys" because they demonstrated certain perceptual phenomenon. Exploring the toy and the discourse generated around it by inventor John Ayrton Paris, Gunning shows how this simple device introduced a new era of technological and perceptual images.
To prepare us for Gunning's lecture, the IU Cinema will screen the 1986 documentary Merci Monsieur Robertson, directed by Pierre Levie (77 minutes) at 3 p.m., just before the 5 p.m. lecture. The film gives a glimpse of the pre-history of cinema starting with the projections of Etienne Gaspard Robert (also known as M. Robertson), who used magic lanterns and other optical illusions to develop the genre of the Gothic phantasmagoria in the late eighteenth century.