HaplicaI Cinena

AulIov|s)· Anlonia Lanl
Souvce· OcloIev, VoI. 74 |Aulunn, 1995), pp. 45-73
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Haptical
Cinema*
ANTONIA LANT
In the fourth scene of
Georges
Melies's The Palace
of
the Arabian
Nights
(1905)
the
Prince,
Blue
Dwarf,
and their
entourage
enter the
Magic
Forest on a treasure
quest-but
their
entry
is of a
special
kind. At
first,
while
they
are still absent from
the
shot,
their
way
is
utterly
blocked
by painted jungle
flats,
pressed against
the
camera.
Gradually layer upon layer
of
flat,
shaped, palms
and vines
glide
to the
frame's four
edges, invisibly operated by
studio
hands,
each
lifting
and
parting,
adding,
almost foot
by
foot,
depth
for the
arriving
characters to
occupy.
Each
removed
foliage plane
accommodates further their
volume,
their
contrasting
roundness as human
figures.
The flats'
opaque
material,
the allover
density
of
their drawn
designs
(some
leafy,
some
calligraphic, pseudo-Koranic),
and their
position precisely
at
right angles
to the
camera,
as if held in the
plane
of the
screen,
conceal all clues as to
what,
or how much of
it,
lies
beyond
as the travelers
progress.
A
surprised monkey backflips offstage,
a
vine-strangled sculpture
sinks
out of
sight,
a
roaming lion-Douanier-like-exposed
as one flat
shifts,
slinks
away.
After five or six almost total
changes
of scene within this one
shot,
each at a
plane deeper
in the
set,
the
party
reaches a
sphinx-guarded
terrace and
divides,
half
leaving
rear
left,
the others
foreground right,
with the
jungle slowly closing
behind
them,
section
by
section,
in the order in which it had
opened.
The surfaces
of forest seem to reconstitute the
plane
of the
screen,
the film
briefly declaring
itself the decorated canvas it
always
is-before
moving
to scene
five,
the
epiglottal
cave.
This
sequence
is the most
systematic
of Melies's
repeated engagements
with
the novel
spatiality
of
cinema,
an
utterly
flat medium of
presentation,
insubstantial,
without texture or
material,
and
yet evoking,
in a
wafer,
a fuller illusion of the
physicality
and exactness of human
beings
than
any prior
art. In other
films,
such
as The
Spiritualistic Photographer
(1903)
and The Inn Where No Man Rests
(1903),
he
makes
paintings
come to life. In Delirium in a Studio
(1907),
another film that
*
I would like to thank Donald Crafton for
early
conversations on this
topic,
Isabelle Frank for
more recent
discussions,
Annette Michelson for
suggesting Worringer's Egyptian
Art,
and
Ingrid
Periz
for her
encouragement.
OCTOBER
74,
Fall
1995,
pp.
45-73. ? 1995 October
Magazine,
Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute
of Technology.
Operating
the
flats for
the
Magic
Forest.
The Palace of the Arabian
Nights.
1905.
entwines
designed
surface,
illusion of
spatial penetration,
and an oriental
set,
a
painting engorges
an artist: the artist Ali
struggles
to
pull
his head from a bucket
as a woman climbs into an
ornately
framed
picture nearby,
takes
up
the
pose
of
the
odalisque,
and,
through
trick
photography,
freezes into the
painted
linen; Ali,
now freed from the
bucket,
frustratedly
bashes the frozen
woman,
waking
the
irritated Ali
Bouf, who,
after
decapitation
and other
abuses,
chases the first Ali
after
her,
and
eventually
also into the art.1 Mdlies's fondness for
giggling
skeletons
(a
stock-in-trade from his life as a
magician) belongs
here too.
Relatively
flat and
linear in form-also when
painted
as white bars on a black cat suit
(as
in The
Palace
of
the Arabian
Nights)-these
ex-humans
transform,
through
cinematic dis-
solves,
into
plump
bodies of
flesh;
in Le Monstre
(1903)
a
lively
bone
skelly, swaying
before a
sphinx, morphs
into an
undulating,
veiled
belly
dancer,
irresistible to the
watching Egyptian.
By interleaving painted
flats with
moving
actors;
by animating
or constitut-
ing paintings through
trick effects of
stop
motion,
splicing,
and double
exposure;
by creating
a
giant magic
lantern that
produces
both still and animated
projec-
tions,
and then bursts
open
with
dancing girls
(in
The
Magic
Lantern
[1903]),
Melies chose motifs that
probed
or
highlighted
the
alluring yet illusory depths
of the
cinema,
the
impossible compressions
and
expansions
of far and
near,
the unclear identities of
figure
and
ground.
But this was a
quality
also noted
by
1. The film is also known as Ali
Barbouyou
et Ali
Bouf
I'Huile.
Haptical
Cinema
cinema's first
public.
One reviewer of a
Biograph
film shot from a
moving
train
described the
peculiar
effect of "an unseen
energy swallow[ing] space
and
fling[ing]
itself into the distances."2 Maxim
Gorky,
at a Russian 1896 Lumiere
screening,
wrote of the
apparent opposite
motion toward himself: "A train
appears
on the screen ...
[and]
seems as
though
it will
plunge
into the darkness in
which
you
sit."3 Such
spectators
record the
engulfment
of
space
threatened, but
not delivered
by
cinema,
a motion into or out of the
screen,
forward and
back,
the
motion slowed and dissected on the
Magic
Forestjourney.
Scholarship
on
early
film has
thoroughly
examined its
spatial
life;
space
figures prominently
in Thomas Elsaesser's collection
Early
Cinema:
Space,
Frame,
Narrative,
in which authors
compare
the
spatial properties
of one-shot and multi-
shot
films,
uncovering
their
avant-garde
or narrative
potential.4
For some writers
the less
strictly spatially
coded
arrangements
of
early
cinema,
by comparison
with
the later classical
style,
have
suggested
that a wider
range
of
spectatorial responses
was
possible
and indeed existed.5
Just
as for the
Biograph
and Lumiere
reviewers,
cinematic
spatiality
for most of these writers entails both the
illusory
one of the
film and the
psychosocial
one of viewers. But the era of
early
cinema had its own
specialized
theorists on this
point;
the
spatial properties
of
representation
and
their relation to an
observer,
indeed as defined
by
the observer's
perception,
was a
formulation of art
theory
coincident with cinema's
appearance.
In
fact,
mulling
over
spatial
traits in art-fine and decorative-was at its most intense in this
period, constituting
crucial
groundwork
in the
emerging discipline
of art
history.
Adolf Hildebrand's The Problem
of
Form in
Painting
and
Sculpture (1893)
and Alois
Riegl's
Problems
of Style (1893)
and
subsequent
Late Roman Art
Industry (1901)-
foundational texts for Heinrich
W6lfflin,
Wilhelm
Worringer,
and Walter
Benjamin, among
others-sifted and caressed the aesthetic
scope
of
spatial
evocation across the
ages
and across media.6
Riegl
established his notion of the
2. Tom
Gunning,
"An Unseen
Energy
Swallows
Space:
The
Space
in
Early
Film and Its Relation to
American Avant-Garde
Film,"
in Film
Before
Griffith,
ed.
John
Fell
(Berkeley: University
of California
Press, 1983), p. 363, quoting
a reviewer from the New York Mail and
Express,
first cited in Robert C.
Allen,
Vaudeville and
Film,
1895-1915: A
Study
in Media Interaction
(Ph.D diss.,
University
of Iowa, 1977),
p.
131.
3. Maxim
Gorky,
"A Review of the Lumiere
Program
at the
Nizhni-Novgorod Fair," July 4, 1896,
trans. Leda
Swan,
in Kino: A
History of
Russian and Soviet Film, ed.
Jay Leyda (London: George
Allen and
Unwin, 1960), p.
408.
4.
Early
Cinema:
Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker (London: British
Film
Institute, 1990).
5.
See,
for
example,
Miriam
Hansen, Babel and
Babylon: Spectatorship
in American Silent Film
(Cambridge:
Harvard
University Press, 1991), and
Judith Mayne,
The Woman at the
Keyhole:
Feminism
and Women's Cinema
(Bloomington:
Indiana
University Press, 1990).
6. Adolf
Hildebrand,
The Problem
of
Form in
Painting
and
Sculpture [1893], trans. Max
Meyer
and
Robert Morris
Ogden (New
York: G. E. Stechert &
Co., 1932; reprint,
New York: Garland,
1978);
Alois
Riegl,
Problems
of Style:
Foundations
for
a
History of
Ornament [1893], trans.
Evelyn
Kain with an introduc-
tion
by
David Castriota and
preface by
Henri Zerner
(Princeton: Princeton
University Press,
1993);
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry [1901], trans. RolfWinkes (Rome: Giorgio
Bretschneider
Editore, 1985).
Wilhelm
Worringer
writes that "it is to
Riegl
that the
greatest incentives to the work are
due,"
while
47
OCTOBER
Kunstwollen,
the "definite and
purposeful"
trend or taste characteristic of an
age,
largely through
the
analysis
of the
degree
to which works of art of an era were
shaped by
the constraint of
needing
to be
perceived
as more
planar
or
spatial
in
essence.7
Changes
in artistic
style
were the result of
changes
in the Kunstwollen
that
corresponded
above all to cultural
changes
in
spatial perception.8
And while
Riegl's
formulations were to transform over the
years,
the beholder remained of
critical
importance
in his
mapping
of differences of
style
and intent. As he
put
it,
"every
work of art does after all
presuppose
the existence of a
perceiving subject."9
These authors'
objects
of
study
were
usually historically
remote
(late Roman,
Dutch seventeenth
century
for
Riegl,
classical and Renaissance for
Hildebrand,
Egyptian
for
Worringer),
but
they
all cited the state of
contemporary representa-
tion,
if not modern life itself as an
impetus
for their
enquiries.
Hildebrand noted
the threat of industrialization to art and
artists,
"the technical
progress
and fac-
tory
work of our
day"
which
disengages
our
understanding
of
things
from the
ways
in which
they
have been
made,
causing
us to "value a
product
more for itself than
as a result of some mental
activity."10
For
Riegl
(who
criticized Hildebrand for
insufficient
sensitivity
to differences between ancient and modern
Kunstwollen),
the
understanding
and
analysis
of
past
art
(here
specifically
late Roman
art)
had
been both necessitated and enabled
by
"a fundamental breach" that had set in
since "the
beginning
of the twentieth
century...
an
emancipation
of the
faculty
of
feeling
in modern man" that
permitted
him to
recognize
such
culturally
motivat-
ing
forces in other eras.11
Worringer, though
not a
specialist
in
Egyptian art,
was
nevertheless
compelled
to
interrogate
it because of its value as "the
pronounced
counterpart
of our view of
space."12
His work was
necessary,
he
claimed,
because
Benjamin
described him as "a decisive influence," applying
his
theory
of the Kunstwollen to his failed
Ph.D thesis on German
tragic
drama (Wilhelm Worringer,
Abstraction and
Empathy:
A Contribution to the
Psychology of Style [1908],
trans. Michael Bullock
[New
York:
Meridian, 1948], p. 137).
See Thomas Y.
Levin, "Walter
Benjamin
and the
Theory
of Art
History,"
October 47
(Winter 1988), pp.
77-83. Walter
Benjamin, Ursprung
des deutschen
Trauerspiels (Berlin:
Ernst Rowolt
Verlag, 1928).
7.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
9.
8. See Michael Ann
Holly, Panofsky
and the Foundations
of
Art
History (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1984)
for further discussion.
9.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
[1902],
in German
Essays
on Art
History: Winckelmann,
Burckhardt, Panofsky,
and
Others,
ed. Gert
Schiff,
The German
Library Series,
vol. 79
(New
York:
Continuum, 1988), p.
181.
Riegl's essay,
written as a
polemic against
another art
historian, Josef
Strzygowski,
summarizes the broad
arguments
of his earlier book Late Roman Art
Industry
and
originally
appeared
in
Beilage
zur
Allgemeinen Zeitung (Munich, April 23, 1902).
10. Hildebrand,
The Problem
of Form, reprint edition, p.
15.
11.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
174. He seems to
refer, therefore,
to
just
two
years
before.
See also Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
88.
12.
Worringer,
Egyptian
Art, trans. Bernard Rackham
(London: Putnam's, 1928), p. 82; originally
published
as
Agyptische
Kunst: Probleme ihrer
Wertung (Munich: Piper, 1927).
This book is marked
by
extremely complex
and often racist
arguments
mobilized both to
explain
ancient
Egyptian
architec-
ture and art, and to associate it with
contemporary
culture in the United States. One of
Worringer's
conclusions is that there is a
discontinuity
between
Egyptian
art and the culture that made it. I take
up
these issues in a
forthcoming essay.
48
Haptical
Cinema
"the
problem
of the
history
of the
genesis
of
space"
was "a
truly
modern one.
Only
for men of
today
could the
question
of the essence of
spatiality
become one of
such
actuality
for the
history
of the
spirit.
We moderns were the first who could
find in this
any problem
at all."13
Worringer
concluded his book with the same
sentiment: "I have a
strong
conviction that the rise of this ideal
figure
[the
desire
for realization of full
space-expression
in
culture]
in me is no
accident,
but the
hidden
consequence
of
general
transformations which our historical outlook and
judgment
are
undergoing
at this moment in evolution-and which
urge
one to
put
the
question
to which an answer is here
attempted,"
the
question
of the trans-
formation of
spatial expression
in culture.14
The
impulse
for taxonomies of
form,
or what
Worringer
will call
"morphologies
of
culture,"
derived from the
impact
of modernist
images,
the
proliferation
of
mass-cultural
materials,
the
explosion
of new "cultures of
import,"
and shifts in
urban
experience
that immersed
filmmakers,
sculptors,
and museum curators
alike.15 As
Worringer
insists,
these
changes put spatiality
at "the center of our
perceptual
interest."16
In this
essay
I
bring early
cinema into contact with
adjacent
theories of art
that
analyze space,
to illuminate that
stage
of the
history
of cinema when its
processes
of
description
were found so
strikingly
odd, new,
or unfamiliar. When
Gorky,
comments that
"Everything
there-the
earth,
the
trees,
the
people,
the
water and the air-is
dipped
in monotonous
gray,"
what disturbs him in
part
is the
democratizing
effect of
cinema,
that all
elements,
dead or
alive,
human or
not,
inhabit one
metaphorical
and literal
plane.17
"The
ashen-gray foliage
of the trees
sways
in the
wind,
and the
gray
silhouettes of the
people
...
glide noiselessly
on the
gray ground,"
as if oblivious to one
another,
their relative
significance
unclear.18
Later,
Virginia
Woolf fuses
(or confuses)
fluff
caught
in the
projection gate
with
the
representation
of a
tadpole,
and that with novel evocation of emotional
states;
and she describes her attention
wandering,
like
Gorky's, moving
across the surface
of the
screen,
but also
probing
into
depth, selecting
for interest the
gardener
mowing
the lawn
beyond (or above)
Anna Karenina and her lover.19 And then
13.
Ibid.,
pp.
73,
81.
14.
Ibid.,
p.
91.
15.
By
"cultures of
import" Worringer
is
probably referring
to,
among
other
arts,
African art. He
continues,
the "cultures of
import"
in
Europe
no
longer
"allow us to adhere
calmly
and
obstinately
to
the old accentuations of essential
values";
these "wider
possibilites
of
comparison"
have
"potentially
open[ed] up
an
entirely
new field of
vision,"
and have made us
"revis[e]
... our habits of
judgment"
(ibid.,
pp.
81, 91).
One
might
also see the
outcrop
of
grammars
of art and
design
of the second half of
the nineteenth
century (by
Walter
Crane,
Owen
Jones,
William
Goodyear,
an
unpublished
one
by
Riegl,
and
others)
as
part
of the wider
practice
of classification in the sciences and social sciences.
16.
Ibid.,
p.
73.
17.
Gorky,
"Lumiere
Program," p.
407.
18. Ibid.
19.
Virginia
Woolf,
"Movies and
Reality,"
The
Nation, 1926;
reprinted
as "The Cinema" in The
Captain's
Death Bed and Other
Essays,
ed. Leonard Woolf
(New
York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1950).
I
am indebted to
Ingrid
Periz for her
analysis
of this
passage.
49
OCTOBER
there is the
spatial swallowing
and
rushing already
described.
Reconnecting
cinema
with concurrent
analyses
of art
gives
us
purchase
on
whatJacques
Aumont
recently
insisted was the
distinctive,
initial
primitiveness
of
cinema,
its value as "a
deposit
of
figurative
invention,"
as the
period
of
densest,
most intense
questioning
of
cinematic
design.20
Within this
territory
I follow two related
paths: Riegl's
distinction between
haptical
and
optical properties
of art-a distinction
referring
to
knowledge
of
artistic
space through
the senses of touch and vision-and the role of
Egyptian
art in
making
this distinction. As the conditions of modern life fueled
activity
in
re-visioning
the
past, Egypt played
a
particular
role-in
Worringer's
view,
a
study
of its art
provided
the most
profitable example
for
arriving
at modern self-
knowledge.21
Its
objects
could do this for a
complex
of reasons.
Through
them theorists
planted
an
anchoring pole
in their
(often
teleological)
models of
decipherment, grasped
one end of a
representational range;
ancient
Egyptian style
embodied a
distinct,
earlier
system
of
representation. Crudely
put,
this was the
flat, hieratic, archaic,
planar
end of
things,
not the linear
per-
spective
and
complex
volume of Renaissance art.
Repeatedly, Riegl dynamized
his
argument
for evolution of the Kunstwollen
by opposing
modern and ancient
Egyptian
wills
(this
practically
in the teeth of
Cubism),
using
the term "modern
art"
largely
to refer to Renaissance
production
onward,
and sometimes
explicitly
to
Impressionism.22
"Ancient architecture
[was]
hostile to
space,
and modern
architecture ...
space searching."
Of
Egyptian
reliefs he
says, "space
relations are
avoided, or,
as far as
they
had to be
considered,
are
cunningly
transformed into
relations on the
plane.
In this
respect
our
present-day expectations
are
contrary
to the intent of the
Egyptians."
In a final
example
he
writes,
"Because our modern
art
appeals
to a
high degree
to
experience
(and
is even in
danger
of
seeing
the
material deformed
through
the
conceptual),
it is understandable that we
prefer
the
subjective perception
of the Greek over the
objective
one of the
Egyptians."23
Expanding
this
point
in a
note,
he continues:
"every Egyptian
artist worked
painstakingly suppressing any subjective
infiltration. The diametrical
opposition
to this constitutes our modern art of so-called
individualism,
where each artist
creates
painstakingly
in accordance with his
subjective
ideals which leads to the
result that there cannot be made a work of art which would be considered
by
all,
or at least
by
a
larger part
of the
public,
as
'good'
and that
especially
the most
celebrated works of art have found the most vehement
opposition."24
One hears in this
opposition instability
on both the
Egyptian
and modem
20.
Jacques
Aumont,
"When Is Primitive Cinema?"
(lecture given
at "Cinema Turns 100," the Third
International Conference of
Domitor,
Society
for the
Study
of
Early
Cinema,
New York
University, June
1994). My
reference to
Gorky
here was
prompted by
Aumont's discussion.
21.
Worringer, Egyptian
Art, p.
82.
22. See
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
27,
for one of several references to
Impressionism.
23. Ibid.,
pp.
57, 59,
63.
24. Ibid., pp.
63-64.
50
Haptical
Cinema
sides,
and
this,
through
a kind of
undertow,
brought
them into another relation.
On the one
hand,
ruptures
in the current Kunstwollen stare
Riegl
in the face
(he
worries about deformation
through
extreme
subjective
content),
and modern
changes
in
general,
as I have
already
noted,
consciously
motivate the wave of
investigation
into
spatial vocabulary
in both art and
theory.25
On the other
hand,
already
embedded within
Egyptian sculptures
and
icons,
as described
by Riegl,
Hildebrand,
and
others,
was the
germ
of
expansion
into
variegated possibility.
Egypt
could not
help
but stand for ideas of
emergence
and evolution in
style
itself
because of its
place
within their
chronologies
as the initial or
primitive
form,
from
which there could
only
be a
progression. Riegl
writes,
"It is obvious that the
isolation of the individual
figures
connected to the
plane,
as it was
principally
intended
by
the
Egyptians,
could not be done with absolute strictness. .. .The
slightest necessity
to
bring
two
figures
into a closer and more evident relation to
one another had to lead to ... the connection of the individual
shapes
not
just
with the
plane
(which
was
already
the aim of ancient
Egyptian
art),
but with one
another." He describes this state of affairs as "a
contrast,
and therefore a
problem."
He continues:
"furthermore,
space relations-foreshortenings, overlaps,
and
shadows-could not all
possibly
be
suppressed
as soon as
plane
relations were
admitted.... The
suppression
of
space
in ancient
Egyptian
art meant thus another
latent
contradiction,
in
which,
again,
was contained a
problem
for reconciliation
and thus the seed for future
development."26
This
leaky
structure
grows
in a
particular ideological
nexus: it is consonant with the
gestures
of historical (and
sometimes
imperial) vantage
in
expressing
the dual desire to locate ancient
Egypt
both as the
powerful
but limited source from which modern culture has traveled
an enormous and valuable distance, and as a stable, weighted, touchstone, the
eternal beacon from the
past, reassuring
in the
grip
of
modernity's
fluctuations.
We witness a
collapse
of the structure, the
fusing
of the
Egyptian
and the
modern,
when Picasso and
Braque,
in a reference to their radical
reordering
of artistic
planes
and
spaces
in 1908, are said to be
working
"in the
Egyptian style."27
But
here must be mentioned one other, contrasting
facet of the
signification
of
Egypt
within discourses on art
(although
there is no room to discuss its full
implications)-its possession
of
"stylistic perfection."28
25. In fact
Riegl
will
argue
that it is in Dutch
seventeenth-century
art that the most ideal balance
between
objective
and
subjective
elements is achieved. See
Margaret
Iverson's discussion of this "delicate
equipoise"
in Alois
Riegl:
Art
History
and
Theory (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1993),
p.
147 and elsewhere.
26.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
60.
Riegl
earlier refers to this "latent contradiction" in his
chapter
on architecture: "In ancient artistic creation there existed from the
very beginning
a latent
inner
controversy;
one was not able to avoid a
subjective
blend in
spite
of the intended
basically objective
perception
of
objects.
This latent
controversy
was the seed for all later
development." (See pp. 22, 24.)
27. See Arthur Danto, "Georges Braque,"
The Nation
(August 27, 1988), pp. 174-76, for a discussion
of this theme. Louis Vauxcelles and Le Douanier Rousseau both
apparently
made the connection to
Egypt, although only
the Vauxcelles reference is
clearly
documented.
28.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
63.
Riegl
here refers to
Egyptian accomplishment
"in the
conquering
of raw materials," in which
they
have been
"superior
to all their successors until the
present day," although
he is
only impressed by
this within certain limits.
51
OCTOBER
By
1891 Owen
Jones's
The Grammar
of
Ornament had become "a veritable
bible of reference ... to
English
and American
decorators,
the decorative
artist,
the cultivated amateur in aesthetic
matters,
and the
professional
architect."29
Published in
1856, afterJones
had
participated
in
designing
the 1851 Great Exhi-
bition in
London,
the volume illustrated decorative art from around the world.30
Jones began
his
one-hundred-plate
selection with three
plates
from
"Savage
Tribes,"
followed
by
nine of
Egyptian
ornament and three
Assyrian
and Persian
examples.
His
message,
shared
by
others,
was that
European design
was
sorely
in
need of
renewal,
but-and here he differed from other commentators-he
proposed
that the sources of
greatest accomplishment
in
design
were outside
Europe,
where,
in
Savage
Tribes,
"the
principles
of the
very highest
ornamental
art are
manifest,"
even in "the
very
barbarous
practice"
of
tattooing
the face.31 In
Egyptian design
the same
high
value was to be
found,
via
"inspiration
direct from
nature." But rather than naturalistic
copying,
in
Egyptian design
the "laws which
the works of nature
display"
are observed so "that
Egyptian
ornament,
however
conventionalized,
is
always
true."32
Jones
concludes: "We
venture, therefore,
to
claim for the
Egyptian style,
that
though
the
oldest,
it
is,
in all that is
requisite
to
constitute a true
style
of
art,
the most
perfect.
The
language
in which it reveals
itself to us
may
seem
foreign, peculiar, formal, and
rigid,
but the ideas and the
teachings
it
conveys
to us are of the soundest. As we
proceed
with other
styles,
we
shall see that
they approached perfection only
so far as
they followed,
in common
with the
Egyptians,
the true
principles
to be observed in
every
flower that
grows."33
In other words,
in another influential strand of assessment of visual cul-
ture, overlapping
with
Riegl's
in its focus on decoration but
divergent
in its
setting
store
by
nature rather than the cultural
engine
of the
Kunstwollen, Egyptian
accomplishment represented
the
apogee
of
decoding
and
understanding,
a
source of immediate value and interest rather than an ancient historical
mooring.
To this brief
survey
of
Egypt's
variable
ratings
within the
flurry
of late-nine-
teenth-century grammars
of art we
may
now relate the cinema. I have
argued
elsewhere for the immense
range
of attractions of
Egypt
for
early cinema,
from the
29. William H.
Goodyear,
The Grammar
of
the Lotus: A New
History of
Classic Ornament as a
Development
of
Sun
Worship (London: Sampson, Low,
Marston &
Co., 1891), p.
3.
30. Owen
Jones,
The Grammar
of
Ornament
(1856; reprint,
New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold
Company, 1982).Jones's personal
forte was in Arabic
design:
he wrote a reference text on the Alhambra
in
Spain,
was commissioned to ornament the Khedive's Palace in
Cairo,
and
posed against
a
backdrop
of Moorish motifs for a formal
portrait
in 1857. See Ernst
Gombrich,
The Sense
of
Order: A
Study
in the
Psychology of
Decorative Art
(Oxford:
Phaidon
Press, 1979), p.
51 and elsewhere.
31. Jones, The Grammar
of Ornament, p.
13.
32. Ibid., p.
22.
33. Ibid., p.
24.
Goodyear
answered
Jones's
tome with his own
grammar,
this time of the
lotus,
in
which he
placed Egypt
at the source of all
stylistic evolution,
not
only
for Greek
egg-and-dart molding,
as
Jones
had done,
but also for "Ancient American"
design
or
Mayan culture,
and all others: "the lotus
was a fetich [sic] of immemorial
antiquity
. . .
worshipped
. . . from
Japan
to the Straits of Gibraltar"
(Grammar of
the Lotus, p. 4).
And it was
through Goodyear's publication
that
Riegl could,
in his own
Problems
of Style,
link eons of
development
of
style
of the
acanthus, starting
as
early
as the
Egyptian.
52
Haptical
Cinema
parallel
between filmic animation and the
raising
of mummies to the theorization
of movies as
hieroglyphic
texts for
pictorial reading.34
I now want to
suggest
that
this
prevalence may
be as central to cinema's desire to
signal
an
evolving spatial
language
as it was to the
contemporary Riegl.
The illusion of
moving photographic
pictures
on a
plane,
and the
cutting
of diverse
spaces against
one another in multi-
shot films
suggested,
in its
early reception,
a
pressing
out into and back into
space,
a
claiming
of new
space,
a movement between
haptical
and
optical, entailing spe-
cific interactions with a viewer. If we could document concrete
contiguities
between filmmakers and art theorists on this
point,
the
place
to look would be
Vienna
during
the
early
decades of this
century.
But in the absence of these we can
still
say
that
filmmaking
cultures
were,
like audiences and
critics,
steeped
in
Egypt's
association with
striking spatiality,
be it of
flatness,
of
strangeness,
of
layers,
of
emergence.
In the
cinema,
as in art
theory, Egyptian spatiality
was fertile and
productive, lending
to Theda Bara's world in
Cleopatra
(1917) cluttered,
ornamen-
tal
planarity,
to Karl Freund's The
Mummy
(1932)
giantism
and
depth,
while in
other films it seemed to be able to trace out the shift from a cinema of frontal
presentation
to a cinema of articulated
depth.
In this realm where cinematic
material and nascent
principles
of art
history
intersected
lay
another reason for
filming pharaohs,
for both cinema and
Egypt spoke
of a world on the
verge
of
spatial
transformation-their combined effect was to be
intoxicating,
and
enduring.
Depressed by
"the
poverty
of
sculptural
art" and short of
opportunity
for
bas-relief,
Hildebrand wrote a treatise whose force would be
amplified by
his own
experience
as a
working sculptor.35
Here he
proposed
"our
general spatial
ideas
and the
perception
of
spatial
form as the most
important
facts in our
conception
of the
reality
of
things."36
But he noted that the
eye perceives space
in two
modes,
visually
and
kinesthetically, corresponding
to distant and near encounters.37 In
distant
perception
we
grasp
the
image
as a
whole,
as a
spatial unity
that tends
toward
flatness,
or at least has
clear,
comprehensible spatial
relations between
parts;
this is a "visual
projection,"
Fernbild or distance
picture.38 By
contrast,
the
nearer an
object
is in our field of
view,
the more
eye
movement is
required
to
perceive
it as coherent and
spatially
unified,
but
through
this motion we can
piece
together disparate
views,
using
a combination of the visual and kinetic modes.39
34. Antonia
Lant,
"The Curse of the
Pharaoh,
or How Cinema Contracted
Egyptomania,"
October59
(Winter 1992), pp.
86-112;
reprinted
in East
of
Suez: Orientalism in
Film,
ed.
Gaylyn
Studlar and Matthew
Bernstein
(New Brunswick,
N.J.: Rutgers University
Press, 1995).
35.
Hildebrand,
The Problem
ofForm, p.
116.
36.
Ibid.,
p.
17
(from
the foreword to the third
edition).
37.
Ibid.,
p.
21.
38.
Ibid.,
p.
28.
39. In his later foreword Hildebrand allies these two modes to the faculties of
sight
and touch:
"These two means of
perceiving
the same
phenomenon
not
only
have
separate
existences in our faculties
53
OCTOBER
Successful art
brought
these two
operations
into
balance,
striving
toward a
"general law of
unity
in
space"
best
represented by
the
sculptural
work of
Michelangelo, woefully lacking
in the memorial
groups
of Canova with their
diagonals
and
proudly jutting figures,
and
crassly
flouted in modern
panoramas.40
Panoramas,
in
combining deep,
distant,
painted
scenes with real
foreground
objects, brought
"forth an
unpleasant feeling,
a sort of dizziness" in the "sensitive
observer"
trying
to reconcile
multiple,
incommensurate clues to coded
depth
as
he or she scanned from the near to the distant and back.41
Ultimately,
the
panorama "presuppose[d]
in the
spectator
a coarseness and
vulgarity
of vision"
and
encouraged
the same "lack of culture in
perception, just
as wax
figures
do,
by
means of
perverse
sensations and a false
feeling
of
reality."42
Hildebrand's account of
visiting
this
mass-cultural,
precinematic
entertain-
ment clarifies his ultimate
preference
for the
bas-relief,
a mode of
representation
with
particular metaphoric power
for
evoking
the aesthetics of cinema. His model
for
explaining
the
"conception
of relief" is reminiscent of Melis's Forest
dissection,
for in
forming
three-dimensional
objects,
artists should consider volume as
simply
"a
plane continuing
into the distance." As he
instructs,
"think of two
planes
of
glass standing parallel,
and between them a
figure
whose
position
is such that its
outer
points
touch them."
(His
sandwich formulation alternates
planar
and
volumetric elements-like Melies's
foliage
flats and
actors.)
The zone between
the
glass
sheets forms a "uniform
depth
measurement" and when the
figure
is
viewed
through
the front
glass
"it becomes unified into a
unitary pictorial
surface.
... The
figure
lives,
we
may say,
in one
layer
of uniform
depth.
Each form tends to
make of itself a flat
picture
within the visible two dimensions of this
layer,
and to
be understood as such a flat
picture."43
Hildebrand adds that when
sculpting
from
the block one moves from the visual to the
kinetic,
imagining depth
relations in
planes, slowly emerging
as if
through
a series of
bas-reliefs,
or as if the
sculpture
were in a
bath,
the water
gradually draining away.44
Hildebrand's account becomes
suggestively
cinematic as he traces bas-relief
evolution from the
Egyptian.
A low-relief
figure
of a
pharaoh, partially
incised and
partially
worked into forward
planes,
"illustrates the evolution of
sculpture
from
drawing,"45
while
another,
cuboid
Egyptian figure
"illustrates the evolution of
sculpture
from
drawing
carved into a block."46 Still
referring
to the
Egyptian
for
sight
and
touch,
but are united in the
eye
.... The two functions of
seeing
and
touching
exist here ...
in intimate union
[and]
an artistic talent consists in
having
these two functions
precisely
and harmo-
niously
related"
(ibid., p. 14).
40. Ibid.,
pp.
113,
135.
41. Ibid.,
p.
56.
42. Ibid.,
p.
58;
and see
p.
113.
43. Ibid.,
p.
80.
44. Ibid.,
pp.
128-29,
134-35. He contrasts this method to
sculpting
in
clay,
which
proceeds
from
the kinetic to the visual. Hildebrand attributes the bath
image
to
Michelangelo.
45. Ibid.,
p.
98.
46. Ibid.,
p.
103.
Michelangelo's sculptures
retained the
ghosts
of their
original
blocks-but not as
54
Haptical
Cinema
example,
he writes:
"Sculpture
has
undoubtedly
evolved from
drawing; by giving
depth
to a
drawing
we make of it a
relief,
and this relief
may
be
regarded
as the
animation of a surface."47
Emergence
into volume is animation of a
plane,
illus-
trated
by
an
Egyptian
incised/relief
drawing
on the
way
to
sculpture,
emblematic
both of
origin
and the onset of
development,
and its form both
protrudes
from
and retreats into the
surface,
moves forward and backward.
By
"animation" Hildebrand meant both increased modulation in the
plane,
and increased
activity by
the
viewer,
who would
move,
or
imagine
he
moved,
to
perceive
the
object.
In this context he reminds his reader that "all our
knowledge
concerning
the
plastic
nature of
objects
is derived
originally
from movements
which we make either with
eyes
or with hands. And it is
through
a
complex
of
such
movements,
or
by
so-called kinesthetic ideas of
them,
that we are able to
imagine
three-dimensional or solid form."48
Riegl
also identified a trend toward
animation in the
development
from
Egyptian
to
classically antique
Kunstwollen
(a
trend favored
by
modern
taste).49
Let us now shift over from Hildebrand and
Riegl's
animation to films that have showcased cinema's
power
to animate a surface
by adapting
the
vocabulary
of
Egypt.
Even
though
this is
surely
not what Noel
Burch meant when he wrote that
early
cinema
"began again"
the
journey
toward
Renaissance
perspective
and
"only fully rejoined
the 'classical'
representation
of
space
between 1910 and
1915,"
several films of the teens do indeed
present spatial
amplification
as a
passage
from the
Egyptian
to
animation,
sometimes
marking
the
journey by
the
drawing
of a
curtain,
itself reminiscent of the onset of motion
picture projection.50
In Death
of
Saul,
for
example, arrayed
in the
foreground
is a
counter of
representational options:
Saul's rotund
body
in
semi-Assyrian garb
contrasts with
painted hieroglyphics,
a
bas-relief,
and curtain and
parapet
ornaments of flat chevrons and lotuses.51
Angry
and
jealous
at David's
popularity,
Saul holds back the curtain
inviting
us into the more
potent, intensely spatial
cinema
beyond
where the crowds are
lionizing
their hero. It is as if
by displaying
a
wide
range
of artistic
modes,
each associated with its own
special
thickness,
the
film better flaunts its new
property
in the center-the dramatic
presentation
of
deep spatial
illusion free from
demarcated,
planar
zones.
In
Ramses,
King of Egypt
(1912)
landscape
shots of
shepherding
alternate with
much as the
Egyptian-making
them the most
spatially
unified and successful of works for Hildebrand.
Illustrative
plates
were not included in the first three German editions of The Problem
of
Form in
Painting
and
Sculpture
and
may
first have been
added,
as far as I have been able to
establish,
in the 1932
English
edition.
47.
Ibid.,
p.
125.
48.
Ibid.,
p.
24.
49.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
77. This discussion occurs in a section where
Riegl
is establish-
ing
the "inanimation" of the later Constantinian relief art in which there is a "latent schism felt
by
the
modern beholder between Fernsicht and
Nahsicht,
far and near
positions
of
viewing."
50. Noel
Burch, Life
to Those
Shadows,
trans. and ed. Ben Brewster
(Berkeley: University
of California
Press, 1990),
p.
162.
51.
Fragment
of a film viewed at the
Library
of
Congress,
FAB
1703,
also known as David and Saul
and Mort de Saiil
(Pathe, 1912).
55
OCTOBER
Mort de Saul. 1912.
scenes of Ramses'
court,
the sets
patterned
to
suggest
a similar cinematic
lineage.
At one
point
a servant leaves the
palace, parting
curtains between two massive
Antinous
figures.
A wall incised with
birds,
an
oar,
and feathers fills
right
frame;
behind him is the flattest lotus
pattern,
while on the stele
by
his side are car-
touche
strips.
The full volume of his live
body
is
heightened by
its motion
through
the
curtains,
and
by
its
juxtaposition
with
slimmer, static,
or
totally
flat,
nonperspectival representational
forms. In a second
scene,
the woman Rameses
loves
flings open drapes
to reveal the
gleaming
statue of Isis in
depth;
she heads
toward
it,
forsaking
the
hieratic,
film-strip
borders of the frame for the more
three-dimensional world of
gods
and
godesses beyond.52
In a later
film,
She
(1925),
based on H. Rider
Haggard's
novel,
the same elements
occur,
but
highly
eroticized. The curtain is
transparent, printed
with a
life-sized,
Egyptianate
human frieze. Behind it
glows
a
light, illuminating
a
huge
statue,
a fountain
playing,
and She
moving. Suddenly
the curtain is torn
open by
the
moving
volume
of her
body passing through
it,
her head backlit and veiled as she
prowls
toward
Holly,
more
fully revealing
as she
goes
the
luxury
of the hidden
space
behind her.
The curtain
itself,
with its
figures, slight
folds,
and
undulations,
slight
thickness,
not
quite
one with the skin of the
screen,
portends
this
spatial rending.
Even the
many mummy
cases of silent
cinema,
painted
and
designed,
sometimes in
relief,
and
containing
bound actors who will come to
life,
proffer spatial
forms in the
52. There are similar scenes in
Joseph
and His Brethren
(Cines, 1911).
56
Haptical
Cinema
Above and below:
Ramses,
King
of
Egypt.
1912.
57
OCTOBER
She. 1925.
Ancient
Temples
of
Egypt.
1912.
58
Haptical
Cinema
evolutionary sequence.
Their Chinese-doll
quality,
and the
self-unbinding
of the
mummies
(often
a critical moment in their
animation), brings together
in one
figure
the
journey
from bas-relief
(the case)
to
sculpture
in the round
(the
living
mummy),
the
wrapped mummy being
a sort of
haptical staging post
on the
way,
stuck to the
plane
of the back of the case.
Egypt spoke
to silent cinema's
spatiality
in other
ways
besides those
suggested
by
Hildebrand's model of animated
drawing
via the
bas-relief,
and I will
briefly
review them here as further evidence of the
general
relevance of the
Egyptianate
in
making tangible
cinema's
promised
volume.53 At the
simplest
level,
viewers
recognized,
in the
stationary zoetrope
or
spiral kinetograph
(in
which
sequences
of
slightly varying printed,
drawn,
or
photographed images
are
arranged
as a
frieze),
formal similarities to the banded
design
of tomb decoration.
Certainly
the
flat,
strip
form of
exposed
celluloid echoed this art for some commentators.54
A second association
lay
in the radical
juxtapositions
of scale made
possible
through cinema-through
the
projection
of
close-ups, editing,
double
exposure,
split
screen,
and so on-but
already
familiar from the
daunting
scale shifts of
nineteenth-century photographs
of
Egypt. By
the 1890s
images
of
giant Egyptian
statuary,
above all the
sphinx
at
Giza,
had been
widely
circulated
through
lantern
shows,
weekly magazines,
and books. The
placement
of human
figures alongside
the monuments enhanced their
immensity
and hence the
images'
fascination of
staggering
discontinuities of scale without tricks or
editing.55
Nile
valley
loca-
tions later
provided settings
for silent
films,
for Kalem's Ancient
Temples of Egypt
(1912)
for
example,
in which, in the
opening
shot, writer and actress Gene
Gauntier and the Kalem
troop
stride
past
a fallen head of Ramses. These were, as
it were, naturally occurring,
immobile instances of one of cinema's eeriest
early
properties-giantism
of the
moving
face.
Double
exposure
also enabled new scale relations within the same shot. In
Cabiria
(Italy, 1914)
the decoration of the court of Cirta
(a
town meant to evoke
North African
Carthage)
blends
Assyrian, Persian, and
particularly Egyptian
design
with its sun-disk scarabs, Horus
figures
with
guarding wings,
and Anubis-
like monoliths. As
Queen
Sofinisba dreams that she will lose this wealth if she does
53. Points in the next two
paragraphs appear
in
my
contribution to Cinima sans
Frontieres/Images
across Borders, 1895-1918, ed. Roland
Cosandey
and Francois Albera
(Lausanne/Quebec: Payot-
Lausanne/Nuit blanche editeur, 1995).
54. See, above all, Vachel
Lindsay's
discussion of this in The Art
of
the
Moving
Picture [1915] (New York:
Liveright, 1970) where, among
other references, he recommends The Book
of
the Dead as a
blueprint
for
screenwriters. Charles Urban's film
Egypt surely
demonstrates this relation: one scene, shot in the
British Museum, compounds
three
layers
of serial frames, in three
separate planes:
the casket decora-
tion at
greatest depth,
with its
regular, recurring pilasters;
the
glass case, also
segmented
into frames,
and the unseen film stock itself, passing
before the lens behind the viewer. See Charles Urban, Urban
Movie Chats, Egypt,
circa 1921.
55. See
Julia Ballerini, "The In
Visibility
of
Hadji-Ishmael:
Maxime Du
Camps's
1850
Photographs
of
Egypt,"
in The
Body Imaged:
The Human Form and Visual Culture Since the Renaissance, ed. Kathleen
Adler and Marcia Pointon
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 147-60, for an
expanded
discussion of this
point.
59
OCTOBER
(Greta
Garbo. Publicity photo.
1 930s.
"O.,I
I n I
not sacrifice the
girl
Cabiria,
Moloch's three
monstrous,
isolated
eyes
blink and
hover over her chaise while a
huge
hand reaches from frame left as if to
grab
her.
The double
exposure
creates a
shocking, gruesome
scale
disruption
to
express
her
fear and horror. Even a film such as Melies's The Man with a Rubber
Head,
with no
Oriental
content,
might
have called
up Egypt's
now
widespread
cultural
library
of
monumentalism sans
editing
(which
it was Melies's trick to
conceal).
In Blackmail's
chase scene in th'e British Museum
(Hitchcock's last,
more-or-less silent
film),
a
massive
Egyptian
head looms behind the
escaping
man,
memorializing,
I would
suggest,
the link to the
opening chapters
of cinema. The central
point
here is that
radical
juxtapostions
of
scale,
particularly
those
accomplished
within the same
frame,
could not
help
but summon
Egypt,
whose visual
impact
of massiveness was
produced
via
figures
whose scale
persisted
without the aid of
projection.
These
were the
largest
faces in the
world,
but for
cinema,
"surpass[ing]
in the
gigantic
and monstrous all that
antiquity
has left us."56
Surely
the
urge
to
superimpose
Greta Garbo's face on a
sphinx lay
in its
power
to
express
so
succinctly
the com-
bined
impacts
of her
close-up, overwhelming
in its
scale, silence,
and
enigmatic
sensibility.
But the act of
superimposition
also
produced
a kind of bas-relief. The accu-
56.
Georg
Wilhelm Friedrich
Hegel,
The
Philosophy of History (New
York:
Dover, 1956), p.
198. Of
course,
Mayan,
Easter
Islander,
and other
sculptural
traditions
produced gigantic figures,
but none
were as
widely reproduced
or discussed in this
period
as the
Egyptian.
60
Haptical
Cinema
rate
registration
of the
photomontage,
combined with the retention of the
sphinx's
characteristic nemes
silhouette,
suggested
that Garbo's head did not
replace
the
sphinx's
but rather covered it in a
new,
film-star
skin,
one
layer
over
the other. And it is not
only
the
unimaginable
sliver of
space
between one
layer
and the next that
points
to the bas-relief
genre,
but also the
very
embeddedness of
the
sphinx
itself. Over the centuries it had
become,
through
erosion,
no
longer
fully
modeled
but,
bodily, clearly
of the rock
strata,
while sand had in addition
hidden its lower
quarters.
The
promise
of
spatial emergence,
which I have been
arguing
was
acutely
associated with
early
cinema,
adhered to both the
collage
technique
and the location's
geography.
In
fact,
for
Hegel,
a constrained emer-
gence
characterized ancient
Egyptian
culture in
general,
but the
Sphinx
in
particular:
"The human head
looking
out from the brute
body
exhibits
Spirit
as it
begins
to
emerge
from the
merely
Natural-to tear itself loose therefrom and
already
to look more
freely
around
it; without, however,
entirely freeing
itself
from the fetters Nature had
imposed."57
Because of its extensive
underground
chambers,
as much as because of time's sand
burial,
Hegel
seemed to
perceive
Egypt
as one
gigantic
bas-relief.58 The
gradual freeing
of
above-ground
structures,
under
way through
excavations of the second half of the nineteenth
century,
would then
parallel through metonymy
Hildebrand's
sculpture
from the
block;
only
now sand instead of water
seeped away.59
Garbo's
sphinx
was not
unique
but followed Theda
Bara's,
Asta
Nielsen's,
and several other
publicity images
which built
up
thin
spatial layers
of visual
illusion. In one for
Cleopatra
(1917)
these
layers
included Bara's face
floating
off
the
sphinxy
surface,
her name
painted
as if in
shallow,
protruding
relief,
and the
film title
seemingly
chiseled in below.60 Even in a
second,
collage-free photograph,
Bara seems both fused with and
emergent
from the
Egyptianate-painted
lotuses
sprout
from her head and bud from her
shoulders,
enhancing
the bas-relief
effect,
while she stands
upon
a
parabolic ledge, measuring just
the kind of shallow
slice Hildebrand
prescribed.
Art work for Edith
Storey's
The Dust
of Egypt (1915)
also bonds a
princess
to a decorated
plane,
sections here too
painted
to look both
incised and
protruding.61
It is
especially significant
that all these
images
are
promotional
materials,
invitations to the show.
They
hint at the
departure
from
the static flatness of the
photograph,
the
frieze,
the
painting,
that cinema will
perform, pointing
to the
sensuality
of
emergence
from two dimensions into
"living"
57.
Ibid.,
p.
199;
see also
p.
213.
Philip
Kuberski refers to this
passage, although
more to draw on its
negative
evaluations of the
culture,
in his
very interesting essay
on
Egypt
in The Persistence
of Memory:
Organism, Myth,
Text
(Berkeley: University
of California
Press, 1992).
58. "The inummerable edifices of the
Egyptians
are half below the
ground
and half rise above it
into the air"
(Hegel,
The
Philosophy of History, p. 199).
59. Another
type
of bas-relief was associated with
Egypt
in this
period:
travelers and scholars made
"squeezes"
from incised
hieroglyphic
texts,
usually papier
mache
impressions,
dried,
and then studied
later,
or
perhaps kept
as souvenirs.
Gradually, photography
took over this role.
60. See illustration in
Lant,
"The Curse of the
Pharaoh,"
p.
86.
61. See illustration in
ibid.,
p.
102.
61
OCTOBER
Publicity stillfor
Cleopatra
with Theda
Bara. 1917.
(Courtesy of
the
Academy
of
Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences.)
62
Haptical
Cinema
forms,
initially
held frozen but in
screenings proferred
in motion and
potential
volume. Bara's
Cleopatra speaks
this
impossible
incursion as she looms forward
from the stone surface to
challenge
the clean boundaries and contained
design
of
haptic
form.
Egyptiana
calibrated the
impact
of this
spatial complexity, cuing
both cinema's actual flatness
(the
screen and film
stock)
and the
moving
human
body
somehow contained within it. And the bas-relief offered an
especially
powerful
shorthand for
this,
living
as it did between two
kingdoms, drawing
and
sculpture,
the flat and the
full;
connoting
as it did the idea of transition and
emergence;
and
operating
as it did in a zone where
background
and
foreground
were
rarely fully distinguishable,
and often
interchangeable.62
Hildebrand's distinction of the near and
distant,
to be reconciled in the bas-
relief,
was
important
for
Riegl,
whose discussion of
spatial
form not
only
further
illuminates the role the
Egyptianate might play
in
film,
but itself filtered into film
theory
at the hand of Walter
Benjamin. Riegl
honed his ideas on the decorative
arts,
plying
his
way
between the
Ring
and
Sch6nbrunn,
where half the Austrian
carpet
collection was still
royally
housed. From his research he concluded that
there had been a "decisive shift
[in
art's
history]
from the
striving
after
objectivity
in the tactile
appearance (haptic objectivism)
to the
objectivity
of the visual
appearance (optical objectivism)."63
In art of the former
camp "depth
and
delimitation" of the
object spoke primarily
to the viewer's tactile
sense,
while
"optical
(visible)
qualities,
like color and
light"
made
optic
art known to the
observer.64
Hinged
to this was the
question
of where the viewer stood
(in either
Nahsicht, Fernsicht,
or Normalsicht
positions-near, far,
or somewhere in
between),
and
whether, among
other
elements, shadows in the art work
appeared
to have
endless
depth
or were
perceived
more as
clearly delimited, defining graphic
marks. All this was tied to the matter of how much
subjective participation
was
demanded, allowed,
or invited on the
part
of the viewer, and whether the
object
appeared
to
belong
to the same
space
as the viewer or not.
Riegl explained
that a
62. The bas-relief as a
figure
for cinema,
or a fixture in
cinema, is a richer motif than
space permits
me to examine here. Mention should, however, be made of Freud's
analysis
of Jensen's
story
of
Gradiva,
in which the
young archaeologist,
Norbert Hanold, weaves his desires into a
copy
of an
antique
relief of a
girl
"who
steps along."
He fantasizes from this relief that she comes to life, "animating
the
past
with his
imagination," repressing
his love for a local
girl,
Zoe
Bertang,
his emotions locked
instead into
"being
in love with
something past
and lifeless" (Freud, "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's
Gradiva"
[1906],
in The Standard Edition
of
the
Complete Psychological
Works
of
Sigmund
Freud, vol. 9, trans.
and ed.
James Strachey [London: The
Hogarth Press, 1959], pp. 16,
22).
Also relevant is
Hugo
Mfinsterberg's
discussion of the
impression
of
depth
in cinema, referring
to Vachel
Lindsay's proposi-
tion that we
experience
cinema like
sculpture
in motion, with the
foreground
"full of dumb
giants.
The bodies of these
giants
are in
high sculptural
relief"
(Mfinsterberg,
The Film: A
Psychological Study
[1916] [New York:
Dover, 1970], pp. 22-23). Andre Bazin's discussion of the
indexicality
of
cinematog-
raphy,
in which its
operations
resemble
forming
a mold, a death mask, or a (new) Shroud of Turin, res-
onates with the bas-relief theme (Bazin, What Is Cinema? vol. 1, trans.
Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1967).
63.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
185.
64.
Ibid., p.
181.
63
OCTOBER
haptic
work could be almost
fully
understood in the
dark,
through
touch,
because
of its clear outline or
boundary, establishing
a
tangible
sense of
surface,
and a
separation
of the
object
from the viewer. In the
optical
mode,
visual
style
"unite[d]
objects
in an
open spatial
continuum and
increasingly appeal[ed]
to
the
spectator's recognition
of shared realities."65 This
insight
enabled
Riegl
to
speak
of the "inevitable admixtures of
subjective
vision" in art since the Middle
Ages66-optical qualities
were more
subjective
in that
they "depend[ed]
to a
greater degree
on those chance circumstances in which the
perceiving
subject
[found]
itself."67
Riegl's
schema is
suggestive
for a discussion of
early
cinema in several
respects.
First,
the subtle
relationships
of
surface,
plane,
and
depth through
which his Kunstwollen
expressed
itself were most
clearly
revealed in the non-
figurative
arts,
above all in architecture and the crafts
(though they applied
across
all
media);
hence
Riegl's lifelong
interest in the
spatial grammar
of decoration. In
other
words,
Riegl's understanding
of the relation of viewer to art work is not
derived from his or her identification with a
represented
human
figure,
but rather
operates
at the level of
design, suggesting
an additional avenue for
discussing
film
figuration
besides via narrative and
plot.
Further,
reflecting
on
spatiality
was
central to
Riegl's
thesis,
an endeavor that
immediately
led him to discuss a viewer
and the
linkage
of
spatial perception
to
spatial presentation
in art. Film consti-
tuted
yet
another arena of
spatial
articulation,
and one
might
make the
historical
parallel
between
Riegl's argument
for the
increasing
imbrication of sub-
jectivity
in
optic
art-that not
cleanly
set
apart
from the viewer-and the broad
shift in
filmmaking styles
from a cinema of
presentation,
of
attractions,
to one of
representation,
in which a
diegetic mooring
for the viewer is
increasingly
offered.68
Lastly, Riegl's
"dialectical
terminology"
(as
he
puts
it in a nod to
Hegel)
installs
ancient
Egyptian
art as emblematic of the
haptic,
the seed of an
evolving spatial
language.69
The discussion of
tactility
that
accompanies
this
distinction,
and that
was
developed by Benjamin, might
be
productively
related to current
questioning
of the
optical's
dominant role in
culture,
such as Linda Williams's recent
argument
for the
haptical consumption
of
pornographic
film,
for
example-for Riegl
tackled both the "the sensual act of
seeing"
and the sense of touch as
components
of
perception,
and
pondered
their modern
atrophism.70
65.
Holly, Panofsky, p.
73.
66.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
177.
67.
Ibid.,
p.
181.
68. Tom
Gunning,
"The Cinema of Attractions:
Early
Film,
Its
Spectator
and the Avant-Garde"
[1981]
in
Early
Cinema,
pp.
56-67. The term "cinema of attractions" was formulated
by
Andre
Gaudreault and Tom
Gunning.
69.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
186.
70. Linda
Williams,
"Corporeal
Observers: Visual
Pornographies
and the 'Carnal
Density
of
Vision,"'
in
Fugitive Images,
ed. Patrice Petro
(Bloomington:
Indiana
University
Press, 1995), pp.
3-41;
for anoth-
er
view,
see
Jonathan Crary, Techniques of
the Observer: On Vision and
Modernity
in the Nineteenth
Century
(Cambridge:
MIT
Press, 1990), pp.
59-64, 122-24.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
180.
64
Haptical
Cinema
Riegl
annointed ancient
Egyptian
art the "strictest
plane-art
in the
world";
with its
emphasis
on "mass and surface"71 it was least encumbered
by subjective
tendencies. The ancient
Egyptian temple
was "an isolated formal unit" not
"delimited... in
depth"
but in
height
and
width72;
it
necessarily deemphasized any
relation to its beholder in
attempting
"the clearest
possible
delineation of the
individual
figure."73 Going
into detail about
Egypt's hapticity, Riegl explained
that the
pyramid
was the "architectural ideal of the ancient
Egyptians"
because
"any
of the four sides
permits
the beholder's
eye
to observe an
always
unified
plane
of an isoceles
triangle,
the
sharply rising
sides of which
by
no means reveal
the
connecting space
behind."74
Further, windows,
those "means of communica-
tion between inside and outside" that would
readily convey depth,
are small and
concealed in
Egyptian temples.75
For similar reasons
Egyptian
architecture
exhibited
"space fright." Huge
interiors such as the
hypostyle
hall at Karnak had
to be
packed
with
columns;
in other halls "the viewer is more aware of the delimit-
ing
flat walls than of the
empty space
between them."76 Ancient
Egyptian
art
placed
"the
sharpest possible emphasis
on the outline within the
plane"
and
accorded access
only
"in the most limited
way
to
depth-designating
shadow,
admitting just enough
of it to allow
recognition
of
depth
in the
modeling
of the
surface"-hence the
very
shallow relief of much
Egyptian
art.77
Furthermore,
the
representation
of
figures
as
"striding... types
... with their
profile positioning
of
head and
legs
and their frontal view of
eyes
and shoulders"78 avoided foreshort-
ening,
or
overlapping
to the
greatest
extent
possible, again minimizing
suggestions
of
depth. Riegl
found this art
lacking
in aerial and linear
perspective
"insofar as it extends
beyond
the individual
figure,"79
an effect
supported by
the use
of the "strictest
polychromy"-the application
of
"single,
unbroken color"
only
within the "tactile limits of an
object"80
or
drawing-instead
of indefinite coloristic
application
that would confuse
figure
and
ground.8s
By
contrast,
Riegl
notes in Greek art an increase of shadows and an
attempt
in the relief
figure
"to more and more free itself from the
ground,"
both
leading
to a
greater "plastic
effect." It still
provokes
the "tactile
organs
of the
viewer,"
but
there is a less
sharp
delineation of
height
and width than in ancient
Egyptian
art.82
Riegl
then describes the
gradual hollowing
out around relief
figures,
such as
71.
Riegl
as discussed
by Worringer, Egyptian
Art,
pp.
82,
87.
72.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
178.
73.
Ibid.,
p.
181.
74.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
27.
75.
Riegl,
"Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
179;
see also Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
28.
76. "Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
179 and Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
28.
77. "Late Roman or Oriental?"
p.
182.
78. Ibid.
79.
Ibid.,
p.
185.
80.
Ibid.,
p.
182.
81.
Ibid.,
p.
187.
82.
Ibid.,
p.
183.
65
OCTOBER
in fourth
century
A.D.
works,
and the
"gulf
that
separates
them ... torn
open by
the
Greek
development"
from ancient
Egyptian
reliefs.83 For
Riegl
it is late Roman
art,
previously
dismissed as a culture of
decline,
that most
interestingly
documents,
if in
faltering ways,
the uneven
journey
of artistic invention from
haptic
to
optical
forms. To
appreciate
this it was
just
a
question,
he
argued,
of
seeing
it
through
its
own
Kunstwollen,
and not that of the modern
period, although modernity's
changes
now made that
possible.
Riegl's
schema,
delineating
relations of
planimetric
to volumetric
space,
and
space
within an
object
versus
space
around
it,
has been
heavily
criticized for its
teleological linearity,
and for the
porousness
of its
categories,
which caused even
Riegl
trouble.
However,
it is that
very porousness,
and the critical
importance
of
Egypt
within
it,
in a
theory contemporaneous
with cinema's
birth,
that tells us
more of what celluloid
Egyptianizing
meant,
both
historically
and
aesthetically.
One final
example
will
support my
case: a film
bulging
with formal
comparisons,
of the
moving
with the
still,
the silent with the
noisy,
the flat with the
volumetric,
the
photographic
with the cinematic-in a massive memorial to the silent cinema-
which adds for
good
measure a director and central character from
Riegl's
hometown.84
Karl Freund's The
Mummy
(1932)
begins
on an
archaeological dig
in
1921,
a
resonant date for viewers of the
early
1930s-Tutankhamen's tomb was to be
opened
the
following year,
as Ardeth
Bey
(Boris Karloff)
will remark. But it is
already
in the
elaborately
crafted
introductory sequence, naming
studio,
producer,
star,
and
picture
title,
that The
Mummy
uses the
spatial incipience
of
Egypt
to
unlock cinema's
promise, spinning
it
through
a
complex
of motions. At first the
familiar
plane
orbits the Universal
globe,
counterclockwise,
with the
globe's
motion,
noisily passing
round the back and out of
sight,
leaving
a trail of letters:
"A Universal Picture." The screen fades to
black,
and
then,
as harsh
trumpet
notes
sound,
a shot of a model
landscape
with raked
lighting
fades
in,
a
pyramid
at
left,
sphinx
at
right,
both nestled in sand dunes and
starkly
lit;
"Carl Laemmle
presents
Boris Karloff" fades in across them. Almost
immediately
the model
begins
to
spin
in front of the
camera,
while instead the
impression
is of the camera
arcing horizontally
around the model,
passing
rightward in front of the
sphinx,
causing
the
pyramid
to seem to move behind the
sphinx
in a
parallax
motion.
This
pyramid
is then
eclipsed by
a
second,
whose two faces almost fill the screen-
and we
briefly
catch
sight
of a third
pyramid
in the left
background, beyond
the
sphinx
as it were. The camera comes to rest on this second
pyramid,
on its further-
most,
shadowed
face,
where the words "The
Mummy"
are
mounted,
as if cut in
deep
stone
relief,
casting long trailing
shadows over the stone blocks.
The
swiveling
and
spinning
motions,
not
just
of
globe
and
plane,
standard
83.
Ibid.,
p.
184.
84. Karl Freund was
working
in film for Alexander "Sascha" Kolowrat in Vienna from 1912,
before
moving
to Berlin and then to the United States.
66
Haptical
Cinema
for
Universal,
but of the icons and even
(apparently)
the
camera,
have now
rotated the
spectator
too,
making
him or her seem to
change places
with the
sphinx
and
pyramids-in
fact,
the rotation ceases
just
as the viewer would come
into
sight
of him- or
herself,
as it were. The motion
through
almost 180
degrees,
prizes open
a volume within which the
story
will unfold-the
extravagant opening
pan
marks out and invents that
volume,
dramatizing
it
by forcing
it out of the
stone remains of
Egypt.
We
have,
in
effect,
traveled behind the
haptic,
around
it,
to its reverse
side,
or inside-the side
that,
according
to
Riegl,
cannot be known
from the outer surface. The cinema offers us that
possibilty,
and The
Mummy
here
both knows it and flaunts
it,
in the
process narratively reorienting
the
spectator
to
the
darker, hidden,
other side of
Egypt,
the occultic over the
scientific,
and
then,
later in the
film,
nostalgically remembering
the overthrown silent
past
of film in
an
entirely
mute
pharaonic sequence.
The
Mummy
looks both
ways, being formally
innovative in its use of
sound,
scale
models,
and back
projection,
but mournful
both for silent cinema and for
Egypt,
"the real
Egypt"
in the words of the
heroine,
Helen,
the one with
"nothing dreadfully
modern." This fulcrul
position
is
expressed thematically
in the
figure
of the
mummy, suspended
between life and
death;
in the
heroine,
who is
half-European
and
half-Egyptian, part
new
woman,
part
ancient
princess, speaking
both
English
and an ancient
Egyptian language;
in
the
political
discussion of the fate of excavated
remains,
whether
they
should be
in
Europe
or
Egypt;
and in the
presentation
of two
approaches
to archaeology,
the scientific and
psychic, represented by
doctors
Whemple
and
Muller,
from Lon-
don and Vienna. And it is also
implied
that Helen is a
psychoanalytic patient
of
Dr.
Muller,
but that's another
story.
Riegl's
theories combined
power
of
insight
with
sufficiently
abstract and
malleable terms to invite wide
application.85
From the account I have
given
we
would
expect
that when film theorists
adopted
his
categories
it would be to
describe cinema as an
optic
art,
one that could not be known at all
through
touch and that
possessed
a
strong subjective component.
The
haptic,
if
present,
would be an
imagined point
of
departure, perhaps
a
memory
of
early
film cul-
ture.
However,
both
Benjamin
and Burch make the
opposite
case,
the former
through
a
perverse,
inventive
brilliance,
the latter
through
a
projective
twist on
the
possibility
of
touching
cinematic
space.
For
both,
mature cinema is a
haptical
form.
Riegl's importance
for
Benjamin lay
in his
argument
that
changes
in
style
were a
registration
of
changes
in human sense
perception-and
that this
85. For
example,
Heinrich Wolfflin
reinterpreted
the terms as
"linearly"
and
"painterly"
in his
study
of
High
Renaissance and
Baroque
art in
Principles of
Art
History:
The Problem
of
the
Development
of Style
in
LaterArt
[1915],
trans. M. D.
Hottinger (NewYork: Dover, 1971).
67
OCTOBER
altered
according
to historical events and the
Kunstwollen,
and
particularly
at
times of social or artistic crisis.86
Benjamin,
of
course,
was to
argue
that in the
age
of mechanical
reproduction
there had been such a
change
in the "medium of
contemporary perception."87 Although Benjamin
criticized
Riegl
(and
Wickoff)
for not
attempting
"to show the social transformations
expressed by
these
changes
in
perception,"
he
granted
that "the conditions for an
analogous insight
[were]
more favorable in the
present," given
the
widespread power
of the medium of
film.88 In
extending Riegl's categories
to the
cinema, however,
Benjamin
inverted
Riegl's
dialectic: in
cinema,
although
it had no actual tactile
properties
of its own
(in
the dark the screen offered no modulated surface to
feel),
the shock effect of
the bombardment of
spectators by images
was
physical, quite
unlike the contem-
plative
relation of the viewer to a work of art that relied on distance for its aura
and effect. Cinema was not
fernsichtig
but rather
nahsichtig.
In modern
life,
wrote
Benjamin,
"the desire of the
contemporary
masses
[is]
to
bring things
'closer'
spatially
and
humanly.
. ..
Every day
the
urge grows stronger
to
get
hold of an
object
at
very
close
range by way
of its
likeness,
its
reproduction."89
Cinema does
this,
"detach[ing]
the
reproduced object
from the domain of
tradition,"
bringing
it nearer.90
Benjamin's
evocation of the
haptical/optical
distinction
(Hildebrand's
near and distant can also be
heard)
is most vivid when he
compares
the
painter
to
a
magician,
but the cameraman to a
surgeon:
"The
magician
heals a sick
person
through
the
laying
on of
hands;
the
surgeon
cuts into the
patient's body.
The
magician
maintains the natural distance between himself and the
patient; though
he reduces it
very slightly by
the
laying
on of
hands,
he
greatly
increases it
by
virtue of his
authority.
The
surgeon
does
exactly
the
reverse;
he
greatly
diminishes
the distance between himself and the
patient by penetrating
into the
patient's
body,
and increases it but little
by
the caution with which his hands move
among
the
organs....
The
painter
maintains in his work a natural distance from
reality,
the cameraman
penetrates deeply
into its web. There is a tremendous difference
between the
pictures they
obtain. That of the
painter
is a total
one,
that of the
cameraman consists of
multiple fragments
which are assembled under a new
law"-the kind
Hildebrand,
visiting
the
panorama,
abhorred.91 The tactile
quality
of new
representation appears again
in
Benjamin's
discussion of Dada
art, which,
86. See
Levin,
"Walter
Benjamin"
for a discussion of
Riegl's
influence on
Benjamin;
Iversen refers
to
Benjamin's
association with
Riegl
and
Benjamin's deployment
of the
haptic/optic
schema
(Alois
Riegl, pp.
15-16).
87. Walter
Benjamin,
"The Work of Art in the
Age
of Mechanical
Reproduction,"
in Illuminations,
ed. Hannah Arendt,
trans.
Harry
Zohn
(New
York: Schocken Books, 1969), p.
222.
88. Ibid. As Isabelle Frank has
pointed
out to
me,
this criticism is not
fully
warranted,
since in his
book on Dutch
group portraiture Riegl
does connect shifts in artistic
style
to cultural habits of
Dutch
seventeenth-century
life and
particularly religious
and mercantile
practices
(Das
hollandische
Gruppenportrdt,
in
Jahrbuch
des
allerhichsten
Kaiserhauses 22, Vienna, 1902,
reprinted
in
1931).
89.
Benjamin,
"The Work of
Art," p.
223.
90.
Ibid.,
p.
221.
91.
Ibid.,
p.
233-34.
68
Haptical
Cinema
hitting
the
spectator
like a
bullet,
"happen
[s]
to
him,
thus
acquiring
a tactile
qual-
ity."
Dada
promoted
"a demand for the
film,
the
distracting
element of which is
also
primarily
tactile,
being
based on
changes
of
place
and focus which
periodi-
cally
assail the
spectator."92
Benjamin
concludes that
"by
means of its technical
structure,
the film has taken the
physical
shock effect out of the
wrappers
in
which Dadaism
had,
as it
were,
kept
it inside the moral shock effect."93 Cinema is
haptic
both because of the cameraman's
profilmic penetration
of the
world,
like
the
surgeon's
internal
handling
of the
body,
and because of film's
physical impact
on the
viewer,
especially through
its
startling juxtapositions
of
scale, time,
and
space
created in
rapid editing.
So,
while
Riegl's
terms are
inversely applied,
now
describing
more the art maker and
perceiver
than the
object,
his distinction
between
physical
touch and distant
sight
still sustains
illuminating
results. When
turning
to Burch we find the terms
differently
instrumentalized.
In
Life
to Those Shadows Burch traces the
emergence
and consolidation of
cinema in the first three decades of this
century.
In his
genealogy
cinema moved
from
having
no
"language"
to
constituting
"an Institutional Mode of
Representa-
tion,"
his
vocabulary
redolent of the Althusserian Marxist context.94 His aim is to
show this
change
as,
even if
inevitable,
not natural. It was "a
product
of
History,"
with
delays,
sidetracks,
and detours in "an otherwise ineluctable historical
movement" toward the reconsititution of
reality through perspectival systems
and
mechanical means.95
Placing
cinema within a
broadly
construed
history
of
representation,
Burch sees film's first
twenty years
as "in a sense a
recapitulation
of the decades of work which went into the constitution of monocular
perspective
in
painting"
in the fifteenth
century.96
In other
words,
the installation of
perspective
in the cinema-the fulfullment of its "three-dimensional vocation"-
was not immediate and
obvious,
despite
the
physics
of the
photographic
lens,
but
was striven for and
awkward,
producing discontinuity
in the
spatial
worlds
early
cinema offered
spectators:
"as a whole this cinema is
deeply
split
where the
repre-
sentation of
space
and volume is concerned."97
Burch stresses cinema's
predominant
inheritance from flat models-
chromolithographs, strip
cartoons,
images d'epinal-which encouraged
a
pre-
Renaissance,
planar
life in the
image.
In
addition,
evenness of
lighting
from an
overhead
source,
the
fixity
of the camera and its
placement
at
right angles
to
the
plane
of the
profilmic
scene,
the
preference
for
painted backdrops,
and "the
92.
Benjamin
continues: "Let us
compare
the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a
painting.
The
painting
invites the
spectator
to
contemplation;
before it the
spectator
can abandon
himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his
eye grasped
a
scene than it is
already changed" (ibid.,
p. 238).
93. Ibid.
94.
Burch,
Life
to Those
Shadows,
p.
2. He studies
Britain, France,
and
America,
which he
groups
as
"the
capitalist
and
imperialist
West" on
p.
3.
95.
Ibid.,
pp.
2, 7-8,
96.
Ibid.,
p.
163.
97.
Ibid., pp. 163,
164.
69
OCTOBER
placing
of the
actors,
always
a
long way
from the
camera,
often
spread
out in a
tableau
vivant,
all
[facing]
front,
without axial movement of
any
kind,"
all con-
tributed to the effect of
flatness,
or what Burch terms the
"autarchy"
of films of
the first decade.98 This set of characteristics
shaped
a
particular,
constricted
range
of relations between
spectator
and
screen,
an
"externality
of the
spectator-subject"
so that the viewer saw him- or herself as
"sitting
in a fixed
position
in front of a flat
screen."99 Burch
singles
out Melies's work as
exemplary
in this
respect;
his use of
clearly
two-dimensional
props, grisaille
sets,
"almost
systematic
refusal" of Renais-
sance
perspective, preclusion
of
depth
clues,
even in
tracking
shots,
and
narrow,
lateral
space
of action between camera and
flat,
painted backdrop,
all set viewers
apart
from the
projected image
in front of them.
However,
and Burch
suggests
this,
there was after all not a
complete
flat-
ness of the illusion but a
"composite picture"
in which two modes of
representation
cohabited: smoke effects created
atmospheric depth,
and axial
movements of actors claimed some
space.10
Further,
the
"opposition
between
the 'Meliesian' affirmation of the surface and the affirmation of
depth"
charac-
terizing
the visual
history
of cinema before World War I was
"already implicit
in
Arrive d'un train a La Ciotat."101 In
addition,
as I have
suggested,
chiaroscuro
playing
over the human
body moving against painted
flats and
props,
as in the
Magic
Forest
sequence,
stressed the coexistence of two- and three-dimensional
forms.
Burch's
approach
invites
comparison
with
Riegl
on at least two
points
despite
its
different,
political
roots.
First,
he discusses the
beginnings
of cinema
as a
repetition
of the
trajectory
of Western
representation:
"If ever there was a
phenomenon
with causes as unconscious as
they
were
conscious,
it is the
way
the
cinema in some sense
recapitulated
the
history
of the
pictorial representation
of
space
in the West."102
Riegl
would
surely
have
sympathized
with Burch's convic-
tion that
spatial
articulation in film is a critical element of its
history.
And
second,
there is Burch's
chapter heading, "Building
a
Haptic Space."103
But what
does
haptic
mean for Burch?
He describes the evolution of
early
cinema
style away
from the "visual flatness
of interior tableaux" into a form of interior
staging
as if in a three-dimensional
geometrical
box in which actors are used "to show that none of the
space visibly
represented
is on a
painted backdrop,
that it can all be entered and touched."104
Building
a
haptic space
means
moving
toward the
"gradual 'conquest
of
space."'
It
98. Ibid.,
p.
164.
99. Ibid.,
p.
165.
100. Ibid.,
pp.
167-73.
101. Ibid.,
p.
173.
102. Ibid.,
p.
168.
103. Burch
gives
no
particular
reference for his
haptic, calling
it "the technical term
psychologists
of
perception
have derived from the Greek word for touch
andjuncture"
(ibid., p.
173).
104.
Ibid., p.
172.
70
Haptical
Cinema
entails,
besides the direction of actors into
every
nook and
cranny
of a
box, the
development
of
dramatic,
artificial
lighting
to
"give
the
image
relief,"
destroying
the boundaries of the frame
through
dark
shadow,
implying
off-screen
space
through
cast
shadow,
and
employing photographic angles
that avoid
frontality.105
Oblique
camera
angles
make visible
many
more surfaces of
tables, floors,
and so
on,
and thus
"multiply
the
signs
of linear
perspective
across the visual field: a
pro-
fusion of
convergent
lines
[is]
to be
presented
to the
eye
to
prove
that what
confronts us
really
is a
haptic space."
Burch makes the final
step
of his
argument
when he states that camera movement
may
be "the main
guarantor
of this
'haptic-
ity."''06
Camera movement
provides
"at one
go
. . . both an
analogue
of the
'motionless
voyage'
[of
the
spectator]
in
diegetic space
and the
tangible proof
of
the
three-dimensionality
of
'haptic' space."107
For Burch the
haptic
is
clearly
tied
to conviction of
spatial
illusion,
such that a viewer believes he or she could touch
the
photographed objects
and
actors,
as if
they
existed in real
space.
Arrival at a
haptic space
marks the end of the "contradiction of surface and
depth
that had
divided
primitive
cinema,"
now
only occasionally self-consciously
revisited,
as in The
Cabinet
of
Dr.
Caligari.l08
Burch's
haptic grows
from the increased use of varied
shadow and the idea of an invitation into believable
room,
into boundless
space.
All of this not
only
runs counter to
Riegl's meanings
for the
term,
but in fact
defines the
optical
mode. Within Burch's own frame
haptic
makes
sense,
but it has
lost both the
objective,
self-contained,
clearly
bordered
meaning
of
Riegl's
(for
an
art that did not
rely
on
deep
shadow and illusion and that could
frequently
be
almost as well known
through touch),
and the
visceral,
crowding, physical,
dislocat-
ing impact
of
Benjamin's
as he
adapts
the
concept
to
modernity.
The
resulting
confusion,
as one tries to follow the
uses,
is a
cautionary
tale
against
too
loosely
allying
the
historiography
of one field with the
emerging historiography
of
another. And one cannot
help regretting
that Burch was unaware of a
paradox
that
Riegl
took
great pains
to
explain,
in terms we
might
now associate with film
theory:
that with an increased
space
and
three-dimensionality
the
figure
in a
work of art is also
increasingly
dematerialized. The
period
which was
most materialistic in art was the ancient
Egyptian
which
represented
the
individual
object
whenever
possible
in the two dimensions of
height
and
width but also touchable to the beholder. From the
point
when Greek
art
consciously
tried to
express
the individual
shape
also with the third
dimension of
depth
there was
not,
as one
might
assume,
the
impression
of increased
materiality
for the beholder but rather a decreased one as
a
consequence
of the
increasing importance
which now the intellectual
consciousness
(experience) gained
for the
perception
of a work of art.
105.
Ibid.,
p.
178.
106.
Ibid.,
p.
180.
107.
Ibid.,
p.
181.
108.
Ibid.,
pp.
183,
184.
71
OCTOBER
This
again
was based on the
increasing
elimination of the sense of touch
in order to favor the sense of
sight.109
But the "backward" fallout of
haptical
and
optical
on their
journey
to film
theory
has its
own,
instructive
logic,
for
surely
both cases can be
argued,
even
though
the
optical
character of film has
typically
been stressed. In
Riegl's haptical
or Hildebrand's Nahbild
(and
especially
in art in which there is a combination of
modes,
as in the
panorama)
the viewer must move to
perceive
the art
fully,
and
Riegl's writing
is
replete
with
descriptions
of such
voyages
of the beholder:
ancient
Egyptian
statues,
when one looks at them from a
distance,
"make a flat
and
absolutely
lifeless
impression
and then
gradually,
from
greater proximity,
the
planes
become
increasingly lively,
until
eventually
the fine
modeling
can be felt
entirely,
when one lets the
tip
of the
fingers glide
over
them."ll0
On the other
hand,
in
optical
art
(even
optical objective
art as
opposed
to
optical subjective)
it
becomes
quite important
not to move:
"Engraved pupils
[characteristic
of Roman
and later
art]
only
make sense from a
fernsichtig point
of
view,
where
they appear
as
purely
colorful
effects,
while in the
nahsichtig
the beholder would not like to see
on the
eyeball
an alteration of
depth
which in
reality
does not exist."'11 In
cinema,
in its
perplexing
combinations of far and
near,
and
despite
its
optical
immateri-
alty,
both the
profilmic
material and the viewer are
haptically engaged,
as
Benjamin argues.
But the
early
screen was also
utterly haptic,
a surface of
clearly
delimited
height
and width with no visual
suggestion
of an
inside,
of
any depth.
Only
in
projection
was its
spatiality
transformed. In another context I have
argued
that
Egypt
functioned as a
gateway
to
fantasy
in the
auditorium,
a role
stemming
in
part
from its
geographical placement
at the
junction
of East and West.112 The
association of the
hieroglyph
with film had a similar
value,
connoting
the in-
betweenness of the
medium,
its
duality
as both
writing
and
image making,
requiring
new skills of observation and
decipherment. Turn-of-the-century
dis-
course in art
history
tells us that
Egyptianizing
motifs
gave
cultural life to
another
aspect
of cinematic
passage,
from the still and
planar
to the
moving, jar-
ring, intruding,
and
voluminous,
and
specifically
invoked its
experimental
refashioning
of
spatial language.
The bas-relief above all intimated the
potential
embellishment of flatness that was
cinema, and,
particularly
in alliance with the
photographed body,
its
peculiar spatial ambiguity.
Such themes and
images
expressed
the idea of a mode of
representation
in the
process
of transformation-
the
photograph,
moved
by projection,
the
drawing,
swelled into
relief,
the
boundary
of frontal
space
about to be crossed in the use of
angled
camera
positions,
moving
camera
work,
the
editing
of different shots into multishot film.
Egypt's
109.
Riegl,
Late Roman Art
Industry, p.
74.
110.
Ibid.,
p.
24,
n. 2.
111.
Ibid.,
p.
80.
112. Lant,
"The Curse of the
Pharaoh,"
p.
98.
72
Haptical
Cinema
iconography
and
techniques
were emblematic of the
changed perceptions
the
beginnings
of cinema
entailed,
and
even,
for
Riegl
and
Worringer,
of the massive
upheavals
of
modernity
itself. It was for this
paradoxical
reason,
and not
just
through stylistic similarity,
that the
modernity
of Picasso's and
Braque's
art was
said to be
pharaonic.
In
my survey
of film's
place
in
contemporary
accounts of artistic
perception
it is Hildebrand who leaves the most
negative
view of the
consumption
of a mod-
ern
spectacle, describing
the back and forthness of
panoramic viewing
as a
crude,
perverse
sensation,
in which the heretofore
upright
citizen becomes too
involved,
physically, literally,
with the actual volume and falseness of that enter-
tainment. In such a
setting, bourgeois
bodies become
part
of a
mass,
need to
sway
and
bend,
are carried
away
from their
known,
social
niche,
and lose
integrity
and refinement as
they
are no
longer
able or
required
to make
familiar,
nice distinctions of near and far. In
Benjamin's giddy,
often
triumphant
account,
bodies,
now at the
cinema,
lie and
lounge,
have their entrails
rummaged,
are
bombarded and
physiologically massaged by
the
radicality
of film's
spatial
and
temporal propositions;
no
lean-cut, stream-lined,
International-style
notion of
modern art is here. The idea of film as a
metaphorical
and literal ride has been
thoroughly
examined,
both
narratologically,
and
historically,
in the
phenomenon
of Hales' Tours for
example.
But in
recalling
commentators such as
Riegl
and
Hildebrand we are sensitized to another of its
facets,
to the
eye's pleasure
flicker-
ing
over a
surface,
perceiving layered space
without
being
able to move closer to
run
fingers
on a
stone,
or see the
gouging
of the
eye. Recognizing implied,
subtle
depths
over a decorated
plane
was a
delight heightened, dynamized,
and
enlarged through
cinema,
an
engagement badly displayed
in the artful
juxtaposi-
tion of different
representational modes-drawing,
bas-reliefs,
incised
images,
printed
textile
undulation,
moving
human
figures-or
in the
stunning
dissec-
tions of Meli&s's films.
Including
the
Egyptianate
activated this
attention,
even
taught
it to
us,
for it maximaized the
range
of forms to
hand,
and set the
stage
for the thrill of
depth,
our
plunge
outward or into
deep space.ll3
113. In a doomed
endeavor,
Bruce
Bryan
assessed
Egyptian
filmic
representation
in a 1924
essay,
"Movie Realism and
Archaeological
Fact." He determined that DeMille's The Ten Commandments was
"the
greatest picture
that has ever been
made,"
despite many archaeological
errors.
Particularly
bothersome was
that,
"contrary
to all other
Egyptian pylons,
the
hieroglyphic carvings
... and the
sculptured
horses
[were]
in bas-relief....
Try
and read the
hieroglyphics sculptured,
not cut
in,
on the
walls,"
he
complains, including
a
production
still to illustrate the
problematic protrusions
Art and
Archaeology:
The Arts
Throughout
the
Ages,
vol.
18,
no. 4
(October 1924),
pp.
139-40,
144.
73

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