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This essay uses two films from early cinema to form a discussion of Tom Gunning’s “Cinema of attractions” (Gunning et al.
, 56-63), and Charles Musser’s “Cinema of narrative integration” (Musser, and Strauven, 389-416). The first film is Edwin S Porter’s The Gay Shoe Clerk, a short comedy film produced in 1903 by Edison manufacturing company. The second film is George Melies’ A trip to the moon, produced in 1902, by the Star film company. Both Gunning and Musser provide us with two distinct perspectives regarding the history of Cinema.
The discussion draws attention to Musser and Cunning’s particular focuses on “ Rethinking early cinema.
Gunning uses the “Cinema of attractions” to stress on the illusive power of Cinema as a “ new art” that allows for the real demonstration of visual elements (Gunning et al., 61). Gunning suggests that the enthusiasm for this new art and its possibilities trigger the imagined captivating power (Gunning et al., 61). It is essential to demonstrate the early cinema’s circumstantial underpinnings, identifying both its early state of technological immaturity as well as its probability for voyeuristic exhibition in recognizing the zeal to try out new technology.
Gunning analyzes the situation of the cinema setting in its historical era and acknowledges the optimistic outlook of traditional filmmakers that cinemas are capable of snatching a timely moment and visually present it to the spectator (Gunning et al., 61).
Gunning recognizes a few concerns needed to his argument, as well as that of Musser’s. Firstly, he identifies the precedential function credited to the narrative in analyzing early cinemas (Gunning et al., 62). He would suggest that the narrative approach is subordinate to spectacle when he states that “ the perspective led by narrative is biased and misrepresents the real forces that form cinemas” (Gunning et al., 62). Musser embraces the narrative approach and believes that it has been the right approach to characterize film writings in the pre-Griffith era (film writings before 1906) (Musser, and Strauven, 391). However, Gunning thinks that the importance of illusion is an entirely different way of viewing before 1906 films.
Secondly, Gunning refers to the radical change in characterizing cinema before and after 1906. Whereas narrative is a crucial area to focus on, Gunning suggests that spectacle was one of the fundamental forces that shaped the early cinema between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Therefore, according to Gunning, the narrative approach did not dominate the old cinemas as Musser suggests, but at its core was the value of stage effects over scenario (Gunning et al., 62). Both Cunning and Musser recognizes the connection between storytelling and pure exhibitionism, thus enlightening how we should see early cinema as a present audience (Musser, and Strauven, 391).
In the first film of reference, A Trip to the Moon, Melies validates the amalgamation of theatricality and storytelling. In analyzing Melies’ cinematic act, Gunning’s allusion to magical possibilities is apparent. The film has a dramatically enticing and revolutionary mis-en-scene. The popular image of the man in the moon, the characters’ elegant costumes, and the phantasmagorical backdrops form characteristic of theatrical staging and epitomize the visual appeal of the cinema. Notably, the film’s discovery and exploration themes are highly voyeuristic, and they also pre-empt the later development of the cinema as well as a voyage into the realms of imagination using the availability and advancement of technology.
Melies absolutely forefronts a remarkable spectacle in this film. The space capsule props, the scene with fast-growing mushrooms, enriched by an integrated framing and enticing camera zooms, contribute to an ideal adventure setting. The adventure milieu was a taste of what early cinemas could provide for its audiences in the future, highlighting the attraction of spectacle as a means of providing a sensual experience.
Additionally, there is a recognizable narrative of the A Trip to the moon film which forms the basis for the film and offers an expressive transition into the scenes. However, spectacle takes precedence over narrative in this film, meaning that unification of the narrative and its coexistence with the spectacle is critical, if not dominant.
Porter’s The Gay Shoe Clerk presents a valuable reference point for analyzing the concurrent influence of attraction and narrative. The Gay Shoe Clerk story does not only demonstrate spectacle but also creates cohesion as opposed to an unconnected display of spectacle. The zoomed shot of the young woman’s shoe, which the clerk gratefully agreed to help adjust is arguably the most iconic image in the story. Pairing the zoomed shot with the centralized outlining, and a calm camera provides an ideal exhibition of the spectacle that follows; when the woman raises her skirt and exposes her stocking. According to Gunning, this exposure is “pure exhibitionism” (Gunning et al., 61). The fact that the woman’s leg is everyone to see is a contribution to the voyeuristic aspect of early cinema (Gunning et al., 61).
In summary, early cinemas produced between 1895 and 1907 can entwine both spectacle tricks and narrative dialogue. Gunning, through the “Center of attractions”, emphasizes on the significance of attractions in the early cinema while Musser, through the “Cinema of narrative integration” emphasizes on the significance of narrative in early Cinemas. However, Gunning approves of the significance of narrative in early Cinema, while Musser believes that Cunning’s thesis is highly influential and of vital importance. Porter’s The Gay Shoe Clerk and Melies’ A Trip to the Moon are examples of early cinema that validates the amalgamation of attraction and narration aspects of early cinema. Therefore, attraction and narrative are harmonious rather than incommensurable. The compatibleness is a valuable contribution to the history of early cinemas from the above period and results in a comprehensive understanding of early cinema at large.
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