The Dialectic between Still and Moving Images: Neuropatologia (Camillo Negro and Roberto Omegna, 1908-1915)


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The Dialectic between Still and Moving Images: Neuropatologia (Camillo Negro and Roberto Omegna, 1908-1915)
Title of the book
Archeology of Movement: Dispositives 1900
Berton Mireille
MIT Press
Publication state
In Press
Tortajada Maria
From the beginning, the cinematograph generated observations on the animation of photographic images and the fact that they assumed a lifelike quality before the eyes of spectators. Often, these remarks pointed to the exceedingly fast nature of a representation resulting in a strong impression of reality. The flickering views of the first projectors did not hamper such feelings of authenticity, even adding dynamism and vividness to images. Responding to the proliferation and wealth of luminous projections “mimicking” the hustle and bustle of urban modernity, some social groups (educators, social reformers, leagues for the protection of youth, psychiatrists, and so on) criticized the disturbing effects of moving images on subjects deemed vulnerable (women, teenagers, children, etc.). An object of countless comments in both specialized publications and the mainstream press, the moving image of the cinematograph then appeared as a test both for the mind and the senses of spectators presumably powerless in the face of a qualitatively and quantitatively daunting flow of stimuli.
However, paralleling these accusatory discourses on the perceptive troubles and moral deviances caused by moving images, an alternative line of thought emphasized their didactic and scientific qualities. From which theoretical and practical foundations did these stances derive their assumptions, then, even as some contemporaries simultaneously worried about the negative repercussions of luminous projections? What may be learned from the opposition between two discursive networks and their diverging approaches of the moving image and its effects? And why were moving images thought to raise issues while many scientists seized on them to educational and demonstrative ends?
One way to deal with these questions is to start from the dialectic between still and moving images, which was central to scientific practices. In searching for answers, our analysis will bear more particularly on some applications of cinema in the fields of neurology and psychiatry, since animated views appeared as the ideal means for teaching and contributing to scientific research. More specifically, we will try and understand these simultaneous phenomena: establishing a link between pathologies and moving images, on the one hand, and developing strategies to master an indomitable representation, on the other hand. The examination of written and filmic sources then reveals that the problem does not lie so much in the opposition between still images fostering aesthetic contemplation and knowledge and moving images causing psychic and physical ills. Rather, the fault line may run between controlled and uncontrollable images, as shown in neuropsychiatric films staging pathological body movements under medical examination. Accordingly, a more diffuse opposition between mass culture and highbrow culture may be identified as the foundation for targeting animated views, as scientific and social elites feared the unpredictable effects of the exploitation of moving images in modern entertainment and popular leisure forms.
The hypothesis of a “class struggle” over moving images, previously put forward and defended by such authors as Noël Burch and Charles Musser, and which I propose to reconsider through the lens of a specific corpus of sources, should first be borne out by the examination of discourses. Because commentators fretted over the speed of film images, the technical elements crystallizing their reactions as well as the premises of their reasoning should be spelled out. A study of the films made by Italian neuropsychiatrist Camillo Negro and cameraman Roberto Omegna from 1906 to 1915 will then draw attention to the social fears aroused by the disorderly bodies of the neurotic. It will also help better understand the role of the relationship between stillness and movement in the elaboration of a scientific method in which film served as a means of regulation and as a disciplinary tool.
Camillo Negro, Roberto Omegna, psychiatry and visual culture, psychiatric film, neurological film, early scientific film, hysteria, still images, moving images, medical gaze
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03/06/2024 21:15
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12/06/2024 6:59
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