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Design and Use: Film, Video and the Object of Cinema Studies

Author : Anonymous
Date : Oct 23, 2009
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Conférence de Marc Furstenau, de l'Université Carleton
(Ottawa), présentée dans le cadre du séminaire de l'équipe de recherche
sur l'histoire et l'épistémologie des études cinématographiques (U.
Concordia, Martin Lefebvre, responsable)


The VCR and subsequent video technologies are generally understood to have had an immense effect on cinema.
In a very short space of time, as Douglas Gomery has argued, home video became “the largest . . . component
of movie watching.” Writing in 1992, Gomery observed that “with home video we now have greater participation
in movie watching than at any point in history,” and ranked home video “with the innovation of the
nickelodeon, the picture palace, and the multiplex in shaping movie watching habits.” As Dudley Andrew has
recently acknowledged, “today’s spectator is more likely to carry films on tape [or disc] home from the video
store.” Beyond such general claims, though, there has been little specific consideration of the particular effects
that video has had on our conception of the cinema. In this presentation I will describe the role of video within
the context of cinema studies, considering how, as the philosopher of technology Langdon Winner has put it,
“our instruments are institutions in the making.” Design, for Winner, is a crucial factor in the consideration of
the effects of specific technologies. “In our accustomed way of thinking,” he argues, “technologies are seen as
neutral tools that can be used well or poorly, for good, evil, or something in between.” But use, he insists, is significantly
circumscribed and structured by design. “We usually do not stop to inquire,” he contends, “whether a
given device might have been designed and built in such a way that it produces a set of consequences logically
and temporally prior to any of its professed uses.” Pursuing such an argument, I will consider the design of
video devices, describing the effects that these have had in the configuration of a social world of video users,
and the specific role of video technology in the constitution of cinema studies’ object of analysis.

Marc Furstenau is Assistant Professor of Film Studies, in the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton
University, Ottawa, and is Vice-President of the Film Studies Association of Canada. He is co-editor of
the forthcoming anthology Cinema and Technology: Cultures, Theories, Practices (Palgrave, 2008), and has
published in a variety of journals, including Cinémas, Post-Script and Visual Communication. He has also published
a co-authored essay on the philosophical and technological issues in The Thin Red Line in the collection
The Cinema of Terrence Malick (Wallflower, 2003).