Past-light: photo-filmic history as (en)lightened cinematic fetish

Thompson, Lara ORCID: (2019) Past-light: photo-filmic history as (en)lightened cinematic fetish. In: Light - Sensitive - Material, 01-02 Nov 2019, University of West London. .

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Films set in the past often indicate their nostalgic tense with a light-associated absence: a lack of colour, a loss of visual definition, a subdued tonal palette, a literal dearth of illumination. Here light stakes its claim as the most fundamental element of cinema aesthetics, using visual quality to directly reflect the way we understand and interact with the past. Shifts and losses in the quality, texture and strength of cinematic light denote accordant temporal shifts in the representation of history. This paper will argue that the instability and uncertainty of photo-filmic remembrance is fetishised via monochrome cinematography, or in a blown-out hazes of light - in barely-lit scenes that associate darkly coloured illumination with intense nostalgia, repressed emotion and sudden bouts of longing. I will suggest that two modes of image nostalgia are at work in the memory film. On the one hand, in monochrome or substantially faded colour films like Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980), Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998) and The White Ribbon (Das Weiße Band, Haneke, 2009) the black-and-white or sepia photograph becomes a touchstone for familiar, apparently authentic historical re-enactment. On the other, in artificially lit, darkly coloured films set in (or partially in) the past like Far from Heaven (Haynes, 2002), In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) and Moonlight (Jenkins, 2017) filmic history is itself revisited in order to authenticate images in the present. In the former, cinema is nostalgic for the simplistic graphic forms of a medium that has become associated with both gritty photojournalistic realism and the creative artifice of art photography, while in the latter cinema embraces its own illuminated technical past of evolving celluloid as a reference point for the representation of different eras. In both instances the past is defined not by the light and colour of the actual past, but by the past as it has been recorded and reconfigured in photographs and on the screen: a constructed, prosthetic, photo-cinematic image past that overwrites lived experience.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Presentation)
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 28765
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Depositing User: Lara Thompson
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2020 15:07
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2020 13:40

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