Mulvey, L (2006) Death 24x A Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, London: Reaktion Books



'A dialectical relationship between the old and new media can be summoned into existence, creating an aesthetic of delay. In the first instance, the image itself is frozen or subjected to repetition or return. But as the new stillness is enhanced by the weight that the cinema’s past has acquired with passing time, its significance goes beyond the image itself towards the problem of time, its passing, and how it is represented or preserved. At a time when new technologies seem to hurry ideas and their representations at full tilt towards the future, to stop and to reflect on the cinema and its history also offers the opportunity to think about how time might be understood within wider, contested, patterns of history and mythology. Out of this pause, a delayed cinema gains a political dimension, potentially able to challenge patterns of time that are neatly ordered around the end of an era, its ‘before’ and its ‘after’. The delayed cinema gains further significance as outside events hasten the disappearance of the past and strengthen the political appropriation of time. p.21, 22

'Changes in the technologies of seeing affect human perception. As so many theorists and film-makers argued in the 1920s, the cinema, with its mechanical eye, embodied ways in which modernity had transformed perception. Now, as the digital affects contemporary perception of the world, so it also affects popular experience of film and the mode of perception traditionally associated with it. In the first instance, computer-generated images create a ‘technological uncanny’, the sense of uncertainty and disorientation which has always accompanied a new technology that is not yet fully understood. As digital production has merged the human and other bodies seamlessly into special effects the ‘technological uncanny’ has given way to ‘technological curiosity’ and dvds include ‘add-ons’ with background information, interviews and commentaries. These extra-diegetic elements have broken through the barrier that has traditionally protected the diegetic world of narrative film and its linear structure. p.27

‘Digital spectatorship also affects the internal pattern of narrative: sequences can be easily skipped or repeated, overturning hierarchies of privilege, and setting up unexpected links that displace the chain of meaning invested in cause and effect. This kind of interactive spectatorship brings with it pleasures reminiscent of the processes of textual analysis that open up understanding and unexpected emotion while also attacking the text’s original cohesion. When broken down in this way, a movie’s apparently horizontal structure mutates, so that symmetry or pattern can be detached from the narrative whole or a privileged moment can suddenly take on the heightened quality of a tableau. And then, some detail or previously unnoticed moment can become at least as significant as the chain of meaning invested in cause and effect. In the stilled image, moments of beauty or meaning can be found and then, as the image is reactivated, continue to affect the image once returned to movement. p.28

'In the cinema organic movement is transformed into its inorganic replica, a series of static, inanimate, images, which, once projected, then become animated to blur the distinctions between the oppositions. The homologies extend: on the one hand, the inanimate, inorganic, still, dead; on the other, organic, animate, moving, alive. It is here, with the blurring of these boundaries, that the uncanny nature of the cinematic image returns most forcefully and, with it, the conceptual space of uncertainty: that is, the difficulty of understanding time and the presence of death in life. p.52, 53

"Hence the charm of family albums. Those gray or sepia shadows, phantomlike and almost indecipherable, are no longer traditional family portraits but rather the disturbing presence of lives halted at a set moment in their duration, freed from their destiny; not however by the prestige of art but by the power of an impassive mechanical process: for photography does not create eternity as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its own proper corruption." Bazin, A (originally 1945) ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ in Gray, H (ed. and trans.) (1967) What is Cinema? Berkeley, CA p. 14

‘[For Barthes,] the photographic image is a recording of absence and presence simultaneously:

“What I see has been here, in this place which extends between infinity and the subject (operator or spectator); it has been here and immediately separated; it has been absolutely irrefutably present, and yet already deferred.” Barthes, R (originally 1970) (1993) Camera Lucida London p.7

'In order to articulate this strange sense of displacement, Barthes makes use of ‘shifters’, terms of spatial position, ‘here’ and ‘there’, demonstrative pronouns, ‘this’ and ‘that’, and, at other times, terms of temporal position, ‘now’ and ‘then’. He points out that a photograph’s journey through time forces its viewer to find words to articulate the difficulty of expressing its uncertain temporality. And he has recourse to shifter terminology in the process of trying to pin down the coexistence of ‘now’ and ‘then’. He combines the materiality and flexibility of the shifter with tense: ‘then’ the photograph was ‘there’ at its moment of registration, ‘that’ moment is now ‘here’. He sums up photography’s essence as ‘this was now’p.57 

"Like Proust, Barthes’ effort is to find the linguistic form capable of recapturing a present in the past, a form that it turns out spoken language does not offer. This now-in-the-past can be captured not by combining tenses but by combining a past tense with a present time deictic: the photograph’s moment was now." Banfield, A (1990) ‘L’Imparfait de l’objectif / The Imperfect of the Object Glass’ in Camera Obscura 24 p. 75.

'Barthes’s use of words acknowledges this and recalls his citation, early in Camera Lucida, of Jacques Lacan’s concept of the Real, the aspect of human experience that stands outside the grasp of language. The photograph, however influenced it might be by its surrounding culture or its maker’s vision, is affected by the Real both in its materiality and in the human subject’s response to it. There is the difficulty of conceptualizing fully the inhuman nature of the camera machine and its ability to hold time, but there is also the resonance of death that culture and the human imagination have associated with photographic images. From this perspective, the slippage of language is a symptom of the presence of death and its inevitability. p.58

"Photography may respond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into literal death. Life / Death; the paradigm is reduced to a single click, the one separating the initial pose from the final print." Barthes, R (originally 1970) (1993) Camera Lucida London p.86

[For Bazin, photography is to transcend death, part of the process of mourning; for Barthes, it is ‘the dive into death’, an acceptance of mortality. While Barthes is mourning his mother; Bazin, as a Catholic, thinks the fact that eternal life continues after death is what is important.] p.60 





‘… the preservation of life by a representation of life. p. 5
‘the image helps us to remember the subject and to preserve him from a second spiritual death. […] man's primitive need to have the last word in the argument with death by means of the form that endures. p. 6
‘for photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption.’ p. 8
Bazin, A ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ (translated by Hugh Gray) in Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4. (Summer, 1960)





'Walter Benjamin [...] comments on the significance of chance in his ‘Short History of Photography’:

"However skilful the photographer, however carefully he poses his model, the spectator feels an irresistible compulsion to look for the tiny spark of chance, of the here and now, with which reality has, as it were, seared the character in the picture; to find that imperceptible point at which, in the immediacy of that long-past moment, the future so persuasively inserts itself, that, looking back we may redis- cover it.” Benjamin, W ‘A Short History of Photography’ in Screen (Spring 1972) p. 7.

'Here, too, the relation is between the instant photographed and the delayed viewer, between the camera’s time and its address to the future. Barthes’s punctum similarly provokes a sudden and involuntary emotional response, differentiating it from the studium, the term he uses to describe the presence of social, cultural or other meanings that have been consciously invested in the image. The studium belongs to the photographer; the punctum to the viewer.
'Barthes also associates the photograph’s punctum with a sudden and overwhelming consciousness of death. p.61 

"The punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake . . . In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe that has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.Barthes, R (originally 1970) (1993) Camera Lucida London p96

'He sums up this aspect of the punctum as ‘this vertigo of time defeated’. Beyond the question of death, an overwhelming and irrational sense of fate or destiny, of an outside intervention in the everyday, is also a mark of the uncanny. Such a disordering of the sensible in the face of sudden disorientation is similar to déjà vu, involuntary memory, a suddenly half-remembered dream or the strange sense of reality breaking through the defences of the con- scious mind. These are all mental phenomena that overwhelm consciousness and they happen, as Barthes says, ‘in a floating flash’, producing a sense of uncertainty that may be pleasurable or frightening. Freud describes the uncanny as a moment when ‘the distinction between imagination and reality is suddenly effaced’. Just as the photograph’s relation to time goes beyond equivalence in the grammar of tense, so the autonomy of the camera eye goes beyond the grammar of person. The human factor is displacedp.62, 63

'New moving image technologies, the electronic and the digital, paradoxically allow an easy return to the hidden stillness of the film frame. This stillness is, of course, an illusion. It is not the actual frame, as stilled for the twenty-fourth of a second in front of the lens; it is not the chemically produced image of celluloid. But the frozen frame restores to the moving image the heavy presence of passing time and of the mortality that Bazin and Barthes associ- ate with the still photograph. p.66

'Lynne Kirby, writing about the significance of the railway for early cinema, points out: p.68, 69
"[The train] is a metaphor in the Greek sense of the word: movement, the conveyance of meaning. Like the film’s illusion of movement the experience of the railroad is a fundamental paradox: simultaneous motion and stillness.” Kirby, L (1997) Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema Exeter p. 2

'Linearity, causality and the linking figure of metonymy, all crucial elements in story-telling, find a correspondence in the unfolding, forward-moving direction of film. While the main, middle, section of narrative is characterized by a drive forward, beginnings and ends are, on the contrary, characterized by stasis. Narrative needs a motor force to start up, out of an inertia to which it returns at the end. The cinematic image can find visual equivalents for these different phases: an initial stillness, then the movement of camera and character carry forward and energize the story, from shots to sequences through the linking process of editing. But at the end, the aesthetics of stillness returns to both narrative and the cinema. Death as a trope that embodies the narrative’s stillness, its return to an inanimate form, extends to the cinema, as though the still frame’s association with death fuses into the death of the story, as though the beautiful automaton was to wind down into its inanimate, uncanny, form. In this sense, endings present different kind of aesthetic exchange between narrative and cinema. Freud’s concept of ‘the death drive’ negotiates between the two, including, as it does, movement towards an end as the desire to return to an ‘earlier’ state. p.68, 69 While Freud describes the death drive as the desire to return to an ‘old state of things’, he also associates it with a compulsion to repeat. p.75

'Since the cinematic experience is so ephemeral, it has always been difficult to hold on to its precious moments, images and, most particularly, its idols. In response to this problem, the film industry produced, from the very earliest moments of fandom, a panoply of still images that could supplement the movie itself: production stills, posters and, above all, pin-ups. All these secondary images are designed to give the film fan the illusion of possession, making a bridge between the irretrievable spectacle and the individual’s imagination. Otherwise, the desire to possess and hold the elusive image led to repeated viewing, a return to the cinema to watch the same film over and over again, which echoes Freud’s comment on children’s pleasure in repetition, for instance of play or of stories. With electronic or digital viewing, the nature of cinematic repetition compulsion changes. As the film is delayed and thus fragmented from linear narrative into favourite moments or scenes, the spectator is able to hold on to, to possess, the previously elusive image. In this delayed cinema the spectator finds a heightened relation to the human body, particularly that of the star. Halting the flow of film extracts star images easily from their narrative surroundings for the kind of extended contemplation that had only been previously possible with stills. From a theoretical point of view, this new stillness exaggerates the star’s iconic status. The image of a star is, in the first instance, an indexical sign like any other photographic image and an iconic sign like any other representational image; it is also an elaborate icon, with an ambivalent existence both inside and outside fictional performance. p.161

'When celluloid cinema, viewed on video or DVD, is delayed by the pensive spectator, the presence of the past (the look and time of the camera) finds consciousness in the present (the look and time of the spectator), across the tense of fiction (the look and time of the protagonist). […]Some time after writing ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, I tried to evolve an alternative spectator, who was driven, not by voyeurism, but by curiosity and the desire to decipher the screen, informed by feminism and responding to the new cinema of the avant-garde. Curiosity, a drive to see, but also to know, still marked a utopian space for a political, demanding visual culture, but also one in which the process of deciphering might respond to the human mind’s long-standing interest and pleasure in solving puzzles and riddles. This curious spectator may be the ancestor of the pensive spectator and the cinema of delay unlocks the pleasure of decipherment, not only for an elite but also for anyone who has access to the new technologies of consumption. Of particular interest is the relation between the old and the new, that is, the effect of new technologies on cinema that has now aged. Consciousness of the passing of time affects what is seen on the screen: that sense of a ‘sea-change’ as death overwhelms the photographed subject affects the moving as well as the still image. There is, perhaps, a different kind of voyeurism at stake when the future looks back with greedy fascination at the past and details suddenly lose their marginal status and acquire the aura that passing time bequeaths to the most ordinary objects.' p.191, 192