Lily Melendez

Weekly Response #4: Screen Practice

  1. In The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 Musser denotes “screen practice” as a transformative process of technology and art in creating lifelike projections. Musser particularly attends to the idea of screen practice as ever-evolving due to cultural developments of the times such as the interchange between magic and rationalism in the 17th century. The word ‘practice’ does not give us a clear definition but rather allows us to understand the screen as an application not limited to artistic or technological formats nor inhibited by singular outlets—whether reflected(catoptric) or projected(magic lantern). Athanasius Kircher, a 17th century scientist, accentuates his screen practice with catoptric art: an “instrument of projection [that] had to be made manifest to the spectators” (Musser 1990, 18). During a time of scientific revolution, Kircher’s attention on “demystify[ing] the screen” transforms the practice from an illusionary barrier fit to manipulating the spectator to a collective relationship enabling the viewer to be informed and fundamental to the observation (19). Musser’s “screen practice” is recognizing the dichotomy of formats in producing what we now understand as cinema and highlighting the variety of techniques including lenses, illumination elements, and camera positioning that all contribute to the viewing experience. 
  2. Three types of screens that imply different forms of “screen practice” are those of the catoptric lamp, magic lantern, and camera obscura. Kircher’s catoptric lamp involves “a lenticular glass or lens” with etched words or images illuminated by sunlight (Musser 1990, 19). It implies an emphasis on innovative techniques such as playing with honey and mirrors to orchestrate fluid effects (19). Meanwhile, the magic lantern utilizes “a long glass slide containing eight discrete scenes” on a grander scale illuminated by brighter artificial light. Despite Kircher’s praise of the catoptric lamp as a more rational take on visual projection, the magic lantern implies a more interactive and accessible form of viewing due to the fact it “liberate[s] screen practitioners from the elaborate setups and specialized rooms of Kircher’s college” and encourages a “collective viewing…a new era of traveling exhibitions” (21-22). This transition from private viewing to a group setting allows the ‘screen’ to function as a convergence of the mass audience inclusive of common folk within new auditoriums. The users of the magic lantern take the previous lamp’s stress on theater-like scenes and apply it to projecting larger scale works like “advertisements and election results…expos[ing] a whole group of people to the visual extravaganza of capitalist commodity culture” (Huhtamo 2001). The camera obscura, on the other hand, functions as a fusion of space and depth to create an image rather than the lamp and lantern’s focus on illuminants and illustrated stories on slides. With its light and use of “pinhole,” it projects a scene on transparent paper enabling “artist[s] …to sketch the outline of a landscape” in real time (Huhtamo 2001). The camera obscura, then, implies a more empirical function as a tool for observing nature as opposed to the auditorium, performance structure portrayed by the previous screens. 
  3. As I mentioned before, magic lantern screens were used more commercially and gave common folk the chance to obtain information in a more accessible way. The idea of accessibility is also relevant in the transformation of screen practice as a tangible experience. For instance, “the camera obscura was not meant to be observed from a distance—it could be touched” (Huhtamo 2001). Considering television and the concept of the ‘big screen,’ this tangibility of screen practice grew to imply a more symbiotic relationship between the viewer and the spectacle as “there was no sense of frame marking the border between the real and the imaginary” (Huhtamo 2001). This overlap of reality and illusion also reflects the behaviors granted through the multiple screens of virtual reality. Virtual reality screen practice serves as tactile mirrors of lifelike atmospheres, and its use encompasses kinesthetic gaming and even current mental health practices such as providing a safe way for patients to undergo exposure therapy. Watching media today, I think the transfer from larger theater screens to that of multiple touchscreens (the computer and smart phone) may offer a greater form of accessibility through user-friendly digital formats yet simultaneously diminish the holistic experience of the viewer. We spoke on this issue during our Pollock Theater visit as we discussed how Quentin Tarantino prefers the audience to watch his movies on its original film rather than via digital means to truly obtain all the intended visual elements. As a whole, we have examined perception and accomplishing visual comprehension through varying techniques, but my question is what is the extent to how audio is created and understood in the context of screen practice? Does transitioning from physical to multiple digital formats dilute the impact of certain auditory effects?