5. A Parenthesis on Film History
But first, he's going to examine the process by which 19th century ideologies of representation came to determine the representational modes of Western film. This is probably the most important chapter of the book, as it constitutes a radical repositioning of the major figures at the dawn of cinema by looking at them from the ground of Japanese cinema. Nearly all narratives of the invention of cinema identify Lumiere with non-fiction and Melies with fiction. Burch intends to switch the historical division in film to Lumiere & Melies vs. Americans Dickson & Raff & Gammon et al."I regard the work of Melies and Lumiere, however, as two aspects of the same phenomenon. Conversely, the contradiction between the films shot by the Lumieres and their cameramen, and some of those produced for the Edison company during the first few years by Dickson and Raff and Gammon is I believe absolutely fundamental" (p. 61).The people working for Edison were interested in the "total reproduction of life," an "essential aspiration of the bourgeoisie with regard to representation." (p. 61). The Lumieres were still the direct heirs of Muybridge and Co., as they were interested in the silent reproduction of perceptual movement. Burch describes the Lumiere's work as non-centered spacially (not guiding the gaze of the spectator) and temporally (often having no beginning or end). The films were also non-linear viewing experiences, since the clips were often showed more than once. Burch compares these early films to recent modernist films.Burch also points out differences in their methods (Edison and Dickson put the camera in their Black Maria, prefiguring the sound stages of the 30's) while Lumieres set it up outside, recording things with an almost scientific impulse. Melies worked in a studio, but to "construct a world as radically and avowedly artificial as possible." (p. 62) Even the language they used reveals the difference: "The neologisms coined by Edison (Vitascope) and the Lumiere brothers (Cinématographe) are also emblematic of their antithetical positions: a 'vision of life' as opposed to 'an inscription of movement'."(p. 62) Burch places Porter in a middle ground between the "Lumiere/Edison contradiction", citing the medium close-up of The Great Train Robbery (1903) (which could be tacked on either the beginning or end) and the bedroom rescue in The Life of an American Fireman (1902) (shown two times from inside and outside) as impulses toward the Lumiere mode of representation. At the same time, Porter's work in the development of reverse field, cross-cutting and ellipsis places also puts him on the Edison side as they were to constitute the future Hollywood style. By WWI, the adoption of reverse field editing and the eyeline match were the last steps in breaking down the barrier of 'alienation' which informed the relationship between the early film and its essentially working-class audience. With the search for a better audience (which brought middle-class norms into the mode of representation) and the coming of sound, the project initiated by Smith, Porter, Griffith and Co. was completed.Burch takes on previous film historians, who describe Japanese cinema as constantly catching up to the rest of the world until its "golden age" in the 1950s. He asserts that the creative lag most experts see in the silent Japanese film is based on an ideological assumption, a "fundamental incompatibility between the West's developing 'codes of illusionism' and Japanese indifference to 'illusionism' in the Western sense." (p. 66) At the end of the chapter, he once again draws a line between the films of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Shimizu, and Naruse and the most radical films of the 60's and 70's (including Godard and Warhol). Before tracing the development of Japanese separation from Western codes, however, he wants to look for its origin.