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  • DAVID THORBURN: I want to begin by asking

  • what seems an obvious question, what is film?

  • I used to sometimes present it by saying, film as, dot, dot,

  • dot.

  • Film as what?

  • And it may be surprising to you, but one way

  • we could think about film is as chemistry.

  • Now how could that make sense?

  • Why would it make sense to think of film as a form of chemistry?

  • What this film got to do with chemistry?

  • In fact it's a very fundamental relation.

  • This is also true of still photography, as well as movies.

  • But what's the process by which they're made?

  • Yes.

  • AUDIENCE: Film really comes together from a--

  • DAVID THORBURN: Speak loudly so everybody can.

  • AUDIENCE: Film is made up of a lot of different components.

  • You have your lighting, your scene, your character.

  • And that all has to come together to make film.

  • Without even on component of it, you're

  • losing part of the experience.

  • DAVID THORBURN: You're right about that.

  • But that's a more general answer than I wanted.

  • There's something much more dramatically

  • fundamental about the way, about the connection

  • between chemistry and movies.

  • What is it?

  • AUDIENCE: The interaction between the audience and.

  • DAVID THORBURN: It doesn't have to do

  • with the experience of movies.

  • Come on.

  • It's technical.

  • AUDIENCE: Chemistry had to be developed

  • before you could have it.

  • DAVID THORBURN: It depends on chemistry.

  • Film is a form of applied chemistry.

  • Why?

  • Of course you're right.

  • AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE].

  • DAVID THORBURN: Yes.

  • What is a film?

  • There are certain emulsions that are put on piece of celluloid.

  • Light actually has to normally-- it can be any light,

  • but sunlight is best-- act, interacting

  • with those emulsions, causes the image to appear.

  • The actual, fundamental process by which film

  • is physically created is a chemical process.

  • And if you reflect on for a moment,

  • one of the things this suggests is

  • that then when we think about film in a much larger sense,

  • in the film as we experience in theaters, film,

  • as an engine of economic development,

  • as a provider of jobs, and careers, and so forth.

  • What we could say is that it is a form of applied chemistry

  • that is among the most profound uses of chemistry

  • that humankind has ever found.

  • Because if you think about the impact of movies on human life,

  • it is now a global phenomenon.

  • Is there any culture that is free of movies?

  • Maybe there are Taliban cultures that

  • dream of being free of movies.

  • But to my knowledge there's no culture in the world now

  • that's completely oblivious to film.

  • It's become a global phenomenon.

  • And it's more than a century old.

  • It is the distinctive, narrative form

  • of the 20th century, the signature form of storytelling

  • for the 20th century.

  • All of it derives from this chemical reaction, when

  • the emulsions are subjected to light,

  • the image appears on the celluloid.

  • There are even theoreticians of movies who have suggested

  • that there's a fundamental break of a kind that is subliminal,

  • unless obvious to many people.

  • But it's fundamental to our experience of text

  • when we moved from real film to digital forms of filmmaking.

  • Because nature is eliminated in digital form.

  • There's something natural, and in fact slow,

  • about the way when light works on those

  • emulsions to bring the images up.

  • And those of you who are amateur photographers

  • will know that you can control the clarity or the blurriness

  • of the image, the darkest of the lightness of the image, by how

  • long you leave the film paper in the emulsions.

  • You can control it, and still photographers

  • and creative movie directors actually

  • use those use that chemical principle in order

  • to create certain kinds of effects.

  • So one way to think about movies is

  • to think of it as a form of applied chemistry.

  • And one of the most profound uses of chemistry

  • that we could imagine in terms of its impact

  • on society, in terms of the vast number of people

  • who have been affected, and continue to be

  • affected by this invention.

  • So film is a form of chemistry.

  • What I'm suggesting, these different framings of what film

  • is, these different frameworks for understanding film.

  • One thing I'm trying to do is to suggest

  • some of the ways in which we might understand film

  • apart from what we're going to be doing in this course.

  • Now I don't know if one could justify

  • persuading a professor of chemistry

  • to teach a course in film.

  • That might be going too far.

  • But certain broad principles of photography,

  • and how they are linked to other photochemical processes,

  • might very well make a quite exciting and complicated course

  • in the chemistry department.

  • One can also think of film simply in a historical sense,

  • certainly, as a kind of novelty.

  • When film first appeared in the world,

  • and especially in the United States,

  • it was seen as a novelty that caused its first appearance

  • to take place in places like penny arcades.

  • Where people went to experience other kinds of public novelties

  • as well.

  • there would be machines in these penny arcades

  • that would guess you're weight.

  • And you put a penny in, if the machine

  • was right it kept your penny, if the machine was wrong would

  • give your penny back.

  • There were fortune telling machines

  • in these penny arcades.

  • In some of the more sleazy ones there were live peep shows.

  • Strip shows of various moderate kinds.

  • And of course, even at the very early stages,

  • film begin to replicate those live performances.

  • There were very trivial forms of burlesque

  • began to-- women stripping-- I don't think

  • there were any male strippers in this late Victorian era-- began

  • to appear in the penny arcades as well.

  • So one could say that film in its earliest stages

  • was also just a kind of novelty item, like a PEZ dispenser

  • or some equivalent kind of silly thing,

  • or baseball cards, or football cards, that kind of thing.

  • More profoundly of course, we could think of film

  • from another [INAUDIBLE], a manufactured object.

  • And this identity of film is incredibly important.

  • It's again, easy for us to forget,

  • because when we go to the movies today,

  • we see these complex and overwhelming--

  • we have these complex and overwhelming audiovisual

  • experiences.

  • And we might tend to forget what in fact is

  • the sort of industrial base on which movies were made

  • at a relatively early stage.

  • Part of what we want at least to be aware of in our course,

  • even though we won't study it systematically,

  • is the fact that the movies, the film,

  • is one of the first significant commodities

  • to become a mass-produced item.

  • And in fact, the same principles that

  • led to another manufacturing miracle

  • that we associate with the late 19th and early 20th century--

  • the automobile-- the same principles that

  • went to the production of the automobile

  • also worked in the production of film.

  • And in fact, both film and the automobile

  • could be seen as prototypical instances of this fundamentally

  • defining industrial capitalist behavior, capitalist activity,

  • which is mass production.

  • And especially, what does mass production depend upon?

  • The specialization of labor.

  • The rationalizing of the production

  • process into smaller, and smaller units.

  • So that particular people can do it quickly,

  • and you can create essentially an assembly line production.

  • You can create mass production.

  • I still find it very inspiring and important, significant,

  • the notion that film was created on an assembly line,

  • just like toasters or automobiles.

  • Seems a shocking and important insight.

  • Because they're still in some fundamental way

  • produced like this.

  • I don't mean that the same movie studios are churning out

  • 500 movies a year, which is what was churned out

  • during the great era of the Hollywood Studios,

  • from around 1930 through the end of the 1940s.

  • But the fact is the production of movies,

  • the manufacture of movies still depends on these principles

  • of the specialization of labor.

  • And I'm not simply talking about the way in which we

  • have actors, and directors, and cinematographers, and grips,

  • and best boys, and set dressers, and makeup people, and script

  • writers, and so forth.

  • All are relevant to this.

  • But I'm also talking about the way in which movies, still

  • to this day, are divided in their production principles

  • in three stages, a pre-production phase,

  • a production phase, and a post-production phase.

  • And there are specialists at each level, on each phase.

  • And a vast army of specialist is hired

  • to handle the problems that are connected

  • to the production of every single film.

  • So we can think of films as a really distinctive, signature,

  • instance of what mass production is capable of.

  • OK.

  • So we can say that the film is a manufactured object.

  • And not just a manufactured object,

  • but a product of mass production,

  • a product of essentially, assembly line principles.

  • And what makes this so remarkable to me,

  • still an idea that I have trouble fully absorbing

  • is that the mass-produced item that we're

  • talking about, unlike a toaster or even an automobile,

  • managed so fully to permeate our society and our world,

  • that it's infiltrated ourselves even into our dreams

  • and our fantasy life.

  • And finally, another way to think about film,

  • and I'm going to sort of enlarge in that.

  • And this is a way we'll be talking

  • about quite a lot in the course of our discussions

  • in this semester.

  • We can say that film, after it's elaborated, and established

  • itself in culture, it becomes a fundamental social form,

  • a fundamental social formation.

  • And experienced, widely practiced,

  • widely indulged in by a vast number of people

  • in the society.

  • So that one could say for example,

  • toasters are important, but they don't

  • generate the kind of social rituals

  • that are involved in going to the movies,

  • and of identifying with movie stars,

  • and of generating fans surround movies,

  • and ancillary, complex activities that we associate

  • with movie going.

  • And in fact, one might say that the great era of movie going

  • is already gone.

  • That it was really in the era of the Hollywood Studios

  • when they were before the internet and before television.

  • So we could also think of the film as a social form.

  • Not when it first appears, when it's just a novelty,

  • but after it goes through various phases.

  • When it embeds itself into the society the way the movies did,

  • it becomes a kind of social form.

  • And one might almost argue that it

  • becomes one of the most important social forms

  • in the society because it's so widely shared.

  • Most social activities in the society

  • are relatively limited in the circle of people they involve.

  • Even the number of automobile drivers

  • is controlled in a way that is contained or demarcated