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This article is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Panoramic Sleights Nicolas Tredell

    the sepia picture
    goes full colour
    and begins to move.

In the chronological history of the cinema, of course, movement precedes colour, but these lines from Tom Raworth's Writing (1982) figure, among other things, the moment of emergence of cinema: the still image starts into motion. That movement could be experienced, in early twentieth-century literary culture, as a mobilisation in an almost military sense, a massing of the barbarians on the disputed frontiers of civilisation. Once the sepia picture starts to move, to thrust into time and into the consciousness of audiences, it poses a threat to writing, to printing, to a culture centred on literature and literacy. The word 'cinema', after all, comes from cinematograph, a writing of motion; but this strange writing does not use verbal language or require a highly literate audience. For much of the twentieth century, filmmakers, film theorists and film critics have debated the relative merits of two components of cinema: mise-en-scène, the arrangements within the shot, and montage, the juxtaposition and sequencing of shots. That debate continues, but one can observe here that those two components of film, taken altogether, challenge literature for the right to conjure up images and to tell stories. From the start of the twentieth century, literature and film start to compete for cultural space and status, each offering to record, represent and rearrange reality and even - in the theories of Balázs or Kracauer or Bazin - to provide ontological revelations. How do ...

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