Motifs of Movement and Modernity

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In ‘Modernity and Cinema: A Culture of Shocks and Flows’, Tom Gunning proposes a dialectical approach to modernity, contrasting experiences of ‘chaotic dissolution’ with patterns of ‘systematic organization’ (2006: 310). My audiovisual essay takes this intriguing idea as a point of departure, contrasting two distinct motifs of camera movement. In the first motif, the camera follows one or more characters as they wander across a dangerous city street. In the second, the camera dollies along a row of similar people or objects, evoking the repetitiveness of mass production. Although these motifs were transnational, most of my examples come from Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s, suggesting that the dialectical culture of modernity shaped even the most classical filmmaking tradition.

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Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism