Black screens, white frames: Recalculating film history
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This doctoral dissertation presents the first comprehensive attempt to theorize the roles and functions of the black/white screen in cinema. Drawing extensively, but not exclusively, on Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy in general and his theory of cinema in particular, this dissertation seeks to transcend his system of thought by conducting a transversal analysis of conceptual frameworks, such as Theodor Adorno’s negativity and Deleuze’s affirmativity, in accord with Deleuze’s own precepts of collective assemblage, becoming, and multiplicity. The vast compendium of black/white screens referenced here includes works from narrative, documentary, and experimental films, as well as other media. Such diversity reveals a broad range of functions, contexts, and purposes, all of which cannot be reduced to a common denominator. It is my assertion that employing a perspectival approach to analyze the black/white screen, whether as a rational interval in movement-image films (temporal sequences), or as an irrational interstice in time-image cinema (temporal series), or from the point of view of spatial montage (multiplicity and compositing) in the context of the digital turn provides the basis for the recalculation of film history and the “eternal return of difference.” My inquiry is predicated upon this process of recalculating: returning to different stages in film history and embracing various theoretical paradigms, pausing and repeating, in search of a renewed value. I ruminate on silence and absence in cinema relying on the concept of (s)elective mutism, which reflects the tension between the negative and the affirmative, the powerless and the empowering. The designation “(s)elective mutism” presupposes a crossover between “selective” and “elective,” in which a negative (dis)order or paralysis may reinvent itself as a creative and productive force of difference and experimentation. Based on contemporary approaches to minor cinema, and through a comparison with Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of “a minor literature,” I examine the black/white screen as a tool of deterritorialization of the major cinematographic language and an introjection of stuttering and mutism in the “filmmaking machine.” I argue that black/white screens are employed in cinema as a method of deterritorializing or “making strange” the dominant signifying regime of Hollywood codes and practices, introducing a (dys)functional creative disturbance into an ordered system of cinematic principles of construction. Mutism in minor cinema often manifests itself through what I describe as folds to black and white. Here I draw on Laura U. Marks’s triadic model of “Experience—Information—Image” and “aesthetics of enfolding/unfolding,” as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “machine of faciality,” or the “white wall/black hole system.” I demonstrate how folds to black and white in minor cinema point to an enfolded (suppressed or dismissed) Experience and an enfolded (censored or erased) Information, as well as to their selective unfoldings by the social power structures and mainstream media. Drawing on the virtual regimes of past and future and evoking latent or hidden dimensions, folds to black and white invite a process of unfolding by the spectator through the power of affect and thought. By offering a detailed critical examination of the black/white screen in cinema, I have sought to make an original contribution to the field of film and media studies, film philosophy, postcolonial theories, and critical studies at large.