Francesco Casetti ist Professor of film studies and humanities at Yale University, New Haven. Zuvor hat er an den Universitäten Triest und Mailand unterrichtet und war Gastprofessor unter anderem an der Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3, der Universität von Kalifornien und der Yale Universität. Er ist Mitbegründer des »Permanent Seminar on History of Film Theories« in Turin, einem internationalen Netzwerk für Filmwissenschaftler, und Herausgeber mehrerer film- und kommunikationswissenschaftlicher Zeitschriften, unter anderem Comunicazioni Sociali und Cinema & Cie. Er ist weiterhin Reihenherausgeber für »Spettacolo e comunicazione« im Bompiani-Verlag. Neben seiner akademischen Tätigkeit ist er Kurator der La Triennale in Mailand für die Jahre 2009-2014 und berät das päpstliche Konzil für soziale Kommunikation des Vatikans. Seine Forschungsinteressen liegen in den stilistischen Formen des Films sowie dessen Verbindung zu kulturellen Formen der Modernität und ihrer Betrachter. Er verknüpft dabei die Forschung von Text, Kontext und Publikumsforschung. Wichtige Veröffentlichungen sind Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity, New York 2008; Communicative Negotiation in Cinema and Television, Mailand 2002 sowie Teorie del cinema: 1945-1990, Mailand 1993.
My current scientific research focuses on the consequences of the digital revolution on film and media. Today media overlap and integrate one another: we read the newspaper on our computer, listen to the radio on our i-pod, watch a film on the TV screen. As a result, media are not identified with any one platform or exclusive technology; likewise, they cannot be identified with a series of products built according to this specific technology. Should we conclude that media do not have their own identity? Or, even more radically, that we cannot talk any more about individual media? My answer opens up a new perspective: while technological specificity has diminished, media are still identified as such, because each of them gave birth to a specific form of experience that is still operating.
In order to better define what a media experience is, we may go back to media and film theories. Theories have always offered a “social definition” of each media, with a particular regard to the sensorial, behavioral, mental, and linguistic aspects it involves. Especially the theories triggered by the “birth” of a new media are important in this respect. For instance, cinema was defined from its inception not only as a “technology,” but through a set of other peculiar features. It is a device that recovers and enhances the sense of sight; moreover, cinema boasts a vision imbued with the values of its times (Papini, Canudo, Epstein, Balasz). Cinema is also a device able to give new life to previous forms of art (the theatre of shadows, Tille, or the pantomime, Luciani), and also to generate new forms of discourses (Canudo and the idea that film merges arts of space and arts of time). Cinema finally is a device that embodies certain anthropological needs: it gives us back reality in its fullness (a “scientific theatre”: Ricciotto Canudo); it develops our fantasies at their best; it explores the sense of possibility (Lukacs). Film is not only a technology: it is a site of sensoriality, of discursivity, and of functionality. From this perspective, it is a machine able to shape a peculiar kind of experience (see for example the Italian writer-philosopher Giovani Papini in 1907 and the Italian writer-art critic Enrico Thovez in 1908. Both claim that the specificity of the cinema consists in its identity as the art form that best represents a “modern” experience). It is on the background of such a definition that the current transformation of film is operating.
Media and film transformation basically results in a “migration” toward new technological devices or new physical sites. When we say that media “expand,” we mean that they “conquer” and “colonize” new technical or physical environments – platforms such as computers or cell phones, or spaces like homes or streets. I call relocation this process through which a medium changes its place, still presenting itself as the “same” medium. If we focus on cinema, we may see that this process starts either when a film is delivered by a new device (for example a DVD player), or when a physical environment is readapted for a viewing experience which maintains some of the key cinematographic features, such as a focused attention, the sense of the spectacular, the sense of narrative, etc. (it is the case of the home theatre). Cinema’s permanence is ensured on one side by the “survival” of its content, on the other because the conditions of film viewing are constantly reinstated. I just add that the main trajectories of film relocation are toward domestic spaces (the already quoted home theatre), public spaces (television sets installed in stations, or on trains or planes; mediafacade in city squares, etc.), exhibition spaces (galleries, museums), private spaces (portable and individual devices like cell phones or tablets), and virtual spaces (internet).
Nevertheless, if on the one hand film relocation aims to keep alive a previous form of experience, and if it is precisely this form of experience that enables us to recognize a continuity into a new or different media, on the other hand relocation results also in a large sets of changes. To experience film in an environment different from the (supposedly) original one means to experience differently, and to experience a different film. We must keep permanence and change in a dialectical relation, and try to see change in permanence, and permanence in change – that is what is requested by an analysis of media history focused on experience, and not simply on technical aspects.
In this perspective, the new forms of spectatorship are worthy of an attentive scrutiny. At least four transitions are effective today in the spectator’s experience: from the enjoyment of a text to the fascination of hypertexts; from a centralized gaze to a decentralized glance, based on a multitasking attention; from being immersed in the represented world to surfing it without an effective identification in it; and from the isolation of an individual sitting in a public, to the connection of an individual who watches a film alone and in the meantime chats with other individuals through computer or SMS. These changes draw a new paradigm for spectatorship: from “attendance,” tied to classical cinema and traditional media, we move to the “performance,” typical of new media (computer, i-phone) and of cinema when experienced outside the movie theatre (and moreover typical of the so called “participatory culture”). These characteristics are quite evident in a relocated film experience; but they also retrospectively affect an experience in traditional venues such as the film theatre. In the passage from attendance to performance, we must question traditional issues like subjectivity, agency, and the gaze. They now must be thought in a different way – closer to what may also be called a post-modern, or a late-modern experience.
I mentioned changes in film form. Film and media production is nowadays characterized by new stylistic features. Aspects such as repetition, mash-up, re-cut, etc., not only define the way in which media combine, develop, and explore new languages and new formats, but also the new way in which creative artists express themselves.
In this dialectical interplay of permanence and transformation, what emerges is the very logic of the constitution or re-constitution of a medium. We can hypothesize that a medium has its own identity, when there are at least three conditions. First of all, there must be a strong connection between a set of practices at a social level (at large: sensorial, discursive, and behavioral practices) and a set of symbolic needs, which refer to a broader anthropological dimension. For example, social networks are born and grow where conversational forms intersect with identity and with relational needs. Second, a medium requires regularity, automatisms. For instance, social networks are born and spread because there is a “rhetoric” that drives the construction of texts and a “ritual” that guides the users’ participation. Finally, every medium requires recognition, in the double meaning of the word, as acknowledgment and as identification. To exist, a medium must achieve a social acceptance and must be identified as such. It has to be recognized and at the same time be recognizable. It is this threefold condition that gives life to an experience able to define a media on its own.
My aim in the next years is to explore quite systematically these fields in order to develop original answers to the questions put forward by the current deep changes in the media system. For the IKKM appointment, I want to focus on the main characters of media relocation, with a special attention to problems of space – starting from domestic and urban space. But all the issues are “open fields” for a research and a conversation among colleagues.
Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
Communicative Negotiation in Cinema and Television. Milano: VeP, 2002.
Teorie del cinema: 1945-1990. Milano: Bompiani, 1993.
“Back to the Motherland: The film theatre in the postmedia age”. In: Screen Vol. 52 No. 1, 2011, S. 1-12.
“Die Explosion des Kinos: Filmische Erfahrung in der post-kinematographischen Epoche”. In: montage AV Vol.19 No. 1, 2010, S. 11-35.
“Elsewhere: The relocation of art”. In: Consuelo Ciscar Casabàn and Vincenzo Trione (eds.): Valencia09/Confines. Valencia: INVAM, 2009, S. 348-351.
“Filmic experience”. In: Screen Vol. 50 No. 1, 2009, S. 56-66.
“Der Stil als Schauplatz der Verhandlung: Überlegungen zu filmischem Realismus und Neo-Realismus”. In: montage AV, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2009, S. 129-139.
“The Last Supper in Piazza della Scala”. In: Cinema & Cie 11, Fall 2008, S. 7-14.
“Theory, Post-theory, Neo-theories: Changes in Discourses, Change in Objects”. In: Cinémas 17: 2-3, 2007, S. 33-45.