Towards an Archaeology of Cinematic Expressive Movements
Date: Wednesday, March 8
Place: Marie Loke Zaal (Harmony Building)
Respondent: Joost Keizer (Art History, RUG)
Whereas media archaeologists have been extremely critical of processes of canon-building (especially when it comes to old film history’s beloved ‘classics’ and ‘masterpieces’), on another, more conceptual level of its discursive formation it can be seen as rather canon-driven, drawing on a firm set of thinkers and cultural theorists, from Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson and Walter Benjamin to Marshall McLuhan, Michel Foucault and Friedrich Kittler. A name often only mentioned in passing is that of the German art historian Aby Warburg, a contemporary of Freud and Benjamin. Despite the fact that Warburg’s monumental, if unfinished project of the Mnemosyne picture atlas, in which he set out to reconstruct the visual memory of European culture across various media and high/low-culture biases, offers itself as a viable model for media archaeological research, Warburg has so far occupied only a marginal and somewhat shadowy place in media archaeological theory and practice.
With the example of “cinematic expressive movements” from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and their cultural appropriation in the work of the early Alfred Hitchcock and the late Sergei Eisenstein, I would like to suggest that Warburg may be useful in practicing a particular type of media archaeology, one that is concerned with the audiovisual aesthetics and affective qualities of film and other media, and that Jussi Parikka, with reference to Thomas Elsaesser, once aptly called a “Media Archaeology of the Senses”.
As I would like to argue, a media archeology of distinct “cinematic expressive movements” inspired by Warburg could provide an approach also suitable to map contemporary re-appropriations of film history as they abound in today’s mash-up and remix culture of digital combination and aggregation as much as in the contemporary art scene.
Michael Wedel is Professor of Media History at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF in Potsdam and co-director of “Cinepoetics – Center for Advanced Film Studies” at the Free University Berlin. Between 2005 and 2009 he was Assistant Professor for the History and Theory of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam, from 2011 to 2014 co-director of the Film Museum Potsdam. His articles and essays on German film and literature, Hollywood and European Cinema have appeared in a number of edited collections and in journals such as Iris, Film History, NECSUS – European Journal of Media Studies and New German Critique. His books as author include Der deutsche Musikfilm: Archäologie eines Genres 1914-1945 (2007), Filmgeschichte als Krisengeschichte: Schnitte und Spuren durch den deutschen Film (2011), Kollision im Kino: Mime Misu und der Untergang der “Titanic” (2012), and Körper, Tod und Technik: Metamorphosen des Kriegsfilms (with Thomas Elsaesser, 2016).