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Abstract

This dissertation reworks a set of central debates in film theory by analyzing the aesthetics of cinematic motion. Providing a corrective to classical film theory’s preoccupation with the materiality of photography and more recent debates over the ontological separation of analog and digital media, I locate the uniqueness of cinematic experience in the aesthetic possibilities of cinema’s inscription of motion. Through the phenomenological analysis of Gestalt structures and patterns of movement unique to the moving image—what I call cinema’s motion forms—I demonstrate the various ways that cinematic motion is distinct from natural motion perception. By analyzing several of cinema’s motion forms shared across analog and digital cinemas, and revealing their logics of experience, I provide a fresh look on a set of problems of film theory. ,Each chapter pairs a phenomenological analysis of a particular motion form with an intervention in a film theoretical argument or assumption. The first chapter, “Contingent Motion,” challenges realist film theory’s historic emphasis on the photographic index by examining the perceptual affinities between the “wind in the trees” phenomenon of early cinema and the fascination with hyperrealist depictions of water, fire, and hair in recent computer animation. The second chapter, “Habitual Gestures,” focuses on sequences in postwar realist cinema that depict characters engaged in household chores and ordinary tasks, and argues that their reality effects are based around encounters with forms of bodily movement. The third chapter, “Spatial Unfurling,” explores the perceptual effects of flatness and visual rhythm shared by certain forms of camera movement in order to rethink the intuition that the moving camera virtually moves the spectator through the film’s world. And the fourth chapter, “Bleeding Pixels,” examines the visual qualities of digital video’s compression glitches in order to elucidate logical aporias endemic to the analysis of digital cinema. Through these case studies, this dissertation argues for the motion form as not only a neglected aspect of cinematic experience but also as an analytical tool for rethinking film theory.

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