The Cinematic Apparatus

Technology as Historical and Cultural Form
  • Stephen Heath
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


In the first moments of the history of cinema, it is the technology which provides the immediate interest: what is promoted and sold is the experience of the machine, the apparatus. The Grand Café programme is headed with the announcement of ‘Le Cinématographe’ and continues with its description: ‘this apparatus, invented by MM. Auguste and Louis Lumière, permits the recording, by series of photographs, of all the movements which have succeeded one another over a given period of time in front of the camera and the subsequent reproduction of these movements by the projection of their images, life size, on a screen before an entire audience’; only after that description is there mention of the titles of the films to be shown, the ‘sujets actuels’, relegated to the bottom of the programme sheet.1


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  1. 1.
    See the reproduction of an early Lumiére programme in Georges Sadoul, Histoire générale du cinéma vol. I (Paris: Denoël, 1973) p. 290.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    C. Metz, ‘Le signifiant, imaginaire’, Communications no. 23 (1975) pp. 3–55 quotations from p. 6); translation, ‘The Imaginary Signifier’, Screen vol. 16 no. 2 (Summer 1975) pp. 14–76 (p. 19).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    C. Metz, introductory remarks to ‘Métaphore/métonymie’, Le Signifiant imaginaire (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1977) pp. 179–80.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    C. Metz, Langage et cinema (Paris: Larousse, 1971) p. 11; translation, Language and Cinema (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1974) p. 17.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Cf. Jean-Louis Baudry, ‘Le dispositif’, Communications no. 23 (1975) pp. 56–72; translation, ‘The Apparatus’, Camera Obscura no. 1 (1976) pp. 104–26.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    C. Metz, Essais sur la signification au cinéma (Paris: Klincksieck, 1972) p. 192.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    An emphasis equally valid in science, the science to which discussions of technology constantly refer as to an indisputable area of the observable, the factual, the real: ‘observational reports, experimental results, “factual” statements, either contain theoretical assumptions or assert them by the manner in which they are used’ Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (London: New Left Books, 1975) p. 31.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (London: Fontana, 1974) pp. 13–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 11.
    ‘Any technical practice is defined by its objectives: such specified effects to be produced in such an object, in such a situation. The means depend on the objectives. Any technical practice utilizes amongst these means knowledges which intervene as procedures: either knowledges borrowed from outside, from existing sciences, or “knowledges” produced by the technical practice itself to accomplish its end. In every case, the relationship between technique and knowledge is an external relationship, without reflection, radically different from the reflected internal relationship existing between a science and its knowledges.’ Louis Althusser, Pour Marx (Paris: Maspero, 1965) p. 172 n. 9; translation, For Marx (London: New Left Books, 1969) p. 171 n. 7.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema (New York: Dutton, 1970) p. 419.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    V. F. Perkins, Film as Film (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972) p. 40.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Jean-Louis Comolli, ‘Technique et idéologie’ (II), Cahiers du cinéma no. 230 (July 1971) p. 57.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    J.-L. Baudry, ‘Cinéma: effets idéologiques produits par l’appareil de base’, Cinéthique no. 7/8 (1970) p. 3; translation, ‘Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus’, Film Quarterly vol. XXVIII no. 2 (Winter 1974/5) p. 41.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    B. Brecht, Gesammelte Werke vol. XVIII (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967) p. 127 Williams, op. cit. p. 25. Cinema, of course, was not developed in the abstract; ‘the reproduction of life itself’ was not a subsequent discovery by Lumière; the description of what cinema would be, from the Lumière ‘sujets actuels’ to animation, in Ducos du Hauron’s ambitious 1864 patent for ‘an apparatus designed to reproduce photographically a given scene with all the transformations to which it is subject over a given period of time’ is not some freak — and neither is it the indication of cinema as an eternal dream of humankind: the technological and ideological move together as the very possibility of the development of the former as cinema; the pre-imaginary of cinema has its historical content from the problems of social definition and representation in the nineteenth century, the pressure for ‘machines of the visible’, and is itself a force in that development of cinema.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Reese V. Jenkins, Images and Enterprise: Technology and the American Photographic Industry 1839–1925 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1975) pp. 274–5.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    H. Mercillon, Cinéma et monopoles: le cinéma aux États-Unis (Paris: A. Colin, 1953) p. 7.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Cf. Douglas Gomery, ‘Failure and Success: Vocafilm and RCA innovate Sound’, Film Reader no. 2 (1977) p. 215.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    John L. Fell, Film: An Introduction (New York: Praeger, 1975) p. 127.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Liz-Anne Bawden (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Film (London, New York, Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1976) p. 106 (article ‘Camera’).Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Barry Salt, Letter, Screen vol. 17 no. 1 (Spring 1976) p. 123.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    Salt, ‘Film Style and Technology in the Forties’, Film Quarterly vol. XXXI no. 1 (Fall 1977) p. 46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 26.
    Salt, ‘Film Style and Technology in the Thirties’, Film Quarterly vol. XXX no. 1 (Fall 1976) p. 32.Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    Lee Garmes A.S.C., interviewed in Charles Higham, Hollywood Cameramen (London: Thames & Hudson, 1970) p. 54.Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    Cf. Edward Branigan, ‘Color and Cinema: Problems in the Writing of History’, Film Reader no. 4 (1979) p. 19.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Heath 1981

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  • Stephen Heath

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