Cinema of Attractions vs Narrative Cinema

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  • Topic: Film, Narrative, Movie projector
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  • Published : June 1, 2013
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This essay will discuss both the Cinema of Attractions and Narrative Cinema and their origins in order to better understand the differences found between them in regards to the criteria to follow. This essay will highlight the role that the spectator plays, and the temporality that both the Cinema of Attractions and Narrative Cinema exhibit.

Tom Gunning proposed the Continuity Model in order to better understand the beginning of film and the making of film. Gunning proposes the following assumptions: Firstly, the evolutionary assumption, in which film is considered to have developed linearly across time as more development occurs. Secondly, the cinematic assumption theorises that film only truly came to being through the experimentation and discovery of itself as a cinematic medium (with the use of cinematic devices of camera movement and especially the process of editing). Lastly, the narrative assumption considers early film as an attempt to balance narrative and theatricality (Gunning, 2004: 42). The history of film and particularly early cinema, is filled with accidents, imagination driven experiments and most importantly, trial-and-error discoveries (Robb, 2007: 17). Filmmakers were free to play and experiment with the medium of film, as they had no predecessors, and therefore, no rules or guidelines (Robb, 2007: 17). In the early years of film, filmmakers and audiences alike, were not interested in telling stories and creating imaginary narrative worlds, but rather, were interested in displaying factual reports from a neutral standpoint. This is the start of the Cinema of Attractions – as introduced by André Gaudreault (Gunning, 2004: 42).

Within the Cinema of Attractions we find reports, or “actualities” – recordings of actual events that feature the novelty of moving pictures. We see this in films such as August and Louis Lumière’s, ‘La sortie des usines Lumière (Workers leaving the Lumière Factory’) (1895) – a simple daily event that was displayed to its audiences with the intrigue of the novelty of moving pictures (Abel, 2004: 573). A greater and more impactful moving picture was the Lumière brothers’ ‘L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of the Train at La Ciocat)’ (1895). In this shot, a train is seen arriving at a station platform with a few spectators and train-goers. The train passes the screen – this phenomena shocked the film’s audience who believed that the train was heading directly toward them (Robb, 2007: 19). The novelty of film was recognized and its audiences were hungry for entertainment. Soon after Actualities, audiences wanted to see more extravagant and uncommon material (Robb, 2007: 19). This early cinema was greatly influenced by ‘vaudeville’ – variety shows with songs, comedy acts etc. – where the films were screened alongside performances, as a part of the live-performance spectacle (Robb, 2007: 18). This environment lead to audiences becoming interested in seeing moving pictures of things they could not ordinarily see (Robb, 2007: 19). It was during this time that filmmakers started creating moving pictures of exotic live performances, variety acts, places in the world that were foreign to their audiences and re-enactments of popular or famous events (Robb, 2007: 19). Moving pictures of natural disasters were also displayed to audiences (Robb, 2007: 19), and filmmakers soon grew tired of simply displaying these obvious and now over-used themes – that we can call, the Cinema of Attractions, and started searching for Narrative Cinema (Robb, 2007: 19). We can consider Georges Méliès’s ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon)’ in 1902 as one of the films as being intermediate between the Cinema of Attractions, and Narrative Film. This film is arguably one of the first famous narratives ever made. ‘A Trip to the Moon’ depicted the planning, and voyage to the moon by a group of astronomers, as well as their encounters with creatures on the moon, and their return to Earth...
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