On Certain Characteristics of Photogenie

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Theories of the Moving Image
In Jean Epstein’s 1923 essay on cinema ‘On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie’, he immediately invites the idea of a spectrum in film, where the art of cinema and the film industry are, in their most exclusive forms, at opposite ends of the said spectrum. Through metaphor he alludes to the important argument: ‘can the art of cinema exist without the film industry?’ (or vice versa) or, ‘should films be made which utilise both the art of cinema and the film industry (ones which fall into the middle of the spectrum)?’. Epstein decides to speak solely on the art of cinema, making use of the term, ‘photogénie’ (p. 314) (originally used by the French film director and critic Louis Delluc) to describe it. Photogénie (which translates to English as photogenic) according to Epstein is ‘any aspect of things, beings, or souls whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction’. What is interesting here is his word choice: ‘things’, ‘beings’ and ‘souls’ each having ‘moral character’ relate to his major issue of animism in films and the importance Epstein places animism with in the art of cinema (p. 314). He then states ‘any aspect not enhanced by filmic reproduction is not photogenic, plays no part in the art of cinema’ which leads to his concept of how the cinema can and should be ‘cinematic’ (p. 314). Aspects which are ‘enhanced by filmic reproduction’ are therefore ‘cinematic’ and ‘photogenic’ and those which are not are not ‘cinematic’ and ‘photogenic’ in his view. So what is ‘cinematic’ according to Epstein? ‘Mobility’, ‘time’, ‘perspective and depth’, ‘animism’, and ‘personality’ all seem to feature heavily in his ‘cinematic’ concept. Movement in cinema is an illusion as it is created in our minds; what we actually see when we watch a film is a very large number of still images. Twenty four still images conventionally make up a second of film, each differing ever so slightly. In a standard cinema, equipped with a 35...
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