Conscious of the underlying significance of this term and its many interpretations within the context of visual culture, particularly as related to film and screen media, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media set out to provide a forum to explore the myriad of interstices that exist both within the medium of film and between film and other media, firstly in the form of an international conference held at University College Cork in September 2012, and now in a special issue of Alphaville dedicated to the topic.
Lot’s and lots to read.
I was drawn in by the word interstice. A wonderful sounding word which most people couldn’t pronounce let alone define. The editorials starts with:
The interstice: something empty, something minute—a crevice, a chink, a narrow gap—yet, in spite of this definition of something apparently slight and inconsequential, one perhaps may make the claim that the interstice serves as a foundational element of film. The “intervening space”, as the OED defines it, in its celluloid form provided the connection between multiple images, allowing them to run together to form the illusion of movement. While this interstitial black strip that imperceptibly framed the moving image is no longer a constituent part of cinema in its current digital format, interstices continue to proliferate in screen media, perhaps to a greater extent than ever. Indeed, just as cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography, this intermediality takes on a redefined role in the digital era, with the lines between cinema, television, art, video and new media becoming increasingly difficult to define.
And so I was off, thinking about black bars between frames of pellicule. Though I knew in my bones, chasing a few rabbits down their holes, this was the entre to a lot more things of interest and use among a whole swathe I probably wouldn’t understand or be bothered with. But how do you know till you read?
And so what exactly are the film things I am bothered with? Think, Think. One, how films are made, particularly cinematography and editing, aesthetics goes without saying (but there, I’ve said it), and the limits of film (and the sort of questions that cropped up when Godard started writing in the Cahiers and then made films himself which, if we use A Bout de Souffle, was often about how film was not up to the job he wanted it to do – and/or was dead and gone in the terms in which he saw it: in two words Eisenstein and montage. Godard a writer trying a new medium and as I see it often being disappointed and expressing this disappointment in his own films. Alright, I admit it, I’ve been trying Histoires yet again). Phew! How hard it is to attend to three things at once and have the added disadvantage of English subtitles. Perhaps better without enough French to read La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma de Jean-Luc Godard by Céline Scemama as a companion-piece to Histoire(s). My ideal: watch it first, then the transcription,then both together. But it becomes a study not an experience, where it has to be watched on DVD to stop it at will.
The start point – stimulated by the Alphaville editorial’s first para – was that black gap between each frame. Faux naively (sometimes the ridiculously obvious can turn up insights) I mused the black dividing lines had to be there because of the way a roll of film running through a camera exposed individual frames. A shutter or shutters opened to expose each frame and it couldn’t do it quick enough to have no gap between frames. Though of course even if that were feasible, with each frame abutting directly to the next, the separation of frames as they are by a gap might well be needed to help create the moving images at a certain speed of projection. Who knows – not many – if the movie would work projected without the few millimeters of black space?
It wasn’t there in order to. It was there because it had to be there, and then they found a way to get over these leetel black bars between frames by projecting the film at a certain speed both to eliminate them from perception, and eventually at 24fps to get a movie that wasn’t jerky as the early silent films were.
Then the assertion that
[..] cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography
made me think some more – and this is the first paragraph of the editorial! – what interstices were these exactly? That later.
The fourth wall. We know that cinema was distinctly theatrical in it’s beginnings. But surely, film rather than being in cracks between the traditional arts – once the theatrical style was left behind – was a new art form which superimposed itself on them as a whole, using them; or perhaps that the arts fed directly or indirectly into film, rather than the other way round. Or even that it parasitised on them or was in symbiosis with them. Or both. Or saprophytic. Or even commensal. But it did become the predominant – as in popular and wide-spread – art form the 20 century. Pretty quickly it was the flicks people went to see instead of music hall – certainly not art galleries or museums. Though come to think of it, music and film became close partners in a way that art and theatre did not. Theatre and ballet became favourite subjects of film and have remained so to the present day. Opera became the musical. But film technique has developed on its own.
→ Film Studies at University College Cork
Well, better start reading. Might learn something.
P.OV. number 6, December 1998
which has a set on editing under the title The Art of Editing, starting with Mark Le Fanu: On Editing