Current Issue, Vol. 35 No.1

“An Art for Which There Is as Yet No Name.” Mobile Color, Artistic Composites, Temporal Objects

by Bennet Schaber
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre
Volume 35, Number 1 (Fall 2022)
ISNN 2376-4236
©2022 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

“[T]o reduce everything to terms of motion, to see everything passing into everything else by almost insensible gradations, to refuse to accept any firm line of demarcation… this running over of every art into every other art… in all the arts the principle of motion prevails over the principle of repose.”—Irving Babbitt, The New Laokoon: An Essay on the Confusion of the Arts[1]

“Repose is the property of dead things; with the living it is only a passing accident.”—Hiram Kelly Moderwell, The Theatre of Today[2]

“What is a life that is in need of being constantly resuscitated?”—Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time[3]

In 1934, Robert Edmond Jones (1887-1954), celebrated stage designer and director, went to Hollywood. There he joined his friend, colleague and former Harvard classmate, producer Kenneth Macgowan, at RKO. At Harvard the two had both been students in George Pierce Baker’s famed English 47 playwriting workshop and later, in New York along with Eugene O’Neill, another Baker alumnus, formed the ‘triumvirate’ of Experimental Theatre Inc., producing over twenty plays in three seasons (1923-6) at the Provincetown Playhouse and Greenwich Village Theatre. These included two landmarks of the new movement in the North American theatre, O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1924) with Paul Robeson and Desire Under the Elms (1924) with Walter Huston, the latter designed and directed by Jones. Both plays would become motion pictures. Jones, like other practitioners of “the new stagecraft,” was celebrated for his use of color in costuming, stage architecture and lighting, and was so part of a “talent pool” courted not only by Broadway, but by the burgeoning retail industry and, of course, Hollywood. He was, then, one of the principals of what in 1928 the Saturday Evening Post called “The New Age of Color.”[4] Jones had come West to serve as “color designer,” a newly created position, for an experiment that turned out to be the first non-animated, three-color, Technicolor film, the Academy-Award winning short, La Cucaracha (Pioneer/RKO 1934) (Fig. 1). For Jones it was, if words are to be believed, a dream come true. “Color has come to stay in pictures,” he wrote in Vanity Fair earlier in the year. “When this issue reaches the press I shall be in Hollywood where I hope to put some of my dreams into color—or properly speaking into Technicolor, for that is the name of the process in which I am interested.”[5]

Fig. 1, La Cucaracha (Pioneer/RKO, 1934). Frame grab.

A year later, Jones returned to the pages of Vanity Fair, this time to discuss his work as “artistic director” for Pioneer/RKO’s Becky Sharp (1935), the first feature-length Technicolor film, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and, like La Cucaracha, produced by Macgowan (Fig. 2).[6]

Fig. 2, Becky Sharp (Pioneer/RKO, 1935). Frame grab.

He enthused about the “advent of color in pictures” and situated it not only within the history of film—“images began to move… then they began to speak… now they are taking on all the colors of life…”—but within a world history at once aesthetic and speculative. Technicolor becomes for him a metonymy for technology itself, capable of reaching back to Homer and faithfully reproducing “the wine-dark sea, the rosy-fingered dawn,” but also presaging a future in which images “will step off the screen and appear before you in the round” and that will, finally, “make every human being on this earth immediately present to every other being.” Technicolor signaled a past, revivified in all of its chromatic intensity, and a future, anticipated in its full, living, even utopian dimensions. And he added, “I cannot say why this should be so. But it is the way things seem to be moving.”[7]

Vividness and presence, movement and time: Color, or rather, Technicolor, was redolent with and suggestive of all of these. Indeed, color was suggestion itself. In Jones’s words, “it affects us emotionally; it means something to us.” Thus, he adduced an entire chromatic semiotics both natural and cultural: “Light bright colors make us feel gay. Dark sombre colors make us feel sad. We see red; we get the blues; we become purple with rage; green with envy… red and green make us think of Christmas….” In fact, this semiotics of color, bound to a strict but not inflexible set of rules and guidelines, would quickly transform into industrial standards for color films.[8] But if color required these kinds of formal, limiting and organizing procedures, it was because in it there was something else; and that something else, to Jones’s mind at least, would require “artists who will explore the infinite potentialities of the new medium.” That excess element, in order to be expressed, required an analogy that, in the long run, may have been no analogy at all: music.

Beautiful color is pleasing to our eyes just as beautiful sound is pleasing to our ears. But, more than this, beautiful color, properly arranged and composed on the screen and flowing from sequence to sequence just as music flows from movement to movement, stirs our minds and emotions in the same way that music does. Color on the screen—mobile color, flowing color—is really a kind of visual music. Or rather, it is an art for which there is as yet no name.[9]

Like music, “arranged and composed,” color, mobile and flowing, was a form of flux in excess of any informal patchwork or formal taxonomy of significations. Although immanent to its medium or support, it took on an independence of movement and vibration; and although an optical element of the film narrative, it transcended the order of representation of the fable. Clearly, it could “enhance the action of the drama” or become “an organic part of it….” But in principle, it was irreducible to the technical, regular and inexorable procession of the film machine or to the formal rhythms and progressions of the drama. A color of a dress? Of course. Of the sky? Yes. A metaphor? An association? Certainly. But also something simultaneously more material and more abstract, mobile, flowing. Perhaps this is why it had “no name.”

Color, therefore, introduced, or re-introduced, a certain tension into the film that became even more apparent after the premiere of Becky Sharp. Color, like sound before it, re-asserted the cinema as what Rudolf Arnheim would call “an artistic composite,” with its variety of perceptual and formal registers always potentially at war with one another and themselves.[10] Forces of indeterminacy consistently threatened narrative and more general aesthetic coherence, technical feats of astonishment could overwhelm artistic restraint, perceptual and sensory independences could work below or above principles of integration, even the repetitive cycles of reels and frames were potentially at odds with the forward momentum of lengths of film. In short, there was a friction between what might be called avant-garde tendencies and conventional norms; and Jones’s work in theatre design was rooted in both camps. Color semiotics was one thing, mobile color was another.

In addition, La Cucaracha and Becky Sharp were “demonstration” films, prototypes for the new three-color Technicolor process. And their need to highlight the process of color itself accentuated these tensions. The demonstration, meant to suggest a certain aesthetic and industrial teleology, in Jones’s words, “the way things seem to be moving,” also suggested its potential opposite, a kind of corrosive, vibrational undoing of that forward momentum. Reviewing the premiere at Radio City Music Hall for the New York Times, Andre Sennwald put his finger on many of these fundamental tensions while echoing Jones’s rhetoric. Although Becky Sharp’s faults were “too numerous to earn it distinction as a screen drama,” as “an experiment it is a momentous event, and it may be that in a few years it will be regarded as equal in importance of the first talking pictures.” He added:

This is not the coloration of natural life, but a vividly pigmented dream world of the artistic imagination. … [T]he most glaring technical fault is the poor definition in the long shots, which convert faces into blurred masses…. [T]here is also a tendency to provoke an after-image when the scene shifts abruptly to a quieter color combination…. At the moment it is impossible to view Becky Sharp without crowding the imagination so completely with color that the photoplay as a whole is almost meaningless. … The real secret of the film resides not in the general feeling of dissatisfaction which the spectator suffers when he leaves the Music Hall, but in the active excitement which he experiences during its scenes.[11]

In short, the film’s “excessive demands on the eye” undermined “the film as a whole.” Blurred masses, after-images, active excitement, crowded imagination and the corrosion of meaning rendered nothing but dissatisfaction where conventional aesthetic norms and expectations were concerned. To rectify these alleged “faults” required “accustoming the eye” to color just as “we were obliged to accustom the ear to the first talkies.” What was at stake then, were both forms of perceptual acquaintance and aesthetic integration; the eye and the ear would require re-attunement before they could be made once again to harmonize. Thus, Sennwald took Jones’s vocabulary of dreams, aesthetic teleologies and visual music and gave them a specificity that Jones’s own rhetoric itself seemed to lack. Sound and color did not supplement a lack in the silent, monochrome image. They revivified and exacerbated an old and created and put into motion a new set of tensions, if not quite a new art or an art for which there was as yet no name. Inscribed, silently, in the demonstration were a set of avant-garde aspirations more fusional than integrative, psychologically or physiologically jarring rather than aesthetically pacifying. The sum of the film was exceeded by its parts; and these parts themselves bled through or overflowed into forms of indistinction that gave rise to, not integration, but a fusing of more… parts. Were there really after-images floating in the indeterminate spaces of cuts? Were human figures actually transforming into blurred blocs of pigment? Was this what Jones meant by mobile color?

In fact, “mobile color” really did name something, and Jones once knew it, even if by 1935 he had perhaps forgotten. “Mobile color,” Stark Young, playwright and critic, wrote in 1922 in Theatre Arts Magazine, “is a new art and we have no images of speech for it…. But we sit before it with no sense of strangeness, though there may be some novelty. Like all true things in art it is recognizable. We realize its closeness to our dreams.”[12] Here again was the sublime feeling of inexpressibility; and here again were “dreams into color,” and not just in our heads. A year earlier, Young’s co-editor at Theatre Arts Magazine had also written with excitement about “mobile color,” Thomas Wilfred’s experiments with lumia, moving color projections. In the Theatre of Tomorrow, Kenneth Macgowan, Jones’s friend, colleague and the future producer of La Cucaracha and Becky Sharp at Pioneer/RKO, celebrated Wilfred’s clavilux, a console to create moving light projections and a new, luminous, environmental art, as a harbinger of a future, multi-media theatre (fig. 3).

Fig. 3, Thomas Wilfred at the Clavilux Jr. (1930). Thomas Wilfred Papers (MS 1375). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Macgowan explained:

In a laboratory on Long Island, Thomas Wilfrid [sic], a naturalized Dane, who is a machinist and a musician as well as artist, has perfected a “color organ” or “claviluse” [sic] which creates upon a plaster screen the most extraordinary, beautiful and moving progression of absolute shapes and colors. Upon a surface stained by light, develop, evolve and pass the most lovely and thrilling of bright shapes produced apparently by prisms and crystals…. Floating in three-dimensional space… they seem to turn inside-out into a fourth. The final effect is utterly apart from the theatre as we know it. It is more of some mystic philosophy of shapes and numbers, come to life, a religion of pure form sprung out of the void.[13]

In Huntington, Long Island, Macgowan had attended the same, private clavilux demonstration about which Young wrote the next year. Present too were Theatre Arts Magazine’s founder, Sheldon Cheney, photographer Francis Bruguière, and designer Hermann Rosse. Rosse, who also experimented with moving color projections, would go on to win an Oscar for artistic direction for the 1930 two-color, Technicolor musical revue, King of Jazz (Universal). Jones, who contributed texts and images to the Theatre Arts Magazine beginning with its inaugural issue, may have also attended the event. But if he was not present, he would have known and read of it and certainly attended later exhibitions. The rhetoric he later deployed à propos of Technicolor clearly echoed the rhetoric surrounding Wilfred’s lumia.

Although now a rather forgotten art form, Wilfred’s invention and the performances he gave with it were a vibrant and relevant component of both the avant-garde art world and the popular culture of the twenties.[14] Painters, patrons and musicians all found mobile color provocative and intriguing, an “art of the future,” as Katherine Dreier described it to Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Leopold Stokowski and Marcel Duchamp.[15] Sheldon Cheney, the experimental theatre’s leading theorist and exponent in the USA, devoted an entire chapter of his A Primer of Modern Art (1924) to it; and his descriptions, and a series of photographs by Bruguière, amounted to both a verbal and visual essay on its significance and potential futures. Like Young and Macgowan, Cheney too found himself struggling to find an adequate or satisfactory vocabulary with which to describe and take account of this distinctly modern art. And like Young, he recognized immediately a potential contradiction between its hybrid origins and its ambitions toward abstraction. According to Cheney:

It is too soon to build up a particularized theory for the art of mobile color; but this much must be said at the outset: it must be, like music, an abstract art. It will have a formal beauty of its own sort, distinctive, shaped by the limitations and possibilities of its medium, colored lights. But it will not ever (let us hope) get mixed up with the aim of representing nature. It would then—awful thought—become a sort of super-colored movie. As in music, where only the cheapest novelties of composition try definitely to imitate the sounds of nature, so in this new art there will be no effort to suggest objective reality.[16]

Once again, the encounter with mobile color leads, with a kind of inevitability, to music and the cinema. And Wilfred’s own lexicon encouraged both these intermedial flights and their accompanying anxieties. The Clavilux, according to its creator, was a kind of “color organ,” and each light “composition” was an “opus.” Thus, despite his best efforts, Wilfred could never guarantee that mobile color would be understood as a strictly, unadulterated visual experience. Its condition as a motile, chromatic, temporal and ephemeral experience underscored its status as an object and phenomenon of flux. Cheney was himself forced to illustrate his essay on the lumia with static, black-and-white photographs, as if mobile color presented not only a foil to linguistic representation but to the visual as well (fig. 4).

Fig. 4, Sheldon Cheney, A Primer of Modern Art (1924). Photos by Francis Bruguière.

And he concluded his essay not with words or a photograph, but with a reproduction of a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe: Music—Black, Blue and Green (fig. 5).

Fig. 5, Georgia O’Keefe, Blue and Green Music (1919/1921). The Art Institute of Chicago. Thomas Wilfred, from Lumia Opus 162. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photo © Clavilux.org

Fig. 5a, Georgia O’Keefe, Blue and Green Music (1919/1921). The Art Institute of Chicago. Thomas Wilfred, from Lumia Opus 162. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photo © Clavilux.org

Music? Painting? Movie? An art with no name and, more troubling still, an art with no proper image. It was, as Macgowan had pointed out, continually developing, evolving, and passing. But perhaps the very difficulty of representing mobile color was in fact the indication of its most sublime possibilities. What exactly would be wrong with “a sort of super-colored movie?” And was that what Jones and Macgowan had gotten up to in the decade since Cheney’s book? Awful thought indeed.

Trying to come to grips with mobile color brought Cheney not to the promised land of medium specificity, abstraction, non-objectivity or aesthetic autonomy. Rather, despite himself, he was drawn along, like Macgowan, Young, and Jones, toward the other arts, in this case, painting, music and the movies. Mobile color highlighted and exacerbated two conflictual but finally inseparable narratives about modern art. Claims about abstraction, about the emancipation of the arts from figuration and their deliverance into their own, particular and distinct media and vocations, invariably found themselves accompanied by claims of hybridity, immixture and confusion.[17] Thus, while critics like Babbitt, Cheney, Arnheim and, most famously, Clement Greenberg (despite their crucial differences) could all broker the legitimacy of modern art on the aesthetic limits first outlined by Lessing’s Laokoon (and to which they invariably referred), another faction (to which Jones and Macgowan belonged) could seek the same legitimacy in the sensuous overflowing of those limits manifest in Walter Pater’s rather paradoxical notion of the Anderstreben, through which the arts “lend each other new forces.”[18]

Music, and especially the notion of visual music, could stand in for both tendencies. On the one hand, music was an abstraction. In it everything—perception, sensation, figuration—could be reduced to mathematics: duration, rhythm, interval, vibration. It was its own content. On the other hand, as a metaphor, it drew to it all the other arts and their allied perceptual forms. Music was the source of synesthetic experiences. Like color, it was an experience of “flow” into which memory and anticipation were soldered together. Emotion and diffusion: Cheney was honest enough to acknowledge at least that much: “It is a question whether absolute abstraction is not a will-o’-the-wisp, whether in any work of art (even musical?) the associative processes of memory and recognition are not indissolubly bound up, at least faintly, with aesthetic enjoyment.”[19]

Visual music, then, confirmed the nagging suspicion that every attempt to draw the limits of, or the borders between, the various arts seemed to lead to their increasing “confusion,” as Irving Babbitt vehemently complained. No doubt the theatre and the cinema, composites by their very nature and history, were the most susceptible to these contradictions. Like Babbitt and Lessing before him, Rudolf Arnheim was not particularly a fan of aesthetic hybrids, but he saw clearly where Cheney’s, Stark’s and Macgowan’s arguments led: “[E]ven the theatre has been accused now and then of basically being a hybrid…. [A]bsolute theatre, the kind of performance that is sheer stage action… has remained sterile whenever it was attempted and must remain so unless it be stylized to the point of becoming dance or so enriched visually as to become film.”[20] Mobile color accentuated this condition. To think of it as theatre or drama was quite simply to watch theatre disappear into color or music… or cinema. Thus, it brought home the essentially composite nature of theatre itself. The entire spectrum of the arts was the condition of its sense. If Technicolor, at least in Jones’s sense of it, bore the trace of mobile color, that was because it indicated these same compositional tensions at work in the cinema. Sennwald had seen it first-hand. Mobile color could transform figuration into moving blocs of pigment. Chromatic flux, “flowing color,” provoked afterimages that signaled the spectators’ physiological and subjective, and thus ontologically obscure, contribution to the film, what Sergei Eisenstein had called “the brink of cinema,” “fusing stage and audience in a developing pattern” that seemed to lack a proper place.[21] At play then was a dual tendency: towards abstraction and high art, towards aesthetic fusions and the vernacular. This was how nameless arts were born.

There was another tension at play in mobile color and this one perhaps brings us to the crux of the matter. On the one hand, the lumia were theatrical, that is they constituted both an art of vision and of volume. In Wilfred’s own words, they were “a three-dimensional drama in space.”[22] This distinguished the lumia from all previous versions of color music, from Pythagoras to Castel, Rimington to Scriabin.[23] And in fact, the inaugural demonstration to the Theatre Arts group brought out, as Cheney explicitly noticed, lumia as spatial art: “the effect of space instead of screen is achieved through the use of a background that is a modification of the stage-dome or cupola-horizon, in place of the flat wall.”[24] What Cheney was describing was the cyclorama that was revolutionizing the lighting effects of the modern theatre in the teens and twenties. A solid, domed, curvilinear background, usually constructed of plaster, the cyclorama enabled sophisticated light and color effects and obviated the need for painted backdrops. With it, the new stagecraft could give up traditional forms of mimesis and dedicate Itself to experiments in image generation. The cyclorama turned the theatre into a continuous field of projections. Plays like those produced by Jones, Macgowan, and O’Neill, could unfold rhythmically in a light that made prior dramatic unities suddenly indistinct if not indiscernible.[25]

“Lighting is my music,” the German theatre designer, Ottamar Starke, said. And with the new experiences of theatrical light and space, the new, experimental, theatre became something closer to the flux of rhythmic progression than anything like Aristotelian mimetic dramaturgy. Plays became more episodic, putting momentum and suggestion in place of representation. Stage pictures were no longer produced before a static, painted, representational background.[26] Instead, they unfolded in the animated interplay between moving bodies and mobile light. “Let the stage, by means of its lights, be as alive as the drama itself,” proclaimed Hiram Kelly Moderwell in 1914.[27] “A new theatre and a new art,” wrote Macgowan about the designs of Rosse and Jones, “in which story, action, color, music, pantomime and voice would be fused.”[28] Actors emerged as living presences from their own projected shadows and images (fig. 6).

Fig. 6, Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920), w/ Charles Gilpin performing before the cyclorama (Kuppelhorizont) constructed by George Cram Cook, scene design by Cleon Throckmorton. Provincetown Playhouse, NY (Wikimedia Commons).

“The lights and shadows on a human body reveal to our eyes that the body is ‘plastic’—that is, a flexible body of three dimensions,” Moderwell insisted.[29] The future imagined by Jones in which images “will step off the screen and appear before you in the round,” had already happened. Had he forgotten that too?

On the other hand, if the lumia resembled theatrical events or proto-happenings, they also constituted a set of distinct compositions, each one an “opus.” They were thus repeatable, recorded, technical objects the status of which was simultaneously virtual and material, images that required a support in a medium of inscription, like a film. Thus, for each lumia opus there corresponded a “color record,” a glass disc that could be “played” and manipulated on Wilfred’s clavilux (fig. 7).

Fig. 7a, Thomas Wilfred, Color Records designed for the Clavilux Junior. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photos © Clavilux.org

Fig. 7b, Thomas Wilfred, Color Records designed for the Clavilux Junior. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photos © Clavilux.org

Fig. 7c, Thomas Wilfred, Color Records designed for the Clavilux Junior. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photos © Clavilux.org

Fig. 7d, Thomas Wilfred, Color Records designed for the Clavilux Junior. Courtesy of A.J. Epstein. Photos © Clavilux.org

This is why the analogies with music both made sense and fell short. It was not music as such that was at stake, but recorded music, phonography, with which the lumia perhaps were best compared. A chromo-graphy that was both a semiotic structure and the simultaneous possibility, through recorded repetition, of its technical deconstruction, like but not quite identical to either a modernist painting or a super-colored movie. A lumia opus was a temporal object but not necessarily a narrative or even a conventionally musical one.[30] What it promised, and this cannot be overemphasized, was not meaning as such, a text or a discursive semiotics, but a sensuous experience of color vision in and as time: developing, evolving, passing, repeating. And its inventor was having as difficult a time as anyone finding the means to express what was fundamentally a sensory, mnemo-technical phenomenon.

In Wilfred’s own words, the “physical basis” of lumia was: “The composition, recording and performance of a silent visual sequence in form, color and motion, projected on a flat white screen by means of a light-generating instrument controlled from a keyboard.”[31] Composition, instrument, keyboard, all suggested music. Recording, light, sequence, screen, all suggested cinema. Performance linked the two arts, but also suggested the theatricality that had mesmerized the editors of Theatre Arts Magazine. “The lumia artist conceives his idea,” Wilfred wrote, “as a three-dimensional drama unfolding in infinite space.” Mobile color was, like the theatre, like the cinema, a composite art. But it was also a recorded art; and the experience it promised—of emergence, expectation, disappearance and repetition—was bound up with its technical condition: not the time of seeing, but time’s entrance into, and emergence as, the visible. This is why it slipped through Cheney’s hands even as he tried—and failed—to represent it. Its ontology and locus were obscure, like a song or picture you can’t get out of your head (or ear, or eye). Modern art’s afterimage. “The mind of audiences alone can see the created thing as a unity,” wrote drama critic and future film producer, Ralph Block, of motion projections. “It never appears as such on the screen.”[32] And he added, à propos of the cinema proper and as if anticipating Jones’s own hesitations regarding color semiotics:

For the camera, movement must be living, warm, vital, and flowing rather than set and defined in an alphabet of traditional interpretation. Like Bergsonian time, it must seek to renew and recreate itself out of the crest of each present moment. It is in this sense that it resembles music.[33]

Thinking, in 1935, of Technicolor as “mobile color,” as “flow” and “movement” in search of its proper name, and finally as “visual music,” Jones was reviving and reanimating the lumia experiments and discourses from the previous two decades and, a bit surreptitiously, asserting their continued influence and relevance. He had clearly not forgotten—or at least was not conscious of having not forgotten—his experiences of Wilfred’s invention. He was in fact deploying its memory as the very form through which to mediate his passage from the experimental theatre of the twenties to the experimental, color cinema of the thirties. Visual music was the distributed middle term of a barely suppressed analogy between avant-garde experiments become super-colored movies, and super-colored movies become ecstatic avant-garde events. But what’s more, the cinematic future he was projecting was the perfect image of his theatrical past. Technicolor was revealing his previous life in the theatre as a dream, in some form at least, already come true. Technicolor as technics, a regime of suggestions, associations, memories and anticipations, with all of its futural momentum, was drawing him backward into a composite past. That past too had been inflected by its dreams. What was its future supposed to have been? Was its trace the imagined future of “every human being on this earth immediately present to every other being?” What kind of presence, exactly, were we being asked to imagine?

The comparison or analogy of mobile color to music was reminiscent, in fact, of the ways in which the cinema tout court had been phrased as a kind of visual music. “In form and structure, expression by the motion-camera is more like music than anything else,” wrote Block in The Century Magazine. “It streams before the eye as music streams before the ear; it is in a constant state of becoming.”[34] Indeed, as early as 1921 the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, was collecting photoplays to be analyzed and taught in a curriculum devoted to film scoring. By 1923 Rouben Mamoulian, future director of Becky Sharp, was there, directing the American Opera Company on the Eastman theatre’s stage.[35] But if a film could be scored, was it not because it was, at least in principle, already a form of music: composed, measured, recorded? The film itself, like mobile color, like Wilfred’s color records, was already a visual music, and the so-called “abstract” or “musical” films of Eggeling, Richter, Ruttman, et al. only highlighted what was the case, again, at least in principle, of every film.[36] Thus, color was a kind of addition that, as Jones asserted, simultaneously pushed the cinema forward into a future of ever-increasingly animated or animatic simulacra, and backward towards its halting, uncertain and inchoate origins. It was as if it had always already been a medium of sound and color, and precisely because the technical inscription, the recording, of each of these independent registers of perceptual flux guaranteed their integration (or disintegration), their articulation (or disarticulation) in a singular, technical object or performance.

According to Bernard Stiegler, “A film, like a melody, is essentially a flux: it consists of its unity in and as flow…. Cinema can include sound because film, as a photographic recording technique capable of representing movement, is itself a temporal object susceptible to the phenomenological analysis proper to this kind of object.”[37] The discontinuities and fusions, those afterimages and blocs of pigment that Sennwald remarked of Becky Sharp, were not in reality “faults.” They were in fact a kind of contribution to the phenomenology of film as a temporal object. What Jones’s Technicolor experiment demonstrated was that discontinuity and fusion were the technical preconditions for continuity and integration, not their undoing. Technicolor was indicative of the fragility of cinematic continuity and by extension the continuity of the spectatorial consciousness that resonated with it. Experiences of this sort, ecstatic but also critical and analytical, were precious. Every subsequent film experiment with the relation of image to sound, form to color, has confirmed it.[38] The more Cheney and the dramatists, Wilfred and the lumiastes, Jones and the colorists, Macgowan and the cineastes sought out their independent aesthetic identities, the more they encountered the opposite. Continuity required composition. Composition really did mean composites.

Block had put his finger on it: the “constant state of becoming” that the cinematic or phonographic or lumia object was, could only find its “unity” in the synthetic becoming of the “mind” with which it resonated. And there might be an infinity of modes of com-positing the two. Like Bergsonian time, again as Block had phrased it, every repetition was both a renewal and the production of the new—an innovation and an opening. Temporal objects were not only the accumulative recordings of what was or had been, they were also futural and anticipatory, “the way things seem to be moving,” as Jones would write in 1935.

The theatre and the cinema, the two worlds astride of which Jones found himself in 1934 and 1935, were both increasingly composite arts; and theorists of both had been discovering as much for at least twenty years. During the period between roughly 1910 and 1930, a group of texts devoted to the ‘new’ or ‘advanced’ theatre in Europe and North America and another to the emerging ‘art’ of the cinema converged around a specific cluster of what might be called motifs or themes. These themes, both camps acknowledged, had perhaps as much if not more to do with ideals than with realities; that is, what was at stake was a certain idea of the theatre or of the cinema, and so a certain idea of art in general. Although some of these texts, in examining the ontology of their respective arts, sought to distinguish or disengage themselves from the other, they in general explored their manifest and increasing overlappings and interpenetrations, and not just with one another, but with the entire spectrum of the contemporary arts. For example, Hiram Kelly Moderwell, writing in 1914, could claim that “from an institution of one art the theatre has become, in the space of less than ten years, an institution of all the arts.” The theatre was, in his account, “a series of pictures… a series of architectural designs… rhythmic spectacle… a kaleidoscope of color… a collection of blending sounds.”[39] The next year, William Morgan Hannon and Vachel Lindsay would make nearly identical claims about the cinema. In The Photodrama, Its Place Among the Fine Arts (1915), Hannon explained, “The photodrama is a complex—nay, a truly composite art.”[40] As much as it might distinguish itself from the others, it more importantly included them within its own expansive and dynamic field. Lindsay too, in The Art of the Motion Picture (1915), famously took an intermedial approach to cinema, characterizing it, as his chapter titles indicated, as “sculpture in motion,” or “painting in motion,” or even “architecture in motion.”[41] However, it was Victor Oscar Freeburg who recognized the most direct and compelling link between film and music that would soon characterize the rhetoric of Wilfred’s lumia and Jones’s mobile color.

From 1915-1920, Freeburg taught at Columbia University, establishing what would become film studies as a legitimate part of the university curriculum. Freeburg’s The Art of Photoplay Making (1918) stressed the pictorial condition of film; indeed, “pictorial beauty” would serve him as a fundamental criterion of judgment with respect to the new art form. However, for Freeburg, the essence of film was recorded motion. “The essential feature of the motion picture is, of course, that it actually records and transmits visible motion.” He continued:

And the photoplay as such is a single composition of these pictorial motions. The cinema composer is the artist who conceives these motions originally, relates them mentally to each other in some definite unity, prescribes and directs their production, and finally unites the cinematographed records into a film, and if the principles of pictorial composition have been applied in the making, this film will reveal pictorial beauty when projected on the screen.[42]

If film was indeed a composite art, Freeburg now determined that its author was a “cinema composer.” If the filmmaker was, then, quite properly a composer, that was because a film, as motion, was a temporal object, a continuous but ephemeral art that was also a recording. Like music, a melody, for example, film was not only in flux but of flux. But its status as a recording made of that flux a permanent inscription, an image. In this respect the film was identical to the phonograph record in the grooves of which one could “see,” even “touch,” the image of sound. Freeburg thus anticipated, at least in theory, the color records that would form the material medium of Thomas Wilfred’s visual music. But he had also begun to divine the principles through which Jones’s dream of visual music could come true.

The analogy between the phonograph record and the film was multiple and overdetermined, but it is clear that although it enabled Freeburg to consider film as an analog to music and painting, a composed and inscribed visual music, it crucially allowed him to think of film as a kind of writing and its study or analysis as a kind of reading. As early as 1915, he imagined that, perhaps someday, home viewing would become film’s proper sphere, with spectatorial sensitivity and sophistication cultivated through repeated scansions of superior films, in the manner of re-reading great books or listening to classical music on a phonograph. “It may be,” he speculated, “that the motion picture machine will take its place in our homes along with the phonograph.”[43] Freeburg was thereby promoting a modernist Arnoldianism that would add the best that has been filmed and recorded to “the best that has been thought and said.”[44] Today we can see exactly the ways in which his efforts bore fruit. The promise of the phonograph record was not so much the recording of a singular, unique, musical event, but that it could be listened to a second time, and again, repeatedly. One could learn not only to “appreciate” what was inscribed on the disc, but could learn to analyze, as it were, an experience that was its own emergence as such. Call it phono-grammatology. And one could, Freeburg surmised, do the same with a film. Indeed, temporal objects like films, like recorded discs, demanded nothing less. How else could these experiences be made critically accessible to the people who would otherwise simply undergo them as an experience of sense and sensation? Here was a humanist intuition that the human was fundamentally mediated, if not exactly constituted, by the technics that made it present to itself: books, records, films. Wasn’t the claim to them universal?

Although he was in no real position to develop his insights in any full, philosophical way, Freeburg did notice clearly some of the consequences and implications of regarding film as both compositional and as recorded. As recorded temporal object, as mnemotechnics, a film was paradoxically both ephemeral and permanent, and in at least two ways. First, although the film was identical to itself qua object from one repetition to the next, it was rather more open and differential as a repeated experience. The spectator was changed with each viewing, so that spectatorial time was developmental and implied a kind of development of the film-object itself. The name for this relationship was “criticism,” as it might be undertaken by “specialists” or “a general public.”[45] Second, composition and recording also implied forms of com-possibility. “In the future, it may be that any given photoplay will be re-filmed over and over again until something like perfection results.”[46] A film was therefore a rather unstable, contingent object. Its fundamental openness implied not only perfectibility, whatever exactly that would be, but critical intervention in the object itself, on the order of say a mash-up, or mixtape or montage. This was the temporal object as the material of its own subversion. If none of this was happening—and it wasn’t, according to Freeburg—that was because commercial modes of exhibition were denying audiences the repeated, open experiences of difference that were the promise of the film. “A play is flashed upon the screen, fades away, and dies with that performance. It lives again somewhere… but not for us. We cannot read it. Nor can we find it again or see it at will.”[47]

The mark of Freeburg’s genius was that he was able to discern in the technics of inscription the common element that linked together phonograph, cinematograph and the photoplay text as typescript, as writing. And he brought to bear on these technics a set of criteria drawn from art history and designed precisely to moderate the aleatory dissonances these technics constituted in the multiple dimensions of sound, image and symbolic language, as well as their potential, intermedial crossings. Film, Freeburg divined, was a temporal object, which was why it had to be thought fundamentally as a recording. Although his criteria tended toward the classical if not the conventional, his theory anticipated the modernist experiments with recorded discs by Moholy-Nagy, Duchamp and Wilfred.[48] The latter’s work, if the testimonies of Cheney, Stark, Macgowan and Jones are any indication, supplied for the advocates of the new theatre the occasion to think through the phenomenology of the recorded, temporal object, in the way Freeburg had for film. It is therefore no wonder that the encounter with mobile color invariably led to evocations of music or movies or both. Thus, it could provide the bridge from the living stage to the living color of the cinema. In the cinema, Jones asserted, echoing both Freeburg and Wilfred, color is precisely composed, mobile and flowing, and recorded. Analogy was destiny.

In 1941 Jones, who had returned to the theatre after his brief flirtation with Hollywood, published The Dramatic Imagination, a collection of essays that would help solidify his reputation and legacy as a major figure of the 20th-century theatre. The book’s first essay, “A New Kind of Theatre,” however, is primarily a meditation on the cinema. One might have expected him to at least recall his own experiences in Hollywood as a color designer or artistic director. He never mentions them. Instead, he considers film art within what he takes to be the century’s overarching, aesthetic ambition: to create forms adequate to the exploration of subjective life. He cites James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and John Dos Passos, among others, as examples. Contemporary playwrights too, he asserts, are fully engaged in this project, exploring, he writes in his characteristic rhetoric, “the land of dreams.” “They attempt to express directly to the audience the unspoken thoughts of their characters, to show us not only the patterns of their conscious behavior but the pattern of their subconscious lives.”[49] But it is the “motion pictures” that Jones believes constitute the art form most adequate to the representation of subjective reality. “They flow in a swift succession of images, precisely as our thoughts do… They have the rhythm of the thought-stream and the same uncanny ability to move forward or backward in space or time…. They project pure thought, pure dream, pure inner life.” “Some new playwright,” Jones concludes in his typically futural mood, “will presently set a motion-picture screen on the stage above and behind the actors and will reveal simultaneously the two worlds of the Conscious and the Unconscious…. On the stage we shall see the actual characters of the drama; on the screen we shall see their hidden selves.”[50] Visual music has become visual thought, the flow of color assimilated to the flow of images in general. The cycloramic projections of theatrical lighting from which three-dimensional, “plastic” bodies emerged in the twenties, have been replaced by a movie screen before which living actors move, temporarily blind to a truth unfolding behind them but with which they must certainly merge and fuse.

Jones never accomplished what he proposed in 1941. We will never know exactly what it might have looked or felt like. Would it have even been in color? But the appearance of hidden selves recalls, in a very poignant way, the Technicolor dream of “the appearance of every human being to every other one.” And suggests that in that previous dream was included the hoped-for presence of each and every human being to themselves. There is thus a therapeutic dimension at work here that is not surprising, given both the psychological armature of Jones’s discourse as well the ways in which color had itself been thought of in therapeutic ways, as chromotherapy, a tradition we can now see that Jones inherited.[51] (fig. 8)

Fig. 8, Edwin Babbitt, frontispiece from The Principles of Light and Color (New York: Babbitt & Co., 1878).

But as always, Jones’s prediction of a new kind of future cinema-theatre was a barely disguised recollection of the past. In 1922, Jones and Macgowan traveled to Europe on a kind of theatrical fact-finding mission. Attending sixty performances in ten weeks, the two were able to draw conclusions about the current state of the continental stage and compare it to their own experiences in the USA. Their book, Continental Stagecraft (1922)was the result. In a chapter entitled “The Twilight of the Machines,” they praised the increasing irrelevance of stage machinery, of all forms of contraptions, to the advanced theater, and compared the trend with the modern novel. “While Dorothy Richardson, Waldo Frank and James Joyce are taking the machinery out of the novel, the playwrights are making machinery unnecessary for drama.” What Jones and Macgowan have in mind here is a certain identity between the new novel’s direct engagement first with subjectivity, and second with writing itself as the medium through which it emerges as such. The same goes for the new theater, they contend. But here, the encounter is crucially effected through an experience of light. “A new device is lording it in the theater, but it cannot be called a machine. The electric light is not a mechanical thing. It is miraculously animated by something very much like the Life Force, and night by night its living rays are directed to new and unforeseen ends.”[52] What follows from this is the contention that theatrical realism can no longer be considered a mere fidelity to or representation of the actual, but a deep concern with form through which, in a sense, the actual submits itself as material for thought and thus finds itself materially transformed by that thought. The matter of the stage, then, finds itself decomposed and recomposed by the rather more immaterial forces of light and shadow. And this is exactly what Jones was asking from his new kind of theatre, now mediated by his passage through film and Technicolor. The “uncanny ability to move forward or backward in space or time” that he attributes to the cinema, he might also have attributed to the theatre, or the novel, or his considerations and reflections on his own recurring dreams.

There is something remarkable about the ability to relive, again and again, nearly identical experiences and to experience them, each time, as new and as open, as generating the ongoing possibilization of life. It is as if Jones is consistently forgetting in order to remember, proposing a dream of the future that was already an accomplishment of the past. But time requires forgetting. If the past did not fundamentally slip away, there would be no place, no occasion for the present. But if there were no memory, no past crystallized or reduced to image or pattern, there could be no anticipation. For what, after all, would we be waiting, anticipating? This is what the phenomenology of the temporal object, its technics, brings into the open. Temporal objects record and thus repeat the emergence of the experience of time as sensation, each one woven into the other. Mobile color was the sublime experience of color as time. Color-technics. Before it was trademarked and subdued—but also, sometimes, explosively renewed—as Technicolor.

“What is a life that is in need of being constantly resuscitated?” asked Bernard Stiegler, the philosopher of technical and temporal objects. But he also asked from whence comes the desire to listen to a pop song, or watch a film, again and again… and again. Jones’s career was not a series of re-inventions; it was precisely not that. It was instead a life constantly in need of resuscitation. The pattern is always the same. The announcement of something new, of a dream come to life, that anticipates a future to be achieved, of an art on the brink… of cinema. But that future has already happened. The dream was already in color. So the ground must be cleared, the needle placed back at the record’s edge, the film rewound. And then replayed, but with a difference, each time. This is the shape of consciousness, the pattern of thought and behavior, shaped by temporal objects. The temporality, the melody, the film through which the “already” resuscitates itself as the “not yet.” More importantly—and Jones did not neglect this when he imagined the colors of the Homeric similes—this time precedes us (as archive or history) and extends beyond us (as archive and legacy): “a never-ending stream of images, running incessantly through our minds from the cradle to the grave, and perhaps beyond.”[53] The experience of the emergence of consciousness as time and sensation and ideation thus always harbors a potential emergence into collectives of which consciousness is always already a part.[54]

Jones’s experiences with mobile color, including his forgetting of those experiences and their repeated re-emergences, constitute a small chapter in what might be called the historical phenomenology of the technical, temporal object in the 20th century: the grammatization of sense and sensation, the recording of sounds, images and words that played in the theatres, the homes, the automobiles, the elevators, and especially in the heads of people all over the world. These recordings, their deployments of memory and anticipation, helped shape the forms of consciousness of modern men and women; but their status as objects gave those same men and women critical and creative access to those selfsame forms and their always yet-to-be-thought possibilities. Jones dreamed these as multi-media performances; Freeburg as multi-media libraries.[55] The desire of many young people to have these forms back may be more than nostalgia, or perhaps even a nostalgia for the futures and resuscitations these objects of becoming once promised. The apotheoses of mobile color, however, were the extraordinary and even hallucinatory light shows that accompanied the rock and soul concerts at the Filmore, Winterland, Apollo, and the other theatres of the 1960s and 70s. There, fueled by LSD, pot and alcohol, the performers and the audience did find themselves ecstatically on “the brink of cinema,” “fused in a developing pattern” the promise of which may not yet be in default. Bodies really did “step off the screen and appear before you in the round.”[56] (fig. 9)

Fig. 9, The Grateful Dead, performing before light projections by Heavy Water, Family Dog at the Great Highway, San Francisco, 1970 (Photo Credit: Jim Baldocchi).

The pattern of Jones’s life indicates, indeed is symptomatic of, not only the profound effects of technical, temporal objects on the temporal orientation of the organism within the flux of sense and sensation, an orientation that, as Stiegler maintained, could always become a disorientation, but also of the condition and possibility of the critical deconstruction and thus creative re-orientation of those same flows.[57] The experiments with color technics of Wilfred and Jones clearly speak to the latter in profound and poignant ways. And this is why, making sense of what Jones and Wilfred were accomplishing, requires not close readings of the particular films or opuses they produced, but the meta-discourses surrounding them. The aim is to produce partial readings of the three mnemo-technical objects—film, phonograph, lumia—the dispositions and depositions of time and sensation in a technical support of inscription, to which these meta-discourses lent their words. And the stakes remain very high: the inventions and re-inventions of the forms of presence of beings to one another, and to themselves.


Bennet Schaber teaches filmmaking and film theory in the Department of Cinema and Screen Studies at SUNY Oswego, USA, and at the University of Kairouan, Tunisia. He is the editor of Eugene O’Neill’s Photoplays of 1926 (Eugene O’Neill Review, 40:1, 2019), the author of “Towards a Cinematic O’Neill” (Eugene O’Neill Review, 42:2, 2021)  and “Little Cinemas: Eugene O’Neill as Screenwriter” (Journal of Screenwriting, 13:1, 2022). Forthcoming essays on theatre critic, film theorist, screenwriter and producer, Ralph Block (1889-1974); and ‘voice’ in silent cinema. bennet.schaber@oswego.edu


[1] Irving Babbitt, The New Laokoon: An Essay on the Confusion of the Arts (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 214-219.

[2] Hiram Kelly Moderwell, The Theatre of Today (New York: Dodd Mead and Company, 1914), 150.

[3] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3. Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 16.

[4] Stephen Eskilson, “Color and Consumption,” Design Issues. Vol. 18, No. 2 (2002), 17-29.

[5] Robert Edmond Jones, “Dreams into Color,” Vanity Fair, October (1934), 14.

[6] The film, which starred Miriam Hopkins, was an adaptation of Langdon Mitchell’s 1899 play, itself an adaptation of Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair (1848).

[7] Robert Edmond Jones, “A Revolution in the Movies,” Vanity Fair. June (1935), 13.

[8] Scott Higgins, “Demonstrating Three-Colour Technicolor: Early Three-Colour Aesthetics and Design,” Film History, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2000), 358-383.

[9] Jones, “A Revolution in the Movies,” 13.

[10] Rudolf Arnheim, “A New Laocoon: Artistic Composites and the Talking Film,” in Film as Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971[1938]),199-230.

[11] Andre Sennwald, “The Screen: The Radio City Hall Presents ‘Becky Sharp,’ the First Full-Length Three-Color Photoplay,” New York Times. June 14 (1935), 27.

[12] Stark Young, “The Color Organ,” Theatre Arts Magazine. Vol. 1, No. 1 (1922), 20-21.

[13] Kenneth Macgowan, The Theatre of Tomorrow (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921), 122-3. Macgowan’s evocations of the “fourth dimension” and “mystic philosophy” are indications that he had discussed the theoretical bases of the lumia with their inventor. According to Andrew Johnston, Wilfred’s work “was developed out of a desire to achieve an aesthetic experience that was mystical in orientation….” See Johnston’s “The Color of Prometheus, Thomas Wilfred’s Lumia and the Projection of Transcendence,” in Simon Brown et al. eds., Color and the Moving Image (New York: Routledge, 2013), 67-78.

[14] Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe, Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema and the Media of the 1920s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 118-120.

[15] Keely Orgeman et al., Lumia. Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2017), 24.

[16] Sheldon Cheney, A Primer of Modern Art (New York: Tudor Publishing, 1924), 184-185.

[17] Noam M. Elcott, “The Cinematic Imaginary and the Photographic Fact: Media as Models for 20th-Century Art,” PhotoResearcher, No. 29 (2018), 7-23.

[18] For a powerful account of Lessing and the aesthetic and political stakes of artistic borders, see, W.J.T. Mitchell, “The Politics of Genre: Space and Time in Lessing’s Laocoon, Representations, No. 6 (Spring, 1984), 98-115. For accounts of Pater and the trespassing of artistic borders, see, Elicia Clements and Lesley J. Higgins eds., Victorian Aesthetic Conditions: Pater Across the Arts (Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave, 2010). Also, Andrew Eastham, “Walter Pater’s Acoustic Space: ‘The School of Giorgione’, Dionysian “Anders-streben,” and the Politics of Soundscape,” The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 40, Nos. 1-2 (2010), 196-216.

[19] Sheldon Cheney, Modern Art and the Theatre (Scarborough-on-Hudson: The Sleepy Hollow Press, 1921), pp. 3-4.

[20] Arnheim, 201-2.

[21] Sergei Eisenstein, “Through Theatre to Cinema,” in Film Form. Essays in Film Theory (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949 [1934]), 15.

[22] Thomas Wilfred, “Light and the Artist,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 7, No. 4 (1947): p. 252.

[23] Judith Zilczer, “Color Music: Synaesthesia and Nineteenth-Century Sources for Abstract Art,” Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 8, No. 16 (1987), 101-126.

[24] Cheney, A Primer of Modern Art, 186.

[25] For an account of the tempos and rhythms common to the new theatre and the contemporary cinema, see John Grierson, “Tempo,” Motion Picture News (1926), quoted in George C. Pratt, Spellbound in Darkness: A History of the Silent Film (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1973), 432–33.

[26] On ‘stage pictures’ and their persistence in the theatre and in early cinema, see Ben Brewster and Lea Jacobs, Theatre to Cinema. Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[27] Moderwell, 72.

[28] Macgowan, 120.

[29] Moderwell, 71.

[30] The notion of temporal object originates in the early 20th century with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the analysis of internal time consciousness. Husserl’s example of a temporal object, that is an object-phenomenon that has to be comprehended in the time of its emergence, was a melody. A melody has to grasped in its unfolding for which each present moment contains both its immediate past (retention) and an anticipation of a future (protention). Bernard Stiegler has demonstrated the ways in which Husserl’s analysis neglects the technics required for the model of consciousness he adumbrates. Stiegler’s example, then, is not the melody as such, but the melody recorded on a disc or on tape. For a clear account of the temporal object as developed by Stiegler, see Matt Bluemink, “Stiegler’s Memory: Tertiary Retention and Temporal Objects,” 3: AM Magazine.com. Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.

[31] Wilfred, 252.

[32] Ralph Block, “Motion,” The Freeman, October 27 (1920),157.

[33] Ralph Block, “Not Theatre, Not Literature, Not Painting,” The Dial. Vol LXXXII, Jan.-Jun. (1927): 20.

[34] Ralph Block, “The Movies versus Motion Pictures,” The Century Magazine, No. 102, October (1921), 892.

[35] Tom Milne, Mamoulian (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970),12-13. Mamoulian would also work, like Jones and Macgowan, with Eugene O’Neill, before making the move to Hollywood.

[36] Malcolm Cook, “Visual Music in Film, 1921-1924: Richter, Eggeling, Ruttman.” In Music and Modernism. Edited by Charlotte de Mille (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). See also Akira Mizuta Lippit, Cinema Without Reflection: Jacques Derrida’s Echopoiesis and Narcissism Adrift (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), p. 41: “In cinema, speech echoes already there in the image, even when, presumably, the image is silent…. And the image is already an element of sound.”

[37] Stiegler, 12.

[38] Deleuze, Gilles, “Having an Idea in Cinema.” In Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller. Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 14-22.

[39] Moderwell, 17-18.

[40] William Morgan Hannon, The Photodrama, Its Place Among the Arts (New Orleans: Ruskin Press, 1915), p. 23.

[41] Vachel Lindsay, The Art of the Moving Picture (New York: Liveright, 1915).

[42] Victor O. Freeburg, The Art of Photoplay Making (New York: Macmillan, 1918),2-3.

[43] Freeburg, 6.

[44] Peter Decherney, “Inventing Film Study and its Object at Columbia University, 1915-1938,” Film History. Vol. 12, No. 4 (2000), 443-460.

[45] Freeburg, 5.

[46] Freeburg, 6.

[47] Freeburg, 10.

[48] To readers familiar with Freeburg’s book, my account may seem somewhat surprising. And it is true that I am concentrating on the early, preliminary observations on film in a text that is quite long. But Freeburg’s remarkable attempt at constructing what amounts to a poetics of the photoplay is dependent—and he knew this—on the technological conditions necessary for forming the judgments that would eventually give rise to that poetics. Thus, his analyses of sensation, emotion and intellection at the cinema, and the deepening of those both independently of one another and as linked in an overall organization of feelings and thoughts, emerge from an attention to a film as the composite, temporal and sensory phenomenon that produces the impression of reality characteristic of these kinds of experiences. In fact, he speculates that that “impression” may, over time, be mistaken for reality in what becomes a “confused memory,” so that in old age one might believe themselves to have had experiences “in reality” that were only ever had at the movies (p. 19). To counter this permanent submersion in and subjugation to the moving image, Freeburg advocates for a kind of film literacy, an attentiveness to the forms of grammatization (the filmic ‘writing’) out of which the film is composed, in order to bring out “beneath the attractive surface… the permanent values of illuminating truth, universal meaning, and unfolding beauty” (p. 25). These are humanist aims, certainly. But they are not the only aims that would logically follow from Freeburg’s essential, early, and in many ways materialist, insight. Indeed, his consistent unwillingness to separate the quasi-independent compositional elements of film from their technical base (from their mnemo-technics) gives rise to many of his crucial observations.

[49] Robert Edmond Jones, “A New Kind of Drama,” in The Dramatic Imagination (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1967 [1941]), 16-17.

[50] Ibid. 17-19.

[51] T. W. Allan Whitfield and Jianne Whelton, “The Arcane Roots of Colour Psychology, Chromotherapy, and Colour Forecasting.”  COLOR: research and application. Volume 40, Number 1, February (2015), 99-106. One of the 19th-c. originators of chromotherapy, a kind of theosophical art, was none other than Edwin Babbitt, father of Irving Babbitt, for whom color aesthetics, and his father as well, were anathema.

[52] Kenneth Macgowan and Robert Edmond Jones, Continental Stagecraft (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1922), pp. 66-7.

[53] Jones 1941, 15.

[54] What Stiegler calls, following Gilbert Simondon, “transindividuation.”

[55] Anthony Hostetter and Elizabeth Hostetter, “Robert Edmond Jones: Theatre and Motion Pictures, Bridging Reality and Dreams.” Theatre Symposium, Vol. 19 (2011), 26-40. Kevin Brown, “The Dream Medium: Robert Edmond Jones’s Theatre of the Future.” International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016), 1-10. Steven Marras, “The Photoplay as Emergent Media Form: Victor O. Freeburg and Vachel Lindsay on Photoplay Aesthetics,” Screening the Past, www.screeningthepast.com/2014/12.

[56] The phenomenology of these sensory, temporal dynamics extends itself in our own time not only in the ubiquitous retreat of bodies back into screens of all sizes, but to VR and neural mnemo-technical practices as well, some of which perform the kinds of reflexive, critical deconstructions once advocated by Jones, Block, Freeburg, et al. That is, some of these objects (films, installations, etc.) enable us to touch, as it were, the time of our brains. See Mark B. N. Hansen, “From Fixed to Fluid. Material-Mental Images Between Neural Synchronization and Computational Mediation,” in Jacques Khalip and Robert Mitchell, Releasing the Image (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 83-111.

[57] On orientation and disorientation in Stiegler, see Patrick Crogan, “Essential Viewing,” Film Philosophy. Vol. 10, No. 2 (2006), 39-54.


Advisory Editor: David Savran
Founding Editors: Vera Mowry Roberts and Walter Meserve

Editorial Staff:

Managing Editor: Lynn Hodeib
Co-Managing Editor: Juhyun Woo
Co-Managing Editor: Zhixuan Zhu

Guest Editorial Board:

Arnab Banerji
Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns
Broderick Chow
Chris A. Eng
Esther Kim Lee
Sean Metzger
Christine Mok
Stephen Sohn

Advisory Board:

Michael Y. Bennett
Kevin Byrne
Tracey Elaine Chessum
Bill Demastes
Stuart Hecht
Jorge Huerta
Amy E. Hughes
David Krasner
Esther Kim Lee
Kim Marra
Ariel Nereson
Beth Osborne
Jordan Schildcrout
Robert Vorlicky
Maurya Wickstrom
Stacy Wolf

Table of Contents:

  • Tricks, Capers, and Highway Robbery: Philadelphia Self-Enactment upon the Early Jacksonian Stage
  • The Anti-Victorianism of Victorian Revivals
  • “The Spirit of the Thing is All”: The Federal Theatre’s Staging of Medieval Drama in the Los Angeles Religious Community
  • “An Art for Which There Is as Yet No Name.” Mobile Color, Artistic Composites, Temporal Objects

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