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‘Luminous Entities’: Ricciotto Canudo, spiritism, and nascent film theory

Chamarette, J. ORCID: (2021) ‘Luminous Entities’: Ricciotto Canudo, spiritism, and nascent film theory. In: Thresholds: Interwar Lens Media Cultures 1919-1939. Walther Koenig, Cologne, pp. 101-122. ISBN 9783753300009

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There is no doubt that the traumatic experiences of total war and mass death, and the longstanding socio-cultural phenomena of Spiritism and Spiritualism in fin de siècle Paris, had a lasting influence on modernist writer Ricciotto Canudo’s theories of cinema, as they did on later proponents of French film theory too. This essay therefore speaks to both Canudo’s intermediality – his reflections on cinema as a ‘total’ art form encompassing all others – and his sense of the spirit or spirituality of cinema, which is alluded to in his writings from 1908 to 1923. Although I focus mainly on his later years of work, and specifically on his essay, ‘Reflections on the Seventh Art’, there is naturally some overlap between these and his earlier pre-war writing, in particular his ‘Birth of the Sixth Art’, written in 1911, and his essay ‘The Triumph of the Cinema’, written originally in Italian and published in 1908. Both were published posthumously and more widely distributed in 1927 via an edited collection of his works entitled L’Usine aux images (The Factory of Images). In the latter parts of this essay, I also place Canudo’s writing in posthumous relation to some examples of experimental and intermedial photography and film of this period in France, as a speculative and exploratory way of examining what might have been for Canudo’s theories, had he lived to engage with these new and dynamic artworks. Canudo is often seen as a shadowy forebear of later film theory, with the period of strongest influence in relation to his work taking place after his too-early death in 1923, the same year that his last essay, ‘Reflections on the Seventh Art’, was published. Thus, in a way, my contribution to this collection does its own spirit work, by bringing the traces of Canudo’s writing and thought into contact with the ghostly images of avant-garde photography and film from 1924 onward.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Art > Fine Art
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Art > Art History
ID Code:110524
Publisher:Walther Koenig

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