In the late 1950s, well before his association with Werner Herzog had made him the most internationally recognizable German screen actor of his generation, Klaus Kinski was a phenomenon. Between 1957 and 1962, his concert-style recitations and studio recordings of work by François Villon, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Gerhart Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht, and a range of other canonical figures, held out the possibility that literature—a literature associated with sexual and political transgression, moreover—might find its place in a commercially driven culture industry.
How would a film look if Walter Benjamin had been behind the movie camera? Miriam Hansen entertains this possibility in Cinema and Experience (2012) when she speculates about an “imaginary city film” made according to Benjamin’s aesthetic principles. Such a film, Hansen writes, would include a variety of avant-garde techniques “from French Impressionism to Soviet experimental cinema, in particular montage (that is, discontinuous and rhythmic editing), nonconventional and expressive framing, and camera movement.” Yet Hansen’s version of a Benjaminian film practice is inferred almost entirely from Benjamin’s film theory, while his descriptive essays on European cities—“Naples,” “Marseilles,” and the focus of this article, “Moscow” (1927)—are missing from her authoritative survey of Benjamin’s thought.
Hamlin Garland is principally remembered today as a late-nineteenth-century Midwestern regionalist whose fiction and nonfiction—including his fine collection of short stories, Main-Travelled Roads (1891) and his memoir of sorts, A Son of the Middle Border (1917)—depict the hardships of pioneer life on the Middle Border.
Both blind and mute, often weathered by the sun, by wind and rain, by snow that drips or slides off in a kind of despair, statues on their own can tell us little except that time passes. Typically, we barely notice them, as they form the decorative backdrop to the drama of a place.
In 1896, bodybuilder Eugen Sandow sat at a desk to devote himself to a mental task, rather than a physical one. He had recently returned to England from a trip to the United States, where he had collaborated with inventor W. K. L. Dickson on a mutoscope reel, an early moving-picture technology, and had posed for X-ray photographs after indicating his interest in the subject to Thomas Edison, who was proudly advertising his patented process for X-rays and fluoroscopes.
In Birth of an Industry, Nicholas Sammond traces “the connections between the animated blackface minstrel, the industrialization of the art of animation, and fantasies of resistant labor” (xii). His core argument is that early animators developed unruly, cartoon minstrels in response to their increasingly depersonalized workplace. On a broader scale, the project works to situate animation within “a larger and longer history of racial iconography and taxonomy in the United States” (4). To make his case Sammond navigates a historically grounded racial matrix of minstrel shows, vaudeville acts, as well as other complex and contradictory representational forums.
Ghostbusters (2016) has floated across the summer blockbuster landscape like so many colorful balloons of popular entertainment before it: an airy bauble destined to disappear. However, its ascendance into the box office heavens has been weighed down with some surprising (and unsurprising) baggage.
Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon represents sexual identity in the early 1970s in terms of an “ante-closet” temporally and spatially located “ahead” of or “before” more familiar closet epistemologies.
As postmodernism recedes into the distance let’s recall two brash signs of its cultural hegemony. First, in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker, a shot of a table in an espresso bar reveals a lightly worn copy of The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Published in 1983 and edited by Hal Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic featured essays by figures who will come to stand as some of postmodernism’s most central, including Habermas, Krauss, Jameson, Baudrillard, and Said. Second, from 1999, in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, in which we spy Neo with a book that’s been hollowed out to hide hard cash and electronic files.
When Fantômas, the futuristic master criminal and terrorist, first enters the stage of modern mass culture in 1911, he complies with the associations raised by his name and does not really take shape. Phantomlike, he gives evidence of his existence through his actions rather than personal appearances. Like other famous creatures appearing on the mass cultural scene of the day—Dracula comes to mind—Fantômas proceeds through dispersal, diffusion, and distraction, figuring forth a flickering presence, not yet here and already gone.