Stolen glances: heist cinema and the visual production of deception
thesisposted on 24.05.2021, 15:23 authored by Nathan Holmes
The capacity to deceive figures into cinema's history in a number of interesting ways. For Melies, motion pictures allowed the technical production of deception and illusion for his "trick" films, and in popular mythology, frightened spectators fled an exhibition of Auguste and Louis Lumiere's L'Arrivee d'un train en gare de la Ciotat (1895) fearing the imminent arrival of the train at the theatre itself. While this latter story has been roundly discredited, it holds an important place in cinematic lore. In the various efforts of documentary filmmakers to negate the idea of objective truth, whether through direct cinema/cinema verite, the use of reflexive gestures, or subjective positioning, there is a sense of an imminent threat of deception in film's mediation of truth. As Tom Gunning (2004) and Rachel O. Moore (2000) have recently argued, even critical explorations of cinema, quite as much as filmmaking practices themselves, have held the medium in deep suspicion. In the screen theories derived from Lacan and Althusser that dominated 1970s film studies we see film scholars move towards a conception of film that sees deception and trickery - otherwise called "ideological mystification" - as an innate feature of the cinematic apparatus. Despite, or perhaps because of, these ongoing concerns, there seems to be a civic-mindedness among critics, theoreticians, filmmakers, and film-watchers alike which holds that film should be able to present at least some verifiable truths and that filmmaking should still be able to provide a reliable document. However, since film is always a mediation of something else, the direct path to these truths - as the debates about documentary filmmaking and realism have shown - will always be complex, and, indeed, contingent upon the culture in which they find purchase. What is at stake then, is not so much what is real and what is not, but the conditions under which verisimilitude - the experience of reality - can be taken to occur and be produced. This paper is about some of the pleasures to be found in watching a cinematic depiction of theft. Theft is something we do not ordinarily see. In cinematic depictions of theft we are shown something that occurs underneath the surface of our everyday reality. Just as much as cinema is deceptive, therefore, so too can it penetrate and explore deceptive phenomena.