In this talk I will discuss early cinema as new media in the context of my recent book, Body Shots: Cinema’s Incarnations, 1893-1904 (University of California Press, 2007). Body Shots puts the human body at the center of cinema’s first decade of emergence, arguing for the complexity, richness, and sophistication of these moving corporeal representations as both formal objects and culturally resonant ones. Rather than treat the body as primarily marking identity—gendered, racial, national—or invoke it to make claims about early cinema’s sensational attractions in relation to modernity (two common approaches to the subject), I begin by focusing on films that reveal striking anxieties and preoccupations about persons on public display, both exceptional figures, such as 1896 presidential candidate William McKinley, as well as ordinary people self-consciously caught by the movie camera in their daily routines. The book closes with a meditation on early cinema and death (when the body stops moving), with implications for new media and technology studies more generally.
In addition to publishing a variety of articles on nineteenth and twentieth American literature and film, and editing a number of volumes, Jonathan Auerbach is the author of five books: Weapons of Democracy: Propaganda, Progressivism, and American Public Opinion (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming 2015);Dark Borders: Film Noir and American Citizenship (Duke UP, 2011); Body Shots: Early Cinema’s Incarnations(California, 2007); Male Call: Becoming Jack London (Duke UP, 1996); and The Romance of Failure: First-Person Fictions of Poe, Hawthorne, and James (Oxford UP, 1989).