The Cinema Effect

The Cinema Effect

By Sean Cubitt

A history of images in motion that explores the "special effect" of cinema.





A history of images in motion that explores the "special effect" of cinema.

It has been said that all cinema is a special effect. In this highly original examination of time in film Sean Cubitt tries to get at the root of the uncanny effect produced by images and sounds that don't quite align with reality. What is it that cinema does? Cubitt proposes a history of images in motion from a digital perspective, for a digital audience.

From the viewpoint of art history, an image is discrete, still. How can a moving image—constructed from countless constituent images—even be considered an image? And where in time is an image in motion located? Cubitt traces the complementary histories of two forms of the image/motion relationship—the stillness of the image combined with the motion of the body (exemplified by what Cubitt calls the "protocinema of railway travel") and the movement of the image combined with the stillness of the body (exemplified by melodrama and the magic lantern). He argues that the magic of cinema arises from the intertwining relations between different kinds of movement, different kinds of time, and different kinds of space.

He begins with a discussion of "pioneer cinema," focusing on the contributions of French cinematic pioneers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He then examines the sound cinema of the 1930s, examining film effects in works by Eisenstein, Jean Renoir, and Hollywood's RKO studio. Finally he considers what he calls "post cinema," examining the postwar development of the "spatialization" of time through slow motion, freeze-frame, and steadi-cam techniques. Students of film will find Cubitt's analyses of noncanonical films like Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as enlightening as his fresh takes on such classics as Renoir's Rules of the Game.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262033121 472 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 48 illus.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262532778 472 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 48 illus.


  • ...A unique interpretation of film history, drawing on disciplines as varied as mathematics, history, computer science, and film studies.

    The Times Higher Education Supplement


  • Cinema is an elusive, fascinating, often troubling object. Sean Cubitt has provided us with a lucid and rich account of the changing nature of the cinematic object in all of its forms, from cinema as magic to cinema as commodity and as special effect. The strange, uncanny, sublime and baroque—Cubitt explores all elements of the cinema effect in this excellent and timely book. He writes with authority and wit, drawing often stunning associations between film and other art forms. This is essential reading for all scholars interested in the history of the cinematic object and its ever-changing status over the past hundred years.

    Barbara Creed

    Associate Professor of Cinema Studies, University of Melbourne

  • This is one of the most ambitious books I've ever read—a sweeping survey of film history that is as much theoretical as historical. The close discussion and analysis of important individual works and filmmakers is most welcome in the context of the complex larger arguments the author advances. Both the range of material covered and the appropriate theoretical frameworks are simply stunning in their breadth.

    Stephen Mamber

    Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media, University of California, Los Angeles

  • Readers will be fascinated by Sean Cubitt's novel study of the radical instability of the moving image. In his urgently philosophical reflection on cinematic form Cubitt ponders the history of cinema as read from the age of the digital image. In this invigorating and polemical text Cubitt traces the sublime tensions of vector and pixel as they crosscut from cinema's earliest experiments with duration to its current obsession with CGI. The Cinema Effect positions the communicative as the primal ground of cinematic relations in contrast to our cultural bondage to the media commodity.

    Timothy Murray

    Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video, Cornell University