Re: how much of what we see is black?

From: db (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 11:26:25 PDT

On Oct 31, 2007, at 5:39 AM, Jonathan Walley wrote:

>> But then I don't watch or discuss films (or videos) in labs or
>> morgues.
> Some people are interested in scientific accuracy, others in
> explanations that are more "poetic." As a heuristic, "persistence
> of vision" might be useful, but I don't think that warrants
> consigning other types of explanations, particularly ones that aim
> at greater accuracy, to the morgue.

That was the coffee creating little gaps in my intent (persistence of
caffeine?) What I meant by this statement, which comes across far
more flippant than I intended, is that I watch films in a social
milieu, not a sterile environment where I am seeking their genetic
code. I didn't in any way mean to dismiss any desire or need to
pursue scientific accuracy.

>> To be forthright, I find their assertion that using the term
>> persistence of vision automatically assigns a passive role to the
>> viewer to be pretty effin dogmatic and I'm going to file the above
>> paragraph away with the writings of Christian Metz (in the
>> dustbin, where all "presupposing" theories belong).
> I agree that the authors may have been trying to hitch their little
> perceptual wagon to the big star of Grand Theory debates in film
> studies. Still, I take their point to be that, as it is used (e.g.
> in many film studies and production classes), the concept of
> "persistence of vision" parallels the assumption in psychoanalytic
> film theory that the viewer is passive. I don't take them as saying
> that everyone who uses the term necessarily has that assumption,
> just that the two ideas - persistence of vision and viewer
> passivity - line up with each other in a general sense.

Excellent point, Jonathan, and it neatly links back to another idea
that Guattari exhilaratingly explores in multiple writings: the
multivalent roles of the desiring machine in the (r)evolutionary
development of this thing we call human.

On Oct 31, 2007, at 7:47 AM, Nicky Hamlyn wrote:
> This is surely right. If the retina is exposed to strong light, the
> rhodopsin in the rods and cones becomes bleached, and the rods and
> cones are thereby desensitised. The stronger the light, the longer
> the rods and cones take to re-pigment/recover. Experiments have
> been done in which an image has been burnt onto the retina of an
> animal by this process.

Your last sentences addresses one of the most exciting moments in
'Film Before Film.' Nekes uses the classic cameo image example of
"stare at this (high contrast image)." After holding the shot for a
fairly long duration, the screen goes completely blank, and then, as
he describes the process that is supposed to occur, it actually
occurs! And the inverted cameo slowly emerges before your eyes, even
though it isn't on the screen anymore.

A mere parlor trick? Perhaps. But my heart started beating faster,
all the synapse went ballistic, and my imagination soared when I
experienced this in the theater.

Oddly, the vhs version of the film produced a far less effective
version of this phenomena, which surprised me. I had expected the
result to be a bit stronger because with film I am looking at
reflected light, but with video I am looking directly into the light

> This probably helps to explain why we don't see the black moments
> between frames, because they are interspersed with much brighter
> ones. If the black were on the screen for longer our eyes would re-
> sensitize themselves until they could see the black

Exactly. This should be apparent, I would think, just by the physical
realities we face on a daily/nightly basis. Walk into a lighted room
and everything is available to our visual grasp. Walk into a darkened
room and one can literally experience our eyes grasping for light as
objects slowly emerge. Flip a light on in that environment and be

> which after all, is not completely black: there's always an amount
> of light coming through the celluloid.

Another excellent point that debunks (or at least removes a leg from)
the fallacy that video is somehow different because "it is always on."

On Oct 31, 2007, at 8:06 AM, Sam Wells wrote:
> db, I suggest you first determine if your cat prefers progressive
> video to interlaced ;-) And how does she feel about LCD screens ?

ya got me there, Sam.


On Oct 31, 2007, at 8:26 AM, Pip Chodorov wrote:
>> re-sensitize themselves until they could see the black which after
>> all, is not completely black: there's always an amount of light
>> coming through the celluloid.
> through the celluloid but not through the metal shutter

Light doesn't pass through the metal shutter but there is still
leakage around the shutter that spills into the room in many cases.
This leakage must also have some impact on our visual responses.

This actually brings up a question that has been pottering around in
the back of my mind:

        is film (or video) perceived differently in a completely darkened
room than
        it is in a room with even the slightest ambient spill?

This question came up for me after several Cinema Project and 40
Frames screenings. Their projection spaces are so utterly dark that,
at times, the contrast range between the films and the darkened room
verge on being too intense; these viewings are certainly as intense
as trying to watch a video monitor in a completely darkened room
(which is not recommended--the calibration value recommended for
television viewing is that there be an ambient light on the wall
behind the screen that is around 15% of the brightness of the light
emanating from the CRT; Phillips even has a line of televisions that
spill the light, and color, that is on screen via some kind of
backlight illumination:

Most commercial theaters I've been in always have some ambient light
invading the space, if only for fire safety or insurance reasons
(don't want to get sued because someone trips). This actually helps
alleviate some of the sensitivity I experience when the contrast
between light and dark is too extreme for my eyes.



For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.