Of Time and the Cinema

Robin Witting

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk






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The almost incestuous link between the cinema and time has always fascinated me, what with film and the cinema standing as the model simile for time and all its twists and U-turns.

Take the rudimentary invention that was cinemaphotography: Following the development of photography in the 1840's, due to such pioneers as Fox-Talbot, spontaneous time could be freeze-framed and recorded scientifically - as opposed to the subjectivity, and inherent limitations of skill and bias, of portraiture. For once man was able to record time. Then with the invention of cinemaphotography time could recorded and re-run at will. The first man-made Groundhog Day.

Captured at last, like lightning in a jam jar.

Man had cheated time.

Newtonian time, that is, captured on a single spool, running from A straight through to B.

What's more, time could be speeded up or slowed right down. What audacity!

Then it was discovered that with a little snipping and splicing the length of film could be edited at will, and bits could be dropped in and removed at will. So we were able to play around with the whole sequence of events. The whole cutting room floor of our lives and memories. Making it as pliable a tool as the novelist's pen.

We could see for oursel ves how characters advanced and how they had behaved in their celluloid past. Characters could "reflect" on past times. We could regress along with those actors and actresses.

If a picture paints a thousand words then the cine-camera rattles off a million a minute.

We were, again, cheating time, making it, all the more, the ideal medium for "time" films, from The Time Machine through to the Back to the Future series.

Time has acted on film-makers like the magnetic pole on unwitting homing pigeons throughout i ts first century. Almost a case of "Watch this, folks!"

Consider the gruelling Monday-morning repetition of Groundhog Day -you could only do that with film, couldn't you? And we can all hook up onto that, can't we?

And in an age in which we speak casually of "parallel" universes and doppelgangers one man in his time (i.e. the film actor) plays many parts; unwittingly acting out the many possible roles of many possible lives from movie to movie.

All those what ifs and maybes?

The classic being Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life in which George (James Stewart) is shown through a glass darkly how things would have been had he never been born. And we, ourselves, are allowed a peep through that Looking Glass. Just as in The Truman Showa "life" is trapped in the goldfish bowl of the media. Reduced to a video-tape , or DVD, if you like, turning it into cornflakes for breakfast.

A neat little twist being there in the opening credits where the only " real" character is Truman "played by" Truman (i.e. not Jim Carrey). Though he thinks he's in a play he is anyway. You could only do this with film.

Is Somebody up there stringing us along, then? Does the reality follow on from the notion as the casting follows the mould? William Blake said: "None can desire what he has not perceived".

Come the day when Man finds a way of switching channels and fast- forwarding and rewinding his way through time.
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