Videographic cinema designates the subfield within cinema studies in which Rozenkrantz conducts his close readings of electronic imaginaries. This is a subfield that has, in the last decade, attracted great attention in media studies. Rozenkrantz traces the coinage of the term “videographic cinema” back to Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema (1970), which has become a foundational text in video studies. However, he judges Youngblood’s treatment of videography to be too exclusive and limited by being relegated to a subcategory of media art. In contrast to Youngblood’s vision of video transforming filmic narratives into an expansion of the senses, Rozenkrantz organizes his own book by first defining videographic cinema as theatrical films’ incorporation of analogue video images. Rozenkrantz relies on Raymond Bellour’s conclusion that video brings cinema closer to painting and literature. This has the pleasant advantage of foregrounding Rozenkrantz’s premise that “things occur when media reflect on each other” (15).
Following a chronological progression, Rozenkrantz describes the first use of video as a plot point within the cinematic narrative. He starts with an inspiring reading of classical-style narratives such as A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957) and Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964). The discussion begins in earnest with OffOn (Scott Bartlett, 1967) and Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967, George Lucas) and how these films use video “as a new brand of realism: cold, distorted, vibrant, tangibly material, yet profoundly estranged (58).”
While OffOn and Electronic Labyrinth come from San Francisco’s experimental culture, Hollywood is also taking notice. For example, A Face in the Crowd is a direct cinematic attack on the power of video’s immediacy. In the film, its lead character, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) projects his “authentic” backstage self into everyone’s living room using the TV apparatus. Rhodes, by revealing the backstage to the public, gains tremendous popularity. When his mentors realize that they have created a self-aggrandizing monster, they destroy him by broadcasting the even more authentic backstage view of a Lonesome Rhodes who expresses utter contempt for his fans.
Rozenkrantz turns to critical visual juxtapositions to support his argument, such as the moment when Rhodes turns the video monitor to face the TV camera—an act that generates cinema’s first videographic hall of mirrors. A variation of this mirror iconography reappears in Seven Days in May when Frankenheimer stages a lineup of men monitoring identical displays in a diagonal row of TV sets. Yet another use of this mirroring strategy occurs in Colossus: The Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent, 1970), which lends further weight to Rozenkrantz’s masterful articulation of how, as cinema aimed to document and critique the power of video, film narratives determined their “videographic” visual logic.
The topic in the next chapter is cinema’s quoting of the psychological use of videotape. Before tackling this topic, Rozenkrantz walks his reader through the origins of surveillance cameras, dating as far back as the 1950s. The theorization of surveillance is rooted in Foucault’s panopticon, which famously posits that, as the few surreptitiously watch the many, the many internalize being watched and transform it into self-discipline. There is also synopticism in which the many watch the few, as in Candid Camera (Allen Funt, 1948–50, 1960–67). In the 1960s, psychologists were pioneering the use of video recording to tape one-on-one therapy sessions. In these cases, the patient would view a recording of her or his own therapy session and use it for self-confrontation and ideally self-correction.
This use of video therapy leads Rozenkrantz to propose a third regime of discipline: the autoptic. This new therapeutical method also appears in videographic cinema, as in The Anderson Tapes (Sidney Lumet, 1971), in which a prisoner tells of the increasing conflation of the erotic with the transgressive excitement of safe-cracking; at the end, he watches himself confessing on tape, prefiguring the movie’s conclusion that there is no escape for him.
While the notion of the autoptic is ambitiously presented as a new episteme in line with Foucauldian archaeology, the book’s chronicle of the autoptic being used in many films as the representation of repressed memories is a more impressive contribution. A notable early example is Viva la muerte (Long Live Death, 1971), Fernando Arrabal’s autobiographical retelling of his own mother’s betrayal of his father to the Spanish fascists during the civil war. The memories of his father’s torture (necessarily imagined memories rather than real ones) are presented in a grainy black and white. Video becomes the image that is not wanted; color is repressed, and faces are reduced to grain in the panic to get rid of the images altogether. Rozenkrantz proceeds to find this repression of the image again and again, notably in Anti-Clock (Jane Arden and Jack Bond, 1979) and Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997). He notes that while Anti-Clock was released at the dawn of the home-video revolution, Lost Highway comes after its demise.
This last note raises the question of whether home video was a medium for an art form. What was medium specific about home video? Something about it inspired moral panics, such as British legislation against “video nasties.” On both sides of the Atlantic, home video was thought to subvert the moral order and even had a life-threatening connotation, a central plot point in Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983). Subversion is a common trope in video studies, in fact, although societal panic faded as home video morphed into DVD and subsequently into digital streaming, each with its own set of media-specific features.
Videographic cinema did not end with the demise of home video, for cinema continued to depict video even in its afterlife. Rozenkrantz reminds the reader of video references in Kung Fury (David Sandberg, 2014) and the Chilean film No (Pablo Larraín, 2012). No was a fictionalization of the real events that took place as Chileans prepared to vote against the Pinochet regime in 1988. There was existing videotape that Larraín could use to authenticate his own narrative, although many disputed its accuracy. Steven Spielberg encountered similar problems in 2005 with Munich.
These and other videographic films become the cases upon which Rozenkrantz launches a discussion of retromania, a twenty-first-century diagnosis of the current culture malaise. It reverses the previous Frankfurt school diagnosis that saw the culture industries as facilitating fascism with “its constant reproduction of the same thing” (157). Moving swiftly through Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard, Rozenkrantz writes that culture no longer is in service to politics but the other way around. The new media of representation short-circuits history with its “vidiotic” repetition of the same thing, so now the entire culture is obsessed with moving backward by repeating earlier culture. In the realm of music, Simon Reynolds has described this as a postcentury obsession with origins, while the French literary critic William Marx has written that the arrière garde is the foremost symptom of contemporary modernity in literature. Of course, it is a neat fit with the literary arrière garde that the new technology of video facilitates the playback of old visual culture.
The book makes a full circle from the forward vision of Youngblood and the cinematic attack on video’s immediacy in 1950s and 1960s Hollywood to the arrière garde of Marx and Reynolds and cinema’s use of the “wayback” apparatus of video. Indeed, the book is a coherent narrative of video culture as defined by cinema. Videographic cinema is a fast-moving art form that, by definition, has to reflect the audience’s experience of a “video way” of seeing. But the relationship does not go both ways. Video is too close to the quotidian to be as self-conscious as cinema. Rozenkrantz’s Videographic Cinema is most satisfying precisely because it retains a hierarchical relationship whereby cinema is the element that helps define video.