3-2 | Table of Con­tents  | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.sightoil.3-2.12 | Bani­ta PDF


Prelude to the Energy Era in Film Studies

Bozak, Nadia. The Cin­e­mat­ic Foot­print: Lights, Cam­era, Nat­ur­al Resources. New Brunswick, NJ: Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2012. 241 pp. Paper $26.95. ISBN: 978-0813551388

Review by Geor­giana Bani­ta

Over the past few years, the con­fla­tion of ener­gy and cul­ture has yield­ed a dynam­ic research field whose fresh­ness and enthu­si­asm are at once its glo­ry and its bane. While work towards a reori­en­ta­tion of lit­er­a­ture around ener­gy log­ics and read­ing pro­to­cols con­tin­ues apace, Cana­di­an nov­el­ist and schol­ar Nadia Bozak has pro­duced a book that makes man­i­fest the under-exca­vat­ed entan­gle­ments of cin­e­ma and ener­gy as a way of com­pli­cat­ing the dyad of ana­logue and dig­i­tal film­mak­ing that dom­i­nates the field. What do we expect from such a study? A damn­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into the waste­ful mechan­ics of film pro­duc­tion, or a sub­tle unveil­ing of the more ethe­re­al ener­gies of the cin­e­mat­ic as a medi­um of pow­er, con­sump­tion, and the plea­sur­able excre­tion of mate­r­i­al and imag­i­na­tive waste?

Bozak's study offers both, and is noth­ing short of a rev­e­la­tion. The Cin­e­mat­ic Foot­print is an envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious, con­cep­tu­al­ly per­sua­sive account of, first­ly, how to frame the cur­rent absence of an ener­gy dis­course with­in film (and more broad­ly visu­al) stud­ies, and in a sec­ond step, how to pro­ceed back from the assumed imbri­ca­tion of film and the "hydro­car­bon imag­i­na­tion" (12) to recon­fig­ure the pro­duc­tion, cir­cu­la­tion, and aes­thet­ic of cin­e­ma. On this two-lane track, Bozak pro­vides both an impres­sive overview of resource media and close read­ings to shore up her cen­tral argu­ment that "cin­e­ma is intri­cate­ly woven into indus­tri­al cul­ture and the ener­gy econ­o­my that sus­tains it" (1). The author is cer­tain­ly aware of the abun­dant mate­r­i­al her ques­tions force into view, and shrewd­ly lim­its her ter­rain to doc­u­men­tary and exper­i­men­tal films, Third and Fourth Cin­e­ma, pho­tog­ra­phy and instal­la­tion art.

My quib­bles with this book are min­i­mal and can be quick­ly sum­ma­rized. Because Bozak unearths an under­stud­ied ener­gy con­scious­ness in cin­e­ma, the ques­tions she asks are some­times awk­ward­ly linked and their phras­ing is often dis­ori­ent­ing: how does peak oil affect the movie pic­ture indus­try? In what ways is the image not only bio­phys­i­cal­ly ground­ed, but also a key ped­a­gog­i­cal tool of the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment? If cin­e­ma is con­nect­ed with unsus­tain­able ener­gy sys­tems, how does cin­e­mat­ic resource con­sump­tion dif­fer from the ener­gy feed­back loops of, say, the car man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try? Obvi­ous­ly, a key dimen­sion of cinema's entwine­ment with hydro­car­bon cul­ture is cinema's own obses­sion with ener­gy pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, and it is in sec­tions where this for­mal and the­mat­ic 'ener­gy imag­i­nary' comes to light that the book shines most bright­ly. Indeed for me, its high­est meta­bol­ic tem­per­a­ture isn’t reached until the cen­tral con­ceit of what Bozak calls "resource image" (2) takes clear shape. If ener­gy con­sump­tion is, by the author's own admis­sion, most­ly intan­gi­ble and invis­i­ble, how do we con­cep­tu­al­ize a resource image? What ener­gies are deployed to visu­al­ize resource pow­er, and what aes­thet­ic forms does this trans­for­ma­tion ulti­mate­ly (and con­crete­ly) fuel? At its most provoca­tive, the book asks how cin­e­ma cir­cu­lates, emplots, and envi­sions ener­gy in specif­i­cal­ly cin­e­mat­ic ways, whether mechan­i­cal or aurat­ic.

The book's bril­liant obser­va­tions are many and can be found in each of the five eco­nom­i­cal­ly head­lined chap­ters: "Ener­gy," "Resource," "Extrac­tion," "Excess," and "Waste." Bozak seeks to artic­u­late not only a tax­on­o­my of cin­e­ma prac­tices from the view­point of their car­bon foot­print, but also a usable gram­mar for a cin­e­mat­ic ener­gy dis­course. "Ener­gy" delin­eates a capa­cious and quite strik­ing notion of the cin­e­mat­ic image as "fos­silized sun" (18). Bozak uses the Bazin­ian con­cept of tem­po­ral fos­siliza­tion to ana­lyze the "car­bon dat­ing" pro­ce­dures of films such as Chris Marker's La Jetée and Sans Soleil in order to dis­til the out­lines of a car­bon-neu­tral cin­e­ma not mere­ly as one ded­i­cat­ed to neu­tral­iz­ing its car­bon emis­sions, but also to an aes­thet­ic and ephemer­al neu­tral­i­ty whose bina­ry impli­ca­tion of lumi­nos­i­ty and dark­ness Bozak traces back to the con­sti­tu­tion of the image—from ear­ly pho­tog­ra­phy to impres­sion­ist paint­ing to Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier—through cap­tur­ing and refin­ing the pow­er and imprint of light. It's an impor­tant chap­ter that grounds the ques­tion of cin­e­mat­ic ener­gy in the his­to­ry of pho­to­graph­ic prac­tice and cin­e­ma kinet­ics, although it lacks a sense of a causal geneal­o­gy and the exam­ples, though appo­site, don’t ful­ly cohere into a nar­ra­tive of the kind that the image of solar fos­siliza­tion seems to promise. In read­ing Wern­er Herzog's Lessons of Dark­ness and Deb­o­rah Scranton's The War Tapes, "Resource" more pre­cise­ly estab­lish­es how cin­e­mat­ic ener­gy cir­cuits enfold ide­o­log­i­cal and geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions. To high­light only one key moment in this chap­ter: Bozak dis­cuss­es CNN's live and on-demand news chan­nel referred to as Pipeline and opened in 2005 at the height of the Iraq war. She writes: "Not only does the term describe news and infor­ma­tion as resources, it also iron­i­cal­ly aligns CNN's live images of Iraqi horrors—the dom­i­nant source of the service's content—with the same petro­le­um pol­i­tics that were the ratio­nale for the U.S. inva­sion" (64). "Extrac­tion" is worth read­ing for its exhaus­tive analy­sis of Edward Burtynsky's pho­to­graph­ic por­traits of hydro­car­bon culture's indus­tri­al waste­lands. "Excess" is, I think, the strongest sec­tion for its inspired argu­ment that uncov­er­ing the obscured dimen­sion of ener­gy adds new scope to our views of clas­sic cin­e­mat­ic tech­niques and tropes, such as the long take, seen here by way of Andy Warhol's Empire and Georges Bataille as "a gra­tu­ity, an opu­lence of choice and an indul­gence in mate­ri­als, as well as in space, time, and ener­gy" (122). What Bozak says about resource-con­scious films "dis­play­ing a lack of ener­gy in order to reveal energy's total­iz­ing pres­ence in cul­ture at large" (137) res­onates deeply with a panoply of cin­e­mat­ic styles and will cer­tain­ly spark oth­er inci­sive read­ings in the same vein. Revolv­ing around what Bozak calls "sec­ond­hand cin­e­ma" in a ges­ture that aligns Agnes Varda's ran­dom­ized dig­i­tal cin­e­ma with doc­u­men­tary accounts of Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, the sec­tion titled "Waste" inno­v­a­tive­ly links cin­e­mat­ic detri­tus (the resid­ual waste of pro­duc­tion equip­ment and so on) with a "biopol­i­tics of expend­abil­i­ty" (178) that fore­grounds the dis­pos­able human sub­ject. The book con­cludes with a crit­i­cal response to the Harp­er government's oil-moti­vat­ed inter­est in the Cana­di­an North and its unfor­tu­nate nomen­cla­ture (Oper­a­tion Nanook), which Bozak unpacks—with recourse to Robert J. Flaherty's silent doc­u­men­tary Nanook of the North (1922)—as obscur­ing "what the Inu­it can teach us about sur­viv­ing in a post-hydro­car­bon world" (202).

The Cin­e­mat­ic Foot­print elo­quent­ly widens the hori­zons with­in which film pro­duc­tion, cin­e­mat­ic image, and film time may be under­stood as bio­phys­i­cal resources. While far from ency­clopaedic, the wealth of mate­r­i­al gath­ered here should encour­age schol­ars to not only cat­a­logue the traces of fuel con­sump­tion in the glob­al visu­al imag­i­nary, but also become more attuned to cinema's petro­chem­i­cal ori­gins and of the neces­si­ty to posi­tion the resource image not mere­ly as a bot­tom­less archive of energy's visu­al avatars (although Bozak cites count­less use­ful exam­ples of ener­gy-ori­ent­ed works), but espe­cial­ly as an aes­thet­ic strat­e­gy and a way of see­ing. For every­one with an inter­est in the ori­gins and futures of ener­gy cul­tures, this book is indis­pens­able read­ing.

Author Biography

Bani­ta, Geor­giana: Dr. Geor­giana Bani­ta is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of North Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture and media at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bam­berg and Hon­orary Research Fel­low at the Unit­ed States Stud­ies Cen­tre, Uni­ver­si­ty of Syd­ney. She is the author of Plot­ting Jus­tice: Nar­ra­tive Ethics and Lit­er­ary Cul­ture after 9/11 (Nebras­ka 2012) as well as sev­er­al recent essays on petrofic­tion and glob­al­iza­tion since 9/11, Amer­i­can petro­le­um his­to­ry on film, and the aes­thet­ics of oil in films by Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni and Bernar­do Bertoluc­ci.

Bani­ta, Geor­giana : Dr. Geor­giana Bani­ta est pro­fesseure adjointe de lit­téra­ture et médias nord-améri­cains à l’Université de Bam­berg. Elle a obtenu le titre de chercheure hon­o­raire de l’Université de Syd­ney dans le cadre du Cen­tre des études état­suni­ennes. Elle est l’auteure du livre Plot­ting Jus­tice: Nar­ra­tive Ethics and Lit­er­ary Cul­ture after 9/11 (Nebras­ka 2012), et elle a beau­coup pub­lié sur la petrofic­tion et sur la glob­al­i­sa­tion après le 11 sep­tem­bre, ain­si que sur l’histoire pétrolière améri­caine et l’esthétique du pét­role dans les films de Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni et de Bernar­do Bertoluc­ci.


Copy­right Geor­giana Bani­ta. This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.

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