A lecture by James Leo Cahill
Assistant Professor in Cinema Studies Institute and Department of French,
University of Toronto
« La beauté sera comestible, ou ne sera pas. » —Salvador Dalí, 1934
What if, instead of thinking the cinema primarily through metaphors of vision as a story of the eye, one approached the theorization of cinema through the mouth? What new insights—or rather to leave the visual register, what morsels of knowledge and ways of knowing might come about? Such a possibility of a reoriented perspective on and by the cinema is raised by a set of entries in the oeuvre of the French wildlife and scientific filmmaking team Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon. Their short, Surrealist-inspired animal documentaries of the 1940s engage in intense examinations of eating and the food chain. Working with and often at odds with the tropes of contemporaneous wildlife cinema and its fascination with the “code of tooth and claw,” as well as with surrealist discourse of “edible beauty,” their films take up the mise-en-scène of the meal as an aesthetic question with considerable epistemological and ethico-political implications. Drawing upon archival materials from Painlevé’s archive, this talk performs a set of close readings of Le Vampire (1945), L’Assassins d’eau douce (1947), and the spoken commentary Painlevé wrote for his assistant Georges Franju’s Le sang des bêtes (1949) in order to develop an argument about how a fascination with the production of images of devoration was productive of a species of devouring images: filmed documents with “a concrete bite” aimed at producing direct corporeal affects in their spectators and nourishing a type of profane illumination concerning eating, digesting, and that which remains inassimilable.
Currently, Cahill is completing his first book manuscript, Cinema’s Copernican Vocation: Science, Surrealism, and the Early Wildlife Films of Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon. His writing appears or is forthcoming in Discourse, Empedocles, Ecce, Framework, Journal of Visual Culture, Kunstforum International, Spectator, Zarez, and the anthologies Screening Nature (Berghahn, 2013), Martin Arnold: Gross Anatomy (Distanz, 2015), Digital Anachronisms, Celluloid Specters (Routledge, 2015), and Animal Life and the Moving Image (Columbia, 2015).