“The eye licks it all up instantaneously, and the brain, agreeably titillated, settles down to watch things happening without bestirring itself to think.”
“Cinema, to be creative, must do more than record,” Anaïs Nin wrote in 1946 in the forth volume of her diaries. But the question of what this elusive, quintessential creative duty of cinema might be long predates Nin’s observation.
In the spring of 1926, when film was still young and silent, Virginia Woolf found herself at once captivated and concerned by the seventh art and penned an essay exploring its perils and its promise. “The Cinema” was originally published in the New York journal Arts, and a slightly edited version titled “The Movies and Reality” appeared in The New Republic shortly thereafter. It can now be found in The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4, 1925-1928 (public library).
Woolf begins with a reserved meditation on the nature of moving images, which at first glance appear to speak to our most primitive underpinnings and invite a strange kind of cerebral resignation, but upon deeper reflection serve as a lubricant between brain and body:
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