It was more than 40 years ago that Raymond Bellour called film the ”unattainable text” and more than 25 years ago that he let the analysis of film go up in flames (1). Since then the technical visual media as well as the demands directed at methods in film and media studies have changed radically.

The rapid change in media technologies in the wake of advancing digitization led to a conflation of diverse media forms. This media convergence in the so-called new media keeps producing novel effects and develops innovative experimental assemblies of text, (moving) images and sound. This concerns not only younger formats like Vine or Snapchat, but film too has changed: Fragments are shared, re-mixed and discussed on video platforms, screens are shifting from vertical walls to palm-sized, mobile formats where the image is sensitive to touch und where artificial intelligences construct their own landscapes of genres and continuously recommend, advertise, feed and notify. As users, we place ourselves within these networks of correlating texts, images and sounds on a daily basis as ways to access and shape our mediated approaches to the world. Audiovisual media have never been the mere means of communicating or representing given sets of facts. They shape and expand the dynamic conditions of our understanding and judging, feeling and imagining – they are themselves agents of communication processes.

(1) Raymond Bellour: Le texte introuvable. In: Ça/Cinéma 2/7-8 (1975), S. 77-84.
Raymond Bellour: L’analyse flambée (Finie, l’analyse de film?). In: CinémAction 47 (1988), S. 168-170.

When we think about moving images, we first and foremost consult the thought of the images themselves. This is the basic premise of the Center for Advanced Film Studies Cinepoetics, from which mediaesthetics originates. Despite the manifold possibilities of multimodal media communication that we have outlined, there is still the unanswered question as to how the appropriate forms of scholarly publishing might look like that take these conditions and possibilities into account.

Certain observations and contents, especially in the field of media and film analysis, can only adequately be conveyed by a close suture of text and (moving) image. What is effortlessly achieved in conference presentations – to make words, images and sounds enter into a dialogue – is unattainable for print publications. The alternative would be to write blog entries that easily embed video, audio and image files. This technological solution however is not suited for scholarly publications because of a lack of quality assurance and persistent citability. The web seems to be too fleeting to meet academic requirements.

mediaesthetics’ aim is to bridge this gap. We pursue the idea of an open access online publication that has the purpose to give the method and the practices of film and media studies a framework that interweaves scholarly writing, describing, quoting and arguing with the dynamics of the audiovisual image and the dynamic possibilities of digital output formats.

mediaesthetics is therefore not only an attempt at creating a new form of publishing and representing that meets the requirement of peer-review, archiving and retrievability. The journal also wants to promote a new way of writing and thinking, whose concrete technical and creative manifestations are to be individually tried out in the process. We consider this to be a first step in a journey towards a writing process that takes thinking simultaneously in (moving) images and text for granted and that makes the analysis of film and media more vivid and comprehensible.

What we have in mind is, apart from aiming at interdisciplinary dialogue as well as being multilingual, a multidimensional interaction of text, moving images, images, sound, graphics, charts and the whole range of multimodal means of expression and representation. But even beyond the question of new ways to present academic work, we hope to achieve new methodological and theoretical insights that result from an exchange between thinking about media, thinking with media and the thought of media that has yet to be fully realized.

mediaesthetics is intended to be an intervention for a discussion about textual, multimodal publications in film and media studies. With our first issue we want to present the current state of development, point out some of the potentials of this format and most of all invite film- and media scholars to join in and advance this project.

Mobilizing Affect

For this first issue we have assembled colleagues from Cinepoetics and the film studies department at Freie Universität Berlin with a special focus on the analysis of images of war and their modes of aesthetic experience. With this emphasis we want to make evident that the media practices and the symbolic forms used by societies to ensure political cohesion are shaped by the modalities and gestalts of experience from art and entertainment.

Four of the contributions come out of the research project “Staging images of war as a mediated experience of community“ that addressed a systematic, comparative analysis of audiovisual depictions of war in different media formats, from entertainment to documentaries and news formats. The authors share the common question how to compare the basic strategies to mobilize emotions across different media formats and concepts. Based on an affect-centered approach to the war film genre, the dynamics of transformation in which the Hollywood genre system reacted to the crisis of a democracy at war are elaborated.

The paper by Hermann Kappelhoff, Matthias Grotkopp and David Gaertner functions as a general introduction to the systematic analytical method that combines genre poetics and theory of affect. The case study of GUNG HO! – THE STORY OF CARLSON’S MAKIN ISLAND RAIDERS (Ray Enright, USA 1943) presents an archetype of pathos laden address and mobilization. This specific poetics of affect becomes the object of permanent re-orchestration over the course of changing war deployments and the shifting forms of affective collectivization – from mobilization via mourning to critique and protest.

The ensuing papers by Hermann Kappelhoff and David Gaertner are devoted to locating the war film genre in the constellation of its historical origins. Both show how the war film genre developed from the film industry’s war engagement, from the propaganda and information films assigned by the government and the audiovisual modalities of Hollwood’s entertainment movies. Kappelhoff aims at using this finding to re-think the relationship between politics and poetics with the term ‘sense of community‘. Gaertner drafts a model of the ‘moviegoing experience‘ that makes the mobilization of the US-American public during World War II graspable as a concrete experience of the movie theatre: What does it mean for an audience’s aesthetic experience as well as for cinema as a public space when war reports and fictional war films are seen in their interplay linked by their place in a common staple programming? 

The papers by Eileen Rositzka and Cilli Pogodda present case studies on the Vietnam and the Iraq War respectively. By focusing on a specific aspect of media images of war in each case, they show how the genre as a network of permanent re-perspectivation reacted to the transformations of war and the shifting imagination of political community. Rositzka traces the way APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola, USA 1979) translates the always precarious question of how to orientate oneself in war into the question of how to orientate and locate oneself with, in and by media technologies and media images. Pogodda examines a possibility to re-evaluate the question of the referentiality and ‘authenticity‘ of images from war zones by describing them not in opposition to genre poetics of entertainment but by showing how their patterns of staging and their affective structures originate from genre cinema.

The paper by Naomi Rolef broadens our scope to another kind of cinema and another war: The Yom Kippur War 1973. But investigating JUDGMENT DAY [YOM HADIN] (George Obadiah, ISR 1974) equally shows that the politics of mediated stagings of war cannot be separated from genre poetics and that the way war shapes the modes of living together and the practices of community formation are much more evident in the melodramatic modes of shaping the spectators' affective experience than in the depicted facts and circumstances.

The focus on the poetics of affect in media stagings of war is preceded by a paper that argues for the necessity of a new and different way to think the cinematic image: Hauke Lehmann uses the concept of 'becoming texture' and a close analysis of the final scene from Robert Altman’s MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (USA 1971) to present an attempt at describing a temporal dimension of cinematic images that is ‘narrative‘ in a way but does not aim at depicted actions and action spaces. He aims at an audiovisual dynamic that is not tied to any single dimension of movement within the image or of movement of the image but rather exists solely as an experience based on the spectators’ activity. If thought through to the end, this offers an approach to a completely new understanding of the discourse and the historicity of cinematic images.