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Project A5: Industrialization of Perception

In the process of industrialization, which was furthered by the re-organization of markets on a global scale and the hegemonial politics of the leading industrial powers, the European and US societies were faced with the challenges of modernization, which within very few decades dramatically changed the structure and content of social interactions as well as collective behavioral and perceptual patterns. Film as a new medium integrated these new perceptual forms and furthered them with its specific potentials. This particularly was the case for films produced by the USA, France and Great Britain, which dominated the early German film market. In this global process, the specific, nationally or regionally differentiated, modes of perception converged towards the dispositives of urbanization and technicization. In this view, the significant media change of 1900 had an integrative function and was also the precondition for the medium film to lastingly become the raw material for a calculable, international and industrial business.

During its first phase, the project took an inventory of the films shown in Germany in the relevant period (1896-1914), thus establishing the necessary basis for the second phase. This work is documented in a comprehensive history of the beginnings of German film. Film-archeological groundwork was laid, which was methodologically oriented towards a reconstruction of the contexts in which films were distributed, exhibited and received. For this purpose, the relevant extant primary sources (e. g. trade papers of artists, film programs, censorship documents) were systematically analyzed and interpreted with a view to answer questions such as the following: How did film become a mass medium? How did specific programming practices, film forms and modes of reception develop? How did the existing media (e. g. variety theaters, traveling shows) change in consequence of the great popularity of the new medium film?

In the course of this work a database was produced, which contains almost 6,000 records on traveling film shows in Germany and its neighboring countries; this data collection constitutes an indispensable basis for an analysis of the dissemination of early films. This database is a source that is internationally unique; it is currently being prepared for public access on the world wide web.

During the second phase, the central research hypotheses will be operationalized, i. e. the 'industrial', technologically coded mode of perception will be empirically analyzed in film material and its dissemination. The concept of the industrialization of perception is understood in a double sense: Firstly, it means that the modernization and industrialization of society brought about a change in perception. Secondly, it means that people began to 'see with the eyes of industry', because film, which itself became an increasingly industrialized product, formed a new sensory environment for people who had not previously been confronted with modernization, and thus it became a medium that reorganized modes of perception. The core aim of the project is to expand the traditional questions of film history and research on intermedial contexts by a perspective that marks the emergence of film as a new medium and the development of specific film forms as an instance of significant media change, which was not only based on the epochal change in the modes of perception brought about by the modernization of society, but also conversely supported and accelerated this process.

The complex process of modernization, which unfolded its dynamics during the second half of the 19th century, brought about a profound change in perceptual behavior. Simmel (1903) spoke of "the heightening of nervous life" and Benjamin (1935) of "shock" to describe the phenomenon that urban life is determined by a greater intensity and speed of sensorial impressions; this phenomenon had significant influence on the arts. Film, which was introduced on the market at the climax of modernization, reproduced the new modes of perception by being a medium for recording movement and also furthered them with its specific potentials as medium. The industrialization of the new medium itself brought pivotal urban experiences to remote regions, which had not previously been touched to a comparable extent by the process of modernization. Since in the relevant period only a minority of the German population lived in large cities, film became an impelling force of modernization for the entire society. Especially French and US films, with their faster narrative speed and greater number of sequences, transported the new perceptual forms. This means that a process of internationalization can be ascertained as well: The new medium film promoted modernization across borders and assumed global dimensions.