Cinema Studies Colloquium: Alison Griffiths

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - 5:30am



Killed in the Crush: A Medieval Pre-History of Cinematic Special Effects

What is the nature and power of special effects that they induce such strong reactions in cinema spectators, and is it possible to trace this fascination back to the Middle Ages? I argue in this lecture that spectators during the medieval period may have responded to fantastical, supernatural, phantasmagorical, miraculous, satanic, or spectacular images with a similar sense of awe and wonder as contemporary viewers of cinematic special effects. Despite being very different experiences, they nevertheless often invite spectators to suspend disbelief and enter a semi-rapturous state.  We might profit from stepping into the seemingly remote field of medieval visual studies when thinking about the pre-history of cinematic special effects, less because of any inherently cinematic aspect to the images, but to dispel the myth that the allure of special effects is wholly within the domain of cinema and that artists weren’t exploiting the more embodied modes of viewing offered by special effects far earlier than the invention of cinema in the late nineteenth century.

Cinema Studies Program
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