For my critical methods class this evening, I revisited Duncan Petrie's summary chapter in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. What's remarkable is a) that Petrie deals mostly with the history of the big technological shifts in cinema (sound, color, widescreen), and b) while that summary does not capture nearly all the work on film technology that gets written, it does capture how the debates on film technology are often characterized.
Which makes me wonder how best to write a history of film technology - or an aesthetics of film technology. I confess no especial technical knowledge - and many in the field lack it. Many on the production side do have this knowledge but have no incentive to write scholarship on it - and may well ask other questions anyway.
I myself have been trying to reapproach the studio "house style" and in the process am asking how best to grapple with the technological.
In short, I have a few intuitions about history of technology:
- the humanist tendency to call "technological determinism" and read merely cultural impetus misses what's interesting about the problem
- film historians often have a large-scale understanding of technological change, but tend to downplay shorter-term developments
- film historians still privilege the "great transformations" over the secondary changes
- we have not filled out the history of contemporary and post-classical film technology
- we have delved even less into the technological practices of non-American contexts
These are generalizations posed more as intuition than fact-of-the-field.
I'd highly recommend, by the way, Paul Ramaeker's recent article in Film History on the split-field diopter. In my eye, it's the nice, solid essay that connects technology to its perceptual dynamic and its aesthetic uses.