From the earliest Lumière actualities to King Vidor’s *The Crowd* (1928) and onward through *Spring Breakers* (2012), cinema has given apt expression to masses and what they seemingly do best: massing. This program presents a survey of crowds, masses, and swarms in their many and varied manifestations: from the elemental to the complex, and from the archaic to the contemporary. Though often hidden beneath a veneer of solidity, masses and swarms are the very stuff of life. Gathering and dispersing, contracting and expanding, are the formal figures most proper to them. They exist at the level of particles and parades, demonstrations and desktop icons, spermatozoa and shopping mallers. Even the grain of film, the noise of video, the pixilation of a buffering stream—they, too, with their swirling and spreading, justly merit the name of “crowd.” Wherever division, multiplicity, and movement co-exist, masses and swarms are sure to follow: on the street, in the density of a throng; in the depths of the body, cell against cell.
What do psychologists, spiritualists, and filmmakers have in common? Each is in some way concerned with the making-visible of what is normally invisible, whether it be the hidden recesses of the unconscious, the voices of the dead, or the world of human passions as they manifest themselves on our faces and in our gestures. For over two decades, Zoe Beloff has been using cinematic technology as a probe into the collective fantasies of our visual culture, which are not so far removed from the 19th century as we sometimes think. Her work is a sustained exploration of the concept of “medium,” which is never simply a mechanical device but a point of juncture between past and future, here and elsewhere, the visible and the invisible, the living and the dead. The arcane devices she often employs—such as stereoscopic film, 78rpm phonographs, and slide projectors—are more than just quaint relics of a bygone era. They are conduits through which we, too, might commune with the past; they conjure up something of the wonder and the ritual that the earliest spectators of moving images might have felt. As an artist and a thinker, Beloff asks us to ponder what Freud and Coney Island share, what it means to “project” an image into the world, and why the French still refer to film screenings as séances.
It is often noted that men and women inhabit space very differently, as evidenced by the popular Tumblr account, Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train. Photo after photo show male passengers with legs maximally splayed and arms raised to grasp a Very Important Newspaper, while women demurely cross their arms and legs with visible signs of discomfort. It doesn't take a professional philosopher or sociologist to realize that this stark contrast between spatial expansion and contraction is not a fact of biology but a set of learned behaviors. For most women, something has broken in the unifying chain of consciousness/body/world; an institutionalized double standard ensures that men enjoy the lion's share of free, unhindered, fluid movement in space.
The films in this program demonstrate various ways in which women filmmakers have sought to engage more fully with their world, oscillating between the savage critique of social norms and the affirmation of new powers and pleasures. It goes without saying that cinema, with its disjuncture of image and sound, its capacity for metamorphosis and even the grotesque, is one of the most powerful tools we have for the reconfiguration of body and voice.