Volume 16, 2016
Film and Phenomenology
How It Feels
Black Screen as Negative Event in Early Cinema and 9/11 Films
In this essay I engage the perspective of film phenomenology to analyze the black screen as a frame-breaking negative experience, based on an understanding of cinema as event. Relying on Vivian Sobchack’s phenomenological approach and taking inspiration from Cecil M. Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900), a case in point for a method predicated on the question of “how,” I place emphasis on the “film’s body” and consciousness which, through its own paralysis and impairment, affects the spectator’s lived-body. Following the terminology of sociologist Erving Goffman, I approach both a car accident at the turn of the twentieth century and 9/11 on the cusp of the new millennium as frame-breaking events that generate a profound negative experience. I then describe the black screen in 9/11 films as a frame-breaking occurrence that creates a negative event in its own right. The encounter with the breakage of the conventional mechanisms and modes of the “film’s body” as well as the forced sensory shift lead the spectator to a heightened awareness of his/her own body as a receiving medium that empathetically partakes in the experience of a negative event at the scene of cinema, both perceptually and reflexively.