Professor Janet Harbord

The Six Most Beautiful Minutes in the History of Cinema: archaeology of a past that never was
1 December 2012, NAB LG01, 11.00-12.30

One of Giorgio Agamben’s few essays addressing cinema directly, ‘The Six Most Beautiful Minutes’ tells the tale of Don Quixote taking a trip to the cinema. As the film starts (a costume drama), Quixote is at first enthralled and then, with the appearance of a woman in distress, enraged. Rising from his seat he slashes at the figures on the screen to the revelry of children seated in the balcony. In no time at all, the fabric of the screen is hanging in tatters, revealing the bare structure of the wooden support behind it.

This fable-like story of destruction raises the question of what cinema is and may have become, besides the screen. In other words, what might cinema have become other than a representational device focused on human characters? The approach taken here is archaeological, looking through this gaping hole in the screen to a cinematic past where material properties were combined differently, and the connections forged may not have been between human counter-parts. With the aid of figural assistants, and recent artists’ films, the potential of cinema to (have) connect(ed) us to non-human sensibilities is explored. Borrowing from Agamben, and Agamben’s borrowing of Benjamin, this is a sketch of a history that never came to be, and yet as an absent presence, shapes the contours of the cinema that we have now.

Janet Harbord is Professor of Film Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. She writes on the philosophy of film and cinematic apparatuses, film ecology and its co-creation of environments, film in a post-cinematic context and the life of film beyond the institution of the cinema. She is the author of Film Cultures (2002), The Evolution of Film (2007), Chris Marker: La Jetée (2009), and co-editor of Simon Starling: Contemporary Artists (2012) and with Chris Berry and Rachel Moore Public Space-Media Space (forthcoming 2013).