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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.1, 167 ~ 184, 2019
“Continuous Performance”: Silent Film and Plebeian Spectatorship in Dorothy Richardson’s Film Writing, 1927-1933
Boosung Kim
The advent of cinema at the dawn of the twentieth century profoundly ruptured the nineteenth-century notion of spectatorship as a constituent of bourgeois male subjectivity by allowing marginalized social groups such as working-class women, child vagrants, and rural people to have access to a new public sphere. This paper focuses on the British modernist writer Dorothy Richardson’s film writing, which appeared in the avant-garde literary magazine Close Up (1927-1933), to show how the silent cinema spectatorship in the 1920s challenged gendered, class-bound notions of spectatorship. In particular, this paper explores the representation of spec-tatorial practices in her film writing and the ramifications of a particular mode of perception she valorizes: contemplation. Throughout the column she wrote for Close Up, Richardson, writing from the perspective of one of the spectators seated in a movie theatre, committed herself to theorizing spectator subjectivity in the early sound era. By taking up a position similar to that of the nineteenth-century male urban investigator, Richardson revises the dominant imaginative mappings of London through her discussion of the spaces of the movie theaters and the demographic makeup of the cinema audience. Challenging dominant views on cinematic perception, Richardson associates absorptive, contemplative modes of perception with plebeian spectatorship to highlight the cinema’s therapeutic, emancipatory function for the underprivileged. Richardson also contends that silent films, when accompanied by simple piano music and performed in a small, garage-like movie theater, should be the norm to secure and nurture contemplation.
Key Words
Dorothy Richardson, Close Up, silent film, spectatorship, contemplation
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