Interactive media and imperial subjects: Excavating the cinematic shooting gallery
Author(s): Cowan, Michael
This article examines a little-known example of early interactive cinema: cinematic shooting galleries, which appeared in multiple variations in Europe and the US around 1910. All but forgotten today, such devices – which allowed spectators to fire live bullets at projected images on the screen – offer an excellent test case for any media archaeology in search of ‘precursors’ to digital media such as interactive cinema and video games. They might also appear tailor-made for Kittlerian arguments about the deep links between media and warfare. But understanding cinematic shooting galleries also demands careful attention to the cultural context of hunting and tourist safaris in which they emerged and took on meaning in the early 20th century. The article argues that such devices intersected with a much broader visual culture of colonialism and hunting, promising a ‘training’ in self-mastery through their interactive simulation of the hunt. That training depended on the device’s ability to show images in movement, simulating danger and demanding a rapid response. But it also depended on a less conspicuous aspect frequently highlighted in descriptions from the time: the pause, which kicked in to stop the image for a few seconds whenever a spectator fired the gun. This pausing feature links the cinematic shooting gallery with broader research into pausing mechanisms, particularly in the domain of educational film. But whereas educators conceived the pause as a tool for intellectual mastery, the cinematic shooting gallery used the pause to heighten the sense of bodily mastery, where the stilling of the image would run parallel to the stilling of the body’s automatic nervous responses.
Cowan, Michael: Interactive media and imperial subjects: Excavating the cinematic shooting gallery. In: NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies, Jg. 7 (2018), Nr. 1, S. 17–44. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25969/mediarep/3438.
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