Magic Lantern Presents: Masses and Swarms

Curated by Seth Watter. Moving images have had a special fondness for masses and swarms: human, animal, cellular, chemical, granular.It is known that crowd scenes in the cinema produce a rhythmic, poetic, photogenic effect when there is a real, actively thinking crowd involved. The reason is that the cinema can pick this cadence up better than the human eye and by other means; it can record this fundamental rhythm and its harmonics.—Jean Epstein From the earliest Lumière actualities to the contemporary disaster film, 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.

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