Cinematic Sensorium: Beyond the Visual

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Lakshmi SRINIVAS, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA
When the senses are considered in connection with cinema film, it is the visual that is typically privileged. Scholarship on cinema has also for the most part focused on the film itself, its images and narrative, reinforcing what film producers wish the public to attend to. Yet the success of a film at the box office is understood to rest on how well the exhibition setting minimizes distractions and the comforts it offers audiences, such as seating and air-conditioning.

This paper will examine the cinematic sensorium. Drawing on ethnographic research at single-screen cinema halls in urban India as well as historical studies of moviegoing, it addresses the question: how does sensory and embodied experience organize the lived experience of the cinema? Rather than being a simple matter of providing a standardized and predictable space for viewing films, I argue that the sensualities of the cinema are continually produced and negotiated by a range of actors including exhibitors, theater staff, audiences and others. Sensory experiences may provide distraction and surprise; they may connect the audience to place and environment in a way that detracts from the film, yet shapes the cinema experience. As the cinema is a space where people from various walks of life come together, where strangers encounter one another and where bodies are in close proximity, sensory experience becomes central to understandings of the cinema as public space and to notions of order, even of a moral order that shapes belonging and exclusion. A holistic understanding of cinema experience is impossible without attention to its sensualities.