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The Horse Who Drank the Sky

The Horse Who Drank the Sky: Film Experience Beyond Narrative and Theory

Murray Pomerance
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    The Horse Who Drank the Sky
    Book Description:

    What is most important about cinema is that we are alive with it. For all its dramatic, literary, political, sociological, and philosophical weight, film is ultimately an art that provokes, touches, and riddles the viewer through an image that transcends narrative and theory. InThe Horse Who Drank the Sky, Murray Pomerance brings attention to the visceral dimension of movies and presents a new and unanticipated way of thinking about what happens when we watch them.

    By looking at point of view, the gaze, the voice from nowhere, diegesis and its discontents, ideology, the system of the apparatus, invisible editing, and the technique of overlapping sound, he argues that it is often the minuscule or transitional moments in motion pictures that penetrate most deeply into viewers' experiences. In films that includeRebel Without a Cause,Dead Man,Chinatown,The Graduate,North by Northwest,Dinner at Eight,Jaws,M,Stage Fright,Saturday Night Fever,The Band Wagon,The Bourne Identity, and dozens more, Pomerance invokes complexities that many of the best of critics have rarely tackled and opens a revealing view of some of the most astonishing moments in cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4496-0
    Subjects: Film Studies
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. OVERTURE (pp. 1-9)

    Late in June of 1982, in a mumbling crowd, and daydreaming about the stars, I followed two nine- or ten-year-old boys out of a screening ofE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. As we hit the cold light of day and turned onto the sidewalk outside the theater, one said to the other, rather drily, I thought, “Good directing.” “Yeah,” said his friend, “and excellent cinematography.” For the “Wow!” I waited, but it never came. Now, it is easy to imagine these two as recent Ph.D.s in cinema studies, still, perhaps—I hope not!—holding back that “Wow!”

    It seems necessary to take...

  5. CHAPTER 1 A VOLUPTUOUS GAZE (pp. 10-35)

    A man struggled for months to start writing a book he had been conceiving for twenty years. Then one night, as though to round off his battle, he had a powerful dream. The Korean Canadian actress Sandra Oh, playing a role in some arcane oneiric drama, suddenly leaped up backwards onto a high windowsill—a feature of an industrial setting, with chicken wire embedded in the window glass and a powerful blue-gray illumination streaming through from outside—and used some invisible mechanism or a gesture to cause the window behind her to open. From outside now, an intense draught circled...


    Several times in the (perduringly) astonishingRebel Without a Cause(1955) we are in a position to see what Jean-Luc Godard might have meant when he said Nicholas Rayisthe cinema (44). This is a film that, when it premièred on 27 October 1955, made a splash on two counts, neither of which had much to do with the real reason to pay attention to it, which is, as Godard implied, the director himself. First, the star, James Dean, had been killed in a car accident 30 September, having been seen on screens only since early March inEast...

  7. CHAPTER 3 A GREAT FACE (pp. 62-85)

    Alfred Hitchcock has often been misunderstood in the United States as nothing more than a great showman, that plump fellow who hardly ever smiles but has a macabre, even utterly morbid, sense of reality, whose productions, crammed full of marvels and myriad intoxicating details of characterization and design, are executed with meticulous craft but little true feeling; a man, in other words, whose major predilection it was only to make money by darkly entertaining. A great national anti-intellectual prejudice of long standing has led lay viewers and critics alike to a certain blindness about the relation between showmanship and philosophy...


    As Fritz Lang’sM(1931) begins, an unknown killer has been kidnapping and murdering little girls, and the citizens of the city are broiling in a state of precipitous panic. They have been reading the newspaper accounts and hearing newsboys chanting the gruesome headlines on the streets, unaware, perhaps, that, as Walter Benjamin had it, “impatience is the state of mind of the newspaper reader. And this impatience is not just that of the politician expecting information, or of the speculator looking for a stock tip; behind it smolders the impatience of people who are excluded and who think they...


    In Stanley Kramer’sOn the Beach(1959), there is a shocking acoustic moment that must be seen to be heard …

    A third world war, in 1964, having utterly destroyed the Northern Hemisphere, a single American submarine, the USSSawfish, captained by Gregory Peck, sets out to Australia to reconnoiter. But it is soon evident the fallout is heading southward and will wipe out everything within a year, Australian society thus modeling the mass behavior of human beings on the crest of extinction. The sub heads back to the United States, in desperate hope that someone somewhere may still be...

  10. CHAPTER 6 AS TIME GOES BY (pp. 139-165)

    Before the intensive development of computer-generated imagery for film in the 1990s, the convention for making a scene that would appear to take place at night but which producers preferred, for purposes of technical efficiency, to shoot in broad daylight was to use gels or matte techniques to blue-tint the image; as well as overexposing the film by as many as four f-stops and in general refraining from pointing the camera at the sky (where the sun would appear far too bright). This day-for-night technique, or, as it is called in France,la nuit américaine, served to produce a sense...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE SPEAKING EYE (pp. 166-186)

    “To speak, to name things,” writes Jean Starobinski, “tends to prolong (if not complete) the work of safekeeping that in the gaze remains forever incomplete and precarious” (5). We may ask, as well: why should that gaze fail to utterly gather and retain? Why is it precarious and incomplete in holding? Or else, might the word that completes and releases the gaze by extending it not also be adopted by the gaze as one of its own felicities, one of its talents, but as a new form, without linear meaning, free from syntax? Might the gaze not speak, and, speaking,...

  12. CHAPTER 8 NOT AN UNUSUAL STORY (pp. 187-205)

    In an old room lined with old books, an old man is telling an old story. As he talks, the light around him seems to die off, intense electrical illumination of the mid-twentieth century (the sixty-watt bulb) fading and traveling back in time to resemble weaker electrical illumination of the early twentieth century (the twenty-five-watt bulb), so that by the end of his tale he is virtually in darkness:

    Oh yes, I remember! Carlotta! The beautiful Carlotta. The sad Carlotta! … It is not an unusual story. She came from somewhere small to the south of the city, some say...


    Here is what D. H. Lawrence wrote in 1923 about the “spirit of place”:

    Every people is polarized in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. Different places on the face of the earth have different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars: call it what you like. The spirit of place is a great reality. (12)

    Rocky Balboa says something to the same effect in the film that concludes his career: “If you stay some place long enough, you become that place.” And “Whatever is present for a long while becomes part of...

  14. WORKS CITED AND CONSULTED (pp. 235-246)
  15. INDEX (pp. 247-258)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 259-260)