Guido Vitiello | Sapienza Università di Roma | Italy
September 16th 2022 | 10.00 – 11.30
Panel #6 | “Contaminations”
Room G.126 | Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Milan, Largo Gemelli 1
Brainplex. Science Fiction Literature and the Cinema of the Future
In May 1999, to accompany a New York Times article on the cinema of the future, illustrator Ron Barrett imagined the «Brainplex»: the movie theater of tomorrow will be the viewer’s brain, in which the film will be directly transmitted as a stream of data. 1999 – a date with obvious millennialistic and apocalyptic resonances – is also the year in which two films are set (Until the End of the World, W. Wenders, 1991; Strange Days, K. Bigelow, 1995) and two others are released (The Matrix, L. and L. Wachowski; eXistenZ, D. Cronenberg), all of them hinting at similar technological scenarios.
The utopia/dystopia of a post-spectacular cinema, where the mediation of the screen is abolished and the «virtual window» (Anne Freedberg) is made invisible, had been the subject of earlier fiction, speculation and theory. My paper focuses on a minor strand of sci-fi literature that imagined the entertainment of the future as a mental or sensory experience beyond media and representation: short stories such as Stanley G. Weinbaum’s The Pygmalion’s Spectacles (1935), A.C. Clarke’s Patent Pending (1954) or Primo Levi’s Trattamento di quiescenza (1966); novels such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Shepherd Mead’s The Big Ball of Wax (1954) or D.G. Compton’s Synthajoy (1968). In particular, I devote my attention to a forgotten novel by Dean R. Koontz, The Fall of the Dream Machine (1969), an exercise in theoretical science fiction that explicitly links its fictional speculations about the future of cinematic experience to the media theories of Marshall McLuhan.
Guido Vitiello is Associate Professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, where he teaches courses in Theory and History of Film Language and Cinema and Visual Culture. His current strands of research explore the intersections among film iconography, art history and visual culture. Among his books on these topics, Il testimone immaginario. Auschwitz, il cinema e la cultura pop (Ipermedium libri, 2011) and Una visita al Bates Motel (Adelphi, 2019), an iconological study on the visual symbolism and the mythological themes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).