Gavin Wilson

The Body as Physical Conduit for Experience in a Phenomenology of Cell Cinema

The screening of films made on mobile phones to one or more spectators, either on a mobile phone or projected before an audience, significantly changes the material instrumentality of the phone film with profound consequences for its reception. In this process, the phone film transitions from a particularised kind of audio-visual artefact recording a filmmaker’s personal experience, to become the material component of a potentially innovative discourse, sharing characteristics of cinematic form whilst foregrounding other features specific to it.
The term I favour for this mode of audience engagement, cell cinema, describes an innovative mode of media discourse in two significant ways: The first links the filmmaker and spectator in a more direct relationship of individualised communication, foregrounding its cellular interaction in a physical, biological or, as Deleuze says, a rhizomatic sense. The second involves them in a physically co-present form of participatory engagement within film festivals. This paper and selected film examples investigates the centrality of the human body in phone film engagement, of an enhanced encounter with the sensual, challenging the physical distancing of theatrical projection. The writing of Maurice Merleau-Ponty brings us back to phenomenological experience, revealing the act of seeing as contingent on objective thought about the world. Additionally, I look at how the earlier writing of Henri Bergson offers a physiological conception of the body’s function in human perception. The mobile phone and the human gaze forge a bridging link between people, connecting through vision, appealing to an immediate if mediated sensory experience. As Merleau-Ponty says, ‘to look at the object is to plunge oneself into it’.
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Prior to undertaking my current academic research project under a Studentship awarded by York St John University, I worked as a Sector Manager for Screen Yorkshire, one of the UK’s development agencies for screen media.
During most of my earlier freelance career I worked as a cameraman on film and TV dramas, commercials and music promos for UK-based and international production companies, and continue to write narrative fiction screenplays.
Interspersed with my freelance production work, I have also taught media and visual communications studies at a number of UK colleges.
The subject matter for this paper expresses a particular line of enquiry expounded in my doctoral thesis, due for completion in 2013.