As early as 1900, spectators described the flickering light effects of the first film screenings in terms of “dancing images.” Since then, the idea that films can not only record dance, but also produce dance-like effects (e.g., through camera movements or editing) has been a recurring trope of film theory. This study examines the “dancing image” as a set of cultural discourses and practices representative of the intermedial entanglements between early film culture and modern dance at the beginning of the 20th century.
Bringing together a phenomenological perspective with recent approaches in film historiography and media archaeology, Kristina Köhler examines the specific aesthetic, social, and cultural conditions around 1900 under which films could be perceived and described as dance-like. In nine chapters, the book explores uncharted aspects of movement and body culture that extend across not only cinema, dance, and aesthetics, but also popular ballroom culture, science, and pedagogy.
The selection of films ranges from early dance and trick films to scientific movement studies and health and cultural films (Kulturfilme), and from comedies and melodramas of the 1910s to the so-called “absolute” films of the 1920s and 1930s. Not least, the book considers how leading modern dancers, choreographers, and dance theorists such as Isadora Duncan, Rudolf von Laban, and Mary Wigman responded to the advent of cinema.