Alchemy of the Cinema – Young Jean Epstein


Antti Pönni

The article focuses on Jean Epstein’s writings on the cinema in the 1920’s when Epstein was a prominent filmmaker, an active member of the ciné-clubs as well as a regular contributor of the specialized film journals.

Epstein develops a new philosophy based on modern litterature and cinema. According to Epstein, modern civilization is determined by speed and machinism, which causes cerebral and nervous fatigue. Fatigue opens up a bodily unconscious experience which Epstein names coenesthesia. This is reflected in modern litterature. This experience is the basis of lyrosophy, a form of philosophical thinking that synthesizes the affective and rational forms of knowledge (connaissance).

Epstein’s film thinking builds on the concept of photogènie, an ability of cinema to reveal things in a fresh way. To Epstein, photogènie has also philosophical significance. The camera-eye’s ability to reveal things in a way that is not possible to natural eye shows that the camera-machine has a kind of nonhuman mind, which calls for rethinking of the concept of mind in general. The film-machine also rethinks the concept of time and movement. Finally cinema is animistic, because it abolishes the difference between animate and inanimate objects.