writings

In the kingdom of shadows
by Stephen Broomer

Francisca Duran’s In the Kingdom of Shadows takes its title from Maxim Gorky’s 1896 report on the Lumière Cinematograph. The film’s primary subject is a Ludlow Linecaster, a machine used in typography to mould letters, to form blocks of text for use in printing. A completed block of type, featuring text taken from Gorky’s review, melts line by line into the Linecaster’s pot of molten lead. This bubbling crude envelops the text in a curious pattern, eating away at it from the top and bottom, mutilating its meaning, reaching into Gorky’s text as if its center were its core. In this pattern, the individual lines of type tumble, twisting and collapsing into the pot.

As the film begins, the block of type rests evenly on the lead’s oleaginous surface. This peace is interrupted in the second minute, as the lines begin to tumble. They sink, their form still creasing the surface. Gorky’s words remain vaguely apparent under the silver sheen. The remaining lines grow crooked. At the bottom of the screen, the words “train of shadows” remain. At four minutes, the center of the block, with five lines remaining, heaves as if an eruption has occurred in the crude beneath. Soon after, another dissolve comes, and the lines, all of them now crooked, face upward, recovered and still legible. Another dissolve clears away this ghost, revealing a newly clear surface to the liquid. With one final dissolve, the pot gives way to Gorky’s subject, the Lumière film L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat (1895).

Duran’s film makes parallels between these relationships, of print and film and the apparatuses of their creation. The historical trajectory of both book and film speak to literacy, and in the case of these technological artifacts, a passing literacy. It is a passage of literacy from text to image, and yet it speaks to a new passage away from these forms of literacy, for in this kingdom of shadows, book and film are both antique. The processes of their creation are antique. The Ludlow Linecaster is at once a machine for creation and destruction, a passage into existence and non-existence. Gorky’s phrase pitted the new art of cinema in the analogy of Plato’s cave, wherein the world is an interpretation of shadowplay. Duran’s shadows are the remnants of passing technologies, the recycled image and the recycled text. The shadows of her film are these objects – the film, the block of type – culled from archives, recapitulated, forged anew.