An Archaeology of the Close-Up

I recently wrote an academic essay exploring the historical and cultural origins of the cinematic close-up. The piece is a long read, but I think any reader interested in cinema history will find the ideas interesting. I worked hard on the essay and I’d be extremely grateful for anyone able to take some time to give it a read.

Take a look at my essay thesis below, and, if interested, click the link at the bottom of this page to read the entire piece.   

Keep engaged in film viewing, theory, and criticism. Cinema is one of the most important arts of expression we have at our disposal… in times such as the modern age, never forget that. 


Isolated in space, her face commands the audacity of the screen; her eyes twinkle with dampened hope as she stares intensely upon her off-screen accusers. The power of the close-up within Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) becomes immediately apparent. Dreyer uses the close-up to enhance spectatorial affect towards Joan’s begrimed circumstances, evoking and enhancing the cinematic power of the human face by drawing us closer towards its pure spiritual essence. But Dreyer also deploys the close-up as a magnification tool, a temporally fragmented image that detaches itself from the whole to form an entirely new autonomous existence within itself. Using both scale and affect, Dreyer deploys the close-up to subconsciously engrave Joan’s haunting image into the minds of the spectator, emphasizing the aesthetic power of the close-up as a vital tool within the creation of visual art. In this essay, I aim to create an archaeological portrait of the cinematic close-up by both questioning its meaning and effectiveness within the cinema, and uncovering its origin as a powerful tool within the history of visual media. I shall focus on early film theorists such as Bela Balazs and Walter Benjamin with aim of discovering the impact made by close-ups upon their introduction to the cinema. I will also focus on earlier forms of visual art, analysing how the scale of early microscopic images and the affect of portrait painting informed and shaped what we know to be today’s cinematic close-up. I hope to make historical and temporal connections between early forms of affect and scale close-ups in visual media and later uses of the close-up in cinema, thus conducting the archaeology of the close-up as both a cognitive and affective tool.

An Archaeology of the Close-Up: Scale and Affect in Cinema and Early Forms of Visual Media

Click above to read essay in full.

7 Replies to “An Archaeology of the Close-Up”

  1. I happily read the whole thing, and enjoyed it a lot. The examples were well-chosen, and I liked the superimposition of the images too.
    Goldsmith’s is a good college. My good friend Malcom Poynter lectured on sculpture there, some years ago,
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Thanks, Pete! I really appreciate that. I wonder, how did you know it was from Goldsmiths? Maybe I’m missing something, but I was sure I removed the front page stating the uni name.

  3. This is an excellent essay and thank you for sharing. You raise so many thought provoking ideas about the close-up as a coded language of its own. I’m also impressed with your archeological perspective; there are no doubt equally valid analyses via many disciplines. For example, a pyschological/sociological angle might explore the innate drive to consumate physically via macroscopic penetration of personal space. Cinematically, it is one of the most flexible framing devices for not only geting in and moving out of a subject’s space, but pushing an audience away and then drawing them in. Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed the read and as a film critic it enriches my thinking about the closeup.

  4. Thanks so much for taking as look at the essay, it’s great to read you say so! You have a great site/blog; I’ll be sure to check back in often.

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