Here’s a super piece from The Millions about how elements of the visual language of cinema were foreshadowed by techniques of perspective and timeline shifting in literature. It uses examples from Milton, Dickens and the science fiction author Olaf Stapledon to show how authors had invented such cinematic staples as the jump-cut and the long zoom well before the invention of video cameras. This is part of the discussion of Paradise Lost:

And what about Satan? Though the camera seems to have pulled back from him, he’s still the closest object to our viewpoint. Next to Heaven, he is tiny, a nuisance, a perpetual underdog, but he towers over Earth—the theology of the whole poem summed up in an image. But we’ve also just seen Satan at his most courageous, a voyage through Chaos that sees Milton explicitly compare him to the Greek epic heroes. The image of him brooding over Earth from afar is one of our first introductions in the poem to Satanic glamour—a glamour that Milton will whittle down over the course of his epic, but one that reaches its seductive high point here. It’s no surprise that the image of a hovering hero watching over Earth would resurface much later in an entirely positive light—as the iconic image of Superman.


Satan = Superman. Ha. Well worth a read (NB: contains mild spoilers for Bleak House and Star Maker); it reminded me of reading Nostromo, which was the first time I actually noticed an author using something like a jump cut for dramatic effect (although I’m not sure that what I’m thinking of was really a jump cut… At a key point in the narrative, we suddenly jump forward in time by several months, and the climactic moments of the story are told in flashback. It’s very dramatic, and striking because it’s not the kind of narrative technique I was expecting in a novel that had seemed quite 19th century in style up until then. Loved Nostromo, highly recommended).

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