In an 1834 essay, the French physicist André-Marie Ampère used the term “cinématique” [kinematics] to first describe the study of the geometry of pure motion that became indispensable for engineering industrial technologies. Beyond its obvious etymological kinship with “cinema,” the nineteenth century field of kinematics established a relationship between ideas and machines that found its fullest articulation in film. No doubt the affinity between industrial production and cinema is as old as film itself, with the Lumière brothers’ first film, Exiting the Factory [Sortie d’usine, 1895], depicting workers departing the Lumière factory in Lyon. Yet, it was not until the emergence of scientific management and psychotechnics—an applied form of experimental psychology pioneered by the psychologist-turned-film theorist, Hugo Münsterberg—that cinema came to represent an epistemic limit condition for thinking in the machine age.
Jeffrey West Kirkwood is Assistant Professor of Art History and Cinema at Binghamton University.