Article

The Mitchell Camera: The Machine and Its Makers

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Abstract

A concise history of one of the world's pioneer professional motion-picture camera makers, including a review of its products from 1920 to the present day. In addition to the company's standard 35-mm and 16-mm models, the discussion includes specialized models in the wide-film gauges of 55-mm, 65-mm, and 70-mm, as well as horizontal-travel 35-mm and multiple-panel 35-mm models. Also included are process projectors (front and rear screen), and less well known Mitchell products such as the 16-mm and 35-mm theater projectors and 8-mm and 16-mm amateur projectors. The concept and use of various types of Mitchell movements and their importance to the film industry are also covered.

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This dissertation provides a historical account of a until now neglected field of moving image production. It identifies and focuses on optical effects as a practice of montage within moving images as opposed to the montage of like images in time. Drawing on a wide range of new archival material, my dissertation presents previously unknown reasons for the developments of different techniques of image compositing such as traveling mattes, color-based processes, rear projection, and optical printing. This field has currently gained relevance as a forerunner to contemporary digital effects and image processing, a fact that in part also explains the marginal presence optical effects in earlier scholarship. My work collects original publications by participants and critically relates them to each other and akin are as of film production. As a result I will show that there were no single privileged sources of agency but rather chains of translation that involve humans as much as non-humans. I will draw on Actor-Network-Theory as a methodological framework as it provides an approach that tries to avoid presumptions that inform the analytical descriptions. Therefore, I will deploy individual case studies, in which I explore the specific functions of such different entities as groups of studio employees, the studios themselves, entrepreneurs and manufacturers, professional associations and organizations, devices and sets, patents and other publications, and finally images. The image as the result of these production practices (rather than as an aesthetic phenomenon alone) here is regarded as representation and aim of its production practices that at the same time it tries to conceal. It thus assembles its own collective which I will understand not as a model but as an hypothesis that guides my historical descriptions.
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