Tuesday, November 1, 2022 at 7:30pm
A Little History of Sleeping at the Movies

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

A lecture by Jean Ma

This talk centers on a figure who haunts the entire history of projected moving images—the sleeping spectator. Various filmmakers and writers, reacting to the altered state that cinema seems uniquely capable of bringing about, have grappled with the question of whether the audience is completely awake. If cinema wraps its viewers in darkness, stills them into silence, and mesmerizes them with a projected beam of light, what results is a condition between sleeping and waking—a minimum of sleep, a half-sleeping state, or a kind of sleep in miniature.

The lecture places theoretical discussions of the somnolent spectator in dialogue with an archive of visual representations of the unconscious movie audience drawn from films, photojournalism, and contemporary moving image installations. Across this little history of sleeping at the movies, an intriguing question arises: can the fluctuating attentiveness that comes with sleep amount to a difference rather than a detraction in the viewer’s experience? Can zoning out and nodding off be cinematic experiences in their own right?

- JM

Jean Ma is Victoria and Roger Sant Professor in Art at Stanford University. Her books include Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema; Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema; and Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (with Karen Redrobe). The open-source digital edition of her new book At the Edges of Sleep: Moving Images and Somnolent Spectators can be found here.


Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.