Feature Article

Camera Movement in VR: Spatial Mediation, User Positioning, and a Virtual Dinner Party

Author: Ariel Rogers (Northwestern University)

  • Camera Movement in VR: Spatial Mediation, User Positioning, and a Virtual Dinner Party

    Feature Article

    Camera Movement in VR: Spatial Mediation, User Positioning, and a Virtual Dinner Party



This essay investigates how virtual-reality "films" adapt cinematic approaches to camera movement. Focusing on the 360-degree video Dinner Party, it examines how such works distinguish user-initiated from work-initiated movements and thereby transform users' relationship to representation. In Dinner Party, it argues, these possibilities contribute to an exploration of racial difference.

How to Cite:

Rogers, A., (2023) “Camera Movement in VR: Spatial Mediation, User Positioning, and a Virtual Dinner Party”, Film Criticism 47(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/fc.4739

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Published on
31 Oct 2023
Peer Reviewed

The 360-degree video experience Dinner Party (Angel Manuel Soto, 2018) begins where many virtual reality (VR) experiences take place: hovering in outer space, surrounded by stars. The changing position of the user’s view in relation to the stars suggests a descent, and if the user looks down she sees that her view is approaching the open top of a middle-class suburban living/dining room. As the user’s perspective continues to descend toward and into the room, it becomes clear that a dinner party has just begun. Five white thirty-somethings mingle, their costumes and the décor indicating that it is the 1960s in America. If experiencing the work through a VR headset as intended, the user is able to shift her view from guest to guest by moving her head as the location from which she accesses these views seems to float through the room and toward the table, where the interracial couple hosting the gathering has begun to argue. Based on the widely publicized story of Barney Hill, a Black postal worker, and Betty Hill, a white social worker, who claimed to have been abducted together by a UFO in 1961 – and who later recalled their individual experiences under hypnosis – Dinner Party begins at the moment Betty decides they should listen to the recordings of their hypnosis sessions for the first time in the company of their friends.1 In this opening scene and throughout the remainder of the short piece, the mobile perspective offered to the user helps make the experience of Dinner Party deeply unsettling. The work draws on conventions of the horror film by using a moving camera to invoke the uncanny sense of a not-quite-human presence. But at the same time, it employs 360-degree video and a VR headset to resituate the user in relation to the image. In doing so, Dinner Party shows how VR can transform the meaning and function of the moving camera. Indeed, the unsettling experience of the work, wherein the story of alien abduction serves to refract the characters’ experiences of racial difference, emerges as much from the way it reconfigures the relationship between the user and the moving camera as from the way it draws on genre tropes.

Attending to the use of the moving camera in Dinner Party offers an opportunity to explore the complex ways in which 360-degree videos – and uses of VR platforms more broadly – shape representation and situate their users in relation to it. VR is usually analyzed in terms of the concepts of illusion and immersion. In comparison with older media, especially cinema, VR has been understood primarily as a form that heighten beholders’ experience of presence and embodied participation in mediated environments.2 Although cinema has also been associated with illusion, immersion, presence, and embodied participation, two particular elements of cinema seem to work against these effects by establishing a rift between the viewer’s experience and the imaged world: the moving image is circumscribed by a rectangular frame, and the viewer (usually) remains stationary in front of it. Drawing on a term from the art historian Victor Stoichita, for instance, Anne Friedberg identifies the film frame as an “ontological cut” and highlights the way in which this frame separates the virtuality of the image from the actuality of its exhibition space and the motion depicted onscreen from the stasis of the viewer.3 VR is usually understood to bridge such divisions, enhancing illusion, immersion, presence, and embodied participation by presenting 360-degree views and tying depicted movement to the user’s bodily movements (thus allowing for interactivity).

By examining the role that virtual and actual cameras play in mediating the user’s dynamic encounter with the illusions offered by VR, however, this essay aims to show how the newer platform does not simply unframe the image or return agency to the beholder but rather continues to shape representation and proffer particular spectatorial positions in and across body and image space. Against readings that would emphasize VR’s transparency – and in line with recent efforts to attend more carefully to its mediality – I thus explore how the format takes up and adapts a key component of film form: camera movement.4 In cinema, the idea of the moving camera works to bind the moving image to the movement of a camera at the time of production (the notion of such prior movement is present even for films that create the effect of a moving camera without actually using one). With certain exceptions—such as movies shown in vehicles and places of transit—the movement experienced by the user is virtual, as Friedberg argues. As I discuss in the pages to follow, VR uses forms of camera movement to bind the moving image not only to the kind of movement that takes place in the context of production but also, and especially, to the viewer’s own movements.

Although such binding may enhance the experience of illusion, immersion, presence, and embodied participation, its operation is never total. As I hope to show, Dinner Party exemplifies how 360-degree video and VR works can use camera movement to explore and unsettle the relationships among the spaces mediated by the VR headset. In particular, this piece harnesses the VR headset’s capacity to separate movements propelled by the user from those designed by the mediamakers. In doing so, Dinner Party highlights tensions within and between the spaces of spectatorship and representation, revealing those spaces to be not so much melded as layered onto one another. In thereby building on and extending cinema’s capacity to stack points of view, Dinner Party employs camera movement in service of its exploration of social difference.

It might at first blush seem as though the idea of the camera has lost its relevance with VR. Actual cameras are only sometimes used in the production of works intended for display through VR headsets, and many works present diegetic spaces that have been entirely computer generated. Even with those works whose production incorporates photography, such as Dinner Party, they employ arrays of cameras whose recordings are stitched together to produce 360-degree (or nearly 360-degree) moving imagery. Such works no longer compose images within the rectangular frame that is usually seen as an essential feature of still and moving photography.

The idea that VR transcends the form of framing associated with cinematography is a familiar trope in discussions of the newer platform. Conventional cinematic framing provides filmmakers a means of organizing what is onscreen (as a graphic image and often also a representation) and situating it in relation to what is understood to be offscreen. With narrative fiction, these functions of the frame enable filmmakers to reveal and conceal elements of a diegetic world. Strategies for varying the frame such as editing and camera movement thus facilitate what Patrick Keating, focusing on camera movement in classical Hollywood cinema, describes as the “sequential disclosures” that enable filmmakers to manipulate “the ever-shifting gap between the known and unknown.”5 Rather than encountering the moving image through a fixed rectangular frame, the VR user’s visual experience is delineated by a field of view that is limited in scope by the headset technology but made mobile through the user’s bodily movements. In some ways, the idea that this mobile viewpoint transcends the frame recalls the idea that cinema’s mobile viewpoint contradicted the fixed frame of still photography.6 But with VR the field of view is selected and changed by the user and not by the work’s creators. As a result, mediamakers have expressed the concern that with VR they have, in one cinematographer’s words, “lost control of the frame.”7 Or as American Cinematographer explained in 2018, “Entering a world where the audience can look in any direction at any time can feel like it strips cinematographers of their main tool of composition – the frame.”8 In short, dynamic control over the orchestration of onscreen and offscreen space, and thus over the play of revelation and concealment within a diegesis, appears to have been turned over from the mediamaker to the user.

Despite these divergences from the film camera and its mobile frame, the concept of the camera and its movements remains crucial for understanding how most VR works operate. Scholarship in cinema studies has long made it clear that the concept of camera movement does not simply reference the motion of a physical device at the time of production. Rather, notions of the camera and its movements are integral to the way viewers experience and make sense of films within the screening context—even though the camera is usually absent from both the diegesis and the space of exhibition, and even when the perception of a moving camera is produced without the actual movement of a camera, as with many animated films.9 One role the notion of the camera performs is to indicate a translation of spaces.10 The camera obscura, for instance, uses an aperture to translate outside space into the interior of the darkened room for which the device is named. Film cameras do the same, while additionally fixing the image and thereby also making it possible to transport time.11 Movement, which indexes spatiotemporal change, highlights and complexifies these relations. In cinema, the concept of camera movement operates as a hinge among diverse spaces, including the space of production (if an actual camera was used), that of the represented storyworld (if there is one), that of the projected image, and that of its milieu in exhibition.

Cinematic camera movements thus also raise important questions about how the spectator is situated in relation to both the image and the diegesis (if, again, there is one). There is a longstanding tendency in writing and thinking about cinema to align the viewer’s experience of the moving image with the perspective of the camera. This alignment is facilitated by a concomitant tendency to anthropomorphize the camera itself, especially insofar as its movements are taken to simulate an observer’s navigation through diegetic space. As David Bordwell put it in 1977: “To use the terms proposed by Stephen Heath, camera movement operates in that zone between the spectator’s ‘look’ and the camera’s ‘look,’ perceptual cues serving to identify the two.”12 In the brand of apparatus theory represented by Heath, the alignment of looks established through cinematography and editing – which identifies the spectator’s vision with that of the camera and often also that of certain characters within the diegesis – collaborates with narrative to proffer a coherent depiction of space and, with it, a unified subject position. Together this coherent space and unified position work to efface (or contain) the heterogeneity and historical contingency of film as a construction. The notion of point of view is important to this discourse, as it associates vision with the spatial positioning of a spectator (traced back to the positioning attributed to Renaissance perspective) and also (drawing on psychoanalysis) with the constitution of subjectivity.13 Citing discourses on suture from apparatus theory, Shane Denson has identified the correlation of the spectator’s perception with that of the camera and characters – and the concomitant “rational orderings of time and space that served, conventionally, to correlate spectatorial subjectivity with cinematic images” – as a key component of cinema that has been dismantled with more recent forms of digital imaging, which he claims are characterized by discorrelation.14

Discourses and practices associated with VR continue to depend on the idea of the camera and its movements to articulate and shape how the newer platform organizes the spaces of representation and spectatorship and how it thereby offers particular positions for the user to occupy. VR, however, simultaneously evokes cinematic camera movements and transforms how they mediate virtual and actual spaces and position the user in relation to them. Works produced for exhibition through VR headsets do this in a couple ways. With VR experiences offering three degrees of freedom (3 DoF), the user’s rotational head movements produce different orientations within represented space, often described in terms of pitch, yaw, and roll. With VR experiences offering six degrees of freedom (6 DoF), this rotational movement is supplemented by translational movements – achieved either through the user’s locomotion or through the use of a controller – which enable the user to change the position as well as the orientation from which she views represented space.15 These depictions of movement rely on a mapping of the user’s actual head movements (rotational and sometimes also translational) onto the movements of a virtual camera positioned within a virtual space that has been produced either through digital imaging or by digitally stitching together the moving images captured through camera arrays. Such mapping is, as Richard Misek has argued, a convention associated with VR headsets and the software employed to create VR experiences, though not a necessary component of VR (as he puts it, the VR headset is ultimately “just an interface”).16

The distinction and potential separation of rotational from translational movement highlights the complexity of camera movement in VR, revealing a dynamic interplay between user-initiated and work-initiated movement that diverges from cinema and that can often be mapped onto a play between orientation and position in represented space. In cinema, the camera’s placement and the concomitant act of framing determine the organization of the image within a rectangular field as well as – for representational works – a particular orientation and position within diegetic space. With 360-degree video, the camera rig’s placement determines the organization of the image within a spherical rather than a rectangular field.17 (Here I am using “image” to refer to the visual field produced by stitching together recordings from a camera array, which is designed by the mediamakers, rather than employing it to refer to the more limited field of view presented at any particular moment on the screens installed within the headset, which is selected by the user from the realm of possibility provided by the larger field.) In photographic 360-degree video works, the vast majority of which offer three degrees of freedom, the placement of the camera rig thereby also determines the optical position from which the user accesses diegetic space, thus allowing mediamakers to control the relative size and proximity of diegetic objects, even though the user dictates the orientation of her view within that space.18

With VR works offering six degrees of freedom, the user has some control over the position as well as the orientation of her view onto diegetic space. Such works, however, still limit the position of that view to a particular area within which translational movement is possible, an area that is limited by the actual exhibition space of the VR work and that is mapped onto what is often only a portion of the diegetic environment depicted through the headset. (Such mapping usually translates actual to represented movement through space in a 1:1 manner, but researchers have developed means of manipulating virtual movement and architecture so that the user’s perceived movements through represented space diverge from her actual movements within the exhibition space.19) By designating such areas of action, most VR works offering six degrees of freedom still position the user’s view within a diegetic environment and organize the visual field by controlling the relative size and proximity of represented objects.

We can thus identify different forms of camera movement operational in VR. The user’s rotational and translational movements propel one form of represented movement, producing a shifting optical orientation and position within diegetic space through the mapping of the user’s actual movements (sometimes in conjunction with her use of a controller) onto a shifting view within the portrayed world. While the rotational movements can be understood to operate analogously to cinematic camera movements executed on a tripod – tilting, panning, and canting – the translational movements produce the illusion of movement through diegetic space, replete with motion parallax, in the manner of tracking shots. The camera that executes these rotational and translational movements is the virtual camera that selects what is presented in the field of view provided by the headset at any moment. Although this virtual camera is not a physical machine, it is an essential component of the mechanism underlying most applications of VR (those that use the headset to provide users a dynamic view of a virtual space), functioning to translate the virtual space of the image field into the actual view presented to the user.

The virtual-camera movements I’ve just described serve to correlate the user’s bodily motion with the dynamic field of view presented through the headset. But the virtual-camera movements propelled by the user’s bodily motion can be paired with other movements designed into the VR works themselves. This is most commonly the case in 3-DoF works that proffer a shifting visual position within represented space even as the user determines her visual orientation at that position. As American Cinematographer describes it, “With 3DoF, viewers are on a guided experience. They can look in any direction – 360 degrees around, as well as up and down – but they can’t move of their own accord. If the camera moves, the viewer moves with it, as if on ‘rails.’ It’s like experiencing the world from an amusement-park vehicle; the audience moves where the director puts them.”20 The shifting position of the virtual camera in such works can be produced by moving an actual camera rig during production, as in Dinner Party. But it need not be tied to the movement of an actual camera, and we thus find it in animated pieces such as Dear Lizzy (Chris Milk et. al., 2020).

Within industry discourse, such movement has been discouraged and described as difficult for both users and mediamakers. As the guidelines established by the VR Industry Forum explain, “If the viewer is stationary and the scene moves independently from the viewer there is a perceived disconnect between the viewer’s visual system and motion sensing system. This can lead to disorientation and in some cases nausea.”21 Moreover, the amount of rendering power needed to stitch together 360-degree views makes the use of additional special effects such as the erasure of dolly tracks especially demanding for mediamakers.22 But practitioners have also described this kind of camera movement as an important tool and outlined strategies for cutting down on its nausea-inducing potential. These include maintaining constant velocities and including stationary objects within the frame, such as a cockpit in the foreground or a fixed horizon in the distance.23

For VR works offering six degrees of freedom, it is less common for visual depictions of spatial movement to be separated from the user’s bodily movements. These works have been distinguished from 3-DoF works as “highly interactive” rather than “highly guided” experiences, with an “exploration objective” rather than a “storytelling objective.”24 Such works (including many VR video games) usually present the user with a stable diegetic world to navigate, and they tend to provide a static situation for the user’s area of movement within that world. It is, however, possible for such works to move the user’s area of action in relation to the surrounding diegesis. For instance, the 6-DoF VR film Dear Angelica (Saschka Unseld, 2017) makes it seem at one point as though the area within which the user moves rises up into the air; the user can still change the position and orientation of her view inside that area, but the film shifts where the area itself is positioned within the diegetic world. In such cases – as in instances of camera-rig movement in 360-degree videos offering three degrees of freedom – the dynamic image that the user encounters through the headset and the changing diegetic position that it indexes are the product of virtual-camera movements controlled collaboratively by the work and the user.

The alignment and tension between the various forms of movement operative in VR establish a relationship between the user and the image that is somewhat different from the relationship that obtains in conventional forms of cinema. Denson treats the use of 360-degree video as an example of post-cinematic discorrelation, claiming that the format “materially defies the suturing or direction of vision, discorrelating visual perspective from its instrumentalization in the service of narrative coherence and linearity.”25 Certainly the user’s control over the orientation (and sometimes to some extent the position) of her view within represented space defies the orchestration of looks associated with suture. Moreover, the real-time rendering necessary to map the VR user’s actual bodily movements onto virtual-camera movements reflects the processual nature and future-oriented temporality that Denson associates with digital imagery’s post-cinematic discorrelation from human scales. But it is difficult to ignore how the mapping of human motion onto depicted movement that is central to the design of most VR experiences simultaneously asserts another form of correlation. Although most works created for VR headsets do not dictate exactly what the user sees at any moment, they nevertheless use this mapping to align the user’s dynamic visual perception with the movement of a virtual camera.

The point can be sharpened with a comparison. Recent scholarship on camera movement in cinema has elaborated various ways in which the perspective of film viewers departs from that of the camera. Scholars such as Keating, Daniel Morgan, and Jordan Schonig have challenged the anthropomorphic account of the film camera that facilitates its conceptual alignment with the viewer, emphasizing the role that style and the formal dimensions of the frame play in shaping how viewers experience and make sense of the cinematic image.26 In addition, as Scott Richmond has elucidated, cinematic camera movements provide perceptual cues that can contradict viewers’ bodily experiences within the movie theater, producing visual cues that diverge from the viewers’ vestibular sense.27 What VR does in eliminating the rectangular film frame, by contrast, is to more closely align visual motion cues with the user’s bodily movements, mapping a virtual camera to the orientation and often also the position of the user’s head and in turn frequently mapping both to a coherent perspective on a depicted world. It might therefore be understood, in these ways at least, to correlate moving imagery to the human more closely than cinema does.

I do not make this point to suggest that VR – or cinema for that matter – should be understood to enact either correlation or discorrelation. It seems clear to me that these concepts are too historically variable (and dialectical) and operate along too many distinct axes to cleave neatly along a cinema/post-cinema break. Rather, I want to highlight how putting VR into conversation with scholarly discourses on cinematic cameras and camera movements reveals the complex and various ways in which the newer platform puts the user into contact with the moving image. By taking up and redefining the camera and its movements, establishing an interplay between user-initiated and work-initiated movements that emphasizes the multifaceted relationships among the points of view of the user, the virtual camera, and the characters, VR underscores the multiple and dynamic positions the beholder can be invited to occupy within and in relation to representation.

Dinner Party displays and capitalizes on this multiplicity, harnessing the various forms of camera movement afforded by 360-degree video to situate and resituate the user in relation to the Hills and their milieu. As the position from which the user views the depicted world descends toward the Hills’ home at the outset of the piece, the user is impelled to look down toward where she feels her feet and the floor are positioned within the exhibition space, producing something like a tilt down within represented space and resulting in a birds-eye view (or alien’s-eye view) of the Hills’ living/dining room. There are five people positioned within the room: two heterosexual couples are stationed at a buffet and on a couch, with a woman sitting alone across the room on a chair. As the position from which the user views this space continues its descent toward and into the living/dining room, it is impossible for the user to maneuver the field of view so that it incorporates all of these characters at once. Only one to two characters can now be seen within the same field of view, and the user needs to move her head to see the others. If she looks toward the couch as the position of her view nears human height, she notices that the woman who had been stationed there is gone. The user needs to swivel her head toward the right, producing something like a pan, in order to find that woman, who is now revealed to be chatting with the woman on the chair. If the user continues her pan around the room, she now finds that the man who had been situated at the buffet is no longer there either; his partner is now mixing a drink on her own. A continuation of a rightward panning movement shows that the buffet man has joined the other man at the couch. The effect is thus built out of two camera movements taking place at the same time: the descent driven by the film and the tilting and panning movements propelled by the motion of the user’s head.

As these movements occur, the user hears a woman tell a man that she cannot stop thinking of “that night.” Addressing the woman as “Betty,” the man responds by reminding her that “they’re all inside” and that dinner is ready and they don’t want to “burn the house down.” Initially it is impossible to discern whether it is one of the couples in the living/dining space that is having this conversation. But as the camera descends toward the room and thus into closer proximity to these characters, it becomes clear that the conversation is taking place elsewhere: no matter how the user orients her head, the conversation remains offscreen. Yet sounds soon emerge that can be located within the living/dining room: scratchy music that can be matched to the radio on the buffet, a conversation about a Yankees game that can be matched to the two men now situated at the couch, and a request to bum a cigarette that can be matched to the women now gathered at the chair. Each sound compels the user to move her head to find its origins. Through the shifting orientation produced by her head movements, the user thus partially determines what is revealed and what is concealed within the field of view. In doing so, the user also partially controls which sounds are onscreen and which are offscreen at any moment.

Amidst these goings on, Dinner Party sets the parameters for what can appear in the headset through the way in which it situates and moves the position from which the user is able to orient her view within the diegetic space. The shifting position of the virtual camera shapes the way the user comprehends and experiences this opening scene. The virtual camera’s descent initially proceeds in a straight line, centered around the middle of the room, with the key “regions of interest” – the buffet, the couch, and the chair (and the characters moving among them) – more or less evenly spaced around the room’s circumference.28 When the virtual camera’s height reaches the level at which we would expect to find the house’s roof, however, it begins moving along the x- and y-axes in addition to the z-axis. The virtual camera’s position moves across the dining table and toward the buffet even while it continues to descend. By the time the soundtrack presents the male guests discussing the Yankees game, the virtual camera’s level has reached about human height and its position begins moving back across the dining table and toward the chair and then the couch before reversing direction and heading toward the table again, ascending slightly. When the virtual camera approaches the dining table this time, we hear “Betty, grab that” from offscreen and the speed of the virtual camera’s movement picks up. If the field of view is oriented toward the door to the left of the buffet, it reveals an African American man entering the room with a platter of roast chicken, followed by a white woman with a salad. As these characters place the last components of the meal on the table and mention having had their first date at the Rockingham County Jail (to which one of the guests adds that they had been arrested at a sit-in), the user recognizes the host couple’s voices from the offscreen dialogue that began the piece.

Continuing its quickened pace, the virtual camera now moves away from and around the table. When Betty drops one of the plates she was laying at the table – an action that is visible if the field of view is oriented toward that character and audible no matter how the field of view is oriented – the virtual camera continues circumnavigating the table while descending in height to approach the spot near the end of the table where Betty crouches to pick up the pieces and Barney kneels to help her. This is when Betty announces that she is “telling them.” When Betty and Barney stand up and invite their guests to the table, the virtual camera rises to human height again. Betty retrieves a reel-to-reel tape recorder and carries it to the table. As Betty and Barney argue from opposite sides of the table and Betty begins to play a recording of a hypnosis session, their friends watching in stunned silence from the living-room area, the virtual camera – now situated just above the table – moves straight across its length, between Betty and Barney, and toward the window at the other end. At that point, there is a dissolve to a moving shot along a dark road, which begins the second segment of the piece.

Clip from Dinner Party

Dinner Party opening. This clip and the other clip included with this essay were captured with a virtual camera within an Oculus Quest headset. They thus impose a square frame - roughly aligned with how the field of view was oriented and moved at the time of capture - onto the piece.

At the time of Dinner Party’s release, its cinematographer Sam Gezari offered this advice for readers of American Cinematographer embarking on 360-degree and VR projects: “Trust that the perspective of your camera will inherently be a part of the story. Don’t try to disguise it with gimmicks and tricks.”29 His movement of the camera rig, which drives (much of) the shifting position of the virtual camera even as the user controls the virtual camera’s orientation, indeed participates significantly in Dinner Party’s storytelling. While the user-initiated rotational movements work to anthropomorphize the virtual camera and align the user with it, their intersection with these work-initiated translational movements highlights how, even in VR, camera movement does not simply facilitate the user’s immersion in the storyworld. Rather, it actively shapes representation and puts the user into a complex relation to what they see, thereby performing many of the functions that scholars have attributed to cinematic camera movements.

Works produced for VR often use the positioning and movement of the virtual camera to simulate the perspective of a character within the diegesis, an alignment that anthropomorphizes the camera and facilitates its correlation with the spectator. This strategy is associated not only with the video games and pornographic videos popular in VR, but also with 360-degree videos shown at film festivals, such as Home (Hsu Chih-Yen, 2019).30 The camera’s mobile position in Dinner Party, however, assertively diverges from the way the work’s characters inhabit the diegesis. Indeed, non-VR filmmakers have long explored incongruities between camera movement and character movement. As Keating observes, horror films in particular have harnessed camera movement’s difference from human movement to “produce an uncanny effect,” as when in The Cat and the Canary (Paul Leni, 1927) the camera’s inhuman movements invoke a potential ghostly haunting.31 In Dinner Party, the initial descent from the sky and the subsequent floating movements over and across the dining table produce a similar incongruity and a similarly uncanny effect. These are not movements that the humans in this 1960s suburban world could execute: the descending and floating movements instead invoke the idea of an alien presence within the humans’ quotidian space by simulating what can be read as an alien point of view within that space. They thus de-anthropomorphize the camera and roughen the user’s easy alignment with it even as she is controlling its orientation.

Moreover, the camera’s translational movements serve significant purposes beyond simulating the perspective of an observer, whether earthly or not. For one thing, these movements work to emphasize and deemphasize actions within the diegesis through the negotiation of proximity and distance. Toward the end of the opening scene, for instance, the piece emphasizes the exchange between Betty and Barney – and deemphasizes the guests – in part by moving the virtual camera into close proximity to the host couple. In this way, the virtual camera’s movement works in conjunction with sound cues, set design, and the blocking of actors to enact a play of revelation and concealment similar to that which Keating attributes to camera movement in cinema, but in this case without the availability of a conventional frame. In particular, this instance of virtual-camera movement falls in line with what Keating identifies as the form of “understatement” achieved by uses of the mobile camera in Hollywood in the 1940s-1950s – a practice that extended to certain instances of the widescreen filmmaking that was, like VR, reputed to downplay the frame in favor of immersion. Dinner Party cannot fully control what is displayed to the user at any moment since the user determines the orientation of the field of view, but it uses translational camera movements to open up what Keating – discussing a subtle camera movement in River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954) – describes as “an inclusive view onto a multifaceted storyworld.”32

Such movements also work to express ideas and emotions pertaining to the characters depicted. This becomes particularly clear in a pair of shots that are presented later in the piece. After the opening scene in which Betty begins playing the recording of a hypnosis session and the camera ends up moving toward the window, there is—as I have mentioned—a dissolve to a moving shot along a dark road. The camera is positioned here above the front hood of the Hills’ car as it travels down the road. If the user shifts the field of view toward the windshield, she sees Betty and Barney in the car as a pair of lights comes up behind them. Though Barney initially suggests that it must be people following them from the motel that had turned them away despite having empty rooms (implying racist motives), it becomes clear that the lights have come from a UFO when a fade to white and then a fade to black create a transition to a scene of Betty’s close encounter. As the recording of Betty’s hypnosis session plays on the soundtrack, the piece shows her in an impressionistic version of outer space in which it is revealed that the encounter is a positive, even ecstatic, experience for her. The scene transitions back to the Hills’ home when the pixelated spots of light that had created the otherworldly mise-en-scène of Betty’s encounter reconfigure into the outlines of the living/dining space. If the field of view is oriented toward Barney’s position within that space, the user sees the live-action image of Barney replace the pixels. Because the rest of the space remains pixelated, and because the other characters are no longer visible, the piece encourages the user to look in his direction. The soundtrack has Betty’s voice exclaim, “Wasn’t it beautiful, Barney?” and Barney respond, “Don’t say that. Don’t make us look crazy,” before the recording of his hypnosis session commences.

As Barney looks increasingly agitated, the virtual camera’s position moves away from him and back across the table, reversing the movement that had concluded the opening scene. If the field of view is still oriented toward Barney, the user sees him sucked out the window and hurled into the ether before a cut to a scene portraying his experience of encounter. If Betty’s experience was heavenly, Barney’s is hellish. We hear his voice on the hypnosis recording repeatedly shrieking, “Oh my god, I’m dying,” before a hard cut returns us to the Hills’ home. The pixelation is gone, and all elements of that space are rendered photographically again. But because the virtual-camera height matches Barney’s seated position at the table, and because all of the other characters stare at him (until the guests silently leave the house), the piece encourages the user to look in his direction again. As his face registers the realization that he has had this horrific experience, the virtual camera once again moves away from him across the table, mirroring the movement of the earlier shot. On the soundtrack the hypnotist asks, “What about Betty?” to which Barney’s recorded voice responds, “I don’t know, I’m not close to her.” As the virtual camera nears the end of the table opposite from Barney, Betty walks over to him but refrains from touching him and says, “I thought it would be the same for us.” The virtual camera continues to move away from Barney and Betty, who are now posed in a tableau of marital estrangement, and if the user is looking in their direction it becomes clear that the table is shaking before a cut to black indicates that the piece has ended.

Clip from Dinner Party

Dinner Party ending

If the virtual-camera movement that concludes the opening scene, traveling across the table and toward the window, functions to suggest an alien point of view within an otherwise unremarkable suburban space, the pair of virtual-camera movements that reverse this movement later in the film serve a different purpose. These instances of camera movement primarily work to convey Barney’s realization and alienation, despite the fact that the virtual camera does not share his optical perspective. They thus display the form of expressivity that Daniel Morgan attributes to cinematic camera movements, an expressivity that can suggest optical point of view but is not limited to that logic. Specifically, this pair of shots exemplifies what Morgan describes as “object-defined” camera movements, “shots that are organized by a point-of-view structure that the viewer experiences not as the expression of the character doing the looking but as that of the person or thing being looked at.”33 The mirrored moving shots in Dinner Party may evoke the perspective of an unseen alien presence, but the movement also – and more importantly for the work – expresses something about Barney’s situation.

As Morgan suggests, recognizing such expressivity means treating camera movement as an element of style that enables the spectator to imagine perceiving the world of the film from a variety of positions. As he explains, points of view “can be stacked within a given shot, and hence involve more than simply thinking about the position of the camera within the film’s world can explain.”34 He elaborates, “We are not necessarily, or even primarily, ‘at’ the viewpoint established by the camera, nor even at that of a character. Instead, we are able to simultaneously inhabit multiple positions within the world of the film. We see ‘imaginatively’ from these multiple positions, as if we could have the view of the world expressed through the position of an internal spectator.”35 As such, he contends, what matters is not, as with most ideas about point of view, “the fact of being shown something, and the position from which the showing takes place, but rather the construction of the shot itself, the manner of the showing.”36 VR’s elimination of the rectangular frame and its mapping of user movement may make it more difficult to notice how camera movement serves as more than just a means of positioning the user spatially within the diegesis. But the camera movements across the table in Dinner Party reveal how the manner of showing also matters for VR, allowing the user to access something of Barney’s subjectivity without requiring the user to share his optical perspective.

Considering the camera movements in Dinner Party as an element of style enables us to guard against thinking of them simply as a component of VR’s illusionism. It is the tendency to focus on this illusionism that makes it tempting to view the movements of the virtual camera – whether driven by the work or by the user’s head movements – as indices of the user’s own virtual movement through represented space. To be sure, the style of works made for a VR platform can and usually does support illusionism, but it can accomplish other things as well. As Jordan Schonig argues, the moving camera in cinema “instills a deep phenomenological uncertainty about the status of the moving image: does it offer an illusion of moving-in-the-world, or does it present an image of movement?”37 The latter is apparent when, for instance, in La région centrale (Michael Snow, 1971), “we see the horizon line independently rotate within the confines of the frame, almost as if a flat, static image is rotating immediately behind the frame.”38 VR’s elimination of the rectangular cinematic frame and its mapping of user movement might also seem to downplay its capacity to present such images of movement. But recognizing how VR’s virtual camera serves to organize representation and situate the user in relation to it – thus de-anthropomorphizing that camera and revealing the user’s complex and heterogeneous relation to it – allows us to recognize a similar phenomenological uncertainty operative in VR works as well.

When Dinner Party presents virtual camera movements back and forth across the Hills’ dining table, for example, it does not only confront the user with an illusion of alien-like movement in the diegetic living/dining space (the movement toward and away from Barney and Betty, who are stationed at the head of the table). It also proffers the equally uncanny experience of the movement of an imaged world (moving the characters and their immediate surroundings toward and away from the user, who likely feels her own body firmly planted in one place as well). At such a moment, the user toggles between sharing the point of view of an unseen alien observer aligned with the optical point of view of the virtual camera, experiencing the point of view of the characters in front of the virtual camera, and sensing her own actual point of view as the beholder of a work of representation whose movements are related to but also distinct from her own. While scholars often note how VR situates the user simultaneously in the actual and virtual worlds, this example reveals how the moving virtual camera does not merge those worlds (much less subordinate the actual to the virtual) so much as it compels the user to experience their shifting collation and calibration.

VR’s capacity to map user movement onto represented movement thus binds the user’s perception to that of the virtual camera in a certain way, and at certain moments, but it never fully conflates them. Through this mapping, the platform seems simultaneously to epitomize and to defy the form of positioning that apparatus theorists claimed aligned the film viewer’s look with that of the camera and the characters whose optical points of view it simulated (and it hence also appears both to epitomize and to defy the notion of correlation that Denson, drawing on this body of film theory, attributes to cinema).39 These ambivalences are related to the capaciousness of point of view as a concept that ties vision to both the designation of a spatial position and a more abstract idea of subjectivity.40 This concept provided a means by which apparatus theorists drew connections between the spaces of cinematic exhibition and representation and between cinematic spatiality and a more expansive (at once physical, psychic, and social) notion of subject positioning. In binding the user’s view to that of the virtual camera while also compelling her to experience the shifting relations among actual and virtual spaces, camera movement in VR simultaneously signals the importance of optical point of view to deployments of the platform and underscores how that point of view can diverge from the constitution of subjectivity that apparatus theorists attributed to it more unproblematically. Particularly in works like Dinner Party that harness the friction between user-initiated and work-initiated movements, VR offers new ways of experimenting with the multiplication and fracturing of points of view. As I have discussed, such works use the moving virtual camera to highlight the interplay and distinction between the virtual and actual spatial positions that the user occupies simultaneously. In doing so, these works also use the moving virtual camera to establish the alignment and disjuncture between optical positioning and other components of subjectivity ranging from the bodily senses of motion and stasis to feelings such as fear and regret.

Such experimentation with point of view has implications for how we understand the social and political work accomplished through the spatial organization of the moving image and the positioning of the beholder in relation to it. Scholars working in apparatus theory’s wake pushed back against the idea that actual – socially positioned and differentiated – viewers easily inhabit the subject positions (and adopt the ideologies) proffered by mainstream films. Feminist scholars exploring so-called women’s genres such as the maternal melodrama and the soap opera, for instance, emphasized how these forms invite their intended female viewers to inhabit multiple points of view by identifying with a range of characters and positions within the storyworld – a tactic that these scholars considered less an encouragement to submit naively to the patriarchal ideologies that such works often convey than an invitation to recognize the complex social dynamics underlying them.41 Scholars examining racial difference in Hollywood cinema (sometimes from a feminist perspective that critiqued the assumed whiteness of much feminist film theory) likewise responded to apparatus theory by emphasizing the complexity of identification for viewers whose social positioning diverges from the whiteness anticipated in that cinema’s address – though, as James Snead made clear in his analysis of King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933), the prospect of multiple and fluid identification should not necessarily be regarded as subversive of either patriarchy or white supremacy.42

More recent work on gender, race, and sexuality in cinema has often moved away from the focus on subject positioning, and the concepts of point of view and identification associated with it, to explore cinema’s role in culture with more nuance. Such work has been important in illuminating the social and political complexities of cinema, including its culturally located uses and pleasures, in a way that the semiotically and psychoanalytically rooted ideological critique promoted by apparatus theory was incapable of doing. Especially notable is the growing effort in work on Black film and media to examine how Black viewers’ cultural experiences and forms of knowledge interact with the formal construction of films and related media texts, particularly given the way in which, in Jacqueline Stewart’s words, “classical practices sought to homogenize ethnically diverse but ‘white’ spectators, while marginalizing Black spectators from the realm of cinematic ‘universality.’”43 This body of scholarship offers tools for analyzing Black images and Black spectatorship in a way that gets beyond positive/negative or progressive/regressive binaries, instead addressing how film and related media participate in constructions of Blackness and provide complex pleasures for Black viewers. As Stewart explains, with respect to the 1910s and the “classical/segregationist decades” that ensued, “Black spectatorship did not revolve entirely around expectations or experiences of complete ‘identification,’ uninterrupted narrative engagement, or visual mastery, cornerstones of classical practices and psychoanalytic film theory. Instead, it may be more useful to regard the cinema as a stage for modernist Black performance, and as a field for the continuous interpretation of the Black subject’s highly contested public roles, rights, and responsibilities.”44 Addressing the contemporary notion of Black film and media, Racquel Gates and Michael Boyce Gillespie similarly emphasize such contestation and continuous interpretation in contending that a “text focused on the black image requires the devising of something other than an identitarian absolute, for each creative work tacitly details a discursive conceit and set of aesthetic choices that represent speculations and remediations of history and culture.”45

This framework can help make sense of how Dinner Party puts VR’s capacity to multiply and stack points of view in service of its exploration of racial difference. Describing his use of VR for Dinner Party, director Angel Manuel Soto told Variety, “I thought this was a cool way to put people in a place to experience ideas about race and privilege.” Soto, who is Puerto Rican, elaborated, “With VR, you can’t look away. You see that many of the experiences of [the Hills’] abduction are influenced by race. I wanted people to understand what it means to be brown in America.”46 This focus may seem to fall in line with more widespread efforts to treat VR as an “empathy machine,” and thus to employ the platform to provide privileged beholders (those with access to expensive VR equipment and/or the museums and festivals where such work is often exhibited) with supposed access to the experience of marginalized individuals and communities – an effort that has been forcefully critiqued as spurious.47 However, it is significant that Soto does not attempt to convey what it is like to be “brown in America” by presenting a coherent or stable point of view for the user to adopt. By instead employing the moving virtual camera to stack points of view, expressing Barney’s feelings but also providing the perspective of an alien visitor and emphasizing the user’s own subjectivity, Soto refuses to proffer the kind of unified subject position that threatens to elide social complexity and obscure the user’s own relation to it. Soto’s use of the platform thereby integrates the moving virtual camera and its establishment of points of view into the aesthetic toolbox that, in certain ways, enables this image of Blackness to represent the kind of “speculations and remediations of history and culture” that Gates and Gillespie identify.

I say “in certain ways” advisedly. Insofar as it submits Barney and Betty Hill to both abduction and hypnosis, Dinner Party thematizes forms of physical and psychic control that emphasize these characters’ lack of agency (reflecting forms of control that have also been attributed to cinema). In doing so, it reiterates some of the messages also seen in earlier accounts of the Hills’ story, especially through the depiction of Barney as the one person of color in this otherwise white milieu. For one thing, it recycles – without really addressing – the tendency within post-World War II Hollywood films marrying science fiction and horror to manifest white anxieties about racial difference through the depiction of extraterrestrial alien invasions.49 Like its predecessors, John G. Fuller’s book The Interrupted Journey (1966) and the made-for-TV film The UFO Incident (Richard Colla, 1975), Dinner Party frames the recognition of racial difference as Barney’s pathology – a painful experience aligned with alien abduction that hypnosis by a benevolent white authority figure may unveil and potentially relieve (as opposed, for instance, to identifying racism as a social pathology that can only be addressed through the dismantling of white supremacy). In this way, the series of portrayals of the Hills’ story also recycles conventions of Hollywood’s post-World War II racial problem films, which presented what Ellen Scott describes as “incomplete, ideologically fractured messages about race relations and integration,” raising what Michele Wallace identifies as “the question of how the increasing prominence of a psychiatric and/or psychoanalytic discourse impacted on the definitions and criteria of ‘race’ as a national ‘problem’ within dominant film practices.”48 Despite the dialogue’s passing acknowledgment of the antiracist activism that the actual Barney Hill was reportedly committedly involved in, and despite Malcolm Barrett’s expressive performance as Barney, Dinner Party does not engage as meaningfully with Black culture or agency as it surely could. Instead it hews fairly closely to its predecessors in presenting this character’s Blackness through the perspective of white discourses (including those of Hollywood cinema as well as psychiatry).50

But at the same time that it recycles representational tropes from Hollywood cinema, Dinner Party diverges from the mode of spatial construction and spectatorial address that this cinema codified. By harnessing the moving virtual camera and the capacity of 360-degree video to multiply and stack points of view, Soto’s piece invites the user into a different kind of relationship to the characters and world it represents. The work neither submits the user to a unified point of view in the way apparatus theory would have it nor gives her unfettered agency within the represented world as early utopian discourses on VR suggested. Rather, in a way that recalls the scholarly responses to apparatus theory’s ideas about subject positioning, it proffers a range of perspectives on the Hills’ experience in Civil-Rights-era New England, which may be encountered in different ways by different users depending on their own experience and cultural knowledge. By employing the moving virtual camera to situate the user as both an insider and an outsider to that milieu – upsetting its coherence and emphasizing her own relation to it – the piece does not simply harness this element of style to immerse the user in an ideologically loaded represented space. It also remediates earlier modes of representing such space, inviting the user to recognize something of the social complexity that those modes of representation, and this space, belie.


  1. This dinner-party scenario is notably absent from previous prominent tellings of the Hills’ story, John G. Fuller’s bestselling book, The Interrupted Journey (New York: Dial Press, 1966), and the made-for-TV film starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons, The UFO Incident (Richard Colla, 1975). [^]
  2. Foundational scholarly work includes Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999); Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001); Oliver Grau, Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003); and Mark Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). More recent accounts include Andrea Pinotti, “Towards An-Iconology: The Image as Environment,” Screen 61, no. 4 (Winter 2020): 594–603; and Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre, Reality Media: Augmented and Virtual Reality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021). [^]
  3. Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 5, 157. [^]
  4. See for instance Brooke Belisle and Paul Roquet, eds., “Virtual Reality: Immersion and Empathy,” special issue, Journal of Visual Culture 19, no. 1 (2020); and Richard Misek, “‘Real-time’ Virtual Reality and the Limits of Immersion,” Screen 61, no. 4 (Winter 2020): 615–624. [^]
  5. Patrick Keating, The Dynamic Frame: Camera Movement in Classical Hollywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 8. [^]
  6. See Friedberg, The Virtual Window, 83. For the argument that cinema diverged from the fixed frame of painting and theatre, also see André Bazin, What Is Cinema? vol. 1, ed. and trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 104–107, 165–166. [^]
  7. Michael Mansouri, quoted in Noah Kadner, “Surveying the Virtual World,” American Cinematographer, March 2017, 62. [^]
  8. Jay Holben, “Deep Focus: Virtual Reality,” American Cinematographer, August 2018, 18. [^]
  9. On the idea of the camera and its movements, see especially David Bordwell, “Camera Movement and Cinematic Space,” Ciné-Tracts 1, no. 2 (Summer 1977): 19–25; Vivian Sobchack, “Toward Inhabited Space: The Semiotic Structure of Camera Movement in the Cinema,” Semiotica 41–1/4 (1982): 317–335; Edward Branigan, Projecting a Camera: Language-Games in Film Theory (New York: Routledge, 2006); Ryan Pierson, “Whole-Screen Metamorphosis and the Imagined Camera (Notes on Perspectival Movement in Animation),” animation 10, no. 1 (2015): 6–21; Keating, The Dynamic Frame; Daniel Morgan, The Lure of the Image: Epistemic Fantasies of the Moving Camera (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2021); and Jordan Schonig, The Shape of Motion: Cinema and the Aesthetics of Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022). [^]
  10. This point recalls Edward Branigan’s contention that the camera is “a label we as viewers apply to certain spatial effects of the text,” but I mean to highlight how cameras also mediate the spaces of production and exhibition. Edward Branigan, Point of View in the Cinema: A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical Film (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1984), 53. [^]
  11. This capacity for spatiotemporal translation makes cameras, together with projectors, key technologies of modernity. On the spatiotemporal mediations accomplished by cinema, see especially Mary Ann Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); and Mary Ann Doane, Bigger Than Life: The Close-Up and Scale in Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021). [^]
  12. Bordwell, “Camera Movement and Cinematic Space,” 23. [^]
  13. See especially Stephen Heath, “Narrative Space,” in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, ed. Philip Rosen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 379–420. [^]
  14. Shane Denson, Discorrelated Images (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 9. [^]
  15. Industry discourse also emphasizes the viability of 3DoF+ experiences that offer the possibility of limited translational movements. See for instance Ozgur Oyman, et. al., “Virtual Reality Industry Forum’s View on State of the Immersive Media Industry,” SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal 128, no. 8 (September 2019): 92–93. [^]
  16. Misek, “‘Real-time’ Virtual Reality and the Limits of Immersion,” 624. [^]
  17. On the spherical field provided by VR, see Noah Kadner, “Triumph in 360,” American Cinematographer, May 2019, 61. [^]
  18. On camera placement in 360-degree video, see Philip Lelyveld, “Virtual Reality Primer with an Emphasis on Camera-Captured VR,” SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal 124, no. 6 (September 2015): 82–83; Noah Kadner, “Surveying the Virtual World,” American Cinematographer, March 2017, 62; and Jay Holben, “Deep Focus: Virtual Reality,” American Cinematographer, August 2018, 19. For discussion of a 360-degree camera rig and software system proffering six degrees of freedom (though it may be more accurately described as 3DoF+), see Jayant Thatte and Bernd Girod, “Real-World Virtual Reality with Head-Motion Parallax,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, July/August 2021, 29–39. [^]
  19. See Neils Christian Nilsson, et. al., “15 Years of Research on Redirected Walking in Immersive Virtual Environments,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, March/April 2018, 44–56. [^]
  20. Holben, “Deep Focus,” 18. [^]
  21. VR Industry Forum Guidelines, version 1.1, May 11, 2018, 12, https://www.vr-if.org/wp-content/uploads/vrif2018.018.09-clean.pdf (accessed Feb. 10, 2023). [^]
  22. See Kadner, “Surveying the Virtual World,” 61–62; and Jay Holben, “Pro Perspective: Sam Gezari: 360 Degrees, Infinite Potential,” American Cinematographer, August 2018, 20. [^]
  23. See Lelyved, “Virtual Reality Primer,” 83; Noah Kadner, “Being There,” American Cinematographer, Oct. 2016, 57; and Holben, “Deep Focus,” 22. [^]
  24. Greg Downing, quoted in Holben, “Deep Focus,” 18; Pierre H. Routhier, “The Immersive Experience Classification System: A New Strategic Decision-Making Tool for Content Creators,” SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal 127, no. 10 (November-December 2018): 5–6. [^]
  25. Denson, Discorrelated Images, 151. [^]
  26. Keating, The Dynamic Frame, 8; Morgan, The Lure of the Image, 5; Schonig, The Shape of Motion, 12–13. [^]
  27. Scott C. Richmond, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions: Flying, Floating, and Hallucinating (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 134–135. [^]
  28. On regions of interest in 360-degree video, see Belen Masia, et. al., “Influence of Directional Sound Cues on Users’ Exploration Across 360° Movie Cuts,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, July/August 2021, 65. [^]
  29. Sam Gezari, quoted in Holben, “Pro Perspective: Sam Gezari,” 20. [^]
  30. See Miriam Ross, “From the Material to the Virtual: The Pornographic Body in Stereoscopic Photography, 3D Cinema and Virtual Reality,” Screen 60, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 563–564. [^]
  31. Keating, The Dynamic Frame, 44. On camera movement and identification in horror films, also see Adam Charles Hart, “Killer POV: First-Person Camera and Sympathetic Identification in Modern Horror,” Imaginations 9, no. 1 (2018): 69–86. [^]
  32. Keating, The Dynamic Frame, 270. [^]
  33. Morgan, The Lure of the Image, 92. [^]
  34. Morgan, The Lure of the Image, 68. On the way this argument responds to Denson’s ideas about correlation and discorrelation, see pp. 16–17. [^]
  35. Morgan, The Lure of the Image, 81, emphasis in original. [^]
  36. Morgan, The Lure of the Image, 81. [^]
  37. Schonig, The Shape of Motion, 101. [^]
  38. Schonig, The Shape of Motion, 116. [^]
  39. In addition to Stephen Heath, cited above, see in particular Jean-Louis Baudry, “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus,” in Rosen, ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, 295; Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 49–52; and Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Rosen, ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, 208–209. [^]
  40. See Branigan, Point of View in the Cinema; and Francesco Casetti, Inside the Gaze: The Fiction Film and Its Spectator, trans. Nell Andrew with Charles O’Brien (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 66–71. [^]
  41. See for instance Tania Modleski, “The Search for Tomorrow in Today’s Soap Operas: Notes on a Feminine Narrative Form,” Film Quarterly 33, no. 1 (Autumn 1979): 12–21; and Linda Williams, “‘Something Else Besides a Mother’: ‘Stella Dallas’ and the Maternal Melodrama,” Cinema Journal 24, no. 1 (Autumn 1984): 2–27. [^]
  42. See for instance Manthia Diawara, “Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance,” Screen 29, no. 4 (Autumn 1988): 66–79; bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze,” Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 115–131; Michele Wallace, “Race, Gender and Psychoanalysis in Forties Film: Lost Boundaries, Home of the Brave and The Quiet One,” in Black American Cinema, ed. Manthia Diawara (New York: Routledge, 1993), 257–271; and James A. Snead, White Screens/Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side, ed. Colin McCabe and Cornel West (New York: Routledge, 1994), 1–27. [^]
  43. Jacqueline Stewart, Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 110. [^]
  44. Stewart, Migrating to the Movies, 113. [^]
  45. Racquel Gates and Michael Boyce Gillespie, introduction to “Dossier: Dimensions in Black: Perspectives on Black Film and Media,” Film Quarterly 71, no. 2 (2017): 10. Also see especially Kara Keeling, The Witch’s Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme, and the Image of Common Sense (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Miriam J. Petty, Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016); Michael Boyce Gillespie, Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); and Racquel J. Gates, Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). [^]
  46. Angel Manuel Soto, quoted in Karen Idelson, “Pair of Filmmakers Take Virtual Reality Storytelling to New Places,” Variety, May 9, 2018, https://variety.com/2018/artisans/production/vr-storytelling-1202803741 (accessed Feb. 10, 2023). [^]
  47. See for instance Kate Nash, “Virtual Reality Witness: Exploring the Ethics of Mediated Presence,” Studies in Documentary Film 12, no. 2 (2018): 119–131; and Lisa Nakamura, “Feeling Good About Feeling Bad: Virtuous Virtual Reality and the Automation of Racial Empathy,” Journal of Visual Culture 19, no. 1 (April 2020): 47–64. [^]
  48. Ellen C. Scott, Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 9; Wallace, “Race, Gender and Psychoanalysis in Forties Film,” 268. [^]
  49. See Eric Avila, “Dark City: White Flight and the Urban Science Fiction Film in Postwar America,” in Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader, ed. Sean Redmond (New York: Wallflower, 2004), 88-97; and Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire: A History of Black American Horror from the 1890s to Present, 2nd edition (New York: Routledge, 2023), 111-122. [^]
  50. My thanks to Miriam Petty for helping me clarify this point. [^]