The prop names a category of ubiquity: props are everywhere in cinema. The term, short for property, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘any portable object (now usually
The prop names a category of ubiquity: props are everywhere in cinema. The term, short for property, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘any portable object (now usually other than an article of costume) used in a play, film, etc., as required by the action’. The straightforwardness of this definition, however, belies the strangeness of the prop. The prop begs questions of scale, ambience, contingency, commodification, objecthood, and narration. In the context of narrative cinema, props seem as necessary as actors, sets, and locations. Regarding cinema through the lens of the prop — which is the lens of property — helps us to see how an ontological instrumentality courses through the very nature of the cinematic medium. This talk, which will veer from theory to history to questions of close reading, emerges from Rhodes’s recent book on domestic architecture and cinema, Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film (2017). It will show how foregrounding cinema’s prop-ness summons into view some of the medium’s most curious and most unsettling features.
John David Rhodes is the author and editor of six books, including Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film (2017), Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome (2007), and Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (2011). He is the Director of the Centre for Film and Screen at the University of Cambridge where he is Reader in Film Studies and Visual Culture. He is a fellow of Corpus Christi College and a founding editor of the journal World Picture.
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