The Cinematic Imagination

Antonio Marquez –The Cinematic Imagination in Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”

Film techniques have swept into the realms of novels, “revolutionizing” writing and the writer’s craft. Antonio Marquez points out that in 1922 Ulysses spawned the age of using cinematic imagination to convey the liveliness of film into writing. The novel itself is highly cinematic, written to feel like individual scenes and episodes, but of course it also includes the “wacky pastiche of familiar films,” an effort that makes it quite popular amongst cinephiles (Marquez 166). Marquez then moves on to describe the 20th century invention of film as a cultural force and phenomenon, and also that its technological aspects have the power to influence popular culture–it is the “confluence of science and art” (167). With this in mind, he presents his thesis: 1) cinema as psychological/ cultural influence on modern thought and behavior, 2) cinema as technological invention and extension of technologique, are the components of what he calls “cinematic imagination” and the “thematic thrust” of GR (168).

Concerned with the psychology of film, Marquez makes interesting distinctions, mostly pointing straight to the language of the text and how it relies on film terms to spread its message. Cinematic experience affects people subconsciously, and Pynchon alludes to such in the very first pages, as Pirate Prentice’s dream comes to him like an image in a view finder (168). Similarly, Pynchon directly references the act of going to the movie theater, and Marquez draws from this that looking up at a movie screen, in isolation, in the darkness, collectively amongst strangers, is indicative of the cultural phenomenon and the depth film’s effect has on modern consciousness (170). The argument adds that Pynchon treats film very much like Plato did the cave.

Pökler seemingly becomes the representative of mass movie-going culture, because of his vicariousness in living those movies out. And as he breaks down, Pökler confuses reality with movies, because he’s singularly focused on cinematic interpretation. Later in the article, Osbie Feel is labeled as a “film-freak,” who references about five films in one sentence. Osbie is a bit different from Pökler’s episodes, though, as his scenes are embedded alongside Katje’s S&M films—Marquez ascribes this to be part of “the gigantic puzzle” of GR (178). Then he qualifies this with the point that Pynchon uses cinema as a point of reference: “both the serious and comic passages are interspersed and enveloped by cinema chatter and film-making” (178).

Importantly, Marquez seems to draw both from Plato’s cave and these strange characters and films that scientific methods of control have been applied to films. Then he asserts, perhaps boldly, that film is “separate frames manipulated rapidly to create movement, continuity, coherence, and meaning. It is all illusion” (172). He follows up with, “Pynchon is dramatizing in a novelistic framework a phenomenon which has preoccupied film and cultural historians: the films of a nation shape and reflect its mentality” (174). He spends a great deal of time discussing particular German films, Metropolis and Die Frau im Mond, by Fritz Lang, both of which Pökler claims to have seen. Like Alpdrucken inspired Pöklerand his generation, Marquez/ Pynchon suggest that Metropolis inspired the Germans’ “lust for power and glorious dreams of a technologique fused with romanticism” (173). Then, acting as film-historian, he points out two mind-blowing facts: Hitler and Goebbels praised Metropolis and took inspiration from it, and the first A-4 rocket was inscribed with “Die Frau im Mond” (“The Girl on the Moon”) (174). It’s no accident these two films are referenced in GR. And a third mind-blowing historical fact is that the director, Fritz Lang, was a leftist and a Jew (173).

The article closes out by jumping to the end, a point in the novel that seems to “turn the lights on” in the theater and for the reader. It comes abruptly to an end. From his conclusion, Marquez keeps the door open for multiple interpretations—Pynchon’s “film-novel…oddly spliced gigantic cartoon/newsreel of a period of modern history,” can be 1) a novelistic invention or, 2) a literary sham (179). It’s certain that he believes the former, but Marquez realizes the risks of Pynchon’s novel and its movie-like qualities, because it is incredibly weird, wacky, and pastiche at times.

I found Marquez provided an interesting and surprisingly succinct argument about the cinematic imagination. I’d never heard or used that term before, but reading his article convinced me that Pynchon was quite deliberate and dedicated to writing this novel like a movie. Don’t we call each section or chapter “episodes” after all? My personal interests are very much rooted in the sensational, particularly visual, elements, and so reading about how particular characters sort of embody both the filmmaker and filmgoer role enlightened me a bit. I’m attracted to the visual absurdity—strong images of Slothrop climbing down toilets, wearing pig costumes, Katje, Gottfried, and Blicero’s S&M party, chimpanzees and naked girls on ships—these are connected in some ways to films and movies and the culture that created those phenomena. It seems obvious in hindsight, but having a critic point out that the rapid transitions between times/ spaces/ people reflects strongly of a film reel cutting to a different scene, then back to the initial one. Reading Pynchon is strongly reminiscent of film-viewing, as it cuts between things in a flash. Sometimes events and objects are blurry, sometimes they flicker, and sometimes it’s hard to recognize what’s happening.

Additionally, I’d recommend Marquez to anybody really interested in film, film history, and cultural forces. He’s quite detailed in describing cinema as a response and product of society, and his analysis of Fritz Lang’s films in the middle of the article seemed really spot-on to me.

Works Cited

Marquez, Antonio, “The Cinematic Imagination in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow,” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 33.4 (Autumn 1979): 165-179.


About Steph Roman

2015 University of Pittsburgh grad with majors in nonfiction writing and English literature. Formerly of the Pitt News and PublicSource. I like games and nerd culture in general.
This entry was posted in Gravity's Rainbow, Reading Response and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Cinematic Imagination

  1. moniquebriones2014 says:

    “Hitler and Goebbels praised Metropolis and took inspiration from it, and the first A-4 rocket was inscribed with “Die Frau im Mond” (“The Girl on the Moon”) (174).”

    Mind-blowing, indeed. I remember reading the exact part in GR where it mentions that Hitler and Goebbels loved Metropolis, which (outside of it just being plain historical fact) made me question Pynchon’s own usage of this fact. I honestly could have a million or zero ideas on why Metropolis fits into GR. It’s a dystopian sci-fi film with a clearly defined Preterite/Elect class structure, for one, made up of the underground workers and the rich industrialists.

    I also think it’s interesting how you and Marquez see Pökler as “the representative of mass movie-going culture,” since I think there are a few parallels between him and the director Fritz Lang as well (which I think adds to the point made about film being a product of and influence in popular culture).

    Pökler is given the job by the Nazis to make the plastic for the 00000; Lang was asked by Goebbels to be the head of the Third Reich’s major film studio (which he declined and ran away, as one should when talking to Goebbels). Metropolis was written by both Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou; von Harbou became a big fan of the Nazi Party in 1933, and the marriage ended the following year (Franz being Jewish was kind of a deal-breaker). Pökler and his wife Leni seemed to have separated or at least have lost feelings for each other after Ilse’s birth (I could stretch the comparison between Metropolis and a child as “masterpieces” that were created by two people), and Leni’s affair with Peter Sachsa (from the Allies) seems to be a similar betrayal as von Harbou’s was to Lang by siding with “the enemy.”

    This was a great post, Steph! The sort of double-language between film and literature at work in GR is a really interesting concept.

    • Steph Roman says:

      That additional insight really fleshes out my ideas. Thanks for that. I would have never thought to look at Pökler and Lang as similar or paralleled but that seems like a really obvious and potentially important connection. I do believe Marquez points out the relationship of Goebbels to Lang, but the part about Lang’s wife was news to me. Very cool.

  2. cjc127 says:

    This is a great post, it got me thinking about the effect movies have on audiences and the power they have to convey a message. Movies can be thought of as a way of capturing a story or even history in effort to share a deeper meaning to the reality of the audience. I’m curious to see the final message that Pynchon brings out. I think the detailed descriptions of every moment make an effort to portray a cinematic image of the event, yet they can be overwhelming and sometimes unapproachable. Thinking of GR as a movie form also makes the scenes about movie more complex. What I have in mind is Margarita in film influencing Bianca’s conception. The effect Margaritas film had could show meaning to the effect Pynchon’s “movie” of GR is supposed to have on the audience.

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