Animating Film Theory begins from the premise that cinema and media
studies in the early twenty- first century needs a better understanding of
the relationship between two of the field’s most unwieldy and unstable
organizing concepts: “animation” and “film theory.”1 As the increas-
ingly digital nature of cinema now forces animation to the forefront
of our conversations, it becomes ever clearer that for film theorists, it
has really never made sense to ignore animation. Tom Gunning has re-
cently described the marginalization of animation as “one of the great
scandals of film theory.”2 Marginalization, of course, is not the same
as total neglect; and in order to respond productively to this apparent
scandal, we need to consider both where and when this marginalization
has happened in the history of film theory, and where and when it hasn’t
happened.
Flipping through the available film theory anthologies, one could
easily assume that film theorists have utterly neglected the topic of ani-
mation.3 Yet as both Suzanne Buchan and Oliver Gaycken point out in
their contributions to this volume, animation has been a sustained if
dispersed area of interest for a surprisingly substantial and prominent
list of authors. Part of the fragmentary nature of film theorists’ engage-
ment with the term may stem from the fact that animation signifies in
so many different ways. At different moments, it becomes synonymous
with a whole range of much more specific terms and concepts, includ-
ing movement, life itself, a quality of liveliness (that doesn’t necessarily
involve movement), spirit, nonwhiteness, frame- by-frame filmmaking pro-
cesses, variable frame filmmaking processes, and digital cinema, as well as
a range of mobilized media that appear within animated films, includ-
ing sculpture, drawing, collage, painting, and puppetry. These divergent
terms do not always sit easily with each other, and though the tensions
Animating Film Theory: An Introduction
karen beckman
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