Staircase to Cinema


>The Cosby Show season 2 episode 3 Happy Anniversary<

Short Summary:

The staircase is a classic trope of cinema and TV. I’m collecting found footage of staircase scenes to investigate the deeper philosophical implications of what this structure means for us in terms of our experience of time and space. As the power of the filmic staircase resides on the collective history of various films and a collection of film audiences over time, it’s only fitting that we collectively source and build a staircase scene data-base. Please help me find great staircase scenes from movies and TV! (I have a googledoc list of films we can add to and check off + technical details of ripping from youtube, DVDs and where to dropbox will be sent if you sign on) I’m particularly interested in WOMEN on staircases, yet I want everything you can find! Although, this will be used in an appropriation video, Staircase to Cinema, complimenting a video installation of my original staircase footage for my upcoming thesis exhibition, Instances Instantiate, I hope to use our efforts for a group show we can all participate in. After graduating in June, I will ask for proposals of what you plan to do with the footage evincing your position on the staircase motif, and will submit it to galleries as a group exhibition proposal.


>DEADLINE: MAY 3rd. Should you chose to accept the challenge the race to uncover all the hidden stairs of youtube and netflix starts now!! Please upload as you find footage and submit all final files by midnight on Friday May 3rd.


>What you get: Not only an opportunity to exhibit your work, but netflix and hulu plus passwords if you don’t have an account already! Credit in the Staircase to Cinema, video and Instances Instantiate thesis catalog publication. As well as the excitement of being a part of what could be the next epic art movement- deconstructing structuralism (not post-structuralism, see below), this could be the Christian Marclay Clock of tomorrow. 🙂


(longer) Theoretical Manifesto:

In post Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase culture, from glamorous women descending a staircases to Rocky Balboa ascending the steps in his training montage, the staircase is irrevocably a classic trope of cinema and television. Much like Christian Marclay’s clock, wherein the image not only represents time, but actual time is experienced, the embedded staircase within the frame is not merely a representation of spatio-temporal movement, but it is phenomenologically an instance of moving through space and time both as a perceiving spectator and via identification with the subject’s POV and overall embodied experience.


Not unlike our native experience of space, the formal frame of filmic media is a neutral instance of space. Yet the system of arranging objects within the frame gives a sense of delineated, contextual and hierarchical space. The staircase functions as a way for the subject and the audience to locate oneself in space. Herein, the narrative becomes simultaneously one of movement in space. When the subject appears at the top of the stairs we have an implication of the “out of frame”, often moving from the private space of “upstairs” to the more public space of “downstairs”. Implicit in the out-of-frame is what lies beyond the subjective “world viewed”. It’s as if the character is ascending from the heavens generating a mythical, ethereal presence. The body becomes an apparition, a vision of the meta-physical self. In this classical scene, the filmic audience, positioned at the bottom of the stairs waits in anticipation to be awe-struck and mesmerized by the almost sculptural iconic female form to emerge into physical space and into perceiving consciousness. The figure (or staircase walker) appears displaying willingness to participate in the system, presenting oneself to be looked at. The stair walker looks for recognition, validation and ultimately knowing of the self through the expressions of the perceiving staircase audience. The body on display is flattened as an image (by the on screen spectators and the film medium itself) to be looked at admired and revered as an archetype of the feminine form, of the meta-physical, etc. both by the audience within the frame and the audience of the film. Three perspectives are simultaneously layered onto eachother- the vantage point of the person descending the stairs, gleaming with an “I have arrived” visage, the witnesses of the descending movement and the gaze of the film’s audience. This intersubjective perceptual network is analogous to our experience as mediated by mirrors, media and memory. A simultaneous seeing from within the self, seeing the self from an outside perspective and connecting with “the other”. The staircase can be seen as the intermediary, the interstice, the interlocutor of this immanent phenomenological space in-between the self and the other. Filmic space is not just an image or representation of space it is actual, measurable space. Therefore the staircase not only bridges discreet spaces: real, filmic, imagined but mediates ontological modalities: various instances of self and other.


The staircase not only serves as a spatial locative device, but it positions moments in time – creating continuity between otherwise identical temporal instances. Inherently, each now, each second of time, is the same. Seconds/moments are inherently neutral, inactive and homogenous. Yet, the differentiations and subsequent meaning we ascribe to each moment generates a sensation of linear temporal progression– or in the cinematic sense, narrative. Each moment (instantiated by each discreet foot-step and each individual staircase-step) is the same, yet, we perceive a spatio-temporal variation in the comparison of each frame to the last– i.e. moving upstairs or downstairs. Again, this filmic perceiving is analogous to the way in which one creates a continuity between each moment of existence. Comparing each moment to the last, we activate neutral instances of time, creating a progressive experience, a life story. With the case of the cinematic staircase motif, climbing a staircase displays effort, this is usually a mid-plot catalyst to drive the story forward into it’s peak climatic moment. When a character descends the stairs, we are placed at the beginning of a story, introducing the character, or in the finale, showcasing the character’s ultimate transformation. Cinematic history includes a varied lexicon of this canonical staircase gesture. From couples on staircases (Gone with the Wind), to musical choreographic devices (Marilyn Monroe Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend), creeping predators (Nosferatu) and how can we forget the possessed spider-walk of the Exorcist (?!), the staircase is mailable in it’s ability to transform formal spatial and temporal elements as well as drive narrativized meaning. The staircase also has psychological, subconscious and transcendental implications as evinced in nearly all of Hitchcock’s films, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and more recently, Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides.


The birth of montage, a filmic strategy for generating meaning between disparate frames, began with Eisentstein’s famous staircase scene in Battleship Potempkin. Herein, I would like to respond to this paradigm by using the essential meaning creation device of montage to deconstruct the structuralism of the staircase. A praxis of inversion. In theory and practice formally utilizing classic strategies in film and human perception for constructing meaning to nullify them. This defers from post-structuralism, in that we are not analyzing signifiers, representations and binary/ heirarchical relationships. We are rejecting that system of analyzing knowledge construction in favor of a visceral instantiation of un-symbolic, de-phenomenological experience via mediated presence. By stripping it of it’s layers of applied significance, the staircase will be rendered meaningless–forcing it to a be merely a neutral unit of space-time. In Staircase to Cinema, sequences of de-contextualized found scenes from film and television reiterate one constant- the staircase. Becoming so monotonous, that the only evident variations are the ascribed treatments of the otherwise neutral form. Although not all staircases are the same, just like instances of time-space, as a formal object, it is inactive until it’s utilized in service of continuity between differentiations and narrative formulas. Stripping the phenomenological gestaultian perceptual mechanism and the semiotic representational implications, reveals the profound ontology of the staircase and ultimately our experience of space-time.