The video essay “Feeling and Thought as They Take Form: Early Steadicam, Labor, and Technology (1974-1985)” explores the first decade of stabilizer technologies and techniques. In surveying the industrial histories of two competing devices, the Steadicam and the obsolete Panaglide, I demonstrate how now codified norms of craft labor practice around stabilizer’s aesthetic and generic forms emerged amongst a diverse range of media and eclectic techniques. I investigate well-cited films in early stabilizer shots such as The Shining, Days of Heaven, and Halloween while emphasizing the ubiquity of the tools across different genres (from roller disco to horror), modes of production (Hollywood, international art house, independent, amateur), television, and non-narrative filmmaking (commercial, industrial, and training videos). The choice of materials serves to expand and disrupt our notion of technological emergence and stylistic origin narratives through showcasing works directed by auteurs alongside amateurs and operated by beginners and advanced practitioners. I foreground the discourse, labor, and names of stabilizer camera operators to offer an alternative explanation for how critical analysis and specatorial description allows viewers to experience embodied stabilizer aesthetics.
This project stemmed from what felt affectively and descriptively out of reach in my academic writing on the subject. I was drawn to videographic scholarship not just to illustrate a case study, but to fully demonstrate in practice what I feel was missing from these accounts: the spectatorial sensations of watching stabilizer shots alongside practitioners’ voices to investigate technical craft practices. Hollywood craft discourse regularly functions to speak to multiple audiences: other practitioners within the craft, different guilds, supervisors on-set, and to the media-viewing public. Oftentimes it can be difficult to translate this industrial jargon (particularly more ambiguous or figurative discourse around sensation, intuition, and embodiment) to an academic or popular audience. In playing-with and thinking-through videographic techniques such as multi-screen, superimposition, and duration, I attempt to show what such a translation might look and feel like. I emphasize the sensations and emotions of below-the-line technical discourse as inextricable from manual work and craft formation. As such, this videographic project uses personal and imperfect moments of voice-over narration to walk the viewer through a process of historical research, spectatorial delight, and academic uncertainties around how to put together the pieces of an eclectic set of practices.
Through this exploration of embodied practice I tease out how the bodily presence of the operator (in all its quirks and virtuosity) makes a particular impression on the image and spectatorial experience. Throughout this research I’ve been tinkering with philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theory of how similar embodied artistic practices, like Paul Cézanne’s activity creating his impressionist paintings, finds its way into spectators’ embodied experience of craft. As Merleau-Ponty describes, “Cézanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, between order and chaos. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear; he wanted to depict matter as it takes form, the birth of order through spontaneous organization.” For me, watching a Steadicam shot unfurl on-screen has felt not-unlike Merleau-Ponty’s recognition of Cézanne’ brushstrokes in action, as if the labor of Steadicam’s pro-filmic dance is being performed not simply during the moment of filming, but immediately in the moment of viewing (“the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear.”) In my title, “Feeling and Thought as They Take Form,” I invite the viewer to think and feel this process alongside me. I want to encourage the viewer to experience the embodied sensation that “a spontaneous organization” of “matter as it takes form” is taking place behind-the-scenes and simultaneously before our eyes. That we are not just witnessing a dance take place sometime in the past, but that we, ourselves, are dancing.
 Bird, Katie. 2017. “‘Dancing, Flying Camera Jockeys’: Invisible Labor, Craft Discourse, and Embodied Steadicam and Panaglide Technique from 1972 to 1985.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal of Film & Television, no. 80 (Fall): 48–65. doi:10.7560/VLT8005, and Bird, Katie. 2018. “‘Quiet on Set!’: Craft Discourse and Below-the-Line Labor in Hollywood, 1919-1985.” PhD diss. University of Pittsburgh.
 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-sense. Northwestern University Press, 1964, 13.
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