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The Tingler is a mid-century American horror film produced and directed by William Castle in 1959. It stars Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Philip Coolidge, and Judith Evelyn.
<img src="https://clogosphere.neocities.org/homi/tingler/tingler2.jpg" align left width="200" height="300">
The film is about a scientist who has discovered a strange creature known as the "tingler." This parasite lives inside human spines, feeds on the fear of its human hosts, and makes itself known by "tingling" its host during moments of intense fear. Campy and outrageous, the film is perhaps most famous for the "Percepto" gimmick, a buzzer attached to the seats in select theaters, wired to the projection booth and "buzzed" during key scenes in the film.
This is a significant film for several reasons. To further understand the importance of this film it is necessary to consider this film in relation to [[the cultural context of the 1950s->Cultural Context]]. Historically, Castle's films recall the antics and astonishments of the [[Cinema of Attractions->Influences]] era of early filmmmaking. In similar and different ways, Castle's films anticipate the [[aesthetics and ideology of interactivity->Legacy]] that emerges with gaming cultures and new media art in the 1990s/2000s and persists in promise of "social media" today.
In the late 1950s, the prevailing worldview in the United States was one obsessed with the vague and also seemingly imminent threats of Communist takeover and,or, annihilation by atomic bomb. These sorts of possibilities were prevalent in dominant media at the time with fears and anxieties reenforced through widespread messaging in print, film, radio and television. As well, there was a pervasive technologization of everyday life, from consumer gadgetry to the dehumanizing crush of automated physical and mental labor. For those working inside massive bureaucracies, the rise of "the cheerful robot," a disposition that sociologist C.W. Mills describes in his contemporaneous analyses of the late 1950s. The Cheerful Robot, Mills asserts, was "rational without reason," adapting to the techno-bureaucratic system at the expense of emotion, morality, purpose and meaning.([[Mills in Turner 29->Sources]])
Monsters personified these anxieties in the form of giant irradiated bugs, big-brained aliens, and invaders from the red planet in a series of mid-century science-fiction and horror films. ([[Skal 177->Sources]])
The Studio System, some believed, was another mutant behemoth to be destroyed. The landmark United States vs Paramount Pictures decision in 1948 brought about the end of Hollywood's Golden Era of monopolistic control over the industry. Along with this interruption, television posed a serious threat to the ability of the film industry to maintain audiences. Along with widescreen formats and drive-in movie theaters, 3D filmmaking was a successful, if temporary, solution. First implemented by Arch Oboler in his 1952 film, Bwana Devil, the dual-camera system known as Natural Vision 3-D became a wildly popular mode of production. ([[Zone 2->Sources]])
B-Movie producer William Castle, whose mantra and life goal was "to scare the pants off of America" ([[Castle 140->Sources]]) was also attuned to the promotional challenges of keeping audiences interested in attending the movie theater rather than staying home and watching television. Castle also used 3D technology but was infamous for the more outrageous gimmicks in his movies. These included: life insurance against "dying of fright," coupled with hearses and nurses waiting outside theaters, plastic skeletons rigged with pulley systems, and most famously, "Percepto," an electric buzzer wired up to select seats during screenings of The Tingler in 1958 ([[Dr.Udro Youtube.com->Sources]])
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According to historian John Johnson, Castle's Percepto gimmick was made possible through access to surplus electronic motors leftover from World War 2. ([[Johnson 322->Sources]]) Just as Castle worked with excess electronics to concoct an extended experience for his audience, a number of artists including Mary Ellen Bute and John Whitney were also adapting wartime surplus ([[Furniss 251->Sources]]) and Harry Smith devising expanding modes of viewing ([[Furniss 243->Sources]]) in the post-war decades. While the connection to experimental imaging is in many ways distinct from Castle's schlock film marketing, an allied interest of expanding the possibilities of cinematic experience through novel and immersive technologies offers a compelling portrait of the diverse technocultural afterlife of weapons of war.
For more on the lasting legacy of The Tingler, [[go here->Legacy]]
For thoughts on significant precursors, look into the [[influences section->Influences]]
Film scholar Tom Gunning has elaborated on a pre-narrative form of filmmaking he calls the "Cinema of Attractions," and this is a noteworthy precursor to Castle's films. Gunning draws attention to vaudeville acts, amusement rides and other popular entertainments of the late 19th century, detailing the ways that spectators’ attention was directly solicited and confronted at fairgrounds, burlesque shows and magic theater.([[Gunning 381->Sources]]) Hales Tours, an early motion simulation, sat audiences in a faux train car that was jostled while they viewed a film shot from the "point of view" of a train.
<img src="https://clogosphere.neocities.org/homi/tingler/hales.jpg" width="200" height="300" alt="Entrance to Hale's Tours (1916)">
These dynamics were remediated architecturally in the nickelodeon theaters, where sociality was mediated by communal consumption of events unfolding on the screen. In similar and differenct ways, the vaudeville performer and cartoonist Winsor Mccay capitalized on the novelty of an "expanded cinema" by framing his popular Gertie the Dinosaur skit as a live-action performance augmented with choreographed animation. ([[Furniss 42->Sources]]) In the 1910s and 1920s, the merging of events on screen and in the theater were exploited for laughs in the comedic films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
<img src="https://clogosphere.neocities.org/homi/tingler/sherlock-1.jpg" width="300" height="500" alt="Sherlock, Jr (1924) dir: Buster Keaton">
Drawing on the writings of early modernists, Gunning asserts that the disruptive qualities of the earlier "attractions" era films became a means of oppositional response in the works of the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, and those of the Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists. Eisenstein, for example, suggested setting off firecrackers beneath the audience's seats to intensify the disruptive potential of film-viewing. ([[Gunning 382->Sources]]) These sorts of interruptions are diluted and redirected in Castle's gimmicks, his revolution being box office sales, but a certain creative ingenuity is shared. In the French Impressionist filmmaker Abel Gance's 1927 film, Napoleon, the filmmaker shot his historical epic with three cameras, tinted them in accordance with the French tricolor flag, and presented them in an early instantiation of the immersive appeal of widescreen formatting. ([[Cousins 62->Sources]]) Beyond the avant-garde, Gunning suggests that the Cinema of Attractions has persisted in the spectacle of special effects and the modes of advertising of Hollywood films. Here the connection is clearer.
For more on the cultural context surrounding The Tingler, go [[here->Cultural Context]]
For some examples of the lasting legacy of The Tingler, go [[here->Legacy]]
The participatory and immersive imaginings of William Castle's cinema has lived on in the technocultural imagination across cinematic and networked contexts. Cult filmmaker John Waters' Smell-o-Vision is one of several conscientious homages paid by Waters to Castle's audacious antics. ([[Miller, IndieWire.com->Sources]]) Science museums and amusement parks regularly feature films augmented with vibrating and moving seats, VR headsets and other accoutrements of "expanded cinema." Most notably and most pervasive over the last fifty years has been the aesthetics and ideology of interactivity and connectivity, from gaming cultures to social media consumption.
<img src="https://clogosphere.neocities.org/homi/tingler/Literat1.jpg" width="500" height="300" alt="Iona Literat's Pyramid of Participation">
New Media Scholar Iona Literat's theories on "Crowd-sourcing and Creativity" present a useful typology of interactivity, assessing mediated forms of interaction according to a "pyramid of participation." ([[Literat 2971->Sources]]) On the bottom rung is Receptive, viewers make meanings by negotiating what they see. Moving on to Tokenistic and Engaged, where participation is highly structured and agency of the individual participant is minimal, Literat then emphasizes Creative, Co-Designed, and Co-Authored, as modes where agency and autonomy are maximised in cooperative production of an artwork. If we extend this to Castle's films, his movies were essentially tokenistic, with audience members' purchasing power being their only truly self-determined action.
Perhaps the most enduring and endearing legacy of The Tingler is its mythic function. Like the popular "Countryman and Cinematograph" trope in the early nickelodeon era, the exaggerated tales of naive media consumers, unable to differentiate between screen and reality, offers contemporary digital denizens with a provisional confirmation of their own media savvy. Alternately, as media scholar Robrecht Vanderbeeken suggests, mediated instantiations of actuality frequently upstage the thing itself, so that unmediated "encounters initially seem unnatural, alienated, or fake."([[Vanderbeeken 36->Sources]]) The low-tech thrills of a William Castle production subvert the seamlessness of everyday mediated life with the tangible horror of objects removed from their mediation. Further, as sociality is increasingly an "alone together" phenomenon, as psychologist Sherry Turkle suggests ([[Turkle 5->Sources]]), the shared experience within an agitated crowd, one interrupted from the spell of mediation, speaks to an unfulfilled desire for human connection.
There are echoes of this in the influences, read more about that [[here->Influences]]
Consideration of the techno-social contexts of the 1950s is also illuminating. More on that [[here->Cultural Context]]
Castle, William. Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare The Pants Off America by William Castle, New York, Pharos Books, 1976
Cousins, Mark. The Story of Film: A Worldwide History. New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004
Furniss, Maureen. A New History of Animation, New York, Thames & Hudson, 2016
Gunning, Tom “The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” ed. Wanda Strauven, The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2006
Johnson, John. Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties, Jefferson, Mcfarland, 1996
Literat, Iona The Work of Art in the Age of Mediated Participation: Crowd-Sourced Art and Collective Creativity, International Journal of Communication 6 2012
Miller, Liz Shannon "‘Feud’: John Waters on Becoming William Castle and His Love of Great Gimmicks" IndieWire. April 9, 2017
Skal, David. Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture, New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1998
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2012
Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture : Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006
Dr Udru. "The Ghoulish Gimmicks Of William Castle" Youtube Video. Published November 18, 2016.
Vanderbeeken, Robrecht. “Web Video and Screen as Mediator and Generator of Reality” , ed. Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles, Video Vortex II: Moving Images Beyond Youtube, Amsterdam, Institute of Network Cultures, 2011
Zone, Ray. 3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures, Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 2005