This paper explores the modern metropolis as an ironically concrete metaphor for the collective memory and the mourning of cinema’s passing, as it—the “city”—is digitally constructed in two recent, auteur-directed, special effects-driven blockbuster films, Inception and Hugo. The modern city, and mass media, such as the cinema, as well as modes of mass transport, especially the train, all originate in the 19th century, but come into their own in the early 20th century in their address to a subject as the mobilised citizen-consumer who, as Anne Friedberg makes clear, is also always a viewer. Additionally, as Barbara Mennel has recently shown, the advent in Europe of trains and time zones, in their transformation of modern time and space, paved the way for cinema’s comparably cataclysmic impact upon modern subjectivity in its iconic reproduction of movement within illusory 3D space. Both films, thus, in their different ways employ cinematic remediation as a form of cultural memory whose nostalgia for cinema’s past is rendered with the latest digital effects, hidden in plain sight in the form of subjective memories (as flashback) and dreams. While a version of this reading has been advanced before (at least for Hugo), this paper goes further by connecting each film’s status as remediated dream-memory to its respective dependence upon the city as a post-cinematic three-dimensional framework within which locative and locomotive desires alike determine a subject whose psyche is indistinguishable from the cityscape that surrounds him.
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