Cinema Volta: Weird Science and Childhood Memory

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"James Petrillo’s classic tale Cinema Volta proves to be something strange at first glance. Combining both text and graphics from the mind of Petrillo, this electronic work simply eludes any categoric pigeonholing. Combining a dream like atmosphere and commentaries on such seminal scientific and literary players as Edison, Tesla, Dante and Mary Shelly, Cinema Volta establishes itself as a representation of the modern memoir in the information age."

(Source: catalog text from exhibition at ELO conference 2008, "Two Decades of Electronic Literature: From Hypercard to YouTube")


Taking its name from the movie theater opened by James Joyce in Trieste in 1909, this CD-ROM is book, a virtuoso performance piece, a reverie about electricity and its transforming power. In twelve short stories which unfold as he contemplates his plate in a restaurant, artist and narrator James Petrillo looks at the diverse accomplishments and strange lives of great inventors of the 19th century: Alessandro Volta, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Morse, and Nicola Tesla (the inventors of the battery, the telephone, the electric chair, and waxed paper, among other things). In an arresting juxtaposition, Petrillo places these discoveries - and their unforeseen implications - in a profoundly humanistic context: brought into play are the history of Sicily, the lives of Shelley and Byron (whose daughter Ada wrote the first computer program), Joyce's X-rated love letters to Nora, the cave paintings of Lascaux, Frankenstein, and the artist's own childhood memories. The result is a provocative and deeply personal look at the technology which surrounds us and which we have become.

One of the first works created to explore the artistic potential of the computer itself, Cinema Volta migrates, pulsates, pushes across the screen in an absurdist and enlightening parade of images and text. Utterly original, Cinema Volta is a treat for the eye and mind alike.


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Jill Walker Rettberg