Double Trouble: Editorial – Tessa Dwyer & Mehmet Mehmet

Split screens spell double trouble. This special issue of Refractory is devoted to the dangers of division, the difficulties of duality and the duplicity of the double, not to mention acts of severing, splintering and splicing.

Although our call for papers was deliberately broad in tone, the flurry of abstracts received stuck quite literally to the notion of split and/or dual screen cinema. Perhaps this relates to the fact that the split screen is first and foremost a formal, technological device. Perhaps the great interest shown in this topic can be linked to a contemporary preoccupation with the concrete in film studies and, indeed, film theory. In any case, we were bolstered by the amount and depth of research currently being conducted in the area.

The articles included in this issue cover a wide range of topics, yet seem to coalesce around three central, overlapping themes: formalism, screen psychology and spectatorship. Sergio Dias Branco’s intervention into definitions and terminology provides a fitting introduction to the issue as a whole, while also initiating the formalist thematic. Arguing the need for a new term, the “mosaic-screen”, Dias Branco contests the applicability of the phrase “split-screen”, a move which is echoed in contributions by Cormac Deane, Malte Hagener and Bruno Lessard. Two other contributions then follow that explore formalist concerns in very different contexts. Ian Garwood presents a welcomed investigation into the unique ways that sound functions in split screen films, while Deane provides a timely, political reading of embedded screen aesthetics.

Psychology, and psychoanalysis in particular, comes under scrutiny in a number of articles. Tim Snelson’s detailed study of The Dark Mirror traces an intriguing line of connection between splitting and doubling, noting the manner in which themes of war, gender and the psyche combine in a cinematic depiction of twins. David Greven’s contribution on Brian de Palma’s Carrie also mines the depths of psychoanalytic signification, interpreting this director’s signature use of the split screen in terms of authorship and split-allegiances.

This interest in psychoanalysis continues in articles by Maria Walsh and Bruno Lessard, albeit with a focus on its limitations. These two articles are also connected through their interest in “expanded cinema” or multi-screen film and video installations, alongside Deleuzian film theory. While Walsh seeks to expand the possibilities of intervals, breaks and delay in doubled screens, Lessard argues for the impact of expanded cinema on theories of spectatorship, focusing on the work of Stephen Heath.

In this sense, Lessard’s article segues into the final thematic grouping of the issue. In this section on spectatorship, Nadia Bozak explores the connection between production and consumption in relation to split-screening and surveillance tropes. Malte Hagener then considers how split screens can help audiences make sense of other media forms, pondering the ways that technology negotiates the absence/presence divide. The final article by Kim Louise Walden discusses duplication and celebrity in relation to the animation technique of rotoscoping. She asks the spectator to consider the troubling nature of doubling, and by doing so, leads us back to some of our initial thoughts as editors on the overall topic.

Can we not also take the notion of the split screen as a metaphor for the analysis and interpretation of film, for film writing and theorising? Does not every theoretical model have its own mirror double that echoes back its points of lack and difference? As Walsh and Walden note, doubling creates instances of slippage. As two layers, versions or screens sit uneasily atop or alongside one another, signification seeps out beyond their borders. Writing or theorising about film constitutes a form of replication or repetition while also initiating a process of fragmentation as new lines of thought are instigated. Most importantly, it figures the split as a gap, opening up a space for intervention.

Tessa Dwyer and Mehmet Mehmet
December 2008.


  1. Steven Peacock says:

    Dear both,

    It is a real pleasure and huge encouragement to see such diverse and illuminating research on the subject of the split-screen across the disciplines. I wonder if I might add a reference for colleagues and readers to my edited collection, ‘Reading 24: TV against the Clock’ (London: I B Tauris, 2007). Like some of the contributions within this issue, the book focuses both on the aesthetic and political forms present in the US serial drama, ’24’ (Dias Branco indeed refers to my own chapter in his article on ‘The Mosaic Screen’). The first section of the book deals primarily with the series’ stylistic strategies, hence exploring the form and effects of the split-screen in detail. It is hoped that this part of the book may be of interest to those investigating not only ’24’, but also the split-screen in other texts and art-forms. The later part of the book examines the political content and context of the series. In particular, ’24 after 9/11: The American State of Exception’ by Anne Caldwell and Samuel A Chambers, and ‘Just-in-Time Security: Permanent Exceptions and Neoliberal Orders’ by Torin Monahan both explore the programme through Agamben’s analysis (as per Cormac Deane’s contribution to this issue of Refractory). I raise the reference in a hope that a discourse across texts might (similarly to a split-screen!) add further perspectives and engender further debate.

    Best wishes


    Dr. Steven Peacock
    Senior Lecturer in Film
    University of Hertfordshire
    School of Humanities
    De Havilland Campus
    AL10 9AB