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Closed Circuits

Screening Narrative Surveillance

The recent uproar over NSA dataveillance can obscure the fact that surveillance has been part of our lives for decades. And cinema has long been aware of its power—and potential for abuse.

In Closed Circuits, Garrett Stewart analyzes a broad spectrum of films, from M and Rear Window through The Conversation to Déjà Vu, Source Code, and The Bourne Legacy, in which cinema has articulated—and performed—the drama of inspection’s unreturned look. While mainstays of the thriller, both the act and the technology of surveillance, Stewart argues, speak to something more foundational in the very work of cinema. The shared axis of montage and espionage—with editing designed to draw us in and make us forget the omnipresence of the narrative camera—extends to larger questions about the politics of an oversight regime that is increasingly remote and robotic. To such a global technopticon, one telltale response is a proliferating mode of digitally enhanced “surveillancinema.”

296 pages | 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Culture Studies

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Media Studies


“[A] valuable [entry] into a field that must continue to expand. . . . Extremely timely.”

Film Quarterly

“[A] timely book.”

Critical Inquiry

“Stewart’s book is impressive both in its scope and its thorough analysis and demonstrates an impressive understanding of theories—from theories of the apparatus, to Deleuze and Kittler—and applies them to films convincingly.”

Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

"There is a lot to be learned from Stewart’s interpretations of surveillance in cinema. He is highly original in his selection of filmic shots or segments, and his readings often point to hitherto neglected aspects in even well-discussed classics such as M or Rear Window."


“A remarkable book on the cinema of surveillance. It is as comfortable with settled masterpieces like M and Rear Window as it is with last week’s blockbuster, and it knows the difference between them. Deeply informed by narrative theory, film theory, and media theory, the eye-opening arguments bear on issues of real moment in our time.”

James Chandler, University of Chicago

“Long after the suspected deaths of both classical narration and apparatus theory, Stewart finds the subtle and self-effacing ontological gaps that twenty-first-century cinema opens anew between story and discourse, and parses out their consequences better than anyone else I’ve read.”

Paul Young, Dartmouth College

“An ‘embedded critic,’ Stewart infiltrates and exposes our treacherous screen culture, delivering reports on films that deploy arsenals of often camouflaged media. The surveillance mission of Closed Circuits succeeds, first because it is wide open to the edgiest films and theory from the celluloid era, and second because it takes such pleasure in engaging complex images, sounds, and stories—the very pleasures of cinema—in our digital age. With Stewart we can relish cinema anew even in the monstrous forms of post-human movies.”

Dudley Andrew, Yale University

Table of Contents

Returns of Theory
Introduction Narrative Spycams—A Foreshortened View

1 The Prying “I” of Montage
2 Telescreen Prose
3 Feedback Loops of the Technopticon
4 In Plane Sight
5 The Othering of Lives
6 Digital Reconnaissance and Wired War
7 Retrospecular Eyes
8 Parallel World Editing

Postface On Mediation as Interface

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