Serial Intervals from the Perspective of “Cultural Series”

By André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion


The concept of the interval, to the extent that it exists only negatively, through an absence, makes it possible to explore genealogy of media and intermediality from a new perspective, and more particularly, in the present case, to examine our understanding of cinema with respect to the many and shifting ways it takes its place in the media environment. To that end, the present article proposes to examine the concept of the interval from the perspective of the concept of the cultural series. The institution, as an agent for defining the identity of each medium, and thus as the guarantor of a medium’s “ID card,” often acts as the manager of the identity intervals which separate and distinguish media. In this way the movie theatre, the view of some, provides a decisive identity interval for distinguishing cinema from other ways of apprehending images in motion. For our part, we will argue in favour of a serial reading which calls for the fixed aspect of these institutionalized intervals separating media to be transcended and for the cartography of media intervals to be revised and re-organized – not hesitating, in the process, to re-interpret or modify them or to create new ones for the legitimate needs of research.


Stadia, dematerialization, cinephilia, movie theatres, Roger Child Bayley, digital, reliance, video on demand, streaming, VOD, SVOD, cinema, transmedia, Netflix, Raymond Bellour, Henry Jenkins, intermediality, digitalization, double birth of media, Roland Barthes, media, delinking, linking, cultural series, series, serial intervals, interval


The mission of the present text,1 as its title indicates, is to explore the concept of the “serial interval” from the perspective of “cultural series,” a concept which was originally formulated by one of the present authors (Gaudreault 1997) and which for more than ten years has become, for us, a vast intellectual work project. By way of a preamble, we will halt briefly at this very word “series,” which we believe to be interesting in itself, if only through the mystery of languages, some of which (or English in any event) appear to “conjugate” the word in the plural only.2 The word “series” is also interesting for both what it says explicitly and what it suggests: “Here is a succession of interconnected elements,” the series appears explicitly to state, while at the same time implicitly presupposing: “Here is a succession of elements, each of which is singular.” In other words, we can define a series as “a succession of elements which are interconnected but with each element having its own singularity.” Thinking of one series or another, Bouvard could say: “Oh! A series! Here are some fine connected elements!,” thereby emphasizing the absence of a break in the continuity between said elements. Pécuchet, however, could exclaim: “Oh! A series! Here are some fine singular elements!,” emphasizing instead, for his part, the presence of a break in the continuity between said elements. It’s a bit like the story of the half-empty glass, which some people see instead as being half full. In more learned terms, this is what in pragmatic theory is called “argumentative orientations.” 

Because series are a way of addressing intervals systematically, of giving them meaning, they suppose as a result the “management” of these intervals. In this sense, every series is characterized by a paradoxical dynamic of, on the one hand, the linking of intervals, and on the other their unlinking. In one case, the importance of intervals is reduced, and in the other case it is amplified. Together, intervals are the custodians of an essential function: that of maintaining what could be described as the “promise of series.”

But what, precisely, makes a series? Is the mere repetition of an element (the same photograph fifty times, for example) sufficient to rightfully constitute a series? And is being identical or homogeneous a sine qua non condition of seriality? Or are difference and variety the requisite conditions? Whatever the case, one thing is certain, and that is that the very concept series combines elements of both linking and unlinking

Behind this word “unlinking” lies a concept of great interest for taking up the question of serial intervals. To explain this we must turn here for a moment to French, our native tongue and the language in which the present article was originally conceived and written; the precise linguistic point we are about to make unfortunately has no exact equivalent in English. In French, for “linking” and “unlinking,” we use the terms liaison, a term also borrowed by English for establishing some sort of connection or relation, and déliaison, or “un-liaison.” In nautical terminology (in olden times), déliaison was the “play” between parts of a ship, in particular its wooden planking, or the term used to describe the separation or unjoining of the planking.3 And as it turns out, the only recognized synonym in French of this nautical “interval” déliaison is . . . interval (intervalle).4 Nautical déliaison – for which our English translator has found no precise English equivalent with this one particular meaning in the technical and old nautical dictionaries he has consulted – became an issue when the planking of the hull, built to be solidly joined, began to separate, because of the high temperatures to which the ship was subject on the high seas, for example. When there was déliaison, intervals appeared between the planks and other parts of the ship, threatening its breakup. By creating an interval, déliaison can be seen as “that which unbinds” – that which breaks up the unity of a whole, which undoes it. Its unity is split, broken into pieces: when déliaison took hold between the planks, the unity of the ship’s hull was compromised. Interval and – to switch back to English now – unlinking thus create parts within a whole. And this, precisely, is the existential condition of a series. We can now see, perhaps, why the term series always takes what appears to be the plural form in English. Unlinking and the interval introduce the plural into a singular whole. Or more precisely, unlinking and the interval multiply the singularity of the whole while creating plural singularities. This is the paradox of series and intervals.

In a context such as this, the intervals which produce unlinking act necessarily to separate. In addition, etymologically the word unlink derives from the Latin disligare, meaning to untie or to open (and thus to liberate something or someone). Indirectly, unlinking thus goes hand in hand with independence: in French, one says that to play the piano one’s fingers must be déliés, meaning that each of the pianist’s fingers must attain an autonomous flexibility and be able to act independently of the other fingers. The same is true, in French, of psychoanalysis, in which déliaison is a liberation of psychic energy, which can then circulate freely, as in a dream for example. 

But what about the kinds of series to which the expression “cultural series” refers? Is there reason to believe that intervals play a dual role there, that their intrinsic status as unlinking agents does not prevent them, paradoxically, from creating relations between the elements they “separate”? This is the hypothesis we will examine in the following pages.

Intervals and Media Series

We take up this discussion on the contradictory role of intervals with respect to series in the context of our work on media and media culture. Our goal, in a word, is to try to understand how the interval as a concept comes into play in this other kind of series, media as a whole (or “media series”). 

Dictionaries today define the interval as “a space lying between two things . . . a gap, an opening” or a “space of time intervening between two points of time”; in music, an interval is the “difference of pitch between two sounds or notes, either successive (in melody) or simultaneous (in harmony).”5 This quality both spatial and temporal of the interval, and the reference to music, are very stimulating: what we are going to sketch out diachronically is a form of melodic interval (taking the form of succession, meaning a “historical” process), but we will also see that the identity intervals which distinguish media from one another are, for their part, synchronic, meaning part of a dynamic of simultaneousness specific to harmonic intervals. It was to this kind of “harmonic” interval created at a particular time that Roland Barthes (1961, 224) was referring when he spoke of “cinema’s imperialism . . . over other visual information processes.” 

In this sense, our model of the double birth of media (Gaudreault and Marion 2005) can be understood as “following” an interval setting its identity: the “second birth,” meaning its institutional birth, was that in which, legitimated by its definition and recognized visibility, was able to establish the identity interval separating it from other media or, if one prefers, from the harmonic series of other media. The homeostasis of the media system specific to a period and a socio-cultural context can of course be transformed and quickly change its hierarchical rules, as is the case in our own digital age. In this way, the blurring of boundaries deriving from what we have called the “gradual digitalizing of cinema” (Gaudreault and Marion 2015, 38) resulted in weakening cinema’s place in the chorus of media (a point to which we will return).

It would be worthwhile at this point, we believe, to carry out an initial limiting of the field of study, based on a fairly classic structure. The concept of the interval, in the case of media series, can be viewed either synchronically or diachronically. We will begin by exploring the synchronic level, thereby placing ourselves more to the side of theory than to that of history. If we were to devise a conception of how media culture functions, we could analyze the respective position of each medium in the intermedial dialogue it maintains with other media. To understand media culture is also to grasp the identity intervals underlying the harmonic series of media. Our media environment puts at the disposal of these media’s respective users singular media which each occupy one or more distinct space(s) – and which are separated from one another by a space (in a different sense of the word). These spaces situated “between” media and which separate and differentiate them from each other are, precisely, intervals

The institution, then, acting as an agent of a medium’s identity and thus as a guarantor of that medium’s “ID card,” manages the identity intervals which distinguish one medium from another. In the particular synchrony of the digital age in which we have found ourselves for several decades now the blurring of boundaries has given rise to the much heralded “media convergence” and the equally heralded “transmedia storytelling,” in the words of Henry Jenkins (2006), which create new serial effects whereby media interconnect and create hybrids, with intermedial intervals tending to thin out, become more porous and even fade away while linking up in transmedia’s great mise en chaîne (rather than mise en scène). 

To illustrate this situation, we need only return to the case of cinema and its institutionalized identity intervals, and in particular that cinema of not so long ago which isolated the film experience by means of a particular interval, that of the movie theatre as a singular and supposedly irreplaceable site for consuming a film. Thus Barthes (1980, 1), for example, said “when I say cinema, I can’t help think ‘theatre’ more than ‘film’.” When determining the identity of the medium “cinema” the movie theatre, for Barthes, was an even more decisive criterion than the film object shown there. In the end, for so-called classical cinema, the principle was pretty much as follows: “If it is outside the movie theatre, it is not cinema!” This principle still has a few zealous partisans, among them Raymond Bellour (2012, 14, emphasis by the author), who remarks:

The projection experience in a movie theatre, in the dark, the set time of a more or less collective screening, became and remains the condition of a unique perceptive and memory experience, one which defines its viewer and which any other situation alters to varying degrees. And this alone merits being called “cinema” (whatever meaning the word may have in other connections).

Here is Bellour setting himself up as a great champion of the cinema institution, one we might call classical, for which screening a film on a mobile phone is no longer cinema and cannot be considered experiencing cinema. Such an idea, as generous as it may be towards an institution which is loved, even adored, and in some cases fetishized, is beginning to lose ground. Over time it has come to enjoy fewer and fewer adherents. Especially since the most recent offensives, deemed by some to be, in fact, offensive,6 on the part of that prime streaming platform Netflix, to which we will return.

Bellour’s idea is that in the end there exists an interval between what is cinema and what cannot be cinema, even though the product consumed in each case is the same. What is consumed in movie theatres is thus completely unlinked from what is consumed on any other device. Between a movie theatre screening and viewing a film on the data terminal known as a smart phone there is, therefore, an interval, if not a gulf. In this way definitions of a medium are, in the end, a matter of managing its unlinkings. 

How then can cinema find its place, its own place, a separate place, in the “overall audiovisual magma” Stéphane Delorme speaks of in the editorial in the March 2018 issue of Cahiers du cinéma? In the stew, bouillabaisse and outright dog’s breakfast of “moving image” production today – an expression so dated and so inappropriate, in the end, that one wonders how it succeeded in being raised up to fly on the flagship of French cinema, the CNC, which in 2010 became the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (the “national centre for cinema and moving images”). Our audiovisual magma today thus consists in serial synchronous transmedia which are upsetting identity intervals. Put another way, the generalist paradigm of moving images is powering this transmedia super-series (this “meta-series”?).

One might also wonder, moreover, whether the addition of this impertinent expression, “moving images,” rubbing shoulders with the word cinema in the CNC’s name, does not in a sense represent the symbolic death of cinema, of that cinema which, for some people, is constantly dying. If we consider the country’s “media timeline,” we see that classical cinema as an institution has completely lost control of the situation. Even though this system, which establishes precise lag times between the various ways of disseminating films, was conceived, precisely, to enable the guarantors of the “cinema” institution to regulate in their own manner and however they wished the arrival of films on various “media” (understood here in the limited sense of the modes for viewing or disseminating audiovisual content) after they had been more or less dematerialized. In France, for example, for more than thirty years now, every film must first be shown exclusively in movie theatres for varying periods of time, but at least several very long months. After slow food and the slow professor, here comes slow circulation (or the slow switchover). Over the past few years, this regulation has shortened the time between viewing windows, particularly between a film’s theatrical release and its release on other “media.” But this shortening is carried out in homeopathic doses (a case of slow changing!), as can be seen in this modification, announced in December 2018 on the Franceinfo website:7

After several years of negotiations, the cinema branch has reached a new agreement with respect to the “media timeline.” The agreement was reached on Friday 21 December at the Culture Ministry. This new text will make it possible for films released theatrically to be disseminated more quickly on television and more rapidly available on DVD and on certain streaming platforms . . . but not all.

Not all? It is easy to imagine who is being targeted by this “not all”! It is clear to whom they are saying no, or “nyet.” But why such animadversion against Netflix? The answer is simple. It is because Netflix is part of a group seen as “delinquents”! It is not a part of the group of platforms seen as “virtuous”:

With this new agreement, streaming platforms for subscribers are divided into two categories. Some can disseminate films seventeen months after their theatrical release, rather than thirty-six months as was previously the case. But they must be seen as “virtuous” . . . Netflix, the main player in streaming for subscribers, is not part of this group, and must continue to wait thirty-six months.

And what, for the French Culture Ministry, does virtue consist of for a streaming platform? In “making commitments to invest in film production.”8 In French film production, of course. National regulations, in France and elsewhere, are normally intended to protect the “nation” that conceives and decrees them. One is thus not surprised to learn:

  • that those best served by the waiting times imposed by the agreement on the “media timeline” in force since early 2019 are, more so than national or international streaming services, French cable television networks;
  • that the greatest beneficiary of this timeline is the very French Canal +, which must wait, when programming a film, “only” six to eight months after its theatrical release (with other paid cable networks having to wait from fifteen to seventeen months, and free networks from twenty to twenty-two months).

How about the other streaming platforms? Although some of them (those which practice virtue) can show a film to their customers some seventeen months after its release, Netflix, for its part, must wait thirty-six months, or THREE YEARS. That can certainly give one a sense of infinity . . . 

In order to guarantee the survival of movie theatres, streaming has been pushed back, in France at least, to a film’s “after-life.” But they didn’t count on Netflix being able to . . . count! To count its pennies, in particular. And to use them in such a way as to subvert the established order and destroy the hegemony of the sacrosanct media timeline, which grants priority to “traditional” corporate associations in the cinema field. Among these, the association of movie theatre owners is preponderant, especially when the state gets involved to protect its interests, if it is not protecting its very survival. 

Before the arrival of Netflix and its consorts, it was taken for granted that big films, made by big filmmakers, featuring big stars, were seen on big screens in movie theatres. This was before Netflix “bought” the Martin Scorseses, Susanne Biers, Steven Soderberghs and Coen brothers of this world. 

In fact one might say that Netflix has taken as its model the heroes of its top series, such as Narcos, Narcos: Mexico and El Chapo, which feature characters who make so much money that they are able to subvert the entire system by buying not just a certain number of cops, but all cops, one after the other. And by buying, not “politicians,” but all politicians. This is exactly what is happening in the world of cinema. As Capucine Cousin (2018, 5) points out,

Netflix . . . is the new troublemaker, both feared and wooed by cinema and television. In 2015, the Hollywood Reporter quoted the producer Nigel Sinclair as saying “everyone wants to meet with Netflix, all the artists, all the talents want to do an innovative Netflix deal.”  

Netflix is a company which makes so much money that it can lay out cash, lots of cash, to “buy out” whoever it wants and blow up all the rules and norms. A little like narcotics traffickers, who spend millions, if not billions of dollars to buy the silence and apathy of every state employee, enabling them to extend their territory without limit. 

Netflix, the El Chapo of Streaming

We can thus see a certain similarity between the way drug dealers work and the methods of the company headquartered in Los Gatos. First of all in the way they pile up cash. It’s easy to imagine how much Netflix rakes in per month with its 167 million subscribers.9 Month after month, year after year. Thanks to all its cash, Netflix has the means to persuade all comers to adopt its model. A model we might well believe to be anti-movie-going, given the company’s notorious reluctance to work with movie theatres. 

The analogy between the drug cartels and the streaming platform makes it possible to spin a metaphor which is at the very least . . . stupefying! We know that a drug trafficker’s activity consists in producing drugs and making them travel the world, thumbing their nose at borders. Does Netflix not also make products which travel borders and render people “euphoric”? Does it not go so far as to promote addiction10 by presenting the next episode as soon as the credits roll at the end of the previous one so that they follow one after another almost automatically,11 promoting binge viewing and stimulating the consumption of the “series-vore”? It is almost as if the episodes were lined up one after the other like lines of coke ready to be consumed in . . . series. Some wags might even go so far as to suggest that the logic of Netflix is less Cartesian than it is “cartelian” – with the cartel here not that of Cali or Medellin but rather of Los Gatos . . .

But let’s return to the main line – line? – of our ideas. Where does Netflix’s reluctance to release its films in movie theatres come from? Is it a truly anti-movie-going declaration of faith? Not really . . . The guilty parties with respect to Netflix’s position are, ironically, the exhibitors: the very same ones behind the “media timeline,” a rule which, ironically, was established to protect them. A rule which in practice has become a double-edged sword. This can be seen in the news story in Franceinfo quoted above: 

“On numerous occasions . . . Netflix has criticized French laws and explained that it is because of these laws that it no longer releases in movie theatres the feature films it produces: to do so would force it to make its subscribers wait thirty-six months to see the film.” 

There you have it! The cat – or the gato if you prefer – is out of the bag! It is plain to see that what is in play here is neither nothing more nor nothing less than an existential question: if Netflix releases its films in movie theatres, it is doomed to not being able to disseminate them on its raison d’être, its video on demand platform, for dozens of months after the theatrical release of the same films, when they will have acquired a few wrinkles and their commercial value would no longer be the same. Once the company’s films are kept out of French movie theatres, however, it can enjoy entirely exclusive use of a particular recent film by Scorsese, for example. 

In a sense, then, Netflix was at the mercy of the exhibitors, who make the rules. Except for . . . something unplanned which happened just a few years ago. Several streaming platforms had amassed enough money to attract, without any effort, the biggest names in film, whose work is normally seen in movie theatres. So these platforms now set to work producing films, which they then wanted to exhibit. But exhibit where, exactly? On their own video on demand platform, of course. Thereby depriving movie theatres, in an act of sweet revenge, of some of the biggest productions of the day. From this we must conclude that in the clash between movie theatres and Netflix, the American platform has succeeded in completely reversing their roles with respect to the media timeline, which some people predict will disappear in the fairly near future. In any event, as far as the exhibitors are concerned, we might say that they have changed their tune. We can see, for example, in the article in Le Monde mentioned above, that the chair of the association of independent cinemas of Paris, Isabelle Gibbal-Hardy, is waving the white flag, declaring (Vulser 2018) that Netflix’s films “should not skip the big screen. Scorsese is a god for my cinephiles. We must find a solution.”

Cultural Series and Identity Intervals

On the diachronic level, or to use shorthand on the level of history more than of theory, we can confront the concepts serial interval and cultural series. From this perspective, the cultural series approach would be a way to transcend the identity interval between media (such as the movie theatre, that decisive differentiating interval for Bellour) or, to be more precise, between institutionally recognized and delineated media series. In fact it is not what makes possible the notion of cultural series, precisely, this going beyond the seeming discontinuity which identity intervals create between media in order to bring to the forefront the elements of continuity which make it possible to establish connections between less obvious or even unsuspected features which connect different media-cultural elements?

We should clarify something here, however, with respect to identity intervals. First, a question: when we speak of the movie theatre as a discriminating element of cinema, are we really bringing the question around what we call identity intervals into play? In fact there is a better way of posing the question: on what authority does the movie theatre element invite itself into the front row of identity elements? We can in any event observe that, under institutionalizing pressure, the synchronic intervals separating media often tend to amplify their unlinking power: it is better to create a buffer than to be subjugated by the first media neighbor that comes along. Put more metaphorically, in a given (as opposed to “fixed”) media cartography, each instituted entity tends to protect its territory. There is a whiff of medieval logic in the “classicism” of media institutionalization: the logic of the stronghold, of the ivory tower. Doesn’t the final resistance of the institution “cinephilia” in France, which wants to preserve the differentiating interval of the movie theatre against the assaults of the enemy Netflix, seem like that of a fortified castle under siege? In this way, the force of singularization and differentiation which every “classical” media institutionalization brings into play normally tends to transform intervals into fractures – and to make us forget at the same time the paradoxical connection between intervals and series. For although the gulf created by a moat truly is a gap, an unlinking, it is also what authorizes the joining made possible by the drawbridge . . . the interior/exterior joining, that is. And this, precisely, is what makes possible the sympathetic resonance of the harmonic interval.

This was the case, for example, of photorealist cinema in the early twentieth century, which established itself by broadening the interval separating it from animation (at the same time as it was intrinsically tied to the development of these moving images known, precisely, as “animated pictures”) to the point of pushing animation to the periphery of its identity system.12 In this case, historically the interval changed to separation, rupture, boundary, castle moat. Put another way: the unlinking brought into play by all intervals became dominant. It is as if the institutionalization of media instilled unlinking as the dominant active principle in serial intervals. 

In a sense, the cultural series approach forces the cultural series researcher, precisely, to revisit these intervals turned ruptures and forces of discrimination and isolation in order to instill in them a different active principle from that of unlinking. Here it is a question simply of trying to interconnect these differentiation intervals, for it is this spirit of “reconnecting” (reliance)13 which, once one sloughs off congealed institutional notions, gives rise to cultural series in the sense in which we understand the term. Thus the element movie theatre – that familiar interval of singular identity – benefits from being placed in relation with the element luminous projection and the element entertainment shared by an assembly of spectators in the same place: this is the kind of “continuity” which in our view can, precisely, be raised up as a cultural series. To work on series is thus to transcend the frozen aspect of institutionalized unlinkings, to choose other lines of relevance, in order to cast a different light on our media culture. 

“Classical media institutionalization,” we said above. In fact, the descriptor classical is part of a system of identity differentiation from before the digital age: we know the extent to which “digitalizing” precipitated and accelerated the porosity between media. This crystallizes effectively the idea of multimedia, or the principle of convergence identified by Jenkins. In this respect, it would be beneficial to understand the concept of multimedia as the result of a new conception of the cartography of media and the serial intervals separating them, and which seeks to neutralize the identity intervals which until then had been law. It is as if one put in place a new system of uninterrupted continuity, one rid of intervals. 

We should note also that, in a relatively unexpected manner (because it does not involve the same regimes of knowledge and observation), the digital world and the new media ecology it is instilling as it grows illustrate in their own fashion the “hermeneutic” nature of cultural series. The hybridity and porosity of the “audiovisual magma” that the digital has produced in the media cartography and territories resemble in a sense the scientific position of our cultural series, which also modifies these cartographies by eliminating numerous identity boundaries in the process. In fact the cultural series approach brings into play a necessary re-division of serial intervals, thereby putting into series seemingly disparate media elements which are not interconnected with all the consistency and obviousness as a recognized medium with a strong institution behind it. In any event, the cultural series approach does not (any longer) necessarily count the intervals or the “official” and generally recognized unlinkings between media. We repeat, however, that the work of a researcher in cultural series is heuristic and methodological in nature, while the breaking down of boundaries between media – which corresponds to what we have called “post-institutionalization” or “neo-institutionalization,” or even to the “third birth of cinema” (Gaudreault and Marion 2015, 121-26) – takes place in real terms in today’s concrete media landscape. 

This relation which we establish between cultural series and taking “new” intervals into account must surely be discussed and refined. In this way, the role of researchers working in cultural series is not only to create new serial intervals. Their task may consist in restoring the status of intervals to what the institutionalization of a medium may have given rise to in the way of fractures or ruptures, meaning identity unlinkings. It is as if the dividing up and the search for continuities between cultural series restores a dynamic, supple form to serial intervals, a suppleness which is lost at the moment a media identity crystallises. It is in this sense that the cultural series approach may become part of a perspective more intermedial (bringing out the sense of friction between media or their elements) than transmedial (even though transmediality appears to have become the norm in the era of digital culture and digital practices). The following remarks by Jürgen Müller (2007, 94; emphasis in the original), moreover, give a good indication of this intermedial dynamic at work in cultural series: 

Our line of relevance will thus lead to a rhizomatic history [of the audiovisual] from the perspective of the hubs technology, cultural series and historical modes of thinking, without forgetting social practices and media production. This history . . . cannot be limited to traditional media, institutionalized and established in centuries past, but must include forgotten imag(o)inations, utopias and practices; and textual, pictorial and pragmatic representations by ‘disused,’ ‘virtual’ and ‘new’ media. The histories already written on created and institutionalized media are thus surrounded by a range of unwritten or not yet written histories, on dated viewpoints on media and on forgotten media. Nor is it obvious how to do the history of a medium . . . because it is not obvious that media per se exist. . . . So shouldn’t we do, rather than the history of one medium, the history of that medium’s network?”

We note once again that we could also sketch a simpler binary topology of intervals: intervals in the strong sense of the term, which give rise to strong unlinkings within the series; and intervals in the weak sense of the term, meaning intervals which create neither decisive gaps nor gulfs in identity, sometimes to the point of forgetting that these intervals are, precisely, serial: in this case the interval is closer to a transition, to a concern with creating continuity between two hubs of series. Here we see the paradox driving series: they try to deny the interval which, paradoxically, establishes them. In one sense, the cultural series approach is also a negation of intervals in order to better understand the series the researcher is constructing. We note again that these intervals in the weak sense of the term can also be measured and interpreted against the characteristics of popular and media culture. They can then be classified as serial, or what Matthieu Letourneux (2017) describes as having a “serial effect.” And the intervals in this kind of seriality function in particular to maintain continuity, to create a continuance of recurring elements, while at the same time injecting difference (if only in the tempo, cadence or rhythm).

The Institutional Perspective vs. the Perspective of the Cultural Series Researcher

The fixing of intervals carried out by the institution in order to preserve its identity must also, as fixed as it may be, itself be seen as evolving and diachronic. Because the institution will evolve, moreover it has no choice, for otherwise it would become sclerotic; it can also incorporate (or attempt to incorporate, to absorb) and codify for its own use and under its control technological complements, new distribution devices, new practices, etc. But where the institutional point of view is clearly distinct from the cultural series point of view is in the refusal to adopt the “serial-centrism” (Gaudreault and Marion 2015, 154-58) point of view of the institution erected around a medium. Hence this recurring question, posed in diachronic terms and based on a “genealogy” of identity intervals: how can a well-established medium comport itself in the face of a growing and advancing new media rival? Or again: how can this medium manage internal dissidence, the contesting of its identity intervals or of the accepted hierarchy between them (as we saw with the movie theatre crisis precipitated by Netflix)?

Basically, the institution has a choice between two solutions: it can refuse to see an identity interval be created by attempting to incorporate the rival through absorption – like the magic lanternist Roger Child Bayley who, five years after the Lumière brothers’ invention, situated the development of the newly-minted Cinématographe within the orbit of the magic lantern14 – or, at the other extreme, it can create difference and thus reinforce the unlinking power of the interval.

In the days of its earliest competition with television, that rapidly expanding “madman in the house,” and after having given up on absorbing it, the cinema institution tried to deploy the screen size identity interval: it was the big screen vs. the small screen, with all that this implies with respect to implicit value judgements. Television, however, refusing to be reduced to this small screen, which for a long time served as a nickname furnishing it with its identity, in the end increased the quality and the size of its domestic screens in an attempt to neutralize this differentiating interval. With home theatre it even tried to absorb cinema into domestic space.15

Cinema, for its part, had to compensate for this loss of interval (that between the large screen and the small, which became larger and larger) with something else – by building on its attractional resources, as it has often done in its history: HFR (high frame rate), 3D, IMAX technology, etc. Note in this respect that there exists a third solution in addition to the two kinds of institutional reactions we have just described, an intermediate solution consisting in finding new ways to make the two media complementary. Some exhibitors, for example, go so far as to see Netflix not as an enemy but rather as a stimulant, prompting them to seek out new forms of drawing power, which can consist for example in creating events around films by inviting its actors or producers, by setting up encounters and discussions, etc.  Whatever the nuance, what we have just described is a good indication of how conception of the interval is focused on the media institution in question. This, we repeat, is not the position of the cultural series approach. In this way, researchers of cultural series may, if they decide that this is what is needed for the legitimate needs of their vectorized work, to raise up the screen as a cultural super-series. They can also limit and delineate this choice, for example by granting the domestic screen the status of cultural series, which would do away with (or modify or reorganize) the intervals between, for example, the magic lantern, domestic slide shows, television, home theatre, etc.

Cinephilia as the Guarantor of Identity Intervals

Cinephilia also makes it possible to interrogate identity intervals managed by the cinema institution from yet another angle. Cinephilia is interesting in that it organizes intervals in a manner often parallel to that of the institution but injects into them a pronounced affective motivation (cinephilia being in a sense the cinema institution’s affective hub). This is the case with the claims made for the social experience of the darkened movie theatre as a condition of cinephilia and even, according to Susan Sontag (1996), of cinema’s resilience. For many cinephiles, the movie theatre is what constructs cinema’s singularity in the synchronous series visual media and which creates the “harmonic” interval (see above) between what is cinema and what is not. Note, however, that like the institution, this cinephilia also operates diachronically, particularly with respect to what Jenkins (2006) calls “delivery technologies,” establishing a clear distinction between these and the medium’s content. Jenkins explains: “Recorded sound is the medium. CDs, MP3s and 8-track cassettes are delivery technologies” (2006, 13).16

Recently, with the rapid disappearance of DVDs and of stores specializing in DVD rentals (the famous but now dated video clubs), we are seeing a form of cinephilic resilience which has given rise, amongst some users of DVDs, to a kind of cult around the material object and its case. The physical object itself has now become the concrete object of a new cinephilia at a time of cinema’s general dematerialization and the supremacy of streaming platforms. As the former director of a now-defunct video club in Quebec City, Michel Savoy, said in an interview with the journalist Valérie Cloutier, “the market for film material will remain for true lovers of cinema.” He added: “Some people are happy with a digital signal, but for me, they [DVDs] are my friends. I’m one of those people who like to surround themselves with objects which extend me.”17 It must be noted that when Savoy speaks of “film material” and his friends the films, he is referring to films on DVD (and formerly on VHS cassettes) which his business made available to rent: “in history, cinema is some 120 years old. If it disappears, the business of renting films will nevertheless have lasted some thirty-five years, or almost a quarter of film history,” he concludes philosophically. The passion of “DVDphiles” (Dequen 2009) is thus perceptibly similar to the connection cinephile collectors have with film stock. In a sense, cinephiles are the guardians of identity intervals. 

Hence the following nagging question: what is the effect on identity intervals of the dematerializations to which digital mutations have dedicated us? We might even attempt a comparison with another visual medium, the video game. We know that in this field the console is a delivery technology (in the broad sense). It is the console which gives players access to the game and lets them experience its features. The console is the condition of the interactivity which creates unmistakeable video games’ identity intervals, long seen as discriminant. Then, in 2019, Google launched its “Netflix of the video game”: a streaming platform for video games without consoles. As Anthony Morel reports, “This is what is known as ‘cloud gaming,’ and it is the next technological rupture in the world of video games, which foretells in the medium term the pure and simple disappearance of consoles.”18 Will this new cloud gaming cast consoles into the ranks of lost identity intervals? Or will they be claimed by some (perhaps with a touch of nostalgia), like film stock and DVDs for cinephiles, as an indispensable technology for creating an identity interval between video games and other media?

To conclude, let us say that what we have outlined above shows well how we benefit from joining the concept of cultural series with that of the interval as a zone of dynamic friction with a seriality updated by the researcher, who takes on the mission of identifying serial features in an agglomeration of media-cultural data. Putting into series and identifying intervals: this is the editorial function of the researcher working in the field of cultural series. We have also seen the extent to which this conception of series leads to a stymieing of the unlinking power of intervals. As we wrote in our article “Defence and Illustration of the Concept of the Cultural Series,”

“The contours of the series may be confused for a time with that of the practice, but its vocation is other: to go beyond that practice by forging other links and other continuities, by prying it free of its status as a practice, by ‘demediatizing’ it to give it a function of heuristic ‘framing,’ which is precisely what a cultural series does” (Gaudreault and Marion, in forthcoming book edited by Rob King and Charlie Keil). 

In addition, the following observation by Laurent Gerbier19 about our conception of the cultural series strikes the same note, we believe:

“What is fundamental about the concept ‘cultural series’ is that it is not just a cultural practice. It is, above all, a choice made by the researcher in response to a problem, who brings into existence a category which appears to make sense. Seen in this light, the concept “cultural series” is a research tool which produces intelligibility which is as little biased as possible (meaning the least brutally genealogical as possible, because it will involve using the concept to forestall the eternal question of a medium’s source.”

Reasoning in terms of cultural series is a way to revisit – with a hint of deliberate constructivism – the identity intervals between media: a way in which, we repeat, to interpret discontinuities in terms of continuities. This is in keeping with the perspective, which was also constructivist, of Michel Foucault, for whom archaeology has a dual mission, that of bringing certain aspects of phenomena out of the shadows while creating connections and continuities between them. A serial reading thus revisits the melodic and harmonic intervals of the great media-cultural seriality (the great serial syntagmatics?). It brings out connections and continuities between disseminated and seemingly disparate elements. It is in this sense that researchers of cultural series revisit and reorganize the cartography of intermedial intervals – by not hesitating to reinterpret or to modify them or to create new ones for legitimate research reasons.

Translated by Timothy Barnard


Barthes, Roland. 1961. “Première Conférence internationale sur l’information visuelle.” Communications, no 1: 223-225.

———. 1980. “Upon Leaving the Movie Theater.” In Apparatus, edited by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, 1-4. New York: Tanam Press.

Bellour, Raymond. 2012. La querelle des dispositifs: Cinéma – installations, expositions, Paris: P.O.L.

Bolle De Bal, Marcel. 2003. “Reliance, déliance, liance: émergence de trois notions sociologiques.” Société, no. 80: 99-131.

Cesbron, Mathilde. 2017. “Les trois mesures de Netflix pour renforcer votre addiction.” Le Point Pop, April 6.

Child Bayley, Roger. 1900. Modern Magic Lanterns: A Guide to the Management of the Optical Lantern, for the Use of Entertainers, Lecturers, Photographers, Teachers, and Others. London: L. Upcott Gill and Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900,

Cousin, Capucine. 2018. Netflix & Cie: Les coulisses d’une (r)évolution. Paris: Armand Colin.

Delorme, Stéphane. 2018. “Pourquoi le cinéma?” Cahiers du cinéma, no. 742, March.

Dequen, Bruno. 2009. “Les collectionneurs de DVD: Technophilie galopante et reconfiguration de la cinéphilie,” 24 images, no. 142, June: 22-27.

Gaudreault, André. 1997. “Les vues cinématographiques selon Georges Méliès ou Comment Mitry et Sadoul avaient peut-être raison d’avoir tort (même si c’est surtout Deslandes qu’il faut lire et relire).” In Georges Méliès, l’illusionniste fin de siècle? edited by Jacques Malthête and Michel Marie, p. 111-131. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.

———. 2012. “The Culture Broth and the Froth of Cultures of So-called Early Cinema.” In A Companion to Early Cinema, edited by Nicolas Dulac, André Gaudreault and Santiago Hidalgo, 34-53. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

Gaudreault, André, and Philippe Marion. 2005. “A Medium Is Always Born Twice . . .” Early Popular Visual Culture 3 (1), May: 3-15.

———. 2015. The End of Cinema? A Medium in Crisis in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press. 

———. Forthcoming. “Defence and Illustration of the Concept ‘Cultural Series’”, in The Oxford Handbook of Silent Cinema, edited by Robert J. King and Charlie Keil. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Klein, Naomi. 2020. “Screen New Deal: Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia.” The Intercept, May 8.

Letourneux, Matthieu. 2017. Fictions à la chaîne: Littératures sérielles et culture médiatique. Paris: Seuil.

Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press. 

Müller, Jürgen. 2007. “Séries culturelles audiovisuelles ou des premiers pas intermédiatiques dans les nuages de l’archéologie des médias.” In Intermédialité et socialité: Histoire et géographie d’un concept, edited be Marion Froger and Jürgen E. Müller, 93-110. Münster: Nodus.

Sontag, Susan. 1996. “The Decay of Cinema.” New York Times, February 25.

Vulser, Nicole. 2018. “Netfilx irrite les exploitants de salles de cinéma.” Le Monde, November 14.

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André Gaudreault is a professor in the Département d’histoire de l’art et d’études cinématographiques at the Université de Montréal and holds the Canada Research Chair in Film and Media Studies. In 2016 he founded the Laboratoire CinéMédias, as part of which he is co-director of the International Research Partnership cinEXmedia and director of the International Research Partnership TECHNÈS and of the Groupe de recherche sur l’avènement et la formation des identités médiatiques (GRAFIM). His publications include From Plato to Lumière: Narration and Monstration in Literature and Cinema (2005, first published in French in 1988), Film and Attraction: From Kinematography to Cinema (2011, first published in French in 2008), The End of Cinema? (2015) (with Philippe Marion, first published in French in 2013, with a revised and extensively augmented French edition which appeared in 2023) and Le récit cinématographique (with François Jost, 1990 and 2017). His research has earned him several awards and distinctions, including the ACFAS André-Laurendeau award (2013), the Léon-Gérin award (2017), the Killam Prize in the Humanities (2018) and two honorary doctorates (from Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 in 2019 and Université Rennes 2 in 2021). He was named a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2013, member of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2016 and Officer of the Order of Canada in 2022.

Philippe Marion holds a doctorate in information and communication sciences and is an emeritus professor in the École de communication of the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL). Co-founder of the Observatoire du récit médiatique (ORM) and of the Groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche sur les cultures et les arts en mouvement (GIRCAM), he was also director of the research group Analyse des médias at UCL and is a member of the board of directors of the Fondation Collectiana. A guest professor at the École des hautes études en sciences de l’information et de la communication, at the Université de Neuchâtel and at the École européenne supérieure de l’image at Angoulême, since 2018 he has served as the lead investigator for the EOS (Excellence of Science) research program The Magic Lantern and its Cultural Impact as Visual Mass Medium (1830-1940). A specialist in media narratology and visual culture, he is the author of several books, including Schuiten, filiation (2009) and The End of Cinema? (2015) (with André Gaudreault, first published in French in 2013, with a revised and extensively augmented French edition which appeared in 2023).

  1. The work on which the present text is based has benefitted from the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), under the aegis of four university infrastructures headed by André Gaudreault under the umbrella of the Laboratoire Cinémédias at the Université de Montréal: the Canada Research Chair in Film and Media Studies, the Programme de recherche sur l’archéologie et la généalogie du montage/editing (PRAGM/e), the International Research Partnership on Cinema Techniques and Technologies (TECHNÈS) and the Groupe de recherche sur l’avènement et la formation des identités médiatiques. ↩︎
  2. In English, the word series has a kind of self-referential quality to it: there is in the term already an idea of plurality, there is already a series. ↩︎
  3. See the Trésor de la langue française (éliaison) and the Littré (éliaison). ↩︎
  4. This connection is made in the dictionary of synonyms in the Quebec grammar correction and writing assistance software Antidote, developed by the company Druide informatique. ↩︎
  5. These definitions are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. ↩︎
  6. This is something that is cried from the rooftops in the title of an article by Nicole Vulser – “Le géant américain, poil à gratter des salles de cinéma” – published in the print edition of Le Monde on November 14th 2018 and on-line the day before under the title “Netflix irrite les exploitants de salles de cinéma” ( ↩︎
  7. “Un nouvel accord modifie la ‘chronologie des médias,’ les films arriveront à la télévision plus vite après leur sortie,” Franceinfo, December 21st 2018. ↩︎
  8. Ibid. ↩︎
  9. According to Netflix’s financial results for the year 2019. See Tristant Gaudiaut, “Netflix fait le plein d’abonnés à l’international,” Statista, January 22nd 2020, ↩︎
  10.  On the topic of this addiction to Netflix, see in particular the following article in the dossier “Dans l’antre de Netflix” of the magazine Le Point: Mathilde Cesbron, “Les trois mesures de Netflix pour renforcer votre addiction,” Le Point Pop, April 6th 2017, ↩︎
  11. Capucine Cousin (2008, 39) describes this encouragement of addiction practised by Netflix in the following manner: “When the first episode of a series is over, the company suggests we move on directly to the next one, by zapping the closing credits, and of course without having to sit through commercials, which might prompt us to stop. By default, the following episode begins automatically after a few seconds. At the beginning of each episode, Netflix even suggests, to ‘gain time,’ to zap its credits.” ↩︎
  12. On this question of classical cinema’s “pushing animation to the periphery,” see in particular Lev Manovich (2001, 302). ↩︎
  13. In French we use the term “reliance,” in the sense in which it is understood by sociologists, for whom it refers to the creation of bonds between people or systems. See in particular Marcel Bolle De Bal (2003). ↩︎
  14. Child Bayley wrote in 1900, at the beginning of a chapter entitled “Animated Lantern Pictures,” added to the end of the second edition of his book, originally published in 1895: “In the beginning of 1896 a novelty in lantern work was first shown in London in the form of Mr. Birt Acres’ Kinetic Lantern, as it was then called, by which street scenes and other moving objects were displayed on the screen in motion with a fidelity which was very remarkable. Almost immediately afterwards a number of other inventors were in the field with instruments for performing the same operation, and animated lantern pictures under all sorts of Greek and Latin names were quite the sensation of the moment.” (Child Bayley 1900, 102.) On this topic, see André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion (2015, 156-57) and André Gaudreault (2012, 36-37). ↩︎
  15. A domestic space which enables the viewer to avoid the social ordeal of the movie theatre, the way Amazon, as a supplier of books, enables readers to avoid the social ordeal of bookstores and lining up at the cash. On this topic, see the article by the Canadian journalist and essay writer Naomi Klein, who speaks of a “no-touch future” in which “almost everything is home delivered, either virtually . . . or physically” and in which “our homes . . . already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues . . . are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and . . . our jails” (Klein 2020). ↩︎
  16.  For Jenkins (2006, 13-14), delivery technologies are “the tools we use to access media content”; they are “simply and only technologies” put in the service of content in order to propagate it and make it available, audible, visible, consumable, etc. ↩︎
  17. Valérie Cloutier, “Clubs vidéo: des irréductibles qui tirent leur épingle du jeu,” Ici Radio-Canada, March 31st 2019, ↩︎
  18. Anthony Morel, “Google lance son Netflix du jeu vidéo,” BFMTV, March 20th 2019,; see also the article by Elsa Trujillo, “Stadia, le ‘Netflix du jeu vidéo’ de Google, débarquera en France en novembre,” BFMTV,  June 6th 2019 (, as well as the video in the Culture Geek column by Anthony Morel posted online on November 19th 2019 on the BFMTV site (, where one can read: “are game consoles an endangered species? That is what the bet being placed by Google, which is launching Stadia, its video game streaming platform. The principle: a catalogue of very high-end games one can use without the need for a console or a PC. All you need is a screen, an Internet connection and a gamepad.” ↩︎
  19. During the second session of a seminar on the concept of the cultural series which he gave at Université François-Rabelais in Tours in 2011, and about which one can find a discussion (written by Flaurette Gautier) on the site of the host group InTRu (Interactions, transferts et ruptures artistiques et culturels), at ↩︎