Last class! Thank you all for an excellent semester. I very much enjoyed reading your contributions to this blog—it made for a dynamic feedback loop of ideas and responses.
This week, we wrapped up the course by considering cinema’s digital turn. How have new technologies changed the way films are made, distributed, and seen? Given that cinema is a historical contingent collection of materials that are always changing—films from 1910 don’t look like films from the 30s, films from the 60s don’t look like films from the 80s, etc—does the fact that “films” are no longer necessary made up of analog, photo-chemically-based film represent a more profound or significant shift? Do digital technologies provide new ways of seeing? New aesthetics? How do digital technologies alter our understanding of the moving image’s relation to reality? At various times in the history of the moving image, film has said to have died—“the death of cinema”—is this a passing of a different nature?
How does the Internet change our consumption and production of the moving image? Think of the proliferation of moving images online over the last ten years, from gifs to supercuts, memes, mashups, LOLcats to music videos—more people are making and sharing moving images that at any time in history. We’ve discussed how experimental filmmaking and home movies converged in the 1960s…now that diaristic impulse to make the personal public, to shed privacy in favor of transparency, or simply to try and draw attention to oneself, is a norm.
The issue of privacy is one theme that seems to emanate from discussions of new media, intellectual property is another. Appropriation, which we’ve discussed in previous classes, is the motor driving a great deal of online moving and still image making. This ubiquity is expressed in video game and new media artist Cory Arcangel’s statement that appropriation is no longer a particularly contested site of cultural production, and that, rather, “it is the air that I breathe.”
Similarly, the digital’s blurring of lines between original and copy, representation and abstraction, real and constructed, has provoked debates regarding the digital’s relation to reality. Even though digital cameras rely on light readings and lenses to capture imagery, some feel that the loss of the photochemical process in favor of information that is stored and read as binary code, and shown in pixels and layers, means that digital mediation is fundamentally opposed to, or unable to capture reality in the way traditional cinema could. Just think of this week’s varied reactions, from condemnation to hyperbolic praise, to Peter Jackson showing 10 minutes of his forthcoming Hobbit movie, filmed in 3D at 48fps. Many viewers thought it did not look sufficiently cinematic, and others worried that it looked “too real.” What does this mean?
So, in order to examine the range of possibilities in how the digital relates to the real, we watched:
Speed Racer (the Wachowski Brothers, 2008)—a candy-colored digital fantasia that wears its technophilia on its sleeve.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)—The idea here is that we live in a mediated interconnected headspace, where fantasy and reality are always in flux, where individual subjectivities bleed in and out of one another, and that our lives and identities are constructed by other media, here comics, movies, and video games, and are subject to radical change via those forms of mediation. What is “real” in this canny mix of anime, kung fu, video games, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels and indie rock are the emotions gestured at, and later made central, to the narrative: post-adolescent confusion, solipsism, a realization of a world outside of oneself, of the necessity of growing up, loving others, and earning self-respect.
Tommy Chat Just E-mailed Me (Ryan Trecartin, 2006)
Ryan Trecartin, interviewed:
The relationship between consciousness of these personality progressions on an intuitive and dimensional level is very exciting to me. I see my characters exploring a technologically driven yet non-gender-centric psychologically complex transitional world which is inherently positive and energetic as opposed to neutral and formulaic. I’m very inspired by the tendency for transition to encourage creation rather than the act of subscribing to roles provided through gender, per se.
RT: Yes, time is altered to enhance and encourage felt experience. The timing is manipulated to take the viewer into the piece enhancing a more ride-like digestion of the story, making the act of viewing a part of the piece. The timing comments on the current theme being experienced and explored in the current scene. It all depends on what moment of the piece you happen to be watching. And maybe the timing is a character that evolves and has it’s own “plot personality”.
RT: Life has changed greatly since 1995 and so should the logic of storytelling and the look, structure and creation of the moving image. I use manners that relate and challenge current life, and that meditate on future possibilities. I would argue that the word professional is slowly becoming harder and harder to understand or evaluate.
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)—the first Hollywood film made directly to a hard drive is both a post 9/11 meditation on media-manipulated terror and an exploration of the human conditions and desire for knowledge that engender the creation of new media. A treatise on the limits of our knowledge, and what happens when we run out of information.