Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

Thomas Elsaesser “The New Film History as Media Archaeology:


Media archeology: a theoretical approach to film history with an ambition to overcome the opposition between “old” and “new” media and other binaries which film theorists have invented for the (mis)understanding of film and film history.

In his article The New Film History as Media Archeology, Elsaesser calls for the embrace of an archeology where we dispose of the linear mindset of filmic past, urging instead for a re-examination of digital cinema as a vessel for a greater understanding of film as a whole. Digital cinema, thus, can act as a re-edification tool for what cinema is instead of a rupture of what cinema (as a perception) was. Through media archeology as rosetta stone for the new film history, we can trace single elements of film’s history back in time without fear of bifurcation (or a “rupture”) by way of these practices. This is the case because this “cinema of attractions” is actually [according to Elsaesser] a mechanism for interconnectivity; one that defies the [common] pre-conceptions from both camps whereupon this new practice is viewed either as messiah to an excised, higher state of the form, or as the seed of cinema’s demise.

Being neither a sign of de-evolution or as deviation from common film practices and its enriched history, digital cinema is merely an extension and a deepening of our filmic awareness. Therefore it becomes incumbent that we cease our Frankenstenien persecution against this mis-labeled “digital antagonism”, as the deviation movement is one that actually takes us closer to a more crystalline knowing of the form (and its history). Able to deploy objectivity in place of a ideological partisanship, Elsaesser is able to trace back this “digital” cinema technology, claiming that there are a multitude of origins that serve to de-radicalize the pre-conception that the aforementioned practice is somehow “bad”.

Using Elsaesser’s postulations that film is made up of more than just its the three pillars (photograph, projection and the “discovery” of persistence of vision) we have chosen to explore some of the various technologies that would expand this notion as it relates to cinema. The intention here is to radicalize a component or “pillar” of cinema’s origins otherwise viewed as homogenous (and inseparable) so as to further drive his point home.

Examples of other technologies that have shaped cinema:

Aviaton/ Drone technology: how its rise (and with the case of aviation, its parallel one) with cinema aided in a greater filmic experience (through the introduction of the “arial shot” among other affordances). Not only have these technologies created new aesthetic experiences and standards in mainstream cinema. These technologies have  introduced  new ethical dilemmas regarding surveillance and privacy relevant to especially non-fiction cinema and media art.

The Computer: initially designed with military applications in mind, we now find its uses (anywhere from  NLE — Non Linear Editing Systems— to sound, compressor, and CGI technologies and softwares) of primary importance to the post-production processes of the medium.

The Phonograph: being essentially an audio-visual art form the invention of phonograph is essential to development of cinema. Movies, event so called silent one, have always been accompanied by sound and music as an essential tool for conveying atmospheres, feelings and telling stories.

What becomes apparent is that these technologies are not only incumbent pillars of cinematic development but point to an expansion and redefinition of what cinema is.

The discussion then moves towards the notion of film’s collective goal (if one can claim there is such a thing). Total immersion (as is the common belief) is not the endgame for cinema. In fact, sometimes passivity and an awareness of the form is as desired and reewarding as the suspension of one’s disbelief. Cinema’s goal changes from project to project, film to film, genre to genre and especially filmmaker to filmmaker, across the age, through time, and into the future.

An attempt at total immersion (through bigger screens, etc.) in early film history certainly gives us motive for why we believe that an emulation of reality is the zenith of our collective attempts within the form, but when focusing on the concurrent rise (in early cinema) of the alienation movement (i.e. Brecht), cinema cannot lay claim to holding one singular ideal. The ideal, it seems (at least in part), is to deepen an understanding of some sort (whether it be of ourselves, our world, our own humanity), something the aforementioned “digitization movement’ does with tremendous results. If only we could  allow ourselves to get out of our own way.

Questions to consider:

What are the possible strengths and weaknesses in this archaeologic approach to understanding film history?

How can we as theorists and practitioners use media archeology?

What other technologies could possibly have a defining impact on (future) cinema?

Are these new technologies or have we seen early examples of their use back in film history?

- Nanna Rebekka

Sun, October 18 2015 » archives, digital cinema, early cinema, emerging technologies, history