Future Cinema

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

Manovich “What is Digitial Cinema?”

In his essay “What is Digital Cinema?” Lev Manovich notes that the majority of discussion around digital cinema has focused on the possibilities of narrative interaction. Manovich argues that this focus on narrative only addresses one aspect of cinema, which is neither unique nor essential to the medium.

For Manovich the challenge presented by digital media extends beyond the issue of narrative to the very identity of cinema. With enough time or money anything can be simulated in a computer, reducing the filming of physical reality to just one of many options available to filmmakers.

He invokes French theorist Christopher Metz in noting that most films possess the common characteristic of telling a story, to which Manovich adds most films are live action films consisting unmodified recordings of real events which took place in real physical space.

The development of a whole repertoire of techniques during the history of cinema (lighting, art direction, various film stocks and lenses) are ultimately rooted in attempts to obtain deposits from reality.
What do you think of Manovich’s statement in which he refers to Cinema as the “art of the index” an attempt to make art out of a footprint? Does the identity of Cinema lay in its ability to record reality? Does it merely start the film rolling and record whatever happens to be in front of the lens?

Manovich argues that the indexical identity of cinema is challenged by photorealistic computer generated images which are perfectly credible despite never having been filmed. The return to the manual construction of images means that cinema can no longer be distinguished from animation.

Is cinema no longer an indexical media technology, but rather a sub-genre of painting?
Manovich points to the original names by which cinema was referred (kinetoscope, cinematograph, and moving pictures) as indicative of how it was understood, as the art of motion, one which superseded previous techniques for creating and displaying moving images.

These earlier techniques shared several characteristics. They relied on hand-painted or hand-drawn images and they were manually animated.

Robertson’s Phantasmagoria
The predecessors of cinema also possessed discrete characteristics of space and movement. The moving element was visually separated from the static background, and was limited in range and affecting only a clearly defined figure rather than the whole image.

Film before Film
All of these animations were based around loops, sequences of images which can be played repeatedly. Advances in technology allowed for the automatic generation of images as well as the automatic projection, allowing for the adoption of longer narrative form.

With the stabilization of cinema technology, Manovich argues that all references were cut to its origins in artifice. The manual construction of images, loop actions, and the discrete nature of space and movement were relegated to animation.

How do elements such as costume, lighting and set design fit into Manovich’s notion of “artifice?” Is employment of these cinematic techniques by animators a result of the same technological limitations that had formerly constrained live action film?

Manovich suggests that the opposition between animation and cinema defined the culture of the moving image in the 20th century. Animation is more aligned to the graphic, foregrounding its characters and admitting that its images are merely representation. Cinema attempts to erase any traces of its own production process and is more aligned with the photographic.

Having examined the development of cinema and its precursors Manovich sets out to define digital cinema, which argues follows several principles. Computers can generate film-like physical reality, displacing live action footage as the only possible material from which a film is constructed. Live action footage now functions as raw material for further manipulation, creating a new kind of “elastic reality.” Computer technology has collapsed the distinction between editing and special effects, making them part of the same operation.

Manovich’s answer to question of defining digital cinema is that it is a “particular case of animation which uses live action footage as one of its many elements. Cinema was born from manual construction and animation of images, animation was pushed to the margins only to reappear as the foundation of digital cinema. Shot footage is but raw material to be manipulated in a computer. Production has become just the first stage of post-production.

The mutability of the digital image means that the cinematic image is no longer locked in the photographic. Hand painted digitized film frames represent a return of cinema to its origins in the hand-crafted images of its precursors.

Commercial narrative cinema continues hold on to its realist style in which images function as photographic records of events. Manovich references Metz analysis made in the 1970’s in contemplating the possibility of a greater number of non-narrative films in the future. Manovich gives the examples of the music video and the CD-ROM video game. He argues that video games have followed a similar development path to cinema when faced with some of the same technological limitations, relying on still images and animations, and looped clips. This teleological development replays the emergence of cinema a hundred years earlier, progressing from still images to moving characters over static backgrounds to full motion.

History, Manovich suggests, is not linear march toward one possible language, but a succession of distinct and equally expressive languages, each with its own aesthetic variables. The visual strategies of early multimedia titles may be a result of technological limitations, but it can also be seen as the beginning of digital cinema’s new language.

Jean-Louis Boissier’s Flora petrinsularis
Flora petrinsularis is an interactive CD-ROM program in which the viewers attempts to generate a narrative creates a loop, a structure which becomes a metaphor for human desire which can never achieve resolution. It can also be read as a comment on cinematic resolution.

Manovich’s own “Little Movies” is explicitly modeled after the peep-hole machines of Kinetoscope parlors, drawing a parallel between them and the tiny QuickTime videos of the digital era. Through this work Manovich begins to explore the concept of “spatial montage” between simultaneously co-exiting images. By making images different size and having them appear and disappear in different parts of the screen without any obvious order, Manovich seeks to present the screen as a space of endless possibilities.

Little Movies
In conclusion Manovich argues that the mutability of digital date impairs the value of cinema recordings as documents of reality. Cinematic realism is being displaced from being the dominant mode of moving image culture to become one of only many options.

Tue, November 17 2015 » future cinema 2015