Future Cinema

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

Question for LAST week’s class

I’m afraid that I was under the weather last week and only managed to catch up with the readings for the 15th over the last week. This post will have my question for that class; the question for this week’s readings are forthcoming. Sorry for the delay!

So… How does transmedia as an industrial practice operate in a transnational, globalized media world? In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins describes the Wachowski’s recruiting efforts for different components of The Matrix story world as a planet-spanning, border-crossing creative collaboration between artists who admire each other’s work. Jenkins even positions the Wachowski’s interest in transmedia storytelling as the end result of a “fascination with what anthropologist Mimi Ito has described as Japan’s ‘media mix’ culture” (Jenkins 112).

Does this description of “collaborative authorship,” initiated by influential Western filmmakers, accurately account for the power dynamics that still exist between American media companies and the Asian artists recruited for The Animatrix? If transmedia is inherently transnational, what does that mean for concepts of cultural appropriation or colonization?

Wed, November 22 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: David

Questions for Today’s Class

Reading this week’s texts and in my studies in general, I am often struck by the conflation between the database, the archive, and memory. As such, I was wondering if we could discuss how the database differs from the archive and how they each function as metonyms for memory? How has database culture changed how we think about memory or how we remember?

- Theo X

Wed, November 22 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: theox25

Thoughts on Manovich, Kinder, and Database Cinema…

Hi folks — since I’ll not be in class today, I thought I’d share a few thoughts in reaction to this week’s readings as a roundabout response to Slav & Shiyam’s discussion questions.
(more…)

Tue, November 21 2017 » Future Cinema, Manovich, database, interfaces, narrative » No Comments » Author: sRoberts

Summary: Database Cinema and interactive documentary practices – Manovich

Database as a Symbolic Form
This article is about the rise and domination of a form of cultural expression that affects
virtually every aspect of communicative life within modernity: the database. Historically,
cinema has privileged “the narrative” as the strategic means to convey meaningful information.
In fact, it has been so privileged that it is difficult to find something meaningful if it is codified
otherwise. If in lieu of seeing a film in its final composite of shots, but were thrown into all the
non-edited footage in a disorganized file folder (where file names aren’t at all meaningful but
are randomly named) could we effectively call it a film? I think most of us would be inclined to
think otherwise. But the database “structures” so much of life, that, according to Manovich, we
should start thinking about it for what it is (and certainly not take it for granted). Or at least
that’s my take from the article.
The framework of the internet is, essentially a database. There is no first or last page to the
internet, beginning or end. It has no depth, only different levels of virtuality that are
represented by other levels of virtuality (with the word “level” not necessarily implying
hierarchy). If someone were to say “oh, I’m going to go and understand everything there is to
know about the internet”, they’d be on an absurd quest, on account you can’t really
understand the internet, because the internet isn’t a thing. It’s a database. And a database’
ontology is not meant for understanding in its entirety on account that it possesses no entirety
and no boundary.
In the land of computers, Manovich future divides new media objects not just in terms of data
structures but as well in terms of algorithms. Algorithms are executable, data structures are
that from which one executes; indeed, they, as Manovich puts it, “have a symbiotic
relationship”. I should add here, that data can exist as it is or as they are (depending on what
one thinks of plurality). Algorithms are instructions needing an external instructor (computer
or non-computer). Data, doesn’t have an external instructor on account that in most instances
it has no externality or internality because it is what it is.
Perhaps the most complex part of the article – something I’m still trying to get my head
wrapped around – is the paralleling the database/narrative dichotomy with the semiological
dichotomy of the syntagm and the paradigm. If I may interpolate, the syntagm is “the dish” and
paradigm is the “freedom of the cook”; in other words, the syntagm is whatever that’s present
in communication, the paradigm is all else. So, in terms of the database vs narrative
dichotomy, it’s easy to think of the database as being paradigmatic (because, it’s everything),
and the narrative as syntagmatic (because it’s the final product). Of course, new media, inverts
this “paradigm” in the sense that the paradigm becomes the seen and the syntagm becomes
the unseen (or rather unthought).
This in essence is what this article is about.
Soft Cinema
Software cinema essentially is the kind of cinema generated and compiled by a computer. It’s
composed of two parts, a mechanism to generate imagery, and another to display it. The
details I’m not sure really matter, as really, the main point to draw here is to look at a kind of
simultaneous art made predominently through computer database processes as opposed
narrative human processes.

By: Shiyam Ramachandran

Database as a Symbolic Form


This article is about the rise and domination of a form of cultural expression that affects virtually every aspect of communicative life within modernity: the database. Historically, cinema has privileged “the narrative” as the strategic means to convey meaningful information.

In fact, it has been so privileged that it is difficult to find something meaningful if it is codified otherwise. If in lieu of seeing a film in its final composite of shots, but were thrown into all the non-edited footage in a disorganized file folder (where file names aren’t at all meaningful but are randomly named) could we effectively call it a film? I think most of us would be inclined to think otherwise. But the database “structures” so much of life, that, according to Manovich, we should start thinking about it for what it is (and certainly not take it for granted). Or at least that’s my take from the article.

The framework of the internet is, essentially a database. There is no first or last page to the internet, beginning or end. It has no depth, only different levels of virtuality that are represented by other levels of virtuality (with the word “level” not necessarily implying hierarchy). If someone were to say “oh, I’m going to go and understand everything there is to know about the internet”, they’d be on an absurd quest, on account you can’t really understand the internet, because the internet isn’t a thing. It’s a database. And a database’ ontology is not meant for understanding in its entirety on account that it possesses no entirety and no boundary.

In the land of computers, Manovich future divides new media objects not just in terms of data structures but as well in terms of algorithms. Algorithms are executable, data structures are that from which one executes; indeed, they, as Manovich puts it, “have a symbiotic relationship”. I should add here, that data can exist as it is or as they are (depending on what one thinks of plurality). Algorithms are instructions needing an external instructor (computer or non-computer). Data, doesn’t have an external instructor on account that in most instances it has no externality or internality because it is what it is.

Perhaps the most complex part of the article – something I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around – is the paralleling the database/narrative dichotomy with the semiological dichotomy of the syntagm and the paradigm. If I may interpolate, the syntagm is “the dish” and paradigm is the “freedom of the cook”; in other words, the syntagm is whatever that’s present in communication, the paradigm is all else. So, in terms of the database vs narrative dichotomy, it’s easy to think of the database as being paradigmatic (because, it’s everything), and the narrative as syntagmatic (because it’s the final product). Of course, new media, inverts this “paradigm” in the sense that the paradigm becomes the seen and the syntagm becomes the unseen (or rather unthought). This in essence is what this article is about.

Soft Cinema

Software cinema essentially is the kind of cinema generated and compiled by a computer. It’s composed of two parts, a mechanism to generate imagery, and another to display it. The details I’m not sure really matter, as really, the main point to draw here is to look at a kind of simultaneous art made predominently through computer database processes as opposed narrative human processes.

Mon, November 20 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: slavica

Database Cinema and interactive documentary practices -Martha Kinder and Chris Marker

Summary: Database Cinema and interactive documentary
practices
Slavica Ceperkovic and Shiyam Ramachandran
Martha Kinder  – “Designing a Database Cinema”
In 1997 cultural theorist Martha Kinder went to University of Southern
California to work on “The Labyrinth Project” an applied research
project developed in the digital media lab in collaboration with Pat
O’Neil. This work produced three pieces for an exhibition, as well as a
DVD rom and used 35mm film, found footage, audio narration and an
interactive interface.
Interface designer Rosmary Comella and graphic designer Kristy H.A.
Kang, worked with a team of students, alumni, and free lance
professionals with Martha Kinder and executive producing. In
combing archival and new content, Kinder states that the goal was to
create “electronic fictions” but what was resulted was “interactive
documentaries”. In further examination she classifies the work under
two subgenres of interactive documentary; personal memoir and the
second an “archeological exploration of a specific location through
layers of time”. Kinder indicates that both are interrelated in that both
sub-genres blur boundaries of fiction and rely on artifacts.
In contrast to Lev Manovich’s opnion to database narrative, Kinder
states that database memory is : “Two compatible structures whose
combination is crucial to the creative expansion of new media since
all narratives are constructed by selecting items from databases (that
usually remain hidden), and then combining these items to create a
particular story. Despite the cyber-structualist dream of totality, the
database, like the narrative, is always selective”.
Kinder indicates that all the Labyrinth project is “database narrative”
where stories are all crucial to language. Although it does not have a
clear cut beginning or ending, it presents a narrative field of story
elements for the user.
Kinder speaks about the convergence of cinema with new media has
shaped a series of database narratives in films such as “Ground hog
day, slackers, Natural born killers and Run Lola Run”. She also
refers to Crhis Marker’s CD –Rom Immemory (1999) and film Level 5.
Kinder touches on pre-digital interactive narrative models shown in
books such as Laurence Sterne’s comic novel “Tristram Shandy”
where the narrator makes a hypothetical lady reader go back and re-
read a chapter.
In closing, Kinder reflects on previous narrative structures rather than
future utopian structures and the evolution of storytelling through the
combination of design, choice and chance.
Chris Marker – Immemory
Chris Marker is known for “essay films” where there is an unusual use
of narrative as text where it is rhythmically interwoven with the image.
This creates a complex montage structure which can be described
following Gilles Deleuze’s “audio visual image’. This results in a new
role of the viewer where they must actively participate in the film.
Dominant themes in Chris Marker’s works are recollection and
memory. He uses film, installation and CD-ROM as a process of
recollection and Marker uses images as a function and catalyst of
changing views of history and past events.
First shown in 1990 at the Centre George Pompidou, Paris, Marker’s
work “Zapping Zone, Proposals for an imaginary Television” used
film, video, television, photography and computers as part of the
installation. In the animation pieces, viewers can control some
aspects with a mouse click that loops the sequences creating new
narrative connections. Compared to Tarkosk’s film Stalker (1978)
where the zone is a place that follows no logical views, in Marker’s
“Zapping zone” there is no straight path to knowledge and that stories
rather than one single history is the result.
In Marker’s CD rom work “Immemory” (1997) the zapping is replaced
by a mouse click and memory is gained through seven “zones”.
Themes of memory and archive are also reflected in this work and a
number of paths can be taken by the viewer to review images and
sequences. The motif of the journey also is apparent in this work and
it does not present recollection and memory as a history book but
rather as geography. The navigation allows multiple ways to branch
off into other zones.
Questions:
1) What are different implications of Manovich and Kinder’s
differences in the definition of Database Cinema?
2) Does Chris Marker’s Immemory reflect Manovich’s or Kinder’s
definition of Database Cinema?

Summary: Database Cinema and interactive documentary practices

By: Slav

Martha Kinder  – “Designing a Database Cinema”

In 1997 cultural theorist Martha Kinder went to University of Southern California to work on “The Labyrinth Project” an applied research project developed in the digital media lab in collaboration with Pat O’Neil. This work produced three pieces for an exhibition, as well as a DVD rom and used 35mm film, found footage, audio narration and an interactive interface.

Interface designer Rosmary Comella and graphic designer Kristy H.A. Kang, worked with a team of students, alumni, and free lance professionals with Martha Kinder and executive producing. In combing archival and new content, Kinder states that the goal was to create “electronic fictions” but what was resulted was “interactive documentaries”. In further examination she classifies the work under two subgenres of interactive documentary; personal memoir and the second an “archeological exploration of a specific location through layers of time”. Kinder indicates that both are interrelated in that both sub-genres blur boundaries of fiction and rely on artifacts.

In contrast to Lev Manovich’s opnion to database narrative, Kinder states that database memory is : “Two compatible structures whose combination is crucial to the creative expansion of new media since all narratives are constructed by selecting items from databases (that usually remain hidden), and then combining these items to create a particular story. Despite the cyber-structualist dream of totality, the database, like the narrative, is always selective”.

Kinder indicates that all the Labyrinth project is “database narrative” where stories are all crucial to language. Although it does not have a clear cut beginning or ending, it presents a narrative field of story elements for the user.

Kinder speaks about the convergence of cinema with new media has shaped a series of database narratives in films such as “Ground hog day, slackers, Natural born killers and Run Lola Run”. She also refers to Crhis Marker’s CD –Rom Immemory (1999) and film Level 5.

Kinder touches on pre-digital interactive narrative models shown in books such as Laurence Sterne’s comic novel “Tristram Shandy” where the narrator makes a hypothetical lady reader go back and re-read a chapter.

In closing, Kinder reflects on previous narrative structures rather than future utopian structures and the evolution of storytelling through the combination of design, choice and chance.

Chris Marker – Immemory

Chris Marker is known for “essay films” where there is an unusual use of narrative as text where it is rhythmically interwoven with the image. This creates a complex montage structure which can be described following Gilles Deleuze’s “audio visual image’. This results in a new role of the viewer where they must actively participate in the film.

Dominant themes in Chris Marker’s works are recollection and memory. He uses film, installation and CD-ROM as a process of recollection and Marker uses images as a function and catalyst of changing views of history and past events.

First shown in 1990 at the Centre George Pompidou, Paris, Marker’s work “Zapping Zone, Proposals for an imaginary Television” used film, video, television, photography and computers as part of the installation. In the animation pieces, viewers can control some aspects with a mouse click that loops the sequences creating new narrative connections. Compared to Tarkosk’s film Stalker (1978) where the zone is a place that follows no logical views, in Marker’s “Zapping zone” there is no straight path to knowledge and that stories rather than one single history is the result.

In Marker’s CD rom work “Immemory” (1997) the zapping is replaced by a mouse click and memory is gained through seven “zones”. Themes of memory and archive are also reflected in this work and a number of paths can be taken by the viewer to review images and sequences. The motif of the journey also is apparent in this work and it does not present recollection and memory as a history book but rather as geography. The navigation allows multiple ways to branch off into other zones.

Questions:

1) What are different implications of Manovich and Kinder’s differences in the definition of Database Cinema?

2) Does Chris Marker’s Immemory reflect Manovich’s or Kinder’s definition of Database Cinema?

Mon, November 20 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: slavica

Question for today

In her article “Designing a Database Cinema,” Marsha Kinder, speaking of Luis Bunuel’s films The Milky Way and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, writes, “One can follow any of the [many] narrative strands [in the films] that, although ingeniously interwoven, purposely never cohere – a networking [of narrative strand] enabling the viewer to observe the narrative engine in action.”

In thinking of this interweaving of ‘narrative strands,’ I thought of the proliferation of mash-up culture, which grew in popularity in the mid-2000s when software for amalgamating and remixing both audio and video became readily available. In particular, I thought of Girl Talk, a mash up music artist whose compositions were coupled with remixed videos of the songs they sampled. The idea of remixing interests me because it takes a work that has a narrative strand (or, at a the very least, a structured beginning-middle-end), and flips it, distorts it, chops it up and restructures it, defeating the purpose of the original’s narrative and creating a new narrative.

My question is, when a work is purposely non-narrative, or appears as anarrative (a new word?), how often do you, as the viewer, attempt to create a narrative of your own? How often are we actually afforded the opportunity to do this? And does our ability to connect causal elements in visual media mean that a strict, structured narrative is not necessarily required when fashioning a ‘mental narrative’?

Some Girl Talk examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JBAxkZun3s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKqkcHvJN9k

Wed, November 15 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Marko Djurdjic

shared doc for Nov 15th 2017 – thoughts and questions here

follow this link:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZfcOTQI6FMk7HK7fYtVOgEZ7EK_bwztsl4xoNZOBXvI/edit?usp=sharing

Wed, November 15 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Caitlin

Question for today (Elssesser’s article)

Elssesser theorizes that new technologies would expand notions or “pillars” that made of cinema. One of the “pillars” include ‘discovery’ of persistence of vision which can be interpreted as the nature of moving images itself. However, cinema at its current stage has an end point: featured length cinema runs up to 95 min to 2 hours etc etc. What Lev Manovich proposes in “Soft Cinema: database narrative” are “films” that are edited in real time from footage in a database and should run forever. This new kind of digital “film” not only disrupt the dynamic of spectatorship and authorship, it also redefine the concept of “persistence of vision”—from what I can understand as the moving images should be never ending. Without the constraints of time, the structure that defines narrativee and flow no longer exists, does that give rise to a new form of cinema or is it no longer cinema?

Wed, November 15 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: yolanda

Convergence Culture – Summary and Questions-Daniel

Convergence Culture

By Henry Jenkins

First published in 2006, Henry Jenkins’ book, “Convergence Culture – Where Old and New Media Collide” discusses the intersection of three central ideas in a growingly interconnected world.

Media Convergence – defined as the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences across different media platforms.

Participatory Culture – is a concept where the publics are not merely consumers (of media) but also producers and contributors. Jenkins states that consumer’s active participation is one of the driving forces in the circulation and propagation of media across international boundaries and media systems.

Jenkins looks at media producers and consumers as participants who interact

with each other. But corporations still exert greater power than any individual consumer or even the aggregate of consumers.

Collective Intelligence – Because there is more information on any given topic than anyone can store, collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and collective efforts of many individuals.

“When fans or users work as communities to leverage their combined expertise, a collective intelligence process is generated.”

What is Media?

Jenkins begins by trying to define media. He turns to historian Lisa Gitelman’s  model where on the one hand, a medium is a technology that enables communication while on the other, it is also the set of associated protocols and cultures that spring up as a result of that technology.

Jenkins calls these “communication enabling technologies”, delivery systems(cassettes, DVDs, mp3) – they become obsolete with time. But the set of social and cultural practices associated linger on adding to the layers of communication and information stratum.

Based on Gitelman’s model, Jenkins constructs an argument that convergence should not be understood merely as a technological process but also a cultural one.

According to Jenkins, convergence is a two way street where both media companies are looking to push content across media platforms for added revenue while the consumers are learning how to make media and become active participants, shifting the control of the flow of media.

Sometimes these corporate and grassroots efforts converge to form a synergy that is rewarding for both the consumer and media companies.  But in some cases, these forces are at odds with each other and this constant push and pull is what is going to determine the future of American popular culture.

Transmedia Storytelling (The Matrix)

One of Jenkins’ most well known concepts has been his “transmedia story telling”, which has become influential not just within academia but also in media arts and advertising/marketing circles.

Jenkins describes transmedia as “a new aesthetic that has emerged in response to media convergence.” A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole.

What is the Matrix ? (film, game, comic, animation)

The Matrix, by the Wachowski brothers, is one of the best examples of transmedia content.

The Matrix universe consists of a trilogy of films, a ninety-minute program of short animated films (Animatrix), a series of comics from cult writers and artists and also two games—Enter the Matrix and a massively multiplayer game, The Matrix Online.

The story of the Matrix is very rich and elaborate unfolding across multiple platforms. There are narrative gaps and jumps in the films that are explained and expounded in the comics, games and animated shorts. While each component tells a contained story, all of them are interconnected by a central narrative and idea.

Characters in transmedia do not necessarily need to be introduced because they are known from other sources and audience familiarity with this structure allows scriptwriters to spend less time on expositional elements of the story.

In response to the mixed reviews the film got from traditional critics, Jenkins argues that we do not yet have the aesthetic criteria to evaluate works that unfold on multiple platforms because critics are not yet accustomed to reviewing not just the film but also the surround apparatus.

Some critics were also suspicious of the economic motives behind the Matrix calling it smart marketing more than smart storytelling. Jenkins also admits there are strong economic motives behind transmedia story telling. “Everything about the structure of the modern entertainment industry was designed with this single idea in mind—the construction and enhancement of entertainment franchises. “

But for all its innovation and experimental qualities, transmedia is not an entirely new concept. There have been previous examples in history. For example, the story of Jesus told through poem, songs, the bible. Jenkins also refers to greek mythology and the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) as transmedia content.

The Art of World making

As more artists start creating transmedia stories that cannot be fully contained with a single work, they are more interested in the creation of “worlds” rather than stories.

Jenkins says that the “world” created is not just bigger than the film abut also the franchise – since fans add more layers to expand it in a variety of ways. (eg: Star Wars fan films)

Participatory/Fan Culture

In chapters 4 and 5 Jenkins demonstrates the growing visibility and influence of fans in participatory culture using the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises as examples.

  • Star Wars fan filmmakers and gamers, who are actively reshaping George Lucas’s mythology to satisfy their own fantasies and desires and how LucasArts has had to continually rethink its relations to Star Wars fans throughout the past several decades, trying to strike the right balance between encouraging the enthusiasm of their fans and protecting their investments in the series.
  • Harry Potter fans who are writing their own stories about Hogwarts and its students.

In both these cases, grassroots artists are at odds with media companies who want to exert greater control of their intellectual property.

The reactions of media companies to this ever-growing visibility of fans have been twofold.

Prohibitionists, mostly film studios and record companies who are very protective of their work, with lawsuits directed against people who download pirated music or movies.

Collaborationists – experimenting with collaborating fans in the creation of content and considering them as grassroots intermediaries helping to promote the franchise. Eg- Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online,

Jenkins draws an important distinction between interactivity and participation when he talks about participatory culture – the limitations of interactivity are technological whereas participation is more open-ended and more “under the control of media consumers”.

Jenkins considers the gaming industry as a good example of a collaborationist approach where creators of multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have already established a more open-ended relationship with their customer base. As for the film studios, although making concessions may be hard to swallow, Jenkins says it will be inevitable if they are to curb the piracy of their content, which is integral to their economic livelihood.

In conclusion, Jenkins claims convergence culture represents a shift in the ways we interact with media.  This shift is not instant but rather a process and we are already living in a convergence culture. We may be making this shift first through our relations with popular culture, but “the skills we acquire through play may have implications for how we learn, work, participate in the political process, and connect with other people around the world. “

Jenkins acknowledges not all consumers have access to the skills and resources needed to fully participate; yet he maintains as long the focus is on inaccessibility, the associated reforms will only be technological. But soon as we start talking about participation, “the emphasis shifts to cultural protocols and practices.”

Questions

•How would media convergence affect media literacy as people move from consuming media to producing and sharing it ?

•  What would a copyright law that encourages user participation look like? When does participation become interference? Who decides?

•How do transmedia projects redefine traditional film criticism?

Wed, November 15 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: Daniel

The New Film History as Media Archaeology Notes – Theo X

Film 6245 – Presentation – Theo X

Work to be Discussed

  • The New Film History as Media Archaeology by Thomas Elsaesser.

Context on Elsaesser

  • Born in Berlin in 1943.
  • Educated at Heidelberg University and the University of Sussex, where he received a BA in English Literature and a PhD in Comparative Literature.
  • Worked as a film critic in Britain before starting the Film Studies program at the University of East Anglia in 1976.
  • Other Key Publications: Film Theory: An Introduction to the Senses and German Cinema – Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory since 1945.
  • Source: <http://www.thomas-elsaesser.com>.

The New Film History as Media Archaeology

Introduction

  • Elsaesser begins by ruminating on cinema’s impact on human life and history, influencing both the ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ domains of our lives.
  • As such, elements of cinematic perception have become internalized as our modes of cognition and embodied experience even when its apparatus and technologies are not present.
  • Elsaesser then foregrounds the work of Gilles Deleuze and other cognitivists that have brought cinema as a form of perception, thought, affect, and bodily experience to the centre-stage of film theory.
  • Since the cinema is a part of us even when we are not watching a film, for Elsaesser, there is no longer an outside to which we can escape from cinematic perception.
  • He then pivots away to reflect on the question of “what is cinema?” and briefly mentions the various debates that have surrounded this topic since cinema’s inception.
  • Elsaesser then notes how the turn of the millennium and new technologies of sound/vision have led to a paradigm shift, thereby necessitating, “a new mapping of the moving image, and a new location of cinema in culture” (77).
  • Accordingly, Elsaesser uses digital media as a starting point to re-think the history of the moving image.
  • However, he acknowledges, “that the analysis of digital media cannot simply be treated as an extension of film studies as currently practiced, it is not at all proven that digitization is the reason why the new media present such a challenge, historically as well as theoretically, to our idea of cinema” (77).
  • Therefore, the rise of digital media forces us to recognize the inherent flaws,contradictions, shortcomings, and misconceptions in our commonly accepted picture of cinema history.
  • As such, we need to question if the digital image truly constitutes a radical break in the history of Western cultural imaging or if it is simply an ‘improved’ technological continuation of a vast and complex history of mechanical vision that has developed over centuries.
  • For Elsaesser, we also need to pay attention to culturally distinct modes of representation, technologies, and institutions that regulate the ‘life-cycles’ of such technologies.
  • Elsaesser believes that film history is too defined by notions of origins and propagating a teleological narrative of progress.
  • Therefore, Elsaesser uses this piece to (re)examine the continuities and ruptures in the relationship between digital media and cinema as a whole.
  • Explaining further, Elsaesser states, “I take digital media as the chance to rethink the idea of historical change itself” (78).
  • Correspondingly, Elsaesser sees this a chance to scrutinize the chronological-linear models of film history and in the process, propose an alternative approach of doing film history through media archaeology.

Early Cinema as Key to the New Media Paradigms?

  • Elsaesser suggests that in our understanding of early cinema and how we can use the insights gained from it to apply to the study of new media and cinema as a whole, we need to “re-examine the idea of continuity and rupture, as well as the dynamics of convergence and divergence, of synergy and self-differentiation” (78 – 79).
  • The study of early cinema was diverse in the sense that by looking its origins and pre-history, scholars connected it to a variety of proceeding media forms including vaudeville, stereoscopic home entertainment, world’s fairs, carnivals, and panoramas/dioramas.
  • As such, these scholars explored how early cinema converged and diverged from these assorted forms of media, thereby creating something new but which had elements of proceeding forms of entertainment.
  • Therefore, despite its uniqueness, early cinema did not function as a complete rupture from the past.
  • Accordingly, we should think about the relationship between film, television, and new media (predominantly digital artworks) in a similar vein.
  • Elsaesser then goes on to foreground the importance of Tom Gunning’s notion of a ‘cinema of attractions’ as a way to explore the continuities and ruptures with early cinema and the action-orientated/special effects driven cinema of the 1980s onwards.

The Cinema of Attractions: Early Cinema, Avant-Garde, the Post-Classical and Digital Media

  • By discussing the special/digital effects driven contemporary cinema through the lens of the ‘cinema of attractions,’ the former finds its “genealogical place and stylisticorientation within an overall film and media history that privilege[s] early cinema” (Elsaesser 82).
  • Correspondingly, we can see the similarities between the two in the sense that both types of cinema focus less on narrative progression and more on drawing the viewer’s attention to unique forms of display.
  • Elsaesser then extends his study to look at how this mode of address is not only prevalent in digital cinema, but other spheres of media that utilize digital technology such as interactive media and video games.
  • Interactive media and video games can be understood as being part of the paradigm of the cinema of attractions since they both engage the spectator/user at a direct level, meeting their gaze and encouraging them to interface with the mediatic text.
  • Beyond these connections, Elsaesser finds Gunning’s re-conceptualization of early cinema through the optic of the cinema of attractions as useful for thinking through film history in general, “as a series of parallel (or ‘parallax’) histories, organized around a number of shifting parameters which tend to repeat themselves periodically, often manifesting a relation of deviance to norm, or the subversion of a standard” (84).
  • By employing a similar methodology and using it as a template for the study of other periods of film history as well, this can lead to suspending all norm/deviancy models of thinking, as well disrupting teleological film and media histories. In the process, film history as a whole would be recast. This is what the New Film History would seek to do according to Elsaesser.
  • Lastly, this approach could also be useful for understanding the convergence between old and new media into a digital ‘hypermedium.’

Media Archaeology I: Film History Between Shifting Teleologies and Retroactive Causalities

  • For proponents of the New Film History, teleological narratives no longer have any validity since it is now generally accepted that cinema has too many ‘parents’ and ‘siblings’ (i.e. forms of media/technology that either proceeded it, developed concurrently with it, or grew out of it) to write a single linear history.
  • As such, Elsaesser is critical of typical film histories since they emphasize the visual elements of cinema but neglect sound and the related media that helped with the development of sound in cinema.
  • Elsaesser is also critical of standard media histories since they seldom take account of, “the very different institutional histories of the media that arose around these technologies, their uses, or implementations: the film industry, radio, television, the Internet, all have distinct institutional, legal, and economic histories” (87).
  • The proponents of the New Film History take these aspects into account in their study.
  • However, Elsaesser also notes the difficulties the New Film History has once it moves beyond its preferred terrain of early cinema.
  • Such difficulties include examining the relation between the different stages of film form and film style, as well as accounting for cross-media configurations, and explaining, “the coexistence, the over-lap and sometimes interference among historically successive or wholly different technologies” (Elsaesser 88).
  • Elsaesser ponders how to overcome these problems.
  • For him, causal models, problem-solving routines, and evolutionary explanations are of little help. The same goes for a genealogical approach, “especially when genealogies simply become ways of waiting for the ‘next big thing’ to be declared the implied goal, so that selectively chosen predecessors can then be seen to lead up to just this point” (Elsaesser 89).
  • Nonetheless, a genealogical approach to film history still has some validity for Elsaesser when it avoids this shortcoming of building towards a preordained narrative end, as we will see in the following section.

Media Archaeology II: Family Tree or Family Resemblance?

  • For Elsaesser, in order to think about our changing media landscape and the implications it has on our idea of placing film history within a broader discourse of media practice throughout time, we need to employ a genealogical methodology based on the concepts of Michel Foucault.
  • This version of genealogy eschews of focusing on origins and other teleological dead ends, but instead examines the discourse of a respective field in its totality, thereby leading the scholar to ponder the continuities, ruptures, and interconnections between the various components that constitute the field of study.
  • Therefore, when it comes to considering the history of image and sound technologies, for Elsaesser, it is useful to see them as “less of a family tree and more [as] ‘family relations’ – belonging together, but neither causally or telelogically related to each other” (93).
  • Elsaesser then goes on to chastise standard histories for being deeply flawed in the sense they omit huge areas of study, leaving significant gaps in the discourse.
  • Nevertheless, Elsaesser also recognizes that the genealogical approach is flawed in this regard as well (albeit to a much lesser extent) due to film scholar’s lack of knowledge about the multiplicity of interconnections and even the gaps between the various forms of media.
  • Explaining further, Elsaesser states, in a quotation that is central to the themes of his paper and this presentation as a whole,

No medium replaces another, or simply supersedes the previous one. Today, cinema, television, and digital media exist side-by-side, feeding off each other and interdependent, to be sure, but also still clearly distinct and even hierarchically placed in terms of cultural prestige, economic function, and spectatorial pleasures. The question is: how can we describe or analyze these mutual links, while also marking the spaces that distinguish the media, without falling back into writing their ‘separate’ histories? (93)

  • For Elsaesser, a possible solution to address these issues would be to employ an approach called system theory.
  • In this approach, instead of assuming that all the various forms of media are heading towards convergence, they are alternatively moving towards greater differentiation in regards to their pragmatic uses and their underlying relationships to each other.
  • Skipping ahead a few pages, Elsaesser goes back to the genealogical model to discuss digital media.
  • As such, Elsaesser notes how when looked at genealogically, digital media themselves are a hybrid phenomena in the sense the technologies they rely on at first glance have little to do with the cinema.
  • According to Elsaesser, many advances in audiovisual technology for the entertainment business have had their start as military projects or priorities.
  • Therefore, since film history leads us to examine a complex series of interrelations between forms of entertainment and technology, the ‘rupture’ represented by the digital will help us break with the genealogical and chronological models of writing film history.
  • This is because for Elsaesser, “we seem to be on an inside for which there is no clear outside, and we seem to be in a ‘now’ for which there is no clear ‘before’ or ‘after.’ Thus, the move to the digital marks a threshold and a boundary, without thereby defining either” (98).
  • Elsaesser ends this section by stating that one of the aims of ‘film history as media archaeology’ is to move beyond linear chronologies and hard binaries. Correspondingly, film history would acknowledge its peculiar status and trace a multiplicity of paths connecting the ‘now’ with the past, employing a methodology that accommodates continuities and ruptures. Concurrently, film history as media archaeology would map media convergence and self-differentiation through exploring forking paths of possibility that disavows of teleology and a search for origins.

Media Archaeology III: What is Cinema or When is Cinema?

  • Elsaesser starts the next section by acknowledging that due to the problematic nature of all media genealogies, the efforts of the New Film History to rethink the cinema and its history has been partial.
  • As such, Elsaesser comes to the realization that cinema is in a permanent flux.
  • Correspondingly, history on the whole and histories of cinema remain ‘unfinished.’
  • Therefore, this accounts for why certain methodologies and paradigms come and go, while others have consistent resonance such as the cinema of attractions.
  • Accordingly, Elsaesser refers back to the cinema of attractions to approach the question of diegesis and ponder why the cinema of attractions gave way to the narrative integration of the Classical Hollywood system that has persisted more or less as the predominant mode of filmmaking in North America (and to an extent, the entire world) from 1917 onwards.
  • Elsaesser wonders if there are other forms of diegesis and cinematic narrative techniques that do not seek to merely suture the spectator into the story world of the film, but instead provoke new relations that makes one re-consider their status as a subject, spectator, observer, or user.
  • Elsaesser believes the answer might be found in virtual reality and other interactive/immersive forms of engagement.
  • However, he also wonders if this attempt at relabeling the question of cinematic diegesis is too focused on the spectator or user as a single individual, while giving priority only toone of the cinema’s effects that is of ‘presence’ understood as ‘real-time.’
  • Therefore for Elsaesser, “It is thus the question of diegesis (as the combination of place, space, time, and subject) more than the issue of digitization that requires us to redefine the very ‘ground’ of the moving image in its multiple sites” (102 – 103).
  • Elsaesser believes that media archaeology takes a first step in this direction because, “it would try to identify the conditions of possibility of cinema (‘when is cinema’) alongside its ontology (‘what is cinema’)” (103).
  • Elsaesser then goes to discuss how film historians today should remain media archaeologists for a number of reasons.
  • One of those reasons is due to the split amongst film archivists in recent decades when it comes to archival policy and preservation practices.
  • The split is between those who are primarily interested in restoring canonical ‘masterpieces’ to be ‘rediscovered’ through tours on the festival circuit as well as at repertory theatres and those archivists who are predominantly concerned with cataloguing, interpreting, and rescuing the neglected and ephemeral pieces of their collections.
  • As such, film historians who employ a media archaeological approach can learn from this split amongst archivists and combine both interests in order to lessen the gaps in our knowledge.
  • By doing so, they weaken the binaries between past/present, canonical/‘lesser’ works, and art/industry.

Media Archaeology as Memory Art and World Making

  • Elsaesser begins this section by summarizing the multiple ways historians have tried to make sense of continuities and ruptures including through chronology, genealogy, opposition, and alternation.
  • To this, Elsaesser adds the archaeological ‘turn’ as a way, “to describe the emergence and development of cinema, not in its own terms or when competing with television, but within the technical and electronic media of the 20th century generally” (104).
  • The model of media archaeology that Elsaesser proposes involves two stages: the historiographic and the ontological.
  • For the historiographic stage, a film history conceived as media archaeology is meant to address the incoherence of certain historical accounts of how the various media of the moving image relate to the cinema and to make the ‘revisionist’ picture of the many alternative histories and parallel genealogies pertinent to the question posed at the beginning of this chapter.
  • This question is restated here: “What can early cinema studies tell us about the kinds of rupture represented by the digital, and thus what does it teach us about our present multimedial, intermedial, hypermedial moment?” (Elsaesser 105).
  • For Elsaesser, the digital is meant to extend the archaeological approach to include the present in the discourse instead of using the present to merely give us reflections on the past based on hindsight.
  • Therefore, Elsaesser believes that the challenge is to find a place that is not fixed inregards to either position, but rather allows for  a position that permits the coexistence of space and the overlap of time frames.
  • Elsaesser suggests that this place could be an enunciative one, in which the present is not seen in relation to the past or the future, but the ‘now’ of the discourse.
  • Elsaesser then goes on to discuss how traditional historians and archivists have remained skeptical of film as a valid method of historiography since they have been dismissive of film’s evidentiary value and weary of its power for manipulation.
  • Elsaesser believes that this suspicion has only increased in the post-photographic age and with the arrival of digital images.
  • However, Elsaesser acknowledges that the historian’s distrust can be seen as well founded from their point of view since it is evocative of the implicit struggle between two kinds of recording-systems.
  • These two kinds of recording-systems are the human mind and psyche and the other is the camera and sensor.
  • For the typical historian, the data from each is treated as raw “material or information, rather than as documents or embodied action” (Elsaesser 108).
  • Elsaesser believes to resolve this issue or at the very least, to focus it, media archaeology needs a second step – the ‘ontological’ one.
  • The ontological stage takes into the account the spectators’ presence of ‘being-in-the world’ and the function of moving images as ‘world-making.’
  • Elsaesser once again refers back to the question of diegesis via looking at the split between the ‘cinema of attractions’ and the ‘cinema of narrative integration.’
  • However, he believes such a dichotomy stands in the way, “when ‘revising’ film historiography or when determining the place of cinema in the contemporary multi-media landscape” (Elsaesser 109).
  • As such, Elsaesser argues for an expanded concept of diegesis that takes into account the relation between screen space and auditorium space.
  • He believes that such a re-thinking, “can be productive for understanding the kinds of interactions (converging or self-differentiating) between old and new media, which digitization may not have initiated, but which it certainly accelerated” (Elsaesser 109).
  • Thus, Elsaesser believes that in order to think about the ‘cinema as an event and experience,’ we need to find a term that accounts for the conjunctions of such variables as time, space, place, and agency as it relates to their use of diegesis. This term should also denote form and should not be exclusive to cinema.
  • Elsaesser notes how in The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich puts forward the term ‘interface’ as a way to discuss these same issues.
  • However, Elsaesser does not like to use this term and has chosen diegesis instead because Manovich looks at the cinema from the perspective of digital media, while Elsaesser comes to contemporary media practice from the study of film.
  • Elsaesser also prefers to currently use the term diegesis because he believes that it is relevant to his overall argument because of the term’s ontological and world-making associations.
  • Accordingly, Elsaesser comes to the conclusion that the successive phases of the cinema after its early years and cinema’s relation to other forms of media including television, video art, and digital platforms, “can be mapped by analyzing their different and distinct diegetic worlds, comprising the technical apparatus and mental dispositifs, but [are] also dependent on the temporal, spatial, and enunciative locators/activators that together constitute their particular ‘ontology’” (110).
  • Hence for Elsaesser, classical cinema and digital cinema could be mapped according to their particular processes of ‘ontologization.’
  • As such, “Each mode would be defined by the relation an actual spectator constructs for the images and the apparatus, and the degree to which the images are separated from/indexed for not only their material referents, but also their individual recipients” (Elsaesser 110).
  • Moreover, while the cinema seemed to stabilize around aligning the moving image with the spatial logic of narrative, the histories of television, video installations, and digital platforms indicate that there are other options.
  • One of these other options can be found in interactive technologies and virtual reality, which redefine how the user engages with diegetic space.
  • Thus, the move from the photographic to the post-photographic or digital mode could entail a ‘liberation’ from traditional conceptions of narrative and diegetic space.
  • Elsaesser then examines the present preoccupation in cinema studies and academia as a whole with memory and the archive.
  • For Elsaesser, the archive’s various logics of database management and the diversity of human memory suggest one kind of post-narrative ontology.
  • The same could be said of networks and flows, data streaming, and data knitting according to Elsaesser.
  • In this sense, media archaeology would be a methodology that adds the study of diegesis and ontology to film history and its genealogies.
  • Furthermore, media archaeology is not meant to replace its proceeding methodologies, because just like previous forms of technology when something new arrives on the scene, they do not disappear completely.
  • As such, media archaeology is helpful in modifying the cultural and economic context in the study of cinema and interrelated media as a whole, while also establishing new diegetic worlds and/or new media ontologies.
  • Elsaesser concludes by pondering if the study of cinema and its encounters with television and digital media need to not only speak to a singular past, present, and future, but to an archaeology of many possible futures and a perpetual presence of several pasts.

Questions

  1. Do you think that media archaeology (at least as Elsaesser defines it within the confines of this paper) is a useful methodology for engaging film history? Why or why not?
  2. How can Elsaesser’s notion of diegesis be applied when discussing virtual reality works?
  3. Do you see elements of the cinema of attractions in other forms of media such as in virtual reality works, augmented reality works, and/or video games? If so, how can the cinema of attractions help us re-conceptualize our understanding of these mediums?
  4. Elsaesser briefly mentions the skepticism traditional historians and archivists have towards the evidentiary value of film and as such, have disavowed of the medium’s potential to be a valid method of historiography. However, do you see film as a valid method of historiography that is the equal of traditional written discourse? Why or why not?

Tue, November 14 2017 » Future Cinema » No Comments » Author: theox25