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Digital Diatribe

May 4th, 2010 by btrachtenberg100

This week’s article really speaks to an issue that has been eating away at me since the late 90’s. The advent of digital technology and the need to impress with digital effects has severely diminished the esteem of the cinema and detracts, as Anne Friedberg says, from its medium based specificity. It’s not simply the problem of artificiality, or anti special effects. Hell, I love the visuals produced from old school stop motion technology. My problem is looking at film as a historical document, created in the confines of its time. I don’t expect people to stop buying DVD’s, I find that using technology to make film more accessible to the public is positive in terms of giving more people the opportunity to view these works of art in the absence of a theatre. Every time I see George Lucas renovating his old films (he’s only actually made three good films) by injecting them with special effects under the guise of “now I can make it the way I saw it thirty years ago”, I want to scream. People watching the original “Star Wars” films today have a completely different interpretation than those who grew up with the film in its original form and context. The digital evolution is more fluid than the confines of the celluloid or previous representations in that it builds off older forms. The individualistic properties exclusive to the medium are lost in the process of post production manipulation. The identity of the image is lost to the massive data base that pools all of it and makes the image into a malleable entity. To put it in the words of Anne-Mary Willis, with digital “the index will be erased and the image will become pure iconicity”. I don’t want to rule out interdependence of the mediums of the digital realm, restoration of old prints has become invaluable to Cinefiles like myself. Although I would detest if Picasso used adobe photo shop to manipulate an established piece of art or further manipulate a new painting with a computer. This may seem ludicrous, but he is a painter and so should work within the confines of that medium. Filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez who make a movie without its exclusive properties in mind (mise en scene), who don’t think within the confines of the frame and just fill in the gaps with digital technology afterwards, cannot be considered a true filmmaker. He is a film manipulator.
The idea of the VCR as being an agent of time manipulation is a fascinating one. This has even caused some issues for filmmakers. David Lynch is one of those directors who’d rather have his films watched in their entirety than skip to a scene. In this sense I can see how it may be construed as an editing device or even that we are watching a projector rather than a screen. In this sense a dimension is lost from the cinema in its translation to home video, yet the exclusive properties and atmosphere of the womb like theatre will always draw people back because of this discrepancy with home viewing. Watching a DVD in the privacy of ones own home doesn’t necessarily detract from enjoying a film, maybe the experience, but the ability to pause a frame to examine it’s properties is invaluable especially to people who have made the scrutiny of the film frame the center of their obsession. Granted, it is a reproduction, not an original, which some people might say detract from the art o the cinema, yet no one cries about owning the first printing of the bible for otherwise they cannot read it out of some delusional principle.
There is a very fine line between digital preservation, and digital manipulation. I am one of those people who loathe seeing movies as files on a computer rather than in a more tangible form on a shelf. I find the age of Netflix, although a much more convenient one, is destroying the experience of the video store. It’s the difference between visiting a botanical garden and just looking at pictures online. It’s the experience of the cinema that I feel cannot be replicated at home, yet because of the rising cost of tickets and the convenience of the internet, the younger generation is becoming more accustomed to accessible media, making the cinema second to their video monitor.
While I went on this diatribe I forgot to address the specificity of the use of special CGI effects in film. For me the issues of digital effects are bothersome because they are done in postproduction, without the use of having to expose any sort of celluloid. I keep using AVATAR as an example but this split in the film medium between what’s filled in and what’s filmed. In this sense film is becoming what it was originally made for; spectacle. Not that the eye popping 3D effects should send you screaming from the theatre, but to make you see film primarily so studios can display their use of this new technology to transcend the video technologies and viewers expectations. That is why it is not at all surprising that AVATAR’s story sucked. Hearing all this criticism, it’s refreshing to know people still care a little about traditional narrative and film structure.

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