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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 My problem is looking at film as a historical document, created in the confines of its time.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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8 Responses to ' Digital Diatribe '

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  1.   elliotzahler said,

    on May 4th, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Ben, I loved the truth that you wrote about our technologically advanced age in the year 2010, that we find ourselves. I do as well happen to like the old technologies and the styles of the 1980’s and 1900’s, which we probably will never see again in the twenty first century film productions. However, as with everything else in life, we (films) must learn to adapt and even take advantage of what falls before us. The plot of a film must reflect current times, so I will HAVE to agree that the technology used before the film production must accord with 2010.
    To close, I want to remind you of the Back to the Future films of the 1980s. Going into the future, I think the year was 2015 proved to be threatening and scary with unknowns. I sometimes feel technology moves so fast that I too can not keep up. But imagine the year 2050. We will look back at 2010 and laugh. We are constantly living in a stone age. We are just constantly trying to keep up with God.

  2.   dcooper101 said,

    on May 11th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I think DVD’s are a great innovation. if i cannot go out to the theater for some reason DVD’s are great. however action films are made to be watched on the big screen.

  3.   saramungiguerra said,

    on May 11th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I see you used Avatar for last week’s readings as wel. And you’re right, Avatar’s story did suck. The technologies of the movie totally took over, and that’s why it got such rave reviews. I think part of it too is the whole “James Cameron” name. They think because he made a huge movie like Titanic, anything else he makes is box office gold.

  4.   christina421 said,

    on May 11th, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Well Ben, I have a comment about your statement that people not being true filmmakers by digitally manipulating film. You have to look at it this way, there is the old school style of filmmaking and new school style. Where do these people that manipulate fit in? Obviously the new school of film. Everything evolves and unfortunately so does the technology and what we can do with it. Is it lazy? Yes. But it doesn’t undermine the creative concept behind the project. Without digitally remastering of film or footage – Metropolis (a film that was incomplete for viewing for decades) has finally been put together in almost its entirety . Now without the advanced technology … we never would have fathomed that this day would have arrived. As everything else, advanced technology has its pros and cons.
    As far as AVATAR being just a mere spectacle, that’s exactly what the origin of film emulated from. It was meant to be a spectacle: to study movement, to entertain the masses but has for some time evolved into an art that one can truly appreciate. We are at the cusp of the digital and older film world. You obviously appreciate film at its earlier form as opposed to the new and easier form. I’m with you on that note.

  5.   msbeatty said,

    on May 12th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Revision is an important part of the process of creating art. Some would argue it is the most important part of the process of creating art. There is, I think, a peculiar focus we (and I’m certainly part of this) place on the finished product. We want things to be done so we can evaluate them, revisit them, collect them, rank them, etc.

    But if a thing is done, is it not also dead? Sure, Lucas’ retouches of the old Star Wars were pretty silly (and, you know, mercenary), but he was, in a sense, reviving dead pieces of art and re-engaging with them in the public sphere. On some level, I think this is laudable.

    I’m for revision without replacement. Add to discourse without subtracting from it.

  6.   Khristanne said,

    on May 12th, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I feel like since technology is so advanced these days. I mean there are some people who have high tech tv’s that are just as good as theater screens and surround systems.It not fair to compare DVD or Blu-Ray to VHS, the quality doesn’t even come close.

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