Film Theory Discussion

by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

Digital cinema has become a mainstay in studying this art because of how reliable and easy it is to use and maintain. I have always been curious in any class where we study “moving images” because this places the emphasis on still images being passed through a projector at 24 frame per second; however, this apparatus practice is not used too much anymore, especially within a multimedia enabled classroom. Normally, in today’s context, we watch film to digital transfers on DVDs, Blu-rays, or on the Internet, which is further encoded with a digital projector. The flickering images of celluloid were once a thing of the past, with projectors boasting their “better-than-human” visual refreshing rate, we are left to study these animated images as coded and pixelated representations. After reading Elsaesser and Hagener’s chapter on digital cinema,

I am apprehensive to distinguish this as a thorough introduction of these ideas, since the chapter merely touches on the popular ideas of relating the cinema (and other forms of digital media) to the body, it does not emphasize the capability of the visualization of digital cinema as mind. What I define as “mind” would be the same as the narrowing of the space between the “immediacy and intimacy to the human-machine relationship”, which can be seen with technologies that visualizes the mind in order to reach singularity (or a form of it) to make cinema a personal experience (Erkki Huhtamo as seen in Seeking Deeper Contact Interactive Art as Metacommentary).

The chapter also gives Lev Manovich a lot of space, as an authority figure in digital cinema. While I am not contesting his influential work in the subject area, I am concerned at the lack of representation from other theorists, whom sometimes come closer to the nuanced ideas than Manovich. The lack of mentioning these other theorists such as Erik Bucy, Timothy Barker, or Lynn Hershman also fails to bring up the importance of interactivity within digital cinema. In the age where Netflix and YouTube allow interface manipulation to find personal taste of material, we are no longer in the age of Software cinema, which generally generates its own material without user interaction. There should be more emphasis on interactivity because society is moving in that direction. To further nuance the Elsaesser and Hagener chapter, interactive technology and its connection to cinema is increasingly becoming more haptic and tactile, which would nicely agree with their overall argument of Digital cinema as the body if they included it.

Coming to the film Sleep Dealer there are many instances where this idea of mind and body come forth, allowing the film to force the notion of labor as interactive media. This can be conferred on the fact that the character Memo, while working as a sleep dealer, is engaging with virtual reality that does not allow him to passively engage with the image. The active manipulation of the VR is consequential of a cyborg welding in another space, which brings up notions of artificial intelligence because we begin to see where the intelligence is emanating from. A scene that was not mentioned in the Sarah Ann Wells reading, “The Scar and the Node: Border Science Fiction and the Mise-en-scene of Globalized Labor” of another nondescript sleep dealer laborer seemingly going into shock as a result of his counterpart cyborg being destroyed. While the scene was important for the narrative later on, this scene was interesting because it brought up the notion of the creation of a single being through connection, i.e. a symbiotic relationship depending on one another for survival. The idea that the symptoms of being connected, as life blood, can also criticize the labor diffusion, since both parties are affected by mistakes; although, one could argue the importance of human life compared to monetary investment of robots. This sequence also brings up ideas of connection to technology that critiques the interconnectedness of humans with their technology along with the fatality of separating the link, similar to taking someone’s phone from them.

Wells briefly mentions the phallic symbolism associated with industrial tools, and I would like to take it one step further by arguing that going along with the idea of nodes and the connections, the phallic becomes the means of production. Where Wells places the nodes within the idea that they feminize the male workers, by penetrating them, they also act along the male-centric idea that technology connection is the means for work. No longer is connection associated with the pleasure, as further propagated within James Cameron’s Avatar, but without the phallic insertion of the connection then the male-driven workplace (as I recall majority of the “employees” were male) in Sleep Dealer would not be able to operate.

To close this connection of Elsaesser and Hagener’s Digital Cinema chapter with the ideas of Sarah Ann Wells, I find the omission of the mind throughout these writing stunning. The mind has so much impact on the body and of output. This output can be through interactive cinema or through virtual reality labor, both of these utilize the brain and mind of an individual, the means of ideas, and it seems to become sidestepped all over. There is a lot of research still to accomplish, but I think by including some of what has come about with the link of digital cinema and the body-mind there can be larger strides to understanding “moving images” within a coded language.

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