Modern Fatalistic Musicals: A Video Essay

The video essay can be considered a supplement or database to the larger paper, since it reframes the research in a practical mode of exhibition.  The video also is meant to raise questions, allowing further research and exploration into the subject.  If you have any questions and would like to get in touch, please use the Contact page to do so.

Writing History: “May and December” and “Never Again!”

The following slideshows are in place to accompany the written composition on the topic.  If you are interested in the larger work, please let me know through my Contact page.


May and December, 1910. Directed by Frank Powell

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Never Again!, 1910. Directed by Frank Powell

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Film Theory Narrative Excerpt

This excerpt comes from a paper looking at how the theory of Lev Kuleshov and Béla Balázs come together to explore the creation of meaning within narrative.  If you have any questions regard this excerpt or you are interested in the larger paper for publishing or research purposes, please do not hesitate to Contact me.

The point where these two theories intersect and mingle appears when Kuleshov insists that montage is created through the mechanism of close-up. Not only does this reinforce the idea of Soviet montage being mainly a cinematic phenomena, but also we see how the cinematic apparatus’ capturing is not inert, but capable of revolutionary ideas. Here the detail of image in the close-up connected with juxtaposed editing can create meaning based on the object alone, because of its removal within its space. To better articulate this concept we should place attention to the example of the film Battleship Potemkin [1925] wherein this idea is discernable from the lion statuettes or the famous woman getting stabbed with the sword sequences. By placing these objects in close-up, the image is removed from its surroundings, allowing it to function as a singular entity, which Balázs would attribute to cinema’s relief of our human “short-sightedness and superficiality” (Balázs 129). Within the aforementioned sequences, the close-up removes the subjects from the collective mass of people, thus focusing in on a singular spatial-temporal moment to evoke a strong emotion from the audience. Another aspect of the close-up that compliments the montage theory is how the attention to detail is played along with the tempo of the editing, in that images are instilled with momentum. For instance, the lion statuettes are positioned in a way that create the illusion of them waking up in alarm, all by manipulating the tempo of the edits. Modifying the tempo, either quicker or slower, and attaching an image to it allows the film to juxtapose meaning, and create an ideological purpose throughout the images. While this example focuses on the revolutionary style of Soviet montage, regular classical examples can be attributed; for example, in The Godfather [1972] during the Baptism scene, the close-up Michael Corleone is edited with multiple murders, along with fast editing tempo the montage correlates more along with Balázs’ idea of meaning through editing.

This excerpt comes from a paper written during the Spring of 2017 in NYU’s Cinema Studies’ Graduate Film Theory Class taught by Dr. Marina Hassapopoulou.

Interactive Cinema Final

For the full paper please Contact Me, this page contains an abstract and the accompanying interactive film.  This film attempts to reinterpret the primary paper.


Information and knowledge has changed how it is disseminated across cultural and social boundaries.  Looking at museums as the case study to figure how interactive technology has expanded the amount of information and the methods of learning, becomes the overall focus of this paper and supplemental film.  By exploring interactive apps, touch-screen monitors, maps, and virtual museums the research expounds on the methods of communicating to the growing diverse society. This all comes down to how other teaching institutions can reinterpret their methods, in order to make knowledge inclusive to all children and adults.  The supplemental interactive film to the research paper can be found at Eko.

A Window into Dreamlands

by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

On a recent visit to the Whitney Museum’s exhibit, Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, I wanted to explore how the artists had placed their pieces in a gallery setting in order to imitate film as reality.  This concept of film as actuality appears throughout film history, and Gregg Toland – cinematographer of Citizen Kane  beautifully conceptualizes this by writing,

“The picture should be brought  to the screen in such a way that the audience would feel it was looking at reality, rather than merely a movie.” (Toland 54).

There were a couple notable pieces that created the perception of looking through a window to the real world, outside of the gallery.

The first piece to mention is Bruce Connor’s Crossroads  from 1976.  In this installation, spectators are placed before a larger-than-life screen, witnessing slowed up accounts of the nuclear underwater testing at Bikini Atoll.  What this giant screen attempts to evoke is the feeling of seeing these events as if the spectator was actually there.  The largeness of the explosion image becomes amplified in slower speed, forcing spectators to sit in awe of the spectacle of the image.  This provides the experience of witnessing the image as if it was actually happening on the other side of the screen, making it like a window.  As theaters are promoting larger screens nowadays to encapsulate the audience, this specific exhibition renders the audience as mere observers of the onscreen explosions.

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The floor to ceiling screen creates a window to the massive events.

Another piece that recreates the act of looking out a window would be Artie Vierkant’s 2009 piece, Exposure Adjustment on a Sunset.  This particular exhibit uses a television and plays the action of an ocean with the sunset.  This might be the most literal piece of looking out a window, but it does beg to differ the technology to create this.  While it is simply a video recording, the changes in exposure attempt to mimic the effects of the sun’s brightness to an onlooker.  The image becomes harder to see as the sun becomes stronger, and vice versa.  What is also being played around with is the fact that the gallery is in New York City, far from the sights of the video; therefore, spectators are looking through a window of fantasy, being transported to a tropical-esq environment through vision.

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This “fantasy” window of the ocean.  The quality of the image was victim to the technology of the time.

In retrospect, Dreamlands provides an afternoon filled with pieces that forces spectators to re-conceptualize film as a medium and projection.  By including the pieces that insinuate windows into other events, the exhibition creates a meta-window into the materiality of the light being projected all over the space.


Sources:

“Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016.” Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 | Whitney Museum of American Art. Audi, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Toland, Gregg. “Realism for ‘Citizen Kane,'” American Cinematographer 21 (Feb. 1941). 54.

Controlling an Art: Video Games and Interaction

by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

On a recent visit to The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, I came across the Arcade Classics installation. The exhibition showcased vintage arcade games in a way that interactivity components became apparent in their evolution over time. While looking at the manipulation the user has on these games, with controllers, brought me to further study the narrative structures. Watching many generations fawning over these machines brought me to ponder why these nostalgic interactions are still sought out. The variety of manipulation of the storyline and characters has changed with the new technologies. By mapping out these concepts the physical controllers of video games can show us how we experience this augmented reality.

The aesthetics and automation of the video game utilizes designs found in cinematic artistry. The two formats utilize some form of narrative and character development, and the advancement of plot from some antagonizing force. In the 1970s and 1980s, while other media and media-reproducers were garnering public use in the domestic sphere, the cinema experienced some trouble finding its place with user manipulation within a cohesive and economical fashion. Of the forerunning interactive experiences, 3D was becoming used in increasing films; however, this was not easy to come by and there did not seems to be any innovations to invigorate the spectator’s palate. There was fear that this artistic period was void of all participatory art forms, ruminated by Rudolf Frieling, who was convinced that the period’s social concept of partaking in art was altered (Carpentier, 15). However, when the opportunity was not in the theater, a chance to engage with a new form of entertainment emerged with the video game. Video games possess a transference of narrative disposition in its attempts to move from “showing not telling” along to “doing not showing.” This idea becomes clear through the use of external controllers connected to the virtual world.

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“Pong” utilizes two knobs to move the virtual paddle, thus changing the landscape of the game.

Many various forms of knobs and sticks have gained us access to these virtual worlds, but arguably the most primitive of them all are the buttons, which allow users to control a variety of commands. This mode has an interesting story in the context of the relationships of video games and cinema. The button allows for an easy and tactile way for the participant to manipulate the environment of the medium they are watching. Especially in video games there are many aspects where interactivity and predestined actions become blurred and one could attribute them to embodying an omniscient force. This connection is made more believable by using tactile controls to engage, which Erkki Huhtamo theorizes makes the game a “conversation versus a lecture” (Huhtamo, “Seeking Deeper Contact”). Instead of being passive, like in mainstream cinema, the video game encourages and demands taking advantage of the mobility in the game. One place where this concept intersects with cinema is the film, Kinoautomat, which is considered the first interactive film. The mechanisms of this cinematic experience are two buttons, which allow the participants to vote for the path they want the character Mr. Novak to travel. The spectators are the cause of plot maneuvering, which also continues the conceptualization of the spectator as an omniscient agent. Erik Bucy quickly contradicts the concept that the conversation is predetermined, calling it, “erroneous” that through an interaction of machine and person the outcome usually will be steered towards optimism because it aligns with the user’s desires; however, it is quickly apparent in Kinoautomat and many video games we are faced with negative outcomes from our consequences (Bucy 374). Arguably, Mr. Novak becomes a video game character in the sense that there is a two-way exchange with the film and the participants. He embodies the manipulated character dependent on the user to decide his destiny, similar to a video game. This only illustrates a fragment of the manipulation capability of the users, as we see with more complex games becoming broader in interactivity.

The joystick, a popular and traditional mode, allows for 360-degree movement in the games plane; however, in more primitive games it was usually strictly restricted for horizontal and vertical movement. (There was also the use of knobs, like in the arcade version of Pong.) The games that utilize this control do not allow for much human input, since the game will guide the gestures, and there is the idea of “[thinking] with his/her fingers,” since there is not much agency in this contact (Huhtamo). While there continues to be a forward progression in the narrative, there seems to be more limitations of changing the outcome, compared to using the buttons. However, people still flock to these games because they remember a time of happiness. The game “Pole Position” utilizes a steering wheel and a joystick in order to maneuver the playing field as if you were driving the virtual car. There is a sense of “safe-danger” by using the apparatus of the wheel; thus, allowing horizontal movement, while the joystick is used to control the speed and represented with vertical progression. Basically, the controllers allow for up and down, side to side movement; thus, putting people in pseudo-control and providing a connection with the material.

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“Pole Position” uses a steering wheel and joystick to maneuver the terrain.

There is an entire culture behind the idea of reminiscing and older media, such as video games, converge with the concept of technostalgia, coined by Tim van der Heijden, which shows how older technology becomes repurposed or invigorated in order to give a sense of nostalgia. Since van der Heijden mentions how this concept cannot recapture feelings from the past, this means that when interacting with the games, new attributes conglomerate with past ones. When the user plays these games again, with familiar tactility and story, it allows them to access their memories and relives them. Since the video game is somewhat limiting in this regard it does still evoke the feeling of interactivity because the experience is as much pragmatic as it is encompassing with technology (Bucy 376). While the user’s interaction can come from the tactile control they have within the joystick, there seems to be a large aspect of it that resonates internally as well.

According the Huhtamo, the end-goal for these interactive arts does not come with encompassing the spectator or participant into the cinematic or virtual environment; however, society has seemed to turn off this path, and immersion became less of a hypothetical practice in more recent years (the article was published in 1995). A composite of cinema and video games has came into existence, where intersecting comes in the form of 4-D and motions games. In these environments, the spectator is physically contained inside the movements and situations of the mise-en-scene. In 1988, Sega came out with “Galaxy Force II” which fostered inclusion of narrative and participant, being in control of the “spaceship” and the responsive 360-degree rotating and tilting was in response to a controller. While being totally immersed in the narrative and environment, it was easy to feel totally in control of the video game. By introducing the movement aspect to the occurrence, it gave the game added dimensionality and made the narrative address the user more directly. This experience can be attributed to the direct act of controlling character’s agency, as embodied in the film Gamer. This motion driven game, “Galaxy Force II,” removed the automated aura and replaced it with the concept of user-control; although, in retrospect there was still limited control due to the limited capacity of the technology. Here the users all “perceive a different range of affordances,” bringing to the forefront the concept that interactivity becomes a subjective experience, which is not necessarily associated with the technology of the piece (Bucy 376). This concept is not alien to cinema, especially in the modern theater, where exhibitors are trying to draw in customers by immersing them with motion seating and wall-to-wall 3D projections. Audiences are also able to physically be in a familiar world, allowing them to marvel on their imagination and enter a world that is marked with being safe and unharmed, like the memories of childhood. In terms of “Galaxy Force II,” by clarifying that actions create consequences with the joystick, the technostalgia reminds of this lesson and can remind someone that their actions are not the end-all in this situation, they have another chance.

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“Galaxy Force II” brings the user into the narrative through the responsive motion.

The visit to the Museum of the Moving Image sparked my curiosity of appreciating how interactive technology has conglomerated within the video game medium, and how it further translated into the cinema and the human psyche. There are many more areas to discover with this parallel, for example where will video games and cinema finally cross? Will we continue to see advancements on the older modes of interacting with narrative and how will that bring about a new era of cinema? These are just some questions that seemed relevant to explore in relation to recent scholarship of the processes of interactivity. It is an exciting time to be able to witness the full timeline of this art, and how this the modern period continues to experiment how audiences will be able to interact with media.

Word Count: 1508

Sources

-Bucy, Erik P. “Interactivity in Society: Locating an Elusive Concept.” The Information Society 20.5 (2004): 373-83. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.

-Carpentier, Nico. “A Short History of Cultural Participation.” Transforming Culture in the Digital Age. Eds. Agnes Aljas, Raivo Kelomees, Marin Laak, Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, Tiina Randviir, Pille Runnel, Maarja Savan, Jaak Tomberg, Piret Viires. Estonian National Museum, Estonian Literary Museum, University of Tartu. 11-19.

-Heijden, Tim Van Der. “Technostalgia of the Present: From Technologies of Memory to a Memory of Technologies.” NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies 4.2 (2015): 103-21. Web.

-Huhtamo, Erkki. “Seeking Deeper Contact.” Seeking Deeper Contact. Ken Feingold Artworks, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.

-Kinoautomat’s official website: http://www.kinoautomat.cz/index.htm?lang=gbr

Looking into the Face of a Machine: A Commentary

by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

The interactive film, Sally or the Bubble Burst by Toni Dove, raised my skepticism of how a DVD was going to commingle narrative and voice recognition into a coherent piece.  I was not sure how the film would correctly change channels with the various responses or how it would respond to the user because of the more limited technological capacities of DVD.  This was quelled when we began to exhibit the film, which showed that the voice recognition was made of a simple two-way path; however, we will explore the limitations it was confined to.  The responsiveness was remarkably intricate for what was presented in the film, especially knowing that DVDs follow paths, but here it seemed to be mixed as if on a turntable.

The first hurdle was utilizing a computer that seemed to come from a museum because of its archaic construction.  The medium specificity of the computer’s operating system played a role, which was not an original intention of Dove, because the film would not play on any new computers that had more modern technology.  The way this situation is unintentionally intertwined with the narrative of the chair, bubble, and radio shows how the exponential pace technology is changing.  There were many cases of reflexive talk from the objects as “today’s technology is tomorrow’s junk,” and this plot was stringed throughout the piece.  The idea conforms to the notion that each object acted as part of a database, inserting a handful of quotes perpetuating the idea of technological redundancy (Kinder).  The fact that the older computer and DVD were marvels of their time (although some short lived), now in days they are considered relics of the past and are obsolete in many functions of life.

However, innovation was not absent in this piece, especially with the use of voice recognition as a way to interact with the “Human” character of Sally.  Her appearance was jarring, visually cacophonous, and she sounded like an android; thus, giving a creepy connotation to the character.  It is not common for interactions to have physical motions characterized by jerky motions and asynchronous sound; however, this is the case with Sally, imposing that we are no longer interacting with a human but a humanoid, and sometimes a broken machine.

Looking to conceptualize this piece I was at a loss, because there seemed to be no linear makeup to help categorize this in a traditional sense.  When I was pointed towards Marsha Kinder’s article on “Designing a Database Cinema” all the pieces seemed to fall in place.  It became clear that this piece fell into the sub-genre of the “personal memoir,” which Kinder describes as being a building of memories and ideologies that a person collects as they go through life.  A database of experiences becomes the structure behind the narrative of Sally or the Bubble Burst.

 

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Sally the human or humanoid?  Source: Digital Art Archive

A further study into the voice recognition highlights some areas that stuck out in relation to changing the conversation in the film.  On the first hand, when watching the film you must learn how to respond; therefore, there is a learning curve needed to properly talk to her.  For example, she does not recognize long phrases or complicated words, but she will respond to answers of “yes” or “no” well.  In chances where she would give you options to respond to she would often times “hear” the opposite of what we said, which gave the impression that she was not going to have diversity in her answers and they were predestined.  Another odd thing when talking was the changing of the tone of voice, purely talking about our voice; therefore, there were a couple instances where you would say the same word with different inflection and she would recognize only certain phrasing.

One of my roles in the group was to configure and operate the program, which turned out to be easier than I expected because of my familiarity with older Macintosh operating systems.  It is interesting that the DVD technology that seems primitive today worked well in its ideal environment of the older computer.  An interesting conundrum that modern technology lacks of support for these old media and interactive platforms, even in an age where interaction fits in your pocket; however, technology prides itself on being more inclusive in compatibility all the time.

There is complexity in the film’s compositional structure, such as the ability to detect voice commands and being able to manipulate the video with the position of the cursor or voice (which was not so responsive).  When she is dancing there the ability to “edit” the performance in real time, showing that we are in control of her life.  This place the voice recognition was not very responsive, but the cursor allowed easy manipulation.  For its time, the interactive quality is quite ingenious and again shows that technology is constantly changing.

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The objects of yesteryear.  Source: Digital Art Archive

As for glitches, there was one major problem in the “Sally Sings” section.  If the keyboard is pressed rapidly, she would try to achieve the input; however, she would end up sounding out noise fragments and the image would stop attempting to match.  The experience was similar to someone experiencing a convulsive seizure, where there was not much control of the subject just a spectacle (no, not fun to watch) of image and sound.  Also she would make a sound with a key press, but they would be different sounds each time on the same key.  At first you believe you are controlling her every speech pattern, when in actuality it turns out her specific diction was inevitable.

The experience of Sally or the Bubble Burst was engaging and challenging.  This is because a lot of the navigation in the film had to be learnt as we explored, and there was not too much help from the manual.  It was an interesting comparison to see how interaction with the humanoid differs to the faceless dialogue between Siri and the user (or any modern personal assistant type of voice recognition).  This film really enlightened me on the ideas of interacting with humans and the traits that make it a “normal” conversation, compared to the disjointed and robotic Sally.

A video of the group’s interactions and reactions can be found here.

Sources:
  • Toni Dove: Sally or the Bubble Burst DVD-ROM, 2003, Bustlelamp Productions
  • Marsha Kinder. “Designing a Database Cinema,” pps. 346-353. Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary after Film. Ed. Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel, ZKM/Center for Art and Media Karlsruche, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2003.

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