Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Development of Film and Digital Technology

Nowadays, the jaws of most people drop when they witness spectacular explosions and horrifying camera illusions that have come to dominate today’s American films. I consider this not only a tragedy, but a terrible nostalgia for the classics.

Since I’m a big film buff myself, I enjoyed the way Leo Manovich parallels the development of new media with the development of old media, especially film, in his book titled “The Language of New Media.” Technologies that are outdated today, such as the kinetoscope, were just as fascinating to those in 1890 in the same way computers bewilder us today. He also wishes to explain the logic driving the development of new media similar to the way historians attempt to trace the development of film. Computers have redefined old cultures, such as film and music, and created new cultures, such as video gamers and digital animators. One can argue that computers have completely taken over our culture and can represent all forms of old media, such as digital animation taking over classic film production or IPODs taking over CDs.

Manovich claims that film is a realistic representation of reality in which the effects and camera angles of film create the language used to express this reality. This is all true, but I’d like to argue that digital film and new media does not always represent reality in the way classic film does nor do they represent reality in the way Manovich claims it does.

I agree that film is a systematic account of narrative strategy and agree that the language behind film is rich in history. Since the early days of the Kodak Camera introduced by George Eastman in the 1880s, inventors wanted to take their own series of still images and trick the mind into seeing motion based on the theory of persistence of vision. Inventors from this point forward worked towards advancing the tricks and theatrical techniques one would associate with a cinematographer today. Examples of advancements in cinema technology include Thomas Edison’s introduction of the Kinetoscope and splicing in films, George Melies’ stumble upon editing, Edwin Porter’s use of close-up shots, D.W. Griffith’s syntax of motion pictures, and Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant uses of montage, mise en scene, and chiaroscuro effects.

I also appreciate specific films in American history, such as Casbablanca, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and Star Wars, that originally utilized the effects which tremendously contributed to the kinds of illusions people see in today‘s movies. These films are the best examples which demonstrate how the elements of special effects, music, editing, cinematography, and other technical aspects overlap and add meaning to each of these films, bring life to the characters, and assist the directors in portraying the messages they are trying to convey. However, today’s films fall short of delivering the experience retro films do. In favoring theatrical glamour, digital effects, and high expectations for large earnings, Hollywood movies recently have been subjected to denying the public of new experiences. Instead of classic films being produced, what the public sees today is predictable, repetitive content of what film studios think the public wants to see. Meaningful plots and story lines have been sacrificed for eye candy and overused special effects. The explosions in disaster scenes in modern films, for example, do not necessarily contribute to the film in any significant way, but simply allows the viewer to see more of the same things. In addition, a digitized sword fight may represent a real-life sword fight in theory, but it can never come close to the intensity and excitement of a real-life, actual sword fight portrayed by real actors. Therefore, while the adventation of computer technology may be progressing us forward in terms of value, production quality, and technical language in films, we have suffered a great loss in film that no advancement in digital cinematography could ever replace.

I speculate Manovich would argue my point by saying that "synthetic computer-generated imagery is not an inferior representation of our reality, but a realistic representation of a different reality." Indeed he is right, IF that is what movie and game developers claim they are aiming to do. I’ve played many video games and seen digitized movies where the worlds I am placed in or view on the screen are strictly fantasy. After all, isn’t one of the many great aspects of movies and video games is that we can do things or go to places we can not do or go to in real life? As long as video game companies and digitized artists claim that Aeos is a fantasy world, I have no problem entering into that reality for a time being and playing pretend. However, the graphics behind video games and digitized movies are beginning to look so real one must not confuse the differences between reality and fantasy. One of the goals of most video game graphic designers is to acheive the most realistic graphics possible. The problem occurs when creators of digitized fantasy worlds claim with their realistic graphics that these fantasy worlds are representations of our reality and our world. This is where, again, Manovich’s point about how these worlds are a realistic representation of an alternative reality comes in handy.


  1. Frankly, this is where I would like to add that "too much is enough". The overemphasis on loud graphics, surreal scene sequences, and exaggerations in the conflict scenes have been "forced upon us" as a reality, YES, maybe a reality for the creator of this art form but not a reality for the consumer (the consumer chooses to make it his/her reality if applicable). It may be possbile that technology itself has hit a dead end where the creative capabilities have been either exhausted or the only resource is to "tap into" fantasy. Sure we have come a long way from the early days of still photography, and with computer technology the way it is, we have almost perfected the art form and allowed people to engage in a profound experience unlike any other. However, I see that computer technology always borrows from the "film" experience, which may prove to be the ultimate technology that exists. Adding computer effects is only a branch of the earlier types of creating "fake realities", as referred to in the prologue of Manovich's book, such as in the case of editing or montage and virtual camera controls. These have been incorporated into the computer and are basically staples used daily. I agree wholeheartedly that the use of thsi enw media in movies only steals from the experiene we would otherwise attain from a classic film. Perhaps finding other ways to implement computer power would be a start in the right direction, so as to distinguish it from other forms of media.

  2. I feel that most advertisements are like this--present a false reality to promote/sell their product.

  3. Reality is one thing, realism another, and realism is the aesthetic criterion that much art has been measured by, traditionally. I think you can see the connection, here, to Bolter's concept of transparent immediacy, aka the mirror. And the point is not whether the representation is reality or not, of course it isn't, the map is not the territory, as Alfred Korzybski put it. The point is whether it is perceived as real, as reality or as realistic, but audiences.