Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cool Reads at Senses of Cinema

I declared myself a film major at Emory University in the spring semester of my freshman year (2000). At this time, the Internet was not a reliable enough source for academic research unless A. the web site or page from which one gathered information was maintained by a credible person (professor, industry expert) or organization (a film school, a museum, a library, an official site, online news sources) or B. the professor had recommended it for consulting. Reception studies (the study of how a text is consumed, processed, and manipulated by critics and the general population; aka part of the content of MIT professor Henry Jenkins's book Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture) wasn't as widespread then as it is now.

By the time I started taking film classes in my sophomore year (2000-2001), I found myself having to use the net to research the Japanese anime Revolutionary Girl Utena. By the time I graduated from undergrad in 2003, professors were more willing to accept a "Works Cited" page consisting of credible online sources. While I was in Emory's graduate film studies program (2005-2007), online research was deemed integral to the process not only because the number of legitimate cites had increased, but also because the kinds of research done--cultural studies, interdisciplinary studies, reception studies--sometimes demanded the incorporation of these sources.

One of the online sources that I used many times during my undergrad and graduate careers was a place called Senses Of Cinema, an online journal maintained by academics of a variety of humanities fields. I was browsing the site today and came across two very interesting and well-written articles, one about digital video and film stock, the other about the film Blade Runner.

Of all the many discussion board entries, essays, and columns written about the former topic, this one by Professor Wheeler Winston Dixon of the University of Nebraska is the best. Here is a brief excerpt:

Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) on DVD, for example, 21st century viewers realize that they are watching (optimally) a 35mm negative transferred to digital memory and then downloaded to a DVD for home use, and that the final image they watch “copies” the filmic nature of the original image, but at the same time gives only the “impression” of its original source material. But given this a priori assumption, 21st century viewers quickly move past this empirical certainty to embrace this newly digitised image as the simulacrum of a 20th century medium. There is no sadness in this and no betrayal of the maker’s original intent; it is merely a translation from one image capture medium to another.

Certainly it can be argued that this is an oversimplification of a rather knotty problem; film comes with one set of values inherently present in the stock itself (a tendency towards warmth in colour for some film stocks, or towards cooler hues in others, as well as characteristics of grain, depth and definition which are unique to each individual film matrix), while the digital video image offers another entirely different set of characteristics, verging on a hyperreal glossiness that seems to shimmer on the screen. To achieve a reconsideration of the basic states of representationalism inherent in any comparison of these two mediums is a difficult task, calling into question more than a century of cinematic practice, and a host of assumptions shared by practitioners and viewers alike

VCRs, along with a host of other factors, eventually killed drive-ins, making it possible to view a film at home with ease and convenience; DVDs wiped the VHS format out of existence a few years after their introduction. In the same fashion, second-run theatres were also killed off by the burgeoning DVD market, as the window between VHS and the theatrical release of a film and its appearance on DVD dwindled into nonexistence. And yet, as the public audience for 20th century cinema film becomes increasingly specialized and narrowly segmented, to the point that American Blockbuster stores no longer even bother with a token “classics” section – even such reliable standbys as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) are ignored in most of the chain’s stores – for those who embrace the past a wider range of films has become available. Often these DVDs go out of print in a matter of months, so one must purchase them immediately upon their release, as fetish objects that also have a temporal existence of their own, and a thriving bootleg “industry” exists as well, making copies of all but the most fugitive films available to the private collector.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

I've fallen asleep every time I've watched Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982). David C. Ryan's, assistant communications studies professor at the University of San Francisco, piece on the 25th anniversary edition, though, is remarkable. It has the best introductory paragraph ever. Yes, ever. Here is the introduction:

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner opened twenty-five years ago to scornful critics and a disappointed public confronted by a moody, violent and densely layered science fiction film governed by existential themes and Marxist tendencies. Most journalistic critics found the film’s tone aloof, its themes remote and its story too stark to digest. Although the film was valorised for its bold and rich production design and was praised as the cinematic phenomenon of technological artistry, Blade Runner was largely condemned and discarded as a curious and expensive debacle – full of powerful images yet plagued by inert intellectual rewards. Diverse American critics such as Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffmann complained that the hero’s humanism lacked depth and verve, and that the story is clouded by confusing themes. Scott, they said, was far too interested in developing style rather than content, more interested in detailing his sets than developing his script. These views were (and are) unsatisfying.

To read the rest of the piece, click here.

Because I like Senses of Cinema so much not only for research but also for enlightenment, I have included it as one of the links on the right side of the main page.

Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics is also a fantastic film-related site that I read just for fun. I haven't had the opportunity to write an essay that would make use of the site. It is also located on the right.

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