All 11 entries tagged Film
January 06, 2009
Writing about web page http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/05/technology/05bluray.html?ref=business
The New York Times give something of a preview to the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts on Wednesday in Vegas. "Nearly two million square feet of convention hall will be stocked with the latest mobile phones, portable music players, digital cameras and expensive flat-screen televisions." I don't know much about the event, but I expect it involves a lot of dudes in suits and shades telling anyone who will listen that they represent the next big thing.
This article focuses upon the challenges facing Blu-Ray in the market. A central difficulty is how to tell audiences that Blu-Ray is significantly better than DVD (because, well, I'm not convinced that it is). One of their strategies is to introduce a 'BD Live' service:
Analysts say they expect companies to announce more support for a feature called BD Live (as in Blu-ray disc live), which lets people download additional material from the Internet and interact with friends in text chats that appear on the television while playing a movie.
I often find it annoying enough when I get distracted by a real thing when watching a film. Let alone a chat box unexpectedly intruding upon the experience. This feeds into a model of how audiences consume films as digital media that is often propagated in discourses - as one of many 'competing elements', to borrow Aylish Wood's phrase, jostling for perceptual position. I haven't used XBox live all that much, but in my experience it is less interesting for the social opportunities it provides and more so for how it enhances collaborative gameplay. I want to talk to people so we can figure out how to shoot these zombies up, not so they can tell me about their day - I have friends to do that with.
It could be interesting to imagine how such a BD Live feature could be used to create collaborative, real-time film criticism - like a user-initiated director's commentary, a phenemenological commentary. This seems to be more thought and imagination experiments though, as I imagine the appeal and utility would be novel but short-lived.
January 04, 2009
Hot damn, 2009 has gotten off to a good start. I would hate to spoil the play for you, so if you're planning on seeing August: Osage County don't read further; I'm immediately interested in surprises and endings.
There were some moments in August: Osage County (by Tracy Letts and Steppenwolf theatre company), which I saw at the National Theatre last Friday, of collective audience response that rivalled any shared experience I can recall in a theatre or a cinema. I'm more accustomed to such palpable communal responses in a comedy club, where most people laugh at the same time at the same thing and feel like they've shared something. And there's a lot of shared laughter in August, there are some hilarious moments. Yet the collective responses go beyond this: shared surprise when Ivy (Sally Murphy) and Little Charles (Ian Barford) embrace for the first time outside the front door; shared repulsion when Steve (Gary Cole), the youngest daughter Karen's confident fiance who wears shades indoors like a dot-com millionaire (although he's clearly a wannabe at best), slowly groping the neck and face of fourteen year old grand-daughter Jean (Molly Ranson); shared horror when it slowly becomes clear just how few secrets people are able to keep from the hawk eyes of matriach Violet (Deanna Dunagan - in the performance of a lifetime). These responses testify to the pleasures of a communal audience experience; a lot of work can only elicit such extreme social reactions if someone's phone goes off.
It is an enormous work with more ideas and references than I or anyone could hope to immediately comprehend in full, many of which are specifically tied to place - the 'Plains', and more generally America. To this extent it aligns itself with an excellent tradition and history. Rose, who I saw the play with, said afterwards that the only thing she could think to compare it to, in terms of size, was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
One of the play's big ostensible themes is power and control. One of the play's signature moments is at the end of Act 2 when eldest daughter Barbara (Amy Morton), after a monumental (at least to an outsider) family feud over dinner, screams 'I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW' - a moment that is referenced, and turned back in on itself, later by Ivy when she says 'You did say you were running things now'. Violet appears to have acquiesed to this hostile takeover of power, yet in the endgame we see that in her head she never relinquished control. For Violet, knowledge is power. Particularly secret knowledge. Time and again she makes others aware that nothing happens in her home that she doesn't know about: she prides herself on this declared omnipotence, no matter how hard people try to operate undercover. It is however a particular brand of knowledge; perhaps it could be described as all evidence and no comprehension, or perhaps knowledge about everything else apart from one's self. She stores and locks knowledge away (perhaps the lock-and-key of the safety deposit box is a good metaphor for this), not thinking to share it for a common good in case it loses its exclusive sheen and can be less effectively used as a weapon of power. The idea is that those who claim to know everything are missing out on more than they care to realise.
This made me think about Douglas Pye's keynote presentation at 'Continuity and Innovation' at Reading University last September, in which he praised Tommy Lee Jones's characters in No Country for Old Men and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge (and juxtaposing it against a quotation about knowledge from Donald Rumsfeld). Perhaps like Rumsfeld, Violet is a character who doesn't see the limits of her own knowledge - which builds her up for one large dramatic fall.
And the fall is astonishing. In its final moments, the play switches key into a more dreamlike state. As the lights gradually diminish Violet stumbles around the almost-empty house, almost crawling up the huge flight of stairs, and finds Native American housekeeper Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero) in the attic. Violet counts those who have left, repeating 'They're all gone', whilst Johnna sings a nursery rhyme (one of the play's distinguishing dramatic devices) 'This is the way the world ends'. It sounds corny, but I found it beautiful. Together, the two voices put a defining exclamation mark on an enormous piece of work.
There's more I want to say about this play, and certainly much more in it than I'm aware of. I want to write about how second-generation cinephilia is referenced and what functions it fulfills. I want someone to tell me about the significance of Johnna, and the history that her presence in the household recalls. I want to find out more about the T.S Eliot references that begin the play, and glide around the house. I've read somewhere that many people find something in this play that rings uncomfortably true for them; if there was anything, it was the attitudes of Barbara and (particularly) her husband Bill (Jeff Perry), the two professional academics.
And I can't see this production again - I'll have to work from memory, and the naked playtext. This is the closest thing to old-time cinephilia that I have experienced; I can't just grab a DVD from the shelf and re-visit or clarify this experience. And for me that makes it exciting, but it also makes me anxious that the memory will slip away and I'll be left thinking 'What was that play about? I remember I liked it...' before long.
December 14, 2008
There are a number of startling statements and attitudes in this piece - a resurgence of the type of online discourse that surrounded The Dark Knight upon its original release this past Summer.
Here Josh Tyler notes that, as yet, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight has not featured as heavily in award nomination and critics best-of-2008 lists as he would like. He goes beyond this observation to suggest that, if critics refuse (and know that Tyler does view this as a point blank, ideological refusal by critics) to include the film, then they are putting their critical legitimacy and their JOBS at stake.
For print critics, a vote against The Dark Knight is a vote for your own irrelevancy. It’s a vote for the unemployment line. It’s a conscious choice to ignore a cultural phenomenon in favor of pushing some undeserved indie-film agenda over a movie which people have already seen.
I would certainly argue that it is the function, and value, of professional critics to resist cultural phenomena in favour of their own tastes (which they are paid to hold) in situations such as this (Jim Emerson makes something like that argument in this piece - although he risks swinging too hard in the opposite direction and being equally as dogmatic as Tyler). Of course, there is an argument to be made that critics can ignore or suppress their own tastes for fear of not appearing 'high-brow' enough - and I think it is a sense of this that motivates Tyler's piece, but he takes it into some serious extremes.
I really find quite pungent the suggestion that if someone disagrees with a majority, then that person should regardless articulate a view that falls in line with the majority. This logic suggests that, to qualify for the right to speak or write in public, one should agree to exclusively provide the public with what they already know.
Yet this is not quite the logic in which Tyler couches his article. He doesn't quite suggest that critics should suppress their own opinions in order to give the public what they already know. Instead, he suggests that - before writing in public - critics should wise up and realise that they do in fact think identically to the public (and the view of the public is represented by his own opinion). This paragraph is astonishing; he writes:
Call me and the other 99% of moviegoers who love this movie biased if you want, but this is more than just our opinion. It’s also the opinion of many of the people leaving it out of their awards. Shortly before its debut in theaters, critics were hailing it as one of the best movies ever made, a life changing experience. It is, for a fact, one of the very best reviewed movies of the year. According to RottenTomatoes it has received a higher percentage of positive reviews than literally any of the other movies nominated in the Best Picture category by the half-mad Golden Globes… and it’s done that in spite of being much more widely reviewed. It’s more than just the year’s best movie, it’s also almost unquestionably going to be the year’s most influential. Like Star Wars before it, The Dark Knight is fast becoming the new mold from which all future movies will be poured. Its impact, its influence on cinema will be felt for decades to come.
This paragraph is of course notable for the enormous historical importance wreathed around the neck of The Dark Knight and Star Wars (in the former case, I'm sorry but it's just too early to know what influence the film will have on film history). What strikes me hardest though, like a hard punch in the stomach, is the implication that, if you don't like The Dark Knight, then you are just wrong. It is apparently an empirical FACT that this is the best film of the year. I've been noticing a lot recently that, because it gives each film a solid number and claims to represent EVERYBODY WHO WATCHES FILMS IN THE WORLD EVER, Rotten Tomatoes has been fulfilling the function of backing up such appeals to fact.
Personally, I really dislike this attitude. If we discursively present an opinion as a fact, then we can preclude other people from forming their own opinions (this is a phenomenon that I've noticed amongst students, including myself, recently), deny the possibility that our opinion of a film could change over time, and completely shut off the productivity of debate. After all, if a debate is taking place between two people - who hold different opinions, but are both of the opinion that their opinion is a fact - then we'll never reach a compromise or synthesis of opinion.
July 16, 2008
It struck me earlier this week that, from door to door, travelling to the cinema in London takes just a little longer than travelling to Gracie Barra in Birmingham. So right now I'm taking the BFI's 'Japanese Gems' season as an opportunity to see my first ever Kurosawa films.
On the train yesterday, towards a screening of Rashomon (aces), I was reading an article by Luisela Alvaray from the latest Cinema Journal about the institutional structures of contemporary Latin American cinema ('National, Regional, and Global: New Waves of Latin American Cinema' Cinema Journal 47:3 Spring 2008 pp48-65). She describes her area of research as "the interactions and exchanges that, since 1990, have enabled the development of a continuously expanding corpus of Latin American films." (49).
This fact however struck me as unbelievably odd:
Many of the films sponsored by Brazilian EMBRAFILME and Mexican IMCINE in the 1980s manifested a qualitative, rather than a quantitative, crisis. Along with a few critically acclaimed films, hard-core porn dominated Brazilian national production, while formulaic and mediocre comedies populated Mexican screens. (51, my emphasis)
It's possible that the author is exaggerating by using the term 'hard-core porn' but, if she is not, what type of jokers were running the state-funded EMBRAFILME in the 1980s?!? It's ridiculous and hilarious.
In general though, Alvaray's excellent article is filled with facts and figures that I wish I had access to (or discovered myself) when I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the topic back in 2005. It perhaps would have help me avoid some of the statements and formulations in there that, when I think back, feel extremely naive.
April 16, 2008
I just read a pretty decent interview with Richard Linklater, conducted by Kevin John Bozelka, that was published in the latest issue of The Velvet Light Trap (it's a subscription journal - but Warwick library has a subscription for all students and staff if you're based in these parts). As always, Linklater is enlightening about the subject of getting movies made in the contemporary era (the interview is not about the aesthetics of film, but rather about the economics of filmmaking) - his work in several different paradigms of moviemaking (sequels, adaptations, remakes etc) mean that he is well-versed in many modes of procedure. There's also at least one quotation that will function as a wonderful epigraph for some part of my project.
Just wanted to quote him here on the subject of human nature, and the phenomenon of 'it was better in the old days'. Linklater is very well-read, and is eloquent on these type of issues. This plugs into something that I think about often, and gives me hope that not everybody is obsessively fixated on the negative.
You know that's the joke about Austin. I use a song in Slacker, the last song, the Ed Hall song, and the line in it was "things were so much better before you were here." Whenever you showed up in Austin, pick a year, whenever you got here, you just missed it. This club just closed and this just happened. It's all behind us. You run into someone who is a certain age and it's "it all died with the Armadillo [World Headquarters]." You run into certain people who say it all died when the Beach closed or when Liberty Lunch closed. Usually it's music venues. It takes a kind of gene we all share about being perpetually dissatisfied. But around 2000 I got to know the city government at the time because we were getting the Film Society to take over the old airport and make a studio out of a few hangars there. And I appreciated the government leadership. [Mayor] Kirk Watson was a good leader at that moment, so the ship didn't totally go in the wrong direction. There was a lot of smart urban planning and thought that went into it. It could be a lot worse, is what I'm saying, had there been no oversight. I think there was some good leadership at some crucial moments that kept us from going completely off the rails. But that's completely unappreciated. (Velvet Light Trap 61 (2008), pp. 55-56, my emphasis).
What a hero.
Ollie Johnston, who was one of the principal animators in Disney's classic era of feature pictures, died on Monday. I read a lot about him when I was writing about American animation for my MA, so this is sad to hear. Cartoon Brew have collected a brilliant amount of tributes and obituaries - do read some if you get the chance, as they are a glimpse into a fascinating period of filmmaking.
I couldn't sleep last night so I watched the first six innings or so of the Marlins. They won 4-0, with another really great performance by Scott Olsen (who has become the most reliable starting pitcher they have - the other contender to that throne, Mark Hendricksen, starts tonight). I just found this excellent article, 'Marlins look good, but attendance doesn't' by Greg Cote - which is worth a read if you want to get interested in baseball with me.
And if you haven't seen the new Bjork video yet, you really should because it's amazing.
April 02, 2008
I'm only about half-way through the writing I need to do today, but wanted to stop by and share some things on here. The chapter isn't going badly (thanks for asking), so far I've written: an introductory anecdote, an explanation of 'the science of digital video', a long methodological consideration, and an orientation to films that have been filmed on digital video. I was worried, and voiced this concern to JZ last night, that this was all ground-clearing guff.
After thinking about it more today, it actually makes a fair amount of headway into the chapter and case study. I'm so used to the way I used to write as an undergraduate (and Masters student, I think): 'introductory paragraph, discuss something someone else has written about this film, extended textual analysis to disprove aforementioned someone else, conclusion'. If I haven't started writing up analysis of a primary text, then I still feel like I haven't even started the chapter. On the contrary, I guess that 6000 words worth of 'ground-clearing guff' must actually be quite important to scholarship - otherwise there wouldn't be 6000 words worth of things to be said. If the reader has no idea about the types of films that have been filmed on digital video, then the 'orientating map' is necessary and actually is primary (and preliminary) work and analysis. I would take this as a sign that my work and writing is maturing - but instead I'm going to think of it as something that I'm doing wrong.
I'm casually reading 'Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia', an edited collection by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, at the moment. I'll study it more intensely as my work returns more generally to the topic of cinephilia, but right now I'm just reading passages every now and then (the form of the book actually lends itself to this). I came across a couple of paragraphs by Martin, and thought that maybe they rhyme with my past 'on cinema for the sake of it' entry.
Because what is democratic in this video culture is precisely the capacity (or at least the potential) to suspend normative judgement about cinema - reminding me of one of my all-time favourite critical mottoes, the attitude attributed by Louis Seguin to Ado Kyrou of seeking 'surprise rather than satisfaction' and preferring 'discovery to certainty'. (7)
There is a recourse to the high moral ground - and to a certain lamentable purism - in a lot of film criticism today, even some of the most advanced. We read or hear far too often that there are only half a dozed directors working today who fulfil - or might one day fulfil, if we're all lucky - the potential, the promise of this dazzling medium...As heretical as it sounds, even within this very cabal, I like the sentiment of Deleuze's casual prefatory remark in Cinema I: The Movement-Image: 'The cinema is always as perfect as it can be'. Meaning that its potentiality, its virtuality is, in some way, right here now - if we know where to look for it, how to maximise it, why it matters, and how to make it dance, for us and in us, like Rouch's privileged, shamanic figure of the dancing Socrates. (7-8)
I'm not sure I would interpret the Deleuze quotation in exactly the same way (and I don't understand what he means by 'virtuality' here), but I don't know the Deleuze text so it is just an aphorism to me. I like it though, and I didn't think I'd ever say that about a Deleuze quotation.
Some other things:
I had a nice time at my friend James' birthday party yesterday, although because of work and an impending cold I wasn't on particularly amazing form.
I was pointed towards The Big Think today, which looks like an interesting project. Like YouTube with intellectual (and slightly elitist) leanings. I haven't had time to look through it yet, but the one video I did watch was interesting and clear.
The Marlins beat the Mets 5-4 in extra innings last night although Vanden Hurk was pulled in the 4th inning (he'd already made 76 pitches!!!) which isn't particularly promising.
My friend Mike wrote a couple of nice entries yesterday: 'The Pre-Socratics were totally awesome.' (“This world neither any god nor man made, but it always was and is and will be, an ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures.” - Heraclitus) and 'Roving sample robot' ("And I love the idea of a simple thing like this, the sole purpose of which is to rove about and find sounds and make rhythms, and treat it like its the most important thing in the world.") Tell him I sent you.
I've made a couple of bets on UFC Fight Night this evening: Din Thomas (-183) over Josh Neer, Frank Edgar (-207) over Gray Maynard, and Kurt Pellegrino (+132) over Nate Diaz. I always seem to bet for Din Thomas, and against Nate Diaz. I really like the Lauzon vs Florian main event as well, it's two guys who seem awesome. There's a fantastic article about Kenny Florian at Sherdog: 'Highbrow brutality' by Joe Hall.
On the note of UFC, if anyone is geeky enough to get it, this post at Fightlinker is mean but hilarious: 'The most awesome thing EVER'
Go look at the new releases by Fantagraphics and buy something! If I do enough work today, I'm going to treat myself to the new softcover edition of 'Safe Area Gorazde' by Joe Sacco and 'Ganges #2' by Kevin Huizenga. Only if I do enough work though, yeah?
On that note, I need to get back to work. I'm on my fifth cup of coffee...
March 22, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/film/conference.html
I'm away in London this weekend, attending the New Developments in Stardom conference at King's College London. It has been organised by a trio of graduate students, including Jon Driskell who spent a year with us at Warwick (we both did the same Issues of Representation MA module with Richard Dyer back then!). I'm looking forward to spending time in an extra-cirricular academic environment, and seeing some friends who I haven't hung out with for a little while. I tend to find functions such as this, places where academic film studies will be discussed, quite exciting and it inspires me to get going on my own work.The programme for this conference is commendable for its diversity across the scope of media studies. The panels are ordered by disciplines (TV stardom, film stardom, non-cinematic stardom and, more generally, 'celebrity), and it appears that the keynote speakers, Su Holmes and David L. Andrews, will be talking broadly in areas of TV and film studies respectively. Of course, these intra-discipline divisions are not exclusive or solid. I anticipate attending the panel about cinematic stardom (because most of my work is in areas of cinema), and non-cinematic stardom (because my friend Sarah is giving a paper!). Andrews' keynote, entitled 'The New Hollywood?: Sport, Stardom and the Celebrity Economy', looks particularly intriguing to me, if only because I have been unusually interested in sport recently. Hopefully I'll take decent notes, and be able to write some here about the conference.
February 27, 2008
Here's a quote that is making me think:
I hope to convincingly argue that there is a place in film studies for defining and defending important films. What I mean by important films probably does imply something like a canon of great films, of films that are important because they are great films. As such, important films are ones that require defense on the grounds of taste: a great film is important because it is a great film, not because it is popular, not because it presented the first application of a new technology, and not because it responded to a particular historical moment - though, of course, a great films might include any or all of these elements as a measure of its greatness.
Richard Rushton, 'The New Film Studies and the Decline of Critique', Cineaction 72 (2007), p. 4.
I feel that this idea unwittingly plugs into the emerging discourses of cinephilia (e.g. Christian Keathley, Thomas Elsaesser, Rosenbaum/Martin) that I have been exploring recently. The question, I suppose, is: are ideas about the 'great-ness' of the film really the stuff of an academic discipline? Can you imagine accepting undergraduate essays entitled 'Why is Cloverfield a great film'? Or would that take film studies to a place that is unsuitable for a university?
I've arrived at this juncture whilst contemplating why my project about the digitalisation of cinema should focus on Richard Linklater. This is a question that I haven't quite resolved in my mind yet.
Here's some other stuff:
* Steve Richards, 'Don't let a row over the Speaker obscure the value of what takes place in the Commons'
* My Life is Choked with Comics, 'Hideshi Hino: Panorama of Hell'
And I'm currently amused by the Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel video exchange, and the Seth Rogen parody that has followed.
February 17, 2008
I quite frequently go to the cinema to see whatever is new and on. This is mainly because I like to get out of the house; walking down the road in the cold with a big coat, hood and scarf, occupying about 3 seats for stuff in a near-empty matinee or early evening screening, finishing popcorn even before the trailers are finished and watching something chosen for its store-bought status as the week's major release is infinitely preferable to wandering around the house, occasionally reloading Facebook (although that probably says more about my work habits than anything).
I don't perhaps get as angry at bad or average films as some of my peers so this is very rarely an entirely negative experience, and sometimes there are surprises and treats. Anyway I believe that it's aces to explore your present culture, the time that you are living in. We can't discount the possibility that film and cultural historians will look back at films that we now disregard, and wonder why they were so derided (this can often be the case with B-movies from the classical Hollywood period). Watching new stuff is especially important for me right now, because my research is about uses of digital tools in cinema - which is very much 'breaking news', and the majority of contemporary releases are thematically relevant to it in one way or another. I often try to find a good performance, or some ace set design or visual effects, or a pretty actress. If nothing else, you can ask yourself "Why doesn't that film work?", which keeps your critical tools from becoming overwhelmed by a constant onslaught cinema 'classics' in a film department.
David Bordwell wrote something recently about cinema releases in the first quarter that I agree with, and that perhaps echoes some of these ideas:
Yet this is a flush period for those of us who like to explore low-budget genre pieces. I have to admit I enjoy checking on those quickie action fests and romantic comedies that float up early in the year. They’re today’s equivalent of the old studios’ program pictures, those routine releases that allowed theatres to change bills often. In their budgets, relative to blockbusters, today’s program pix are often the modern equivalent of the studios’ B films.
I suspect that it may be a tiny bit different for us in the UK, as this is the time of year when we receive the onslaught of award-nominated films, the 'quality cinema', that was released in the US late in the year previous. The last few weeks have seen No Country for Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly released in the UK - as well as the deserved return of Away From Her, thanks to Julie Christie's Oscar nomination. Still, there's plenty of genre films around - particularly at the Leamington Apollo, which often inexplicably shows genre movies that aren't really being shown in many multiplexes (often at the expense of something else that you'd expect to see - I haven't quite forgiven them for not showing Superbad last year).
This was going to be an introduction to a post about Jumper, but it's gotten a little unwieldy. On Jumper tomorrow, then. I think there's a cool idea in it.
February 15, 2008
This is an issue that I have been meaning to write about for a little while - probably since I read 'Digital Encounters' by Aylish Wood, an interesting and clear book. There is an idea about aesthetic differences in cinema galvanised by digital technologies that I have been testing in probably every film I've seen since. It struck me again yesterday when watching Little Miss Sunshine whilst eating take-away pizza - as a sort of forgetting-Valentines activity.
In the introduction to 'Digital Encounters', Aylish Wood writes:
I will argue that digital technologies have led to an increasing appearance of competing elements in digital effects cinema, games and gallery installation art, and that the degree to which viewers have to distribute their attention varies within the organization of the interface. (4)
This idea ties together aesthetic developments across several different media. Digital aesthetics have concurrently developed, according to Wood, towards increasing the freedom of the viewer/user; towards providing the viewer/user with more "embodied agency". It's important to note that this is posited as a general trend (rather than a rule), and Wood does acknowledge that "the opportunities for agency available to a viewer depend on the different ways interfaces distribute a viewer's attention" (82). We can find a similar idea in Mark Hansen's Philosophy of New Media, although his focal point is gallery installations.
My principal interest is what Wood calls 'digital effects cinema'. I personally dislike the 'effects' in that term but can't offer a better one here - what we're studying is any films that use digital technologies. Wood translates her idea to reference this cinema when she writes:
...when effects are visible on screen in a way that competes for a viewer's attention their impact is different, generating both a spatial and time-based engagement where watching one thing means not watching another. (86, my emphasis)
Most obviously, this can refer to a film such as Timecode (Mike Figgis) that has four different frames on-screen at the same time. The notion of 'watching one thing means not watching another' seems to work here, when there is more than one frame - and Anne Friedberg has developed a similar line of argument about digital technologies in her (ace) book The Virtual Window.
Wood also sees this broad aesthetic trend in blockbuster films that use a lot of CGI, because digital technologies can give 'life' to objects or entities. For example, in the film Twister the tornado, although not personified per se, acts as if it is 'alive' - Wood describes it as a 'dynamic element'. She writes:
The tornadoes are made credible by being integrated with the human figures, but at the same time they compete for a viewer's attention, redistributing it between the character and non-character elements. As spatial objects they have meaning beyond that given to them by character actions. (54)
Therefore we can see how the same broad theory about digital aesthetics describes both Timecode and Twister within the terms of Wood's argument. The central characteristic is a mise-en-scéne that contains 'competing elements', parts of an image that distribute the viewer's attention; in other words, to make a shot more complicated or layered by the presence of more-than-one potential focal points. My question is: is this a characteristic of digital technologies in cinema? Or is it just a relatively common characteristic of cinema? Is 'pre-digital' cinema, or even post-digital cinema that doesn't use digital tools in overt ways, characterised on the whole by images with a single focal point? Or can we find more examples of 'competing elements', separate from aesthetic developments engendered by digital technologies?
Let's look at a shot from Little Miss Sunshine, taken from what is in my opinion the film's most moving sequence. As the family's van nears their destination, Olive is passing the time by giving her brother Dwayne an eye test from a free card taken at the hospital. It transpires that Dwayne is colour-blind, and therefore unable to fly a jet in the air force (his dream, towards which he has taken a vow of silence for 9 months). He freaks out, the family stop the van, and he runs down a ridge screaming whilst the rest of the family remain at the top. I remember seeing this sequence in the Ashford cinema with my hand over my mouth, at a time when I was really worried that studying films had removed some of their emotional effect for me.
Olive, his sister, walks down to comfort Dwayne - and just gives him a simple hug, resting her head against his shoulder. In the shot that depicts this beautiful gesture, Olive and Dwayne are in the foreground on the right side of the frame. Further to the left, in the distant background, we can see Richard, Sheryl and Frank standing at the top of the ridge looking on. Olive's gesture lasts several, almost silent seconds before Dwayne says, "Okay, let's go." To me however, this shot contains at least five 'competing elements', that is things that a viewer could pleasurably look at whilst missing other potential pleasures, in the form of the characters.
We can concentrate on Olive, walking towards Dwayne (which creates suspense, as Sheryl has already failed to comfort him and we are unsure of how she is going to act towards him, and vice versa) and then quietly making the aforementioned gesture. Looking at her, we can see that she understands and cares for her brother. Or we can look at Dwayne - and notice his sharp intake of breath when Olive touches him, or how he stifles a cry, or how he lightly shakes his head in a way that implies "Life has fucked me over, but Olive's competition is important right now and I've got to accept that". Or Sheryl's worried and nervous glances from side to side in the background. Or the direct contrast made between Frank and Richard: Frank keeps his arms tied behind his back, remaining composed and respectful, whilst Richard has his arms by his side in an impatient manner. Richard doesn't want to be late, he doesn't want Olive to miss the contest because then she (and, by extension, he) will be a loser.
The shot is carefully composed in a way that ensures that all the characters are visible simultaneously. In our view, Richard's left foot stands directly behind Olive's right shoulder - not one character is placed in a way that would impair our vision of another (or, indeed, the still camper van). I've gathered this information by pausing, re-winding and watching the 10-15 second shot three or four times over - I don't think you could glean it all from one single viewing. Yet it is all there, several elements are presented to the viewer to choose from - each potentially at the expense of the other. And not one of these elements are given their central qualities, their heart, by a digital technology - these are provided by excellent performances, one of cinema's most traditional tools.
I've chosen Little Miss Sunshine because I watched it last night, and this shot struck me. It could be argued, I suppose, that Little Miss Sunshine is a contemporary film, and that the aesthetics of contemporary cinema have been changed, as a whole, by developments in digital technologies. The logic of this suggests that, thanks to trailblazing films such as Twister, audiences now expect competing elements otherwise they view images as too simplistic. I would refute this argument by pulling a copy of La Regle du Jeu from the shelf - which is full to the brim with comparable sequences.
I do really like a lot of Wood's book, but I'm just not sure that, in the process of marrying ideas about different forms that have all been profoundly affected by digitalisation, she hasn't created a theory about digital technologies in cinema that is too broad to be completely useful. As it is, it just isn't a new aesthetic phenomenon.