Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Yr3 Week 25 (Thurs 16 Apr - MDA3200 Film Theory - Nature of Film 2 & Final Class)

And today marked the last day of full, on campus classes as well as the final lecture and seminar of MDA3200. To cap it off, we returned to discussing what is film is, and what it can do.

First, we opened on the notion of film and the 'real'. When examining this, the first place to turn was to antiquity with Plato's cave story and the 'Invisible Real': when a group of people are only exposed to the shadows of objects, and then when they are shown the objects themselves, they are disconcerted and question which is the genuine article. In a straightforward analogy, this is like the mechanism of projections in the cinema, but looking a bit deeper, one can read the cave dwellers reactions akin to that of cinemagoers who come to believe in the illusions on the screen and how they cannot reconcile the two possibilities.

Another reinforcement of this notion come from an extract of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982), where the children play about with a magic lantern, and actually get scared by the ghost story it presents. Here in we see how the show is outside of regular space and time, the ghosts are not an actual presence, yet the children's imagination is such that they become terrified. They effectively reconstructs these fragments as a sort of reality to them.

The philosopher Lacan argued the 'Real' was outside of our comprehension, our language, and only erupts when we question the materiality of existence, something we've covered in past weeks when we discussed the always already and how to move past it. This then lead into the field of the digital, specifically virtual reality, which is an entirely sensory experience, a total environment that is artificial and machinic, but not indexical. Deleuze, whom we'll return to in a moment and is no stranger on this blog, said that the present was the actual/real, and that the past and future were the virtual.

But returning back towards the digital in a more general sense, it presents a challenge: in general, film was understood to perceive reality as indexical, while in grand theory, film is seen as the product of ideology and socio-political mechanisms. The digital blows both of them out because of its malleability and unique properties that celluloid and the theories built around it can't quite match up to. Be it in in image processing or CGI, there is another dimension that digital can provide in its seamlessness. For example, the 1995 animated Pixar film Toy Story was the first entirely digital film, and it presents the notion of toy coming to life (which one can easily read as allegorical to the shift from analogue to digital, and self reflexive in the change from human to non-human).

Theorist Steven Prince states that there are two applicable models when discussing the virtual/digital: the correspondence based model, which uses links within a piece to our own reality to anchor us (i.e. Toy Story is all digital, but familiar sights like a child's bedroom and toys help 'ground' it), and then perceptual realism, which is how we see things and adheres to the idea that we can accept something if it looks real, and conforms to our notions to space/time (once again, it's fairly evident how Toy Story or any bit of CGI utilizes this). One can also see this in a phrase often applied to discussions of the virtual, Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore, I Am), locating experience within the subjective.

After some further discussion on notion of digital cinema as machinic and post human (discussing further the idea of the subject to object/human to non human dynamic with reference to Pixar), we moved back onto Deleuze, a man whose works now are regarded with greater reverence than in his own lifetime as,despite having died before the digital became mainstream, many have taken to applying his ideas to the digital debate, primarily in the form of his books Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. Such immediate applications include the idea of 'Cine-Becomings': that film can go beyond our limitations and create whole new worlds/be a radical tool for expression. There is also the Power of the False, which Deleuze says is a questioning of the world and what it dictates, asking what something is or isn't (not far off from discussions about breaking through the always already), and then the Spiritual Automaton, whereby film can create a trance that frees us to think and consider, elevating us following a shock (the film) in conjunction with our own intuition.

To cap this off, we watched an extract from a video essay on Vimeo, conveniently titled The Powers of the False, where by old interviews of Deleuze are spliced with footage from the Orson Welles documentary F or False, and involves the two questions notions of truth, legitimacy and the false.

Then, the seminar was a relatively brisk affair, discussing the final 2000 word essay band what topics we could pick (relating to question of ethics, film history,applications of differing or contradictory theories etc.) and just getting us comfortable with the task ahead. And with that, we brought to an end our classes for MDA3200. So, what can I say in closing about this module?

I feel that it has been a rather mixed bag: I feel the first half of the module up to Christmas was badly hammered by an improper tutor and lack of actual application of criticism beyond an overly generalized view of film history that was not terribly helpful when actually trying to understand the actual film theories. With Patrick's arrival and a refocusing of the module priorities,I do feel it has gotten to be a lot better, and I feel like I am learning about proper theories instead of a tired and hackneyed retread of film history with some extras like before. However, this is the approach we should've had from the get go, and I feel like ultimately, this module was not as engrossing or as intricate as it could've been, and it feels like a missed opportunity. An opportunity that went some way towards rectifying the problem, but still missed nonetheless.

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