Post-Cinematic: Video Essays

Screenshot_2014-04-23-20-55-23

For their final projects in my 21st-century film class, three of my students chose to make video essays, which they have now made available on a blog that they set up especially for this purpose. Over at 21stcenturycinema.wordpress.com, you will find Jesko Thiel’s exploration of transmedia storytelling, Christopher Schramm’s analysis of editing techniques in videogame-based “fragmovies,” and Andreas Merokis’s look at violence as narrative and/or spectacle in contemporary cinema. Take a look and leave them a comment!

Advertisements

Digital Film, Chaos Cinema, Post-Cinematic Affect: Thinking 21st Century Motion Pictures

Here’s the course description for a graduate-level course I’ll be teaching in the winter semester (October 2013 – February 2014) — a PDF of the full syllabus is embedded above:

Digital Film, Chaos Cinema, Post-Cinematic Affect: Thinking 21st Century Motion Pictures

Instructor: Shane Denson

Course Description:

In this seminar, we will try to come to terms with twenty-first century motion pictures by thinking through a variety of concepts and theoretical approaches designed to explain their relations and differences from the cinema of the previous century. We will consider the impact of digital technologies on film, think about the cultural contexts and aesthetic practices of contemporary motion pictures, and try to understand the experiential dimensions of spectatorship in today’s altered viewing conditions. In addition to preparing weekly readings, students will be expected to view a variety of films prior to each class meeting.

Course Themes and Objectives:

In this course, we set out from the apparent “chaos” that contemporary cinema often presents to us: the seemingly incoherent and unmotivated camerawork and editing, for example, by which many action films of the twenty-first century mark their departure from the “classical” norms of Hollywood-style narration and formal construction. From here, we seek to make sense more generally of cinema’s transformation in terms of new technologies and techniques (e.g. digital imaging processes, nonlinear editing, and attendant editing styles), in terms of new modes of cinematic distribution and reception (e.g. DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services, HD TVs, smartphones, and tablet computers, but also IMAX 3-D and similar transformations of the big screen), in terms of non-classical narrative styles (e.g. recursive, database-like, non-linear, and even non-sequitur forms of storytelling), and in terms of broader phenomenological and environmental shifts that inform our experience, our embodiment, and our subjectivity in the digital era.

Several key concepts will help to orient our thinking about twenty-first century cinema and its relation to earlier cinematic modes. The first is “chaos cinema,” a term which Matthias Stork popularized in a compelling set of video essays focused particularly on recent action cinema; beyond this context, however, Stork’s notion of “chaos” resonates with the feelings and fears of many critics and theorists in the face of digital-era cinema. This broader perception of chaos is sometimes traced back to the digital unmooring of images from the indexical referents to which photographic films remained tied; on this basis, the somewhat oxymoronic term “digital film” is often linked to an even more unsettling, because more basic, sense of chaos: according to some critics, the digital (and the moving images it produces and supports) is correlated with a sweeping transformation of human society and subjectivity itself. On the other hand, though, not all critics are similarly alarmed by digital-era chaos. David Bordwell’s concept of “intensified continuity” effectively denies the radical stylistic break announced in Stork’s analysis; Bordwell sees the newer films as perhaps faster and even more hectic than classical Hollywood fare, but basically constructed according to principles of classical continuity – just intensified. By way of contrast, Steven Shaviro’s notion of “post-continuity” – developed in the context of his analysis of “post-cinematic affect” – provides another view of contemporary moving image culture, one which links formal and aesthetic transformations not only with new technologies but also with broader social, cultural, and economic changes underway right now.

As we think through these and related concepts, we will engage a variety of recent movies from formal, phenomenological, affective, cultural, and environmental perspectives. We will seek to understand whether a radical change has taken place in recent cinema, to assess what its significance might be, and in this way begin to think through the implications of and for our viewing habits in the twenty-first century.

You can find more of my syllabi here: http://uni-hannover.academia.edu/ShaneDenson

Film Series on “Imagining Media Change” — Screening #3: Digital Short Films

c (299,792 kilometers per second) from Seaquark Films on Vimeo.

On June 12, 2013 (6:00 pm in room 615, Conti-Hochhaus), the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media  Research is proud to present the third installment of our ongoing series of film screenings, “Imagining Media Change.”  (See here for a flyer with more details about our film series and related events, and here for a description of the symposium that forms the conceptual centerpiece.)

In a departure from our usual format of screening feature-length movies, this time we will watch a handful of recent science-fiction-themed ‘digital’ short films –  among them Derek Van Gorder’s and Otto Stockmeier’s Kickstarter-funded short C (299,792 kilometers per second) (2013), Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg (2006) – the proof-of-concept for what became 2009’s District 9 –  and the first episode of RCVR (2011), a Motorola-sponsored Web-TV series released via Machinima.com and Youtube. All of these films – as products of a throughly digitalized media environment – not only point us to the various transformations connected to contemporary media change (from crowd-funding to the use of digital video and the viral distribution of content via online video sites); as science-fiction films, they are also centrally about futuristic and/or alien technology and present us with their own takes on media change.

As always, the screening is free and open for all! Finally, the films themselves are embedded here in case you can’t make it.

Post-Cinematic Affect: Theorizing Digital Movies Now — #SCMS13

capture-of-affect

At the upcoming conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (March 6-10, 2013 in Chicago), I will be participating in a panel on “post-cinematic affect” with Steven Shaviro (who, literally, wrote the book on the topic), Therese Grisham (who organized a great roundtable discussion on the topic in La Furia Umana, which I was also proud to be a part of — and which can alternatively be found here if La Furia Umana is down), and Julia Leyda (who also participated in the roundtable and will serve as respondent on our SCMS panel).

Here is a description of our panel, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 7, from 3:00 – 4:45 pm (Session H):

Post-Cinematic Affect: Theorizing Digital Movies Now

If cinema and television, as the dominant media in the twentieth century, shaped and reflected our cultural sensibilities, how do new digital media in the twenty-first century help to shape and reflect new forms of sensibility? Continuing from roundtable discussions on “post-cinematic affect” in the online film journal La Furia Umana, this panel explores the emergence of a new “structure of feeling” (Raymond Williams) or “episteme” (Foucault) in post-millennial film, one that is evident in new formal strategies, radically changed conditions of viewing, and new ways in which films address their spectators. Contemporary films, from blockbusters to independents and the auteurist avant-garde, use digital cameras and editing technologies, incorporating the aesthetics of gaming, webcams, and smartphones, to name a few, as well as Internet media. For this reason alone, we argue, the aesthetic boundaries between art-house film and blockbuster have become blurred. Moreover, the aesthetic elements of contemporary film do not just simulate the environments created by digital technologies and media, but break more radically with the geometry and logic of films in the twentieth century. In this way, they reflect or transmit the effects, not only of digitization, but also of economic globalization and the financialization of more and more human activities. But these changes have only begun to be theorized. In this panel, we continue the work of theorizing a critical aesthetics of film culture today. The papers take as their critical starting-points David Bordwell on “intensified continuity,” Matthias Stork on “chaos cinema,” and Steven Shaviro on post-cinematic affect and “post-continuity.”

The papers explore key critical issues for analyzing post-cinematic affect, in terms of the ambivalent aesthetics of recent films exhibiting a longing for cinema as the lost object of desire (Therese Grisham on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo), post-continuity stylistics (Steven Shaviro on Tony Scott’s films, particularly his 2005 Domino), and philosophical and technological approaches to the contemporary camera (Shane Denson on images “discorrelated” from human sense ratios in a variety of recent films).

Bibliography:

Bordwell, David. “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3. (Spring, 2002), pp. 16–28.

Grisham, Therese, with Julia Leyda, Nicholas Rombes, and Steven Shaviro. “Roundtable Discussion on the Post-Cinematic in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2.” http://www.lafuriaumana.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=385:roundtable-discussion-about-post-cinematic&catid =59:la-furia-umana-nd-10-autumn-2011&Itemid=61

Shaviro, Steven. “Post-Continuity”. Blog posting: The Pinocchio Theory, March 26, 2012, http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1034

Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zer0 Books, 2010.

Stork, Mattias. “Video Essay: Chaos Cinema: The Decline and Fall of Action Filmmaking.” IndieWire, Press Play, August 24, 2011. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/video_essay_matthias_stork_calls_out_the_chaos_cinema 

Finally, here are links to the individual abstracts:

Therese Grisham, “Martin Scorsese and Hugo (2011): Our Reluctant Contemporaries”

Steven Shaviro, “Angel of Fire: Post-Continuity in Tony Scott’s Domino (2005)”

Shane Denson, “Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect”

Therese Grisham, “Martin Scorsese and Hugo (2011): Our Reluctant Contemporaries” — #SCMS13

Hugo

Here is the abstract for Therese Grisham’s paper on the panel “Post-Cinematic Affect: Theorizing Digital Movies Now” at the 2013 SCMS conference (Session H — Thursday, March 7, 2013, 3:00 – 4:45 pm):

Martin Scorsese and Hugo (2011): Our Reluctant Contemporaries

Therese Grisham

If our filmmakers now employ digital technologies that give rise to new aesthetic forms, reluctant stragglers long for a lost cinematic object. In 2011, a spate of movies was released whose aesthetic structures exhibit a yearning for earlier, cinematic forms, using digital technologies to “make them new” for contemporary audiences. While many of these movies digitally re-create older genres and styles, the acclaimed Hugo and The Artist re-create founding moments of cinema itself. This fact alone underlines our definitive entry into the episteme of the post-cinematic. Meticulously re-creating and re-staging the life and work of Georges Méliès, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is unabashedly at once a “nostalgia film” (Jameson), an ode to the cinematic, and a pastiche of pre-cinema and cinema history. Much of this history is deliberately anachronistic, which can be seen clearly in light of Scorsese’s decision to employ digital 3D technologies to refer not only to the early fascination with three-dimensional images, but to the pervasive 3D movies in the 1950s — the most privileged moment figured in American nostalgia films. It can be argued that this pastiche provokes thought about the history of cinema (Sprengler); it can perhaps more pointedly be argued that the film offers up cultural stereotypes of the past (Jameson), its cinema history belonging to an obsolete, patriarchal textbook.

Hugo‘s digital techniques of production and post-production are at odds with its formal properties. I argue that Hugo combines innovations in digital 3D technologies with a classical narrative, a love of paraphernalia presaging cinematic motion (automata and wind-up toys, e.g.), and a “hyperrealistic” aesthetics of movement, space, color, and pattern. I borrow the term hyperrealism from painting, as a style that focuses on details and subjects, veering into the fantastic. Digital 3D is at its optimum when presenting (“real” or “imagined”) spatial detail and close-ups.

Scorsese ultimately suggests that he is the “father” of the digital trick film, and that Hugo is his most elaborate example so far. Hugo is offered to us as a contemporary founding moment in the history of film; nevertheless, its aesthetics, despite their technical innovations, hearken back to a world in which older technologies — and older forms of social authority — persist in the face of newer ones still struggling to be born.

Bibliography:

Cook, Adam. “Past/Not Past: A Tale of Two Cinemas.” In: MUBI Notebook, February 12, 2012. http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/pastnot-past-a-tale-of-two-cinemas

Evans, Seth. “Hugo.” In: Jon Fauer’s Film and Digital Times: The Journal of Art, Technique and Technology in Motion Picture Production Worldwide, November 11, 2011.
http://www.fdtimes.com/2011/11/11/hugo/

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.

Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zer0 Books, 2010.

Sprengler, Christine. Screening Nostalgia: Populuxe Props and Technicolor Aesthetics in Contemporary American Film. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2011.

Steven Shaviro, “Angel of Fire: Post-Continuity in Tony Scott’s Domino (2005)” — #SCMS13

domino

Here is the abstract for Steven Shaviro’s paper on the panel “Post-Cinematic Affect: Theorizing Digital Movies Now” at the 2013 SCMS conference (Session H — Thursday, March 7, 2013, 3:00 – 4:45 pm):

Angel of Fire: Post-Continuity in Tony Scott’s Domino (2005)

Steven Shaviro

The late Tony Scott was a mainstream Hollywood director: a maker of big-budget, crowd-pleasing action films featuring major stars. But he was also one of the filmmakers who most thoroughly explored the new formal and expressive possibilities offered by recent digital technologies. His movies are filled with dazzling displays of virtuosity in cinematography and editing, even as they tell stories that largely follow well-established genre norms. Scott’s films utilize all the traditional mechanisms of narrative organization and audience identification with characters, but they also engage in an aggressively digressive “cinema of attractions.” This odd combination of effects and affects has caused Tony Scott to be celebrated and cherished by some cineastes, and reviled by many more. In my talk, I will explore Tony Scott’s “disjunctive synthesis” of old and new — a synthesis that is not only seen on the level of diegetic form (narrative structure vs. attractions), but also on that of the technological means of cinematic production (century-old hand-cranked cameras vs. heavy digital processing) and on that of the ways that technology is represented within the films (a love for older technologies such as trains vs. a radical immersion in video and Internet-based technologies). I will argue that Scott’s adoption of a “post-continuity” style (going beyond the limits of what David Bordwell calls “intensified continuity”) works to embody and express the explosive tensions of what I have elsewhere called “post-cinematic affect.” This style does two things. On one hand, it expresses the only possible form of subjectivity in a world in which, as Deleuze puts it, “the image constantly sinks to the state of cliché.” On the other, it renders, in audiovisual forms, the impalpable circulation of money, affects, and other forms of value in the post-spectacular society of 21st-century America. My talk will center on Domino (2005), Scott’s most audiovisually extravagant and audacious (and commercially least successful) film.

Bibliography:

Bordwell, David. “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3. (Spring, 2002), pp. 16–28.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2 (1989). Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. University of Minnesota Press.

Knapp, Larry. “Tony Scott and ‘Domino’: Say Hello (and Goodbye) to the Post-classical”. Jump Cut 50, 2008. Available online at http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/DominoKnapp/index.html

Stork, Matthias. “Acid Aesthetics: Tony Scott’s Cinema of Chaos”, SWTX Popular and American Culture Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 2012.

Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy. “Smearing the Senses: Tony Scott, Action Painter”. August 22, 2012, http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/smearing-the-senses-tony-scott-action-painter