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Cinema

Technologies Of Cinema

The arrival of digital technologies in cinema has provoked debate over the degree of continuity between this process of modernization in the predigital cinema and the potential postmodernity of digital film. Critics like Lev Manovich believe in the continuity of the two, and in cinema's powerful determination of such key factors of digital media as the use of screens. Others derive from digital media new paradigms for reviewing the historical data, rediscovering such typically digital techniques as motion capture in the pre-cinematic chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey, or digital compositing of layers in the trompe-l'oeil sets of Georges Méliès' early fantasy films. Scholars of special effects, such as Vivian Sobchack, Scott Bukatman, and Timothy Murray, have begun to analyze the diminishing dependence of cinema on what can be enacted in front of a camera, tracing, in Michelle Pearson's work, a transition from spectacle for its own sake to a more embedded expectation of near-photographic illusion seamlessly wedded to cinematographic imagery, as in James Cameron's Titanic (1997), a case argued by Angela Ndalianis, for whom spectacle is, if anything, a more significant element of contemporary entertainment than at any time since the Baroque.

At certain points, this discussion of the transition from photo-mechanical to electronic cinema replicates the long-running debate between culturalist and medium-specific accounts of film. If such vast currents as modernity or globalization run through the transition to digital, then there will be continuity. But if the deep-seated alterations to cinematic technique take precedence, then the experience of cinema, and to some extent of cultural activity at large, can be expected to change equally. This hypothesis has been tested especially by a generation of phenomenological critics like Vivian Sobchack and Laura U. Marks, for whom the object of inquiry is the physical embodiment of the spectator and the ways this relates to the richness of the felt experience of cinema. This type of work, instigated by Dudley Andrew, is extended in Marks's work into a consideration of the emulation of touching in certain modes of cinema practice. The theme of embodiment also runs through the rapid rise of interest in Gilles Deleuze's two-volume analysis of cinema, remarkable for its espousal of a philosophy of desire grounded in Henri Bergson (rather than the ubiquitous Heideggerianism, in themes of loss, lack, and the fading of reality, of poststructural criticism) and for its meticulous readings of individual films. Deleuze envisages a shift from the "movement-image" pre-1945 toward a "direct time image" in postwar cinema. Informed by the semiotic pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce, Deleuze deploys an idiosyncratic vocabulary to argue for cinema's gradual liberation from a mechanistic dependence on the image of the human body toward a more metaphysical engagement with the pure dimensionality of time and its flows.

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