From attending the Women and Film Festival in Port Townsend, WA this last weekend, I was struck with the Saturday evening showing of Cameraperson. Cameraperson reminded me of Man with a Movie Camera, but it's poetic memoir structure made me think more of my own film theory behind how I want to make movies. It's dense, but if you can wade through it, below is my own film theory as an artist. Thank you to the Film Festival in Port Townsend for two days of inspiration for me to carry through on my project Sounds of Freedom, whose subject matter must be told and told in a manner that best compliments the story.
I, as a new media creator of today, look to avant-garde filmmakers of the silent era to perfect my technique. By exploring Dziga Vertov’s new electric man at Jean Epstein’s pure cinema in the methodology behind my own work, I hope to articulate a new narrative utilizing experimental media technologies. And in Nicolas Bourriaud’s altermodern vein, as an nomadic wandering artist across the digital media-scape, I strive to promote suprahuman status, in opposition to N. Katherine Hayles’ posthuman. This is where perhaps a new global understanding based on Edward Said’s concept of “coexistance” can evolve (Said).
According to Cate Watson it “does not seem at all exaggerated to view humans as narrative animals... the tellers and interpreters of narrative” (Watson 4). With new technologies, narrative is being deconstructed and its importance reduced to simple mathematical algorithms to make sense of a digitized world. Therefore, as “narrative animals,” humans endlessly click a mouse button to make sense out of the digitized world in their own way, or become computer programmers or multimedia authors, the creators of mathematical algorithms, to weave a narrative through the digitized media world. I as a media creator, struggle to develop new narrative in this click and skim Internet culture.
Over the centuries, as technology has developed, so has narrative. As technology has developed, people’s perspectives change resulting in the narrative progressing from the epic, to gospel, to the romance, to the essay (Meadows 24). With another shift in technology, and the dawn of the database run Internet age, we seem to be obsessed with information gathering that our technology allows. In this age of information, when will a new age of narrative begin? Are our computer games doomed to be the retelling of the same epic novel over and over again? Don’t we still have a universal need for the narrative to make meaning out of our world...this new digital world? Are there no new myths? It is scary to think that the modern myths of today are Hollywood blockbuster movies and epic computer games. Or as Peter Sloterdijk would point out, we continue to tell the same stories of “fast-burn culture” with its action packed archetypal explosions (Bourriaud 6). When these types of stories no longer sate the current audience, what will replace them?
I am looking for the new modern myth, the new narrative, in this age of information, but as an artist working in the realm of digital media, I am torn between the two worlds of the digital database, and the linear narrative. To colorfully illustrate the division of the two worlds, boisterous advocates for new media might claim with disdain that since the advent of sync-sound in the cinema, over time, narrative has become a preset structure enforced by the dinosauric Hollywood industry machine that churns out formulative narrative movies. By following a commercialized skeleton of Aristotle’s narrative model, scores of celluloid images illuminate a limited singular vision of the world. Hollywood filmmakers make meaning out of the world by creating dramatic narratives in which beginning complications precisely climax three fourths of the way into the story, erupt, and are wrapped up by a brief dénouement. Databases may have their own structure, but they are not set to one constraining linear form. When humans want to interact with databases, is Hollywood’s machinelike rendering of the world comparatively that cold? With a push of a button, mathematical algorithms manipulate the digitized database’s information packets of zeros and ones.
My argument is that neither form is that cold when the media artist, in their methodology, has taken into account the unique view of her audience and has established an appropriate relationship. I as an artist strive to do this.
How to do this though? From the perspective that new media is currently the avant-garde art form, I look to avant-garde filmmaking practices of the past in attempt to rediscover their techniques that were lost with the advent of sync-sound and the over powering of the Hollywood narrative. For my projects, I ask similar questions that Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov and French filmmaker Jean Epstein asked. Then, I render my results not only with the technology of the seeing, a camera, but with the technology of memory: a hard drive for media storage, a computer, image manipulation software, and the Internet for database structure and delivery.
The questions I must ask are, should new media artists follow the assumption that new media acts “merely as an instrument to convey actions, a machine to recite stories” (Porte 385)? Maybe, new media is destined to follow preceding established literary and theatrical narrative forms, which is what Epstein questioned. For example, should new media be a medium to retell the great plays of Shakespeare as Epstein asked of film? Or, should new media only be progressive, push the avant-garde, or serve as political propaganda for some political agenda as proposed of film by Vertov in the 1929 with his Man With a Movie Camera? Should new media be purified and in an artistically poetic and abstract way create a level beyond the literary narrative and into that of the “realistic documentary” or, the supernatural realm of “psychological expression” as Epstein explored in 1928 with The Fall of the House of Usher? I look to how Epstein and Vertov explored this great debate (The Great Debates).
Both filmmakers of this era, explored cinema as avant-garde art forms. Even though their personal film theories behind their films conflicted, mechanical documenting vs. psychological expression, as practicing filmmakers, both had very similar techniques. While trying to abandon old codes of narrative and perfect his techniques, Vertov managed to construct a spectator, the “perfect electric man” (Vertov 8) to interpret and narrate his documentary footage. Vertov’s technique has been described by modern theorists as using “cinematic narrators” to dictate the narrative (Chatman 8). Using these same cinematic narrators, such as superimposition, close-ups, slow-motion, and rapid succession, having a similar concept of the apparatus as Vertov’s kino-eye, but by using the lens to look at different subject matter, that of psychological reality adapted from short stories, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, Epstein manages to purify his cinema. Epstein and Vertov find a new way to narrate avant-garde cinema. Epstein and Vertov have succeeded in solving the debate of the purpose of cinema in the 1920s, insofar that at the least, both filmmakers do create a level beyond the literary narrative. And at the most, the importance of such techniques in the 21st century arises when the digital form threatens “old film’s” standard form and when once again, the function of cinema in the form of new media can be debated. It is here, I as an artist explore this debate. I plan to at least create a level beyond the literary narrative.
In doing so, I recognize the Nielsen ratings. “Fifty six seconds is the average time an American spends looking at a Web page” (Carr). It seems that to get a sense of meaning, to hold their attention, people are, for example, not willing to sit and figure all the different order of images out, or are willing to click and interact too strenuously through a database of scattered information to find some overall meaning. Is it true then that human’s are imperfect and can never be Vertov’s perfect electric man to totally be immersed in his constructed narrative? Otherwise, if it wasn’t for human’s laziness, clearly if Vertov’s and Epstein’s techniques were to merge when narrating a variety of subjects, from that of fictional adaptations, psychological, to documentary, it seems Epstein’s pure cinema and the techniques of avant-garde narrative have been perfected.
As Vertov, I too must rely on the imperfections of human perception. “Data may be perceived second hand by an audience” (Chatman 138), but Seymour Chatman suggests that the audience’s perception and reconstruction of this world is interactive with the narrative. To a degree, as theorist Marcel Duchamp described, “the spectator makes the picture.”(Judovitz 187) similar to how Vertov’s electric man creates the picture. Audiences must be willing to create their own narrative meanings as well as interpolate those provided by the cinematic narrative. Similar to how audiences are willing to suspend their disbelief, for my work, I am relying on the audience to be willing to create their own narrative meaning using my own unique cinematic narrators and cues.
My intention is not to abandon the cinema in favor of digital technology, or to exactly follow the ideas represented in Vertov’s and Epstein’s manifestoes. I don’t regard anything not revolving around a psychological narrative as “purely material, purely mechanical” nor, declare “the mechanical period of the cinema is over” (For a New Avant-Garde 351). Indeed, I embrace the cinema, for human’s perception has been molded by cinematic narration cues. I plan on relying on this. For example when the music of the sound track becomes spooky, people know they are supposed to feel creepy, the situation is creepy, or about to be creepy, or a character is represented as creepy. I do not agree with the political views of Vertov and try to “create a man perfect than Adam..” nor declare, “I am kino-eye” with my movie camera, which he calls the kino-eye and is “more perfect than the human eye (Vertov 2) and claim to transform the “bungling citizen to the perfect electric man” (WE 8). I recognize human’s limitations of perception and rely on and embrace them. I want to design a user interface with human cognitive habits in mind. I do follow Vertov’s example and try to construct for my spectator a perfect view of the world not through my camera alone, but through computer interface design, artistic drawing skills, composing music, special effects editing, directing actors, and videography considertions. As an artist, I am not reduced to pressing a button (The Senses 244) as I would be if I just blindly took photographs. I do try to “make the viewer see in the manner best suited to my presentation” (Vertov 3). I also realize the importance of the audience’s relationship with a character in a story and attempt to follow Epstein’s model for the act of seeing, described as “to idealize, abstract and extract, read and select, transform” (The Senses 244). I want my camera lens and computer to see in the same way and have the psychic ability to see what cannot be seen and represent human senses. I follow Epstein’s declarations in so far that, “The cinema must henceforth be called: the photography of the delusions of the heart” (For a New Avant-Garde 351). With this declaration, Epstein chose the subject of his films, psychological man, a prime target for a delusional heart, and to photograph him using such techniques as slow motion, the close-up, and superimposition. I choose such a character to photograph in the same way. Torn between database and narrative, in an attempt to bridge these two media-scapes, as an artist, by integrating traditional film practice with this technology, I strive to appeal to the senses as well as to follow Vertov’s database form to create my own hyper link cinema.
My methods follow my methodology. One way I do this is metaphorically and functionally by the interface I chose for my audience to interact with my hyper link movie. For example, the first movie I made with this methodology was called Ask Her. Upon entering the world of this movie, the audience is presented with refrigerator poetry magnets. By manipulating them, images are seen either on a whole window or a broken window. If a window represents cinema, the technology of seeing, then the whole window must be one way of seeing what happened in my movie. But if the window is broken, then the broken shards and the scenes playing on each shard represents memories in the mind’s eye of my main character, Frank. The main character, being a sappy romantic, has a habit of piecing together his fantasies using the poetry magnets. Five scenes about the character Frank are already pieced together, and can be viewed as a video in the whole window, by clicking on his pre-made poetry. Making sense out of what really happened to the main character; to differentiate his fantasies from fact, is the key. The user has to deconstruct each phrase in the poetry and recreate new phrases to see new renderings of images, which displays in the broken window interface. For example, the user is presented with a pre-made sentence in which some words are colored. The user can click on the colored words and see images in the broken mirror. By using the clues seen, the user reconstructs new sentences with new colored words. Together, the colored word’s corresponding images play in the shattered mirror to create a collidescope of meaning. Via this broken window interface, the audience can navigate the movie and see the world from Frank’s inner point of view as well as access his memories seen in reflections, whether real or imagined. Together, with the whole images, they not only form a character study of Frank’s reality, inner thoughts, and dreams, but it gives the audience an opportunity to weave a narrative through the information presented to make their own sense out of it.
In this age of the posthuman, that Hayles describes in her essay, Boundary Disputes: Homeostasis, Reflexivity, and the Foundation of Cybernetics, pessimist Hans Moravec suggests, that humans will soon become obsolete (Moravec 1-5). I try to have a more hopeful view and as instead of being posthuman, I strive to be suprahuman. Think of the suprahuman as the transcending human, the human that has experienced nirvana, as Taylor described in her Stroke of Insight talk. Living in symbiosis with the computer and utilizing its technologies, I strive to share a bond with fellow humans, in order to understand multiple perceptions of the physical world we share (Hayles 15). With my type of artwork, I prefer to augment each other’s human intelligence and experiences. I’m interested in perception of the viewer and the vision of the media creator. Exploring multiple points of view to bring better understanding, the guise and truths of illusions, is the goal of my work. I want to do work that will explore and attempt to blur the lines between the roles of viewer and media creator.
As an artist literally on an island and whose island perspective makes me a part of Bourriaud’s global archipelago, I plan to work locally and think globally. One potential project of interest would be modeled after my project Ask Her and based on the legends of Whidbey Island. It would encourage community feedback and participation and hopefully allow for multiple perceptions of the community within the population of Whidbey Island. Using the Internet as a vehicle for distribution, I’d also be taking the ficiontalized stories of Whidbey Islanders to a global level. Through user interaction, I’d hope to create a level beyond the literary narrative. And similar to Vertov’s perfect electric man at Epstein’s pure cinema, have my own suprahuman at the altermodern cinema.
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