Fear Of A Digital Planet? – cinema

Fear Of A Digital Planet? – cinema – Brief Article

Gavin Smith

Back in our September/October issue, I wrote that it was time for FILM COMMENT to address the future of film, specifically what has come to be known as Digital Cinema. The future still hasn’t arrived quite yet, but it’s on its way, and we’re tracking each new development — as we maintain an around-the-clock reality check. Last issue we published English filmmaker Chris Petit’s article about the advantages — and drawbacks — of working with DV. In this issue we take a look at the other end of the spectrum: how has the so-called digital revolution affected what the buffs and salespeople refer to as “home theater”? Meaning, just how good are DVDs? The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it sounds — there are an awful lot of variables in the DVD equation (including this one: some claim that though DVD is rapidly replacing the videocassette as the preferred consumer format, it’s only a transitional technology that will pale in comparison to forthcoming digital VHS — aaaaggghhhh!).

And there’s more in the editorial pipeline on the implications of digital technology. In the next few issues we’ll be tracing the history of Computer Generated Imagery in the movies and looking at the implications CGI has for how we watch films and our relationship to the photographic image. We’ll also be taking a look at how film studies and film theory are responding to the digital challenge.

Two of the films discussed in this issue owe much of their uniqueness and power to digital technology: Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge, in which the visual delirium of the director’s imaginary turn-of-the-century Paris is rendered with seamless artifice through a harmonious marriage of production design and CGI; and director Tsui Hark’s thriller Time and Tide, which makes sparing use of CGI to push the action sequences into a near-surreal subjective register that complements the hallucinatory reality of contemporary Hong Kong. Both examples suggest an increasingly evident paradox: the more perfectly or “realistically” CGI’s plasticity renders the world on screen, the more artificial and imaginary the image becomes, and, by implication, the more cinema will be relieved of its burden of adherence to “realism.” Can we call this the poetics of digital?

For the moment though, filmmakers can still make 100 percent analog images — images every bit as mesmerizing as Luhrmann’s and Tsui’s. And as our article on bootleg videos suggests, the videocassette is alive and well and on sale by a street hawker in your town, and its low-fidelity recordings of movies shot by audience members yield their own distinct poetics and subjectivity, beyond — or beneath — digital technology’s reach.

It’s hard not to be swayed by the cool Utopian promise of digital technology — perfect world governed by the absolute authority of binary code, zeroes and ones from here to eternity. In comparison, human imperfection can seem pretty disappointing. We’re trying to get the jump on the inevitable moment when the ecstasy tapers off, and everyone realizes that digital is just another tool, operated by human hands.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Film Society of Lincoln Center

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group