Digital realism Chapter

This chapter sets out to prove that new imaging technologies need not function deterministically: far from generating new story formats or implying a break with classical mise en scène, computer-generated effects can actually reinforce the classical modes. The chapter finds that the traditional theory of realism - as represented by André Bazin - continues to have relevance to the analysis of contemporary American film, where the 'new digital realism' of post-photographic images has at times vigorously revived the sort of sensory surface and deep-space realism once attributed to the unique properties of the celluloid image.

• In the case of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park and The Lost World one could say that both films do not so much follow canonical story structure as mimic it, along with implementing classical mise en scène, by citing photographic reality. One could even call this modality 'parody' because some of the special effects confront photographic realism with its own impossibility. But one could also think of Spielberg's special effects as 'kitsch', recalling the tendency in art and crafts to reproduce with the most modern technology the aesthetic effects and material properties of a previous technique or technology. This description fits Spielberg (along with many other contemporary directors) in the sense that they use new (digital) technology to reproduce the 'effects' (of photographic realism) and the 'products' (of studio and location shooting) that now belong to an earlier period and earlier stage of technology in the film industry. Here, a continuity is affirmed, but now in the performative mode of that continuity's self-conscious or self-effacing 'staging'.

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