Since the 1990s video has become increasingly enmeshed with computer technologies, with a variety of repercussions on film practices. So-called digital cinema effectively combines techniques of film and video, further blurring their differences. Films can be shot on film or video and transferred to different formats for editing and distribution. Digital editing is now the dominant mode of film editing. Editing programs available for home computers have once again democratized the means of media production. Because digital information can be combined and manipulated seamlessly, digitization of music, sound effects, artwork, photography, and computer-generated special effects enables a convergence of media, and thus has become an important part of the postproduction stage of filmmaking.
The media theorist Lev Manovich has suggested that film is moving closer to animation with digital technologies and away from its photographic origins. Because digital images can be manipulated on the level of representation, through software available on home computers, the film image is no longer always indexical: what we see onscreen did not necessarily exist ''in reality'' in front of the camera but may have been manufactured. Thanks to digital media, the ''visible evidence'' of film and photography can no longer be taken for granted.
On the other hand, the enhanced image and sound quality of digital technology can also be exploited for a greater sense of realism. Feature films that have been shot entirely on digital video include Lars von Trier's (b. 1956) Dancer in the Dark (2000), Wenders's Buena Vista Social Club (1999), and Alan Cumming's The Anniversary Party (2001). Von Trier, in particular, exploits lightweight digital camera equipment, which is easily hand-held, for the intimacy it makes possible with his actors. In the low-tech aesthetic of Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999), digital video offers an inexpensive means of shooting with a smaller crew and less ancillary equipment. Blown up to 35mm film, the image is as sharp as an original film image, and offers a cheap alternative for independent filmmakers who have traditionally used 16mm film.
One of the key advantages of digital cinema is the length of shots that are made possible, an especially useful technique for films involving improvisational acting and for documentary filmmaking. One of the more experimental uses of digital technology is Mike Figgis's (b. 1948) Timecode (2000), which shows four simultaneous long takes on a screen divided into four quadrants, each corresponding to a different camera that follows the actors as they improvise around a script set in a film
Bjork (left) and Catherine Deneuve in Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000), which was shot entirely on digital video.
© miramax/courtesy everett collection. reproduced by permission.
production studio in Los Angeles. By contrast, Aleksandr Sokurov's (b. 1951) Russkiy kovcheg (Russian Ark, 2002) uses a single long camera movement for the entire film, creating a fluid movement through an architectural space that appears to be a literal movement through history. The ninety-minute-long Steadicam shot was stored on a hard disk system and was accomplished in a single take following months of rehearsals with 867 actors in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Films produced entirely on digital equipment are often transferred to film for theatrical release. On the other hand, the video market has become such an important aspect of the film industry that many films are released "straight-to-video." This has created something of a two-tiered system within the film industry, in which only the most expensive productions and most promising titles get released as "films."
VIDEO, PEDAGOGY, AND FILM SCHOLARSHIP
DVD technology has served as a catalyst for film history. Many titles from the Hollywood archive, as well as
European, Asian, and other world cinemas, have been released on DVD, often with "special features'' including critical commentary, outtakes, production documents, directorial and other cast and crew testimonials, and multiple viewing choices such as subtitle languages and aspect-ratios. In many instances the digitized sounds and images restore the films to something approximating their original forms. The DVD market provides an important stimulus for expensive restoration projects.
The influence of video on film scholarship and the teaching of film studies should not be underestimated, as the advent of DVDs is only one step in a process that began with the introduction of video as a tool for preserving and distributing film titles. This has been especially important for films that are marginal to the mainstream, including American B movies and cult films, Japanese and other Asian films dating back to the 1930s, and the many riches of other world cinemas, experimental cinema, and documentary cinema. Video markets have enabled the circulation of titles among collectors and scholars interested in film as a cultural phenomenon. Many of these obscure titles have long since been unavailable on film, and it may be a long time before they are released on DVD.
Film analysis was once performed on Steenbeck editing machines, using reels of fragile celluloid. Since the 1980s students and scholars have been able to view the wealth of film history on videotape, which is much more amenable to repeated viewings, rewinding, and freeze-frames. Celluloid film is an extremely delicate material and rapidly deteriorates with multiple projections, making the teaching of film difficult and expensive. Few educational institutions were able to provide the facilities for film viewing, or for film collections, often relying on poor and decaying prints shown on faulty projection equipment. Videotape is not a permanent medium either, and DVD technology, too, will no doubt eventually show its material weaknesses; but in the mean time these technologies are an invaluable means of preserving film history and making it accessible. It is largely thanks to electronic media that film studies has been able to find a place in educational institutions around the world.
Video is not necessarily a competitor with film, or a poor sibling, but perhaps an extension or augmentation of film, especially as it evolves into digital technologies. Video has enabled us to see film differently, perhaps as something that is disappearing, but also as something sensual, a communal experience that takes place in a dark crowded theater. The cinema is a place we have to go to, but video has become part of the world around us.
see also Film History; Film Studies; Independent Film;
Spectatorship and Audiences; Technology; Television further reading
Cubitt, Sean. Videography: Video Media as Art and Culture. New York: St. Martin's, 1993.
Hall, Doug, and Sally Jo Fifer. Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1990.
Hanhardt, John G., ed. Video Culture: A Critical Investigation. Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1987.
Hark, Ina Rae. '''Daddy, Where's the FBI Warning?':
Constructing the Video Spectator.'' In Keyframes: Popular Cinema and Cultural Studies. Edited by Matthew Tinkcom and Amy Villarejo, 72-81. London: Routledge, 2001.
Manovich, Lev. ''What Is Digital Cinema?'' In The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media. Edited by Peter Lunenfeld, 172-192. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
Renov, Michael, and Erika Suderburg, eds. Resolutions:
Contemporary Video Practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
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