Immortality: 1080p24, H.264
In August’s edition of Sight and Sound there is a brief reference under ‘in production’ (p.8) to Guy Maddin – that Canadian connoisseur of a particular early cinema aesthetic . Although the main headline is regarding the happy fact that Maddin is about to start shooting his first feature since My Winnipeg (2007), it was the aside that interested me:
“Concurrently, Maddin and a few collaborators will shoot parallel material for an online project remaking lost films from the silent era”.
Echoes of Laura Mulvey’s excellent Death 24x a Second drifted into memory and I wrote this in my notebook: “Digital and online = the media of reincarnation”?
If you have read Death 24x a Second you may, like me, have a vague recollection that Mulvey’s theory is concerning the potential impact that new technologies can have on our spectatorship and consumption of film. The offer of home entertainment that effectively allows us to curate and edit our own versions of films, simply by virtue of the pause / rewind etc. buttons, must surely affect our viewership. In order to remind myself of the key aspects of the book, I (of course) looked it up on Amazon and read the precis on the back cover🙂 …
“These technologies give viewers the means to control both image and story, so that films produced to be seen collectively and followed in a linear fashion may be found to contain unexpected (even unintended) pleasures. The tension between the still frame and the moving image coincides with the cinema’s capacity to capture the appearance of life and preserve it after death…. By exploring how new technologies can give new life to ‘old’ cinema, “Death 24 x a Second” offers an original re-evaluation of film’s history and also its historical usefulness.”
I guess the thought that occurred to me, is that the even newer medium of online viewing, extends this concept even further. And Maddin’s project in particular, seems representative of the potential of digital technologies to positively transform our experience of consuming and experiencing films.
Taking Muvley’s theory to its logical conclusion here, Maddin’s project returns the viewing experience to the ‘collective’ – albeit a disparate, worldwide audience. For Maddin, placing it online certainly opens his work to the ‘unexpected (even unintended)’ given the infinite juxtapositions that online viewing can offer (whether it be advertising, your own multiple windows, or other screens in the same room). Essentially, Maddin is using the alchemy of contemporary media (digital, online) not only to ‘preserve [life] after death’, but to reincarnate the dead. Thus, he moves beyond the role of fetishistic voyeur to that of a powerful demi-god. Finally, by then making his work available online, Maddin is openly permitting and encouraging the inevitable myriad options for Digital digestion of his work ie. building on the ‘pause / rewind’ phase to open things even further to the ’embed / remake / mash-up’ generation. Basically, he could be seen as making his work immortal.
This opportunity has already been explored by the likes of Perry Bard with his Man With A Movie Camera: The Global Remake. And even the seemingly frivilous Trailer Mash project (see: Shining the romantic comedy… literal genius, still above), demonstrates not only the power of the viewer in today’s landscape, but also the viewer’s awareness of their own manipulation.
Offering films online in any measure should engage new audiences in innovative ways with cinema (both familiar and unseen). And Maddin’s project in particular gives important ‘new life to old cinema’, and brings Mulvey’s theories firmly into the 21st Century world of 1080p and H.264 codecs. Keep us posted Sight and Sound!