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Day 2 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference LA 2010

For day 2 of SCMS, the first panel I sat in on was titled Global Hybrid Cinema.  The first talk was by filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, who talked about international Documentary/Fiction Hybrids, most compellingly a few Iranian films that mixed reality and fiction in interesting ways.  In Abbas Kiardstamis Close-Up, for instance, he re-tells a real-life incident using the real people involved with the incident.  In short, both the audience and even the actors/people in the film have a hard time discerning between reality and fiction, or reality and performance, especially as it becomes mediated by cinema.  In the second talk, the extremely interesting Akira Lippit talked about Imagi-Nationalisms, paying close attention to how nationalisms disintegrate in interesting ways.  He described a Japanese film that featured a famous Korean actress who played a fake Pinocchio-esque girl who, in the film had to learn how to be human and in real life had to learn how to be Japanese as well.  The last talk, by Yanhong Zhu, provocatively addressed  the cinematic representations of the Nanjing Massacre in Japan.

For the next panel, I didnt really know where to go.  I wanted to find something that had some bearing on digital issues, and because the panels at this time (I assume because it was lunch time) were sparse, I wound up sitting in on a panel about the archive in British cinema.  Papers on Rudolph Valentino, Technicolor in British Cinema, and women film critics ensued and most interestingly, a fascinating discussion about new ways to engage with the archive based on the author, Sue Harpers work at the University of Portsmouth, in which she argued that we should go beyond documentary evidence and connect cultural objects or products to broader, slow transformations in historical consciousness and thought in a kind of deep historicizing.  This is of course rife with problems, but fascinating nonetheless.

The third and final panel of my day was most germane to our own studies in digital humanities- Film and Digital Form.  The first author, Mathew Tinkcom from Georgetwon spoke about recursivity in the under-looked indie film Primer.  If you havent seen the movie, I highly recommend it, as (and as Tinkcom also argued) it seems to really engage with digital form, both because it was produced on a tiny budget using digital cameras (and Im almost positive it was digitally edited- what isnt these days?), and features two characters who invent out of their garage, much as many early computer inventors did (think Paul Allen and Steve Jobs).  What these characters end up inventing is a time machine, one in which (the writer and director is also an engineer) a person can lie down in and while spending a certain number of hours inside, wind up several hours before having entered the machine.  After the characters do this, they go outside and watch themselves going into the time-machine.  Plot-wise, the characters begin to travel more and more, and have more and more run-ins with their other doubles to the point where the viewer (or anyone) cant decide who is who or when is when.  It even becomes clear that the invention of the time machine was in fact motivated by the characters mselves, who had traveled backwards to tell themselves how the machine worked.  Tinkcoms point is that this narrative form resonates with digital recusivity and in particular the DVD, which allows the viewer to fast-forward and rewind in a similar manner.  In order to make sense of the plot, for instance, the viewer has to watch the film multiple times, and never in a linear manner.  Like the plot of the film, the viewers experience with its form disperses endlessly into recursivity.  This also must be somewhat related to the experience of online activity (as Stuart Moulthrop pointed out with regards to hypertext), as well as writing on a word processor.  I think of my students in my own writing class, who have always had and, in most cases, have always been required to do their work on a word processor.  The experience is different here because the path one takes is always virtual- its extremely easy to simply delete old material and replace it, so every draft has embedded within it some forms of recursivity, in a different way that writing, say, on paper has.  Even though you can erase on paper, you leave the trace of that erasure, and you can always go back to prior hard copies.  I digress.

The second paper, by Seung-hoon Jeong of Yale, titled A Spectatorial Turn of Digital Indexicality dealt with the differences between the indexical and the digital, treating the digital literally as a finger, and thus engaging with issues of tactility.  He discussed several ways in which the body must respond to different types of digital forms, so that the spectator and film are involved in a kind of fencing match of moves, jabs, and parries.  He also discussed the eye and camera as a kind of finger.  To be honest, I was baffled by much of this.  I wanted to travel back in time and listen to it again. 

The last paper I saw was by the very funny Sheila Murphy, who very polemically argued about the uses of the internet.  She provocatively claims that the true uses for the internet are cats and toilets.  Her main case study was that of LOLtheory, which takes the emergence of LOL images (i.e. I can haz cheeseburger written next to a picture of a cat for those familiar with this...) and applies the same aesthetic to critical theorists like Foucault, Chomsky, Lefebvre etc.  An image of Baudrillard reads Keep it hyppereal for instance.  Murphy basically questions the uses of the internet, especially the utopian veins that describe it as a liberating and democratizing medium. 

More tomorrow!




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