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Supercinematic Projection: Author Looks toward Future of Film Studies

Supercinema: Film-Philosophy for the Digital Age, originally published in May 2013, is now available in paperback. Following, author William Brown reflects on the book as a launching pad for his own studies and what he perceives as the forward trajectory of film studies. This post pairs with his reflection on the book’s initial release, which can be read here.

 

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The argument in Supercinema: Film-Philosophy for the Digital Age is about the depiction and possible meanings of the continuous times and spaces that contemporary mainstream cinema often seems to depict thanks to the aesthetic possibilities opened up to, or at the very least made more easily achievable by, cinema as a result of digital technology.

 

Since its initial publication, mainstream cinema has seen the release of films like The Life of Pi (Ang Lee, USA, USA/Taiwan/UK/Canada, 2012), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, USA/UK, 2013) and Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, USA/UK, 2014), in which we see mind-bending depictions of space and time, where mind and matter meet each other with no definite distinction between the two being easily discernible.

 

Given the wide release and positive reception of these films, the arguments put forward in Supercinema continue to be of ongoing relevance to film studies; it provides us with concepts and terms through which we can understand the visual ‘language’ of these films, preoccupied as they are with the porous borders of and between space and time, and between the imagination and reality.

 

Perhaps partially in recognition of the relevance of the argument put forward in Supercinema, I have since been asked to write a follow-up essay on the above trio of films (publication to be confirmed). Perhaps for similar reasons, I was also greatly honoured to be asked to present a keynote paper at the 2014 Film-Philosophy Conference at the University of Glasgow in the UK.

 

However, at the Film-Philosophy conference I took the opportunity not simply to chart back over the ground covered by Supercinema, but also to present some new ideas regarding the ‘other’ side of digital cinema.

 

If Supercinema is about big budget, mainstream digital special effects cinema, my talk at Glasgow, entitled ‘Non-Cinema: Digital, Ethics, Multitude’, which can be heard on the Film-Philosophy website, is about zero-, micro- and/or low-budget filmmaking, using low-end digital cameras, perhaps devices not even dedicated to capturing moving images (e.g. smartphones), and often with a handheld aesthetic.

 

This is work that with luck will eventually become a monograph. Its principle line of argument takes aspects of Supercinema, especially those developed towards its end, and takes them a step further.

 

The first of these is the argument that humans are not separate from the world, but thoroughly ‘enworlded’, existing not just in, but also with the world, in the sense that we are participating in reality – as suggested by shots in mainstream cinema in which the human is treated as an equal, as opposed to a privileged, part of the continuum of space.

 

Working with this idea of enworldment, or what Karen Barad in her 2007 book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning might term entanglement, I argue that the visible labour that goes into these films – for example, the handheld camera work, the demonstrable work that is ‘bad’ acting – helps us to certify how the camera, too, is also enworlded. Being enworlded, the camera is also therefore helping to constitute the reality in which we find ourselves, just as we are.

 

In relation to cinema, this means that while we have traditionally thought of realism in film studies as an ability objectively to portray reality, instead we might perhaps begin to see that realism is better understood as being a self-conscious engagement with the work that the camera, the players, and the other filmmakers are doing – since the world is constituted in an ongoing fashion through our work with it, its work with us – with cinema being no exemption from this process.

 

Since as a result of their non-indexical relationship to reality, digital images tend to be considered somehow less realistic than analogue images. Given that they are translations rather than supposedly faithful recordings of reality, digital images in fact make clear this participatory role that the camera and its operators are making with reality.

 

Indeed, while digital cinema brings out this paradoxically realistic aspect of a reality that is co-constituted with those that live with it, this also allows us retrospectively to understand all of cinema’s history from this participatory, entangled and laborious perspective. This approach ties in with the work of recent theorists on the concept of multitude, most particularly Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

 

The reason that this current project is called ‘non-cinema’ is, however, politically inspired. If Supercinema argues that on an ontological level all aspects of time and space are equal and democratically constituting the universe – and that digital special effects films can suggest this to us through the images and sounds that it shows to us – then my project on ‘non-cinema’ wants to engage with the political reality that not all films make it to cinemas as a result of what seems to be an increasingly risk averse film culture in which only mainstream, effects-driven and/or star-studded films get funded, marketed and distributed.

 

Inspired in part by my own experiences as a filmmaker – although I do not intend to write about my own work – non-cinema is also about filmmakers creatively embracing the possibilities of low-end digital filmmaking technology in order to produce work that is politically challenging both in form and in content.

 

As filmmakers like Khavn de la Cruz in the Philippines and Jafar Panahi in Iran have already shown us, filmmakers who have the courage to make films that barely conform to the demands of the cinematic mainstream and who even declare defiantly that this is not a film are perhaps producing the most important cinema in the world today.

 

These and other filmmakers like them create for cinema a future and give to us the hope that not all films will become homogeneous blockbusters-by-numbers. Supercinema sets the scene. Non-cinema will show us the way.

 

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William Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Roehampton, London. He is the author of Supercinema: Film-Philosophy for the Digital Age (Berghahn, 2013), and, with Dina Iordanova and Leshu Torchin, of Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe (St Andrews Film Studies, 2010). He is the editor, with David Martin-Jones, of Deleuze and Film (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), and, with Jenna P-S Ng, of a Special Issue of animation: an interdisciplinary journal on Avatar (2012). He has written numerous essays for journals and edited collections. Furthermore, he has directed five zero-budget and often experimental feature films, including En Attendant Godard (2009), Afterimages (2010), Common Ground (2012), China: A User’s Manual (Films) (2012), Selfie (2014), The New Hope (2015) and Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux (2015).

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