[iDC] Cinematic video

twsherma at mailbox.syr.edu twsherma at mailbox.syr.edu
Fri Jun 16 11:18:20 EDT 2006

Is the new video 'film,' video or film?

Video art has been pushed around and roughed up by a technological
revolution throughout its forty-year history. Analog video, rolling
through several formats of technological evolution, has been completely
replaced by digital video.

Filmmakers, in the meantime, have lost their photochemical medium.
Production in 16mm or 35mm film has become cost prohibitive beyond film's
perceived advantages over video. Those who still shoot in photochemical
film end up editing in and outputting in video. And film projection is a
dying art.

Handmade film demonstrates how hopeless the situation actually is. Film
remains accessible only to those willing to expose raw film stock to
chemicals in their bathtubs. Wearing gas masks and raincoats for
protection, filmmakers cling to their disappearing medium.

In 2006 there are 150 million digital video camcorders in operation
worldwide. And digital still cameras and camera phones also shoot video.
Non-linear video editing is a standard feature on all personal computers.
Video streams across computer networks, lighting up tiny screens and
laptops, desktops, LCD and plasma screens. Video projection is exploding
with LCD and DLP and HDV. 160,000 theatres worldwide are rolling over to
HDV projection. LED and OLED (organic light emitting diodes) promise to
take video data to all architectural and furniture surfaces, spreading to
clothing and the rejuvenation of books, magazines and newspapers. Video
display technology is gaining a mobility and ubiquity that film never had.

Filmmakers, displaced and stunned by these developments, have latched onto
video. Wanting video to be film they slow video's frame rate and insist
upon progressive scan. Video's aspect ratio has been stretched from 4:3 to
16:9. Filmmakers try to slow down and overtake an electronic medium that
runs at the speed of light. Major equipment manufacturers exploit this
migration, for the time being... The central digital art form is
simulation. The goal is the creation of a complete fake: the fusion of the
copy and the original. As with 'reality television,' the digital 'film'
demonstrates the difficulties of controlling hyper-reality.

Filmmakers collectively attempt to transform the balanced, brutally
explicit retinal-acoustic reality of video into an electronic, digital
photo-optical simulation of 'film.' They try to blanket the video medium's
essential cybernetic characteristics (behaviour shaped and governed by
instant replay) with scripts and actors and the conventions of cinematic
history. It has not yet dawned on filmmakers that the explicit nature of
the video medium undermines the illusions of fictional narrative.

The semantic trail of this awkward takeover is amusing. Filmmakers now say
they work in 'digital cinema.' 'Video cinema' or 'video film' are too
straightforward and don't sound right (video sounds better as a noun
than it does as a verb). Filmmakers, confined to computers and non-linear
editing, are attracted to the term 'movies' (as in 'QuickTime movie
files') -- but the idea of digital 'movies' is ultimately too small and
fails to encompass the grand 20th century scale of cinematic history. The
word cinema must remain in a description of filmmaking in video. The
millennial practice of making 'films' in the medium of video is exactly
what it is: cinematic video. It is filmmakers making cinema using the
medium of video. It is cinematic video.


Professor Tom Sherman
Syracuse University
Department of Transmedia
102 Shaffer Art
Syracuse, New York 13244-1210

tel) 315-443-1202
fax) 315-443-1303

e-mail:  twsherma at mailbox.syr.edu

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