Film has been around for a while now, nevertheless, not as long as music, painting, or literature but longer than new media art. Is this significant? I think so.

New technology has certain possibilities qua itself but also in service to a master. In the development of the art of film (and its cinematic continuance through video) I believe that we have largely developed film’s servile potential more than any sort of autonomous being of film and that this has to do with its novel technological being and temporal character. In other words, the few films produced that really investigated the filmness of film or the videoness of video led to formalist experimentation such as Serene Velocity. These experiments, while theoretically interesting, can in no sense be described as being highly accessible to a mass audience and I think this is because of a few special qualities the most important of which being the temporal aspect of film and video. Why is temporality important? Because it requires futural commitment. Any non-temporal art such as a painting does not require this. Hence, heavy abstraction in painting is more acceptable from the standpoint of consumption. A painting exists in what I call the infinite-instant by which I mean that you can imagine it eternally or momentarily and that both are valid and supported by the artwork. Temporal art which I define as literature, film/video/animation, and music are works that require commitments over time. Heavy abstraction or experimentation becomes much more difficult to deal with when it must be sustained with in such a way and when there is technological novelty which we are not yet accustomed to added on top of it, the end product may be extremely alienating.

My contention is that, in film, this problem was dealt with by looking to literature and making film into a derivative art for it. Not just literature, really, but any writing that includes descriptive imagery or plot as an important structuring feature became the basis for most films produced outside of the highly inaccessible experimental film circuit. The sound of a film, in turn, becomes a slave to the action of the film as an affective support. So the standard narrative or documentary is constructed hierarchically with the textual master at the top and sound at the bottom. The style and genre of film thus became organized analogously to the style and genre of fiction and non-fiction with the exception of forms too abstract or too plot-less such as high modernism (Finnegans Wake), poetry, or high theory/philosophy. The films that did attempt to map these usually were completely unrelated to what they adapted (such as Naked Lunch) or became too textual, merely being talking heads or voiceovers (such as Waking Life). There have been more productive experiments, of course (such as Godard’s radical period, nevertheless, many of these still resolve in essay film texts), but I am trying to look at general tendencies.

It seems to me that it might be useful to categorize types of film according to how they relate to other artforms. According to this, narrative films can be viewed as book-films and I would argue that many other forms also base themselves on older artforms so that installation work with a heavy video or film component are sculpture-films and video or films consisting of short loops meant to be displayed in galleries are painting-films. Formalist experiments then may be considered film-films or video-videos.

In addition, there is the possibility of the sound-film (distinct from music video but related to it), poem-film, and philosophy-film. The question is how to map what is not a visual or quasi-visual medium onto a visual one. How can moving images be structured according to musical, poetic, or philosophical logic? And how can this be done in a way that has some accessibility that allows for commitment? What has traditionally held this commitment in cinematic history has been the plot and drama of some sort of story.

Because of sound’s special relationship to the moving image, I believe it stands in the most opportune position of providing the primary logic and basis for commitment for a film. What has been the failure of so many music videos is their arbitrariness in relation to the music and vice versa. But this is because of their lack of cohesion. Films produced simultaneous with sound cohesively driven forward by the logic of the sound free the montage while providing affect and an object for commitment, namely, the audio texture. However, the image must not become subordinated to the sound either and the sound must play with the image. I am not proposing songs made and then mute videos produced with these songs over them as music videos but an integration. The binary should be dissolved rather than switched and the strict division and hierarchy of sound in audio mixing should also be flattened and played with. What I am proposing is the integration of the speech track, the effects track, and the soundtrack so that there is no easy separation or distinguishment between effects, music, and speech towards one cohesive sonic structure that is taken and integrated with the images displayed. Not only this, but with a new base logic of structuration in place that loosens things from a text and provides temporal commitments, there is more room for the experimentation of hybrid films. What I mean is that, free of narrative, we can now try and see what a poem-film, film-film, or philosophy-film might mean combined with a sound-film environment as the base of it. Experimentation inside of a narrative is more difficult because the montage must still serve the basis of a story and is not wholly free. By allowing the sound to provide the driving commitments, the montage is free. This is not to completely eschew all literary mappings on film but with a different driving logic, there is more freedom to bring it in or out at will while still maintaining a certain degree of accessibility. This is what I want to investigate now.

Incidentally, I realize now that I have already made a film like this without knowing it. An old college film I made called “Drive Through” used a lot of field recordings from the video shots in the soundtrack but they were processed and combined with more musical elements to create a soundtrack that flows between music and the environment creating an undecidable aural space not completely attached to the image nor completely divorced from it. This sort of openness is what I think is compelling.

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One Response to The Moving Image as Derivative Art

  1. Stephen says:

    If I had to choose, I would prfeer independent films to blockbusters. Mainly for the same reasons that you already indicated. Indie films concentrate on the story and acting more because they don’t have the money for special effects. But all a good movie needs is a good story, good acting, and good direction.Nowadays, it’s actually harder to make a good big budget film because of all the distractions caused by the special effects and all the money to play with. Just look at Transformers not that Michael Bay was ever a brilliant director, but he was caught with a whole lot of money in the budget and sort of forgot there was a story to tell in 2 1/2 hours. But then give the big budget to someone like Peter Jackson and he’ll make gold.That’s the main reason why the Oscar’s Best Picture nominees have been dominated by independent films. Not because the critics and the public prfeer different films. It’s because special effects is usually a distraction for big budget films and it makes it twice as hard for a filmmaker to really focus on the story and not the explosions. Was this answer helpful?

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