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


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