How appropriate was it that David Rodowick joined us today via a previously-recorded QuickTime video followed by a live, real-time virtual Skype call? I don't want to sound glad for his injury (certainly it would have been even more wonderful to have had him join us in person, and thus be able to comment on all of the talks we heard today), but there was a certain serendipity in how the medium played into the message of his presentation. His talk essentially boiled down to two related questions - (1) what does it mean to nominate something as film, as a moving image (and as a certain kind of image, e.g. time-image, past-image, future-image, etc.)? and (2) how do we differentiate history from the memory of history (as a nostalgic memory, "the remembered film," etc.)? - but what I'm interested in discussing in this blog entry jumps off of Tom Gunning's question from the Skype-assisted discussion period following Rodowick talk: specifically, the idea of true vs. false movement and the phenomenological debates surrounding the digital vs. analog eras of film practice.
Rodowick spoke of the "waning of indexicality in digital capture" during his talk (I don't recall the exact context), which is something that I've always found to be grossly exaggerated. I'm not sure that there's a significant phenomenological distinction to be made between digital capture of reality and analog (all other factors being the same); I will concede that there are important ontological distinctions to be made, but in terms of how a space is captured by a camera and subsequently represented as a (moving) image, my own experience is pretty consistent across the two formats. The purity of the index remains unsullied in digital images, with the mediation of chemical emulsion on celluloid being replaced with that of digital algorithms: both perform their tasks based on the interaction of light with the lens. Movement recorded using such processes (that is, either digital or analog) can be said to be "true" movement, that is, ontologically consistent with that movement of pro-filmic reality. So, for instance, Rodowick's movements in the QuickTime "movie" from which we viewed his paper would be "true," despite their digital status.
Where movement becomes "false," per Rodowick, is when it does not correspond to a pro-filmic reality, when it doesn't have this ontological relationship. His example was from Hotel Berlin, an avant-garde work made by Victor Burgin wherein the impression of movement is made through virtual "camera moves" in a virtually constructed space. Though the spaces represented in the film are based on an actual building in Germany, the movement of our virtual POV doesn't correspond to any movements that occurred in reality: thus they are "false" movements.
Gunning, however, seemed troubled by this distinction between "true" and "false" movement, though Rodowick's elaboration/clarification seemed to satisfy him. (Perhaps Gunning would like to contribute his thoughts to this post, should my impressions of their back-and-forth be off.) I, for one, am at least slightly uneasy about the distinction as well, if only because it's not only the status of avant-garde films like Hotel Berlin that are at stake here.
If we tentatively venture into studies of video games (a field of which I am admittedly mostly ignorant), we'll see that all movement contained within them is "false" insofar as its relation to an ontological reality is non-existent. In the first-person shooter genre (a video game genre of which I am also almost entirely ignorant - I mostly gave up on video games when Mario stopped moving to the right and started moving forward), players "move" through virtual spaces from a first-person perspective, seeing as if through their avatar's eyes. We can say that such movement is "false" on the grounds already established without much controversy (I expect, at least! - I am unaware of what gaming scholars would have to say about such a claim).
But what of animated films, and particularly computer-generated animated films? Based on what "making of" documentary material I have seen on Pixar DVDs, filmmakers use similar programming techniques to render characters, spaces and, mostly importantly, movement, as the creators of video games. In terms of their production, then, these kinds of films are closer to the production of video games than live-action cinema. Though the movement in these films don't relate to an ontological reality, is this sufficient grounds to make phenomenological distinctions between the movement contained in these films versus that of live-action cinema? Are we prepared to limit the designation of "moving image" to "true" movement?
I hope I am not mischaracterizing Rodowick's point about "true" and "false" movement, but if I am, I encourage any ARTHEMIS attendees to comment below. In any case, it seems that by interrogating our usage of terminology to label certain cinematic practices, Rodowick set the tone for much of the rest of the conference, if today was any indication.