Re: searching for new directions

From: Michael Betancourt (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Jul 08 2006 - 06:30:13 PDT

On 7/8/06, Bernard Roddy <email suppressed> wrote:

Those days are over. My filmmaker friend continues to
> have nightmares, but our discussions continue without
> obstruction. Here are a few of the things we have
> been wondering:
> 1. How have changes in digital culture affected the
> reception of experimental film?

I don't know how to answer this. But I can make some observations that may
lead to an answer. Go and do a search for "experimental film" on one of the
video sharing sites like Googlevideo or Youtube and what you'll find is lots
of stuff that was made in video and isn't very interesting IMO because it
takes "experiment" literally--it is people doing things with filters and
cameras, but not generally with the rigor or systematic thought usually
demanded by programmers, curators, etc... in some ways this shows most
clearly what "experimental film" means to the people who (probably) aren't
on frameworks. An everyday meaning if ever there was one, it shows what the
general perception of "experimental film" may be outside the limited frame
of specialists...

 Given the battles
> over intellectual property, are people who participate
> in these cyberspace debates looking at film
> differently? And do the patterns of distribution for
> film now look more like the digital developments
> challenging intellectual property rights so often
> claimed by companies?

No idea.
I do think the intellectual property conflicts are only going to get worse
because digital tech poses a basic problem for traditional ideas about
"ownership" and existing models of commerce--thus DRM isn't going to go away
anytime soon...

2. How will the kind of work put into distribution be
> altered by the potential of downloads, web archives,
> and widely available duplication technologies? Will
> the standards set by visual connosseurship be undercut
> by new consumer technologies, changing economic
> conditions, and the growing number of producers making
> moving images?

3. Will the replacement of film processes by digital
> technologies have the kind of impact on experimental
> film that the introduction of mechanical reproduction
> had on fine art, namely the loss of its aura?

My thought on this is no, for several reasons. Most important being that I
don't think mechanical reproduction really did produce a loss of aura (I
disagree with Benjamin) because "aura" even in the eponymous article depends
on an awareness of the work--whether reproduced visually or via
language--for its audience to imbue it with special values. If anything
mech.repro enabled some objects to achieve a status far beyond almost
anything previously--the Mona Lisa being a good candidate for this.
My suspicion is that a similar thing will happen with experimental film over
the next 25-30 years. Those established artists whose work becomes available
will find their positions solidified and the "aura" of their work being
increased to the status of other art (i.e. exhibitions that show it on film,
etc) while other artists whose work isn't available will gradually
disappear, becoming research topics for grad students, and otherwise
High profile reproduction and the accompanying "aura" assigned to the works
will also have some very negative effects in terms of new artists producing
work--we can already see this happening with video art. A few "big names"
produce many imitators whose ideas of what "good" is are tied to the
imitation of these "big names."

> battles are in store for us where these economic
> shifts toward a more fluid transmission culture come
> in conflict with efforts to control the availability
> of experimental films?

Availability is already controlled to a degree; that I doubt will change in
any significant way from what it is now. Perhaps more artists will post work
on line, but this is simply an extension of the present. If anything, we are
shifting toward a less fluid transmission culture as the demands for DRM and
IP controls increase. (ABC is trying to get rid of "fast forward" on the
next generation of DVRs for example...)

4. How can the language of film criticism be altered
> to coincide more closely with changing social issues?

I'm not sure what you mean by this. It is not so much a matter of language,
but how that language is used by the critic and the assumptions about social
issues that emerge from that use. At the same time there is a tendency to
want to exclude anyone from commenting on a subculture that isn't also a
member of that specific culture--while this view does have some merits, it
also easily leads to a fractionalization where any criticism is

Not that Deleuze and Guattari or Hardt and Negri have
> to be continually cited, but surely there is some
> positioning to do here. If it's not cultural studies
> or visual studies, if it's not postmodernism,
> psychoanalysis, or feminism, what is there besides the
> phenomenology of perception?

As for interpretation, there's also the procedures of art
history--iconography, contextual analysis, etc. And there's semiotics, too
and critical realism...

Michael Betancourt
Des Moines, IA USA
the avant-garde film & video blog

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