From: Jonathan Walley (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Jan 21 2010 - 09:23:58 PST
Hopefully I cleared this up in my last post - that I was looking for
examples in which filmmakers emphasize the constraints of their medium
in ways that could be either positive OR negative, but that in most
cases the constraints or limitations are characterized by said
filmmakers as essential for their art and thus valuable. The one major
exception, so far, seems to be economics - the expense of working with
film, as in the case of James Benning, is a difficulty that is harder
As I said earlier, I'm sure artists in every medium think of their
materials in similar ways, as setting limits and posing problems that
the artist must creatively solve, even use, in making work. In other
words, as Jim suggests, the "limits" are as enabling as they are
constraining. (Didn't someone once make the point about gravity being
the very thing that makes the feats of acrobats exciting?)
In the digital age, however, I do think that mechanical, analog,
celluloid film is perceived by some as "unnecessarily" difficult to
work with. That is, the emergence of digital video, computer editing,
and so forth throws into sharper relief the difficulties of film -
difficulties that have always been there but stand out more clearly
now against the backdrop of digital media's "ease of use."
Now, before people who work with digital video get upset, let me
clarify: I realize that doing worthwhile work in any medium is
difficult, and that each medium comes with its own constraints, so I
don't mean to suggest that making work in DV is easy and making work
in film is hard (and therefore more valid). But video is marketed, in
part, with the "ease of use" rhetoric, and I see persistent references
among everyone from my production students to professional DPs in
American Cinematographer contrasting film unfavorably with video on
precisely these grounds (and, in the minority, contrasts that are
favorable to film on the grounds of "craftsmanship" and "expertise"
that filmmakers have had to cultivate over decades).
These are the attitudes and forms of rhetoric that I'm interested in
here. Regardless of whether film "really is" more difficult to work
with than video or any other art form, regardless of the accuracy (as
far as it could possibly be measured) of claims about film's
difficulties, limitations, and "failings," the beliefs about these
things held by artists inform their work in a surprising variety of
ways, so I want to try and understand those beliefs.
Asst. Professor of Cinema
On Jan 20, 2010, at 7:49 PM, Jim Carlile wrote:
> In a message dated 1/20/2010 2:42:39 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, email suppressed
> It's strange to me, as Mark Toscano notes below, that you're
> > looking for examples where the constraint of film technology is
> > seen as a burden without looking at the reverse, where the
> > constraint is actually productive. That resistance in the material
> > is one of the main reasons I've been so obstinate about working
> > with (and presenting) celluloid-based work. It's like Oulipo, but
> > without all the self-imposed obstacles--the constraint is built
> > into the materials. For me, ease is the enemy, and whenever I
> > start to feel like I'm getting too good at something, I have to
> > introduce an element that helps me mess up again. I imagine there
> > are LOTS of experimental filmmakers who feel the same way.
> Are people actually claiming that film creates constraints that are
> limiting, and therefore inadequate?
> That would be like claiming that the sonnet form is limiting and
> thus a real drag, or that the physical frame of an oil painting is
> unfortunate and should be transcended.
> All art is artifice and inherently circumscribed. I guess all these
> 3-D films lately have confused people. But I'd also figure that
> anyone who calls these physical limitations impediments don't read
> too many sonnets or paint too many paintings. So their opinion
> doesn't really count.
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.