Hyperartifical cinema and the art of cool

Bain, Keith Norman (2002-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2002.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this thesis, an ontology of contemporary cinema is developed using the position assumed by postmodern thinkers (notably Jean Baudrillard) and contemporary filmmakers. Using Baudrillard's perspective it is argued that the cinematic apparatus is an expression of both human curiosity and a desire to place "reality" at a distance. While the spectator seeks involvement with the viewed subject, he or she remains detached from the images which simulate the various "realities" in which he or she becomes "involved" through the act of viewing. The contemporary Western subject is said to crave "meaning" in a universe which is increasingly secular, materialistic, individualistic and, to a certain extent, "virtual". Life is also said to be more ironic, providing illusory concessions such as communication in lieu of interaction, information instead of knowledge, choice in favour of quality, surfaces rather than depth, and images which ultimately extinguish "the real". Moving images may be said to allude to the artificial nature of a "reality" which is itself a human construction. This suggests that the role of the camera is to place both the world and human subjects "at a distance", thereby objectifying (and potentially dehumanising) the subject-objects of the gaze. Many postmodern films are concerned with the functioning of the cinematic apparatus itself, and these films - implicitly and explicitly - deal with the way in which subjectivity is established through the cinematic gaze. "Realism" in the cinema has to a large extent shifted from the documentation of the world, to techniques which problematise the viewer's experience of "reality". Interactivity, faux-verité and the hyperrealism of computer graphic imaging, have contributed to the confusion of various forms of screen "realism", arguably impacting on the viewer's experience of "reality". In another sense, "reality" has been transformed by the blurring of distinctions between high and low cultural paradigms, increasingly evident in work that privileges the showing of "perverse", "profane", "grotesque", "vulgar" and explicit "realities". Boundaries between private and publiC spaces are eroded as the cinematic apparatus takes spectators into increasingly intimate personal spaces, demystifying and popularising the unknown and previously hidden. Considering the influence of commercial and socio-economic factors on the development of contemporary cinema (emphasizing Hollywood), the thesis looks at the aesthetic, thematic and narrative concerns of both mainstream and niche-market films. Focus is given to the socalled postmodern aesthetic which is closely linked to what some critics call recycling (an inability to say anything "new"), some label "empty" (meaningless) and many see as "schizoid" (able to be read in various, often contradictory, ways). The thesis proposes that contemporary (postmodern) cinema is a "pure" form which increasingly sets "reality" at a distance so that it's illusory nature is emphasised. It also demonstrates how contemporary films serve as reflections of a world which is itself nothing but a reflection (artificial construction). Like dreams, fantasies and other "virtual realities", the cinema represents a form of "remembering" which is detached from any particular time or space. In this sense, cinematic moving images enable viewers to engage with aspects of their own humanity which may be quite independent of the "reality" status of the world.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie proefskrif word die uitgangpunte van postmoderne denkers (by uitstek Jean Beaudrillard) en kontemporêre filmmakers benut om 'n ontologie van die kontemporêre film te ontwikkel. Vanuit Beaudrillard se perspektief word geargumenteer dat die filmiese apparatuur 'n uitrukking is van die mens se Inherente nuuskierigheid en die behoefte om "realiteit" op 'n afstand te hou. Alhoewel die kyker streef na betrokkenheid by die subjek wat bekyk word, bly hy of sy altyd afsydig (detached) van die beelde wat die verskeie "werklikhede" simuleer waarby hy of sy in die proses van kyk "betrokke" raak. Daar word beweer dat die hedendaagse Westerse subjek verlang na "betekenis" in 'n heelal wat al meer sekulêr, materialisties, individualisties en, tot 'n sekere mate, "virtueel" word. Die lewe is deurspek met ironie en maak allerlei illusionêre toegewings aan die "werklikheid", byvoorbeeld deur voorkeur te gee aan kommunikasie in plaas van interaksie, inligting in plaas van kennis, keuse in plaas van kwaliteit, oppervlakkighede in plaas van diepgang en beelde wat uiteindelike "die werklikeid" uitwis. Daar kan gesê word dat filmiese beelde (moving images) verwys na die kunsmatige aard van "realiteit", wat op sigself 'n menslike konstruksie is. Hiermee word dus gesuggereer dat dit die funksie van die kamera is om beide die wêreld en menslike subjekte "op 'n afstand" te plaas, en daarmee te objektiviseer (en moontlik te dehumaniseer). Baie postmoderne films hou hulle besig met die manier wat die filmiese apparatuur self funksioneer, en hierdie films ondersoek die wyse waarop subjektiwiteit deur middel van die kamera verkry word. "Realisme" in die film het tot 'n groot mate verskuif van die dokumentasie van die wêreld na tegnieke om die kyker se ervaring van die "werklikheid" te problematiseer. Interaktiwiteit, faux-verité en die hiper-realiteit van rekenaar gegenereerde beelde het bygedra tot die verwarring oor die verskeie vorme van filmiese "realisme", wat mens sou kon argumenteer 'n impak op die kyker se siening van "die werklikheid" het. In 'n ander sin, is "die werklikheid" getransformeer deur paradigma verskuiwings waardeur die onderskeide tussen "hoë" en "lae" kulture vervaag, iets wat al meer gedemonstreer word deur werke wat verkies om die "perverse", "profane", "groteske", "vulgêre", en eksplisiete "realiteite" te wys. Die grense tussen private en publieke ruimtes vervalook waar die filiese apparatuur kykers in al hoe intiemer persoonlike ruimtes inneem, om daardeur dit wat voorheen onbekende en versteek was te demistifiseer en populariseer. Met inagname van die invloed wat die kommersiële en sosio-ekonomiese faktore op die ontwikkelling van die hedendaagse film (veral van Hollywood) het, kyk die proefskrif na die estetiese, tematiese en narratiewe kwessies wat beide hoofstroom en niche-mark films kenmerk. Daar word veral gefokus op die sogenaamde post-moderne estetiek wat gekoppel word aan wat sommige kritici recycling noem (dws die onvermoë om iets nuuts te sê), ander as "leeg" (dws betekenisloos) beskou, en baie ander weer "shizoid" brandmerk (dws dit kan in verskeie, menige kere kontradiktoriese wyses, gelees of verstaan word). Die proefskrif bevind uiteindelik dan dat die kontemporêre (postmoderne) film 'n "suiwer" vorm is wat dit geleidelik regkry om "realiteit" op 'n afstand te hou, om sodoende sy eie illusionêre wese te benadruk. Dit illustreer ook hoe kontemporêre films funksioneer as refleksies van 'n wêreld wat self niks meer is as refleksie (kunsmatige konstruksie) is nie. Nes drome, fantasieë, en ander "virtuele realiteite", verteenwoordig die film 'n tipe "onthou" (remembering) wat onafhanklik is van 'n spesifteke tyd of plek. In hierdie sin help filmiese beelde kykers om hulself te kontfronteer met aspekte van hulle eie menslikheid wat onafhanklik is van hul werklikheidsstatus in die wêreld.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/52880
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