Stephen Prince argues that “To date, theory has tended to minimize the importance of perceptual correspondences, but the advent of digital imaging demonstrates how important they are and have been all along.” Things like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or the impossibly realistic landscape in True Lies each highlight problems with traditional film theory, exposing the realism/expressionism distinction is oversimplified or inaccurate.
Prince suggests that before we can subject digital film to a meta-critique, we need to develop a precise understanding of how film creates a “perceptually valid” experience for the viewer. However, the perceptual realism approach the Prince suggests still distinguishes between a theorist (film theorist), a creator (cinematographer, special effects artist), and the consumer (film viewer). Such a model also contains problems which digital media highlights, problems that have been been around all along.
A DVD allows the viewer to easily select scenes and view in different speeds. Most DVDs also include special features sections, which may contain deleted scenes and commentary by actors, directors, and film theorists. The viewer is able to experience, perhaps only vicariously, the experience of a film theorist or cinematographer. Scene selection and playback speeds aid the viewer in analyzing the film from as film theorist, rather than as simply a viewer.
Digital film also facilitates (co)creation in more active ways, as well. Video games, virtual worlds, and amateur video are all examples of content where an individual may easily and quickly shift roles between viewer (someone experiencing the artificial as real), creator (someone creating the artificial to be experience as real), and theorist (someone trying to describe and explain it all).
Many of the examples in Jeff’s presentation show how self-reference is pervasive in amateur multimedia art. References to things outside referents like the green-screen in the Colbert Video can disrupt the viewing experiencing. Hyperlinks are an important example of this type of disruption in the viewing experience.
With digital artifacts, it no longer makes sense to analyze the experience with the assumption that the user is purely a consumer; that they are experiencing (or approximately experiencing) a reality created for them by someone else, which in turn can all be understood from a theorist’s perspective. Not only do we switch roles more easily and frequently with digital artifacts, but our experience of the artifact in one mode affects are experiences in others. For example, my undertanding of the design process and tools for creating special effects (that I learned from watching the special features), allows me to rewatch the movie as a viewer, this time experiencing the effects from the viewpoint of the creator not the actors in the story.
Of course, under this model, everything seems to b a mess. A theorist has to seriously consider that there no clear boundaries between consumer, creator, and theorist. Furthermore, theory itself now seems more obligated to take into account it’s own theory, leading to an infinite regression. Prince’s agenda of understanding the viewing experience before we critique it may be impossible in the simplified way that he proposes.
So how is the theorist supposed to make sense of the whole thing? I think I can see how structuralism, with it’s emphasis on the artifact and meaning rather than the intentions of individuals, seems like it may be of help here. Structuralism seems like it can potentially avoid some of these complicated issues that arise when theorists have to consider recursive and shifting roles. Then again, at times I suspect that I still “don’t know dick” about structuralism.