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Rotational aesthetics: Michael Bay and contemporary cinema’s machine movement

Purse, L. (2015) Rotational aesthetics: Michael Bay and contemporary cinema’s machine movement. Senses of Cinema (75). ISSN 1443-4059

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Digital imaging technologies enable a mastery of the visual that in recent mainstream cinema frequently manifests as certain kinds of spatial reach, orientation and motion. In such a context Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise can be framed as a digital re-tooling of a familiar fantasy of vehicular propulsion, US car culture writ large in digitally crafted spectacles of diegetic speed, the vehicular chase film ‘2.0’. Movement is central to these films, calling up Scott Bukatman’s observation that in spectacular visual media ‘movement has become more than a tool of bodily knowledge; it has become an end in itself’ (2003: 125). Not all movements and not all instances of vehicular propulsion are the same however. How might we evaluate what is at stake in a film’s assertion of movement as an end in itself, and the form that assertion takes, its articulations of diegetic velocity, corporeality, and spatial penetration? Deploying an attentiveness towards the specificity of aesthetic detail and affective impact in Bay’s delineation of movement, this essay suggests that the franchise poses questions about the relationship of human movement to machine movement that exceed their narrative basis. Identifying a persistent rotational trope in the franchise that in its audio-visual articulation combines oddly anachronistic elements (evoking the mechanical rather than the digital), the article argues that the films prioritise certain fantasies of transformation and spatial penetration, and certain modes of corporeality, as one response to contemporary debates about digital technologisation, sustainable energy, and cinematic spectacle. In this way the franchise also represents a particular moment in a more widely discernible preoccupation in contemporary cinema with what we might call a ‘rotational aesthetics’ of action, a machine movement made possible by the digital, but which invokes earlier histories and fantasies of animation, propulsion, mechanization and mechanization to particular ends.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:47841
Uncontrolled Keywords:digital visual effects, digital aesthetics, action cinema
Additional Information:Michael Bay Dossier
Publisher:Senses of Cinema Inc.

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