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Layered encounters: mainstream cinema and the disaggregate digital composite

Purse, L. (2018) Layered encounters: mainstream cinema and the disaggregate digital composite. Film-Philosophy, 22 (2). pp. 148-167. ISSN 1466-4615

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3366/film.2018.0070


The digital surface in cinema has, throughout its relatively brief history, been subject to a familiar “iconophobic” tendency, documented by Rosalind Galt (2011), to denigrate surface decoration as “empty spectacle” (p. 2). In early scholarship on computer generated (CG) images in cinema, the digital surface’s alleged seamlessness and “new depthlessness” (Sobchack (1994, p. 123n) and Landon (1992, p.66) respectively, in Pierson, 1999, p.167) frequently became an overdetermined nexus of loss: of material presence, of an indexical relation to the world and lived experience, and of the continuation of older traditions of narrative cinema. Today, digital visual effects sequences in mainstream cinema continue to be framed by film reviewers in negative terms: as variously lacking imagination, realism, narrative depth, and affective power. Digital visual effects and digital media scholarship have done much to reclaim the cultural significance of mainstream digital visual effects sequences and their capacity to speak to a rapidly evolving and increasingly encompassing digital media ecology. Yet the formal heterogeneity of this evolving period of mainstream aesthetic consolidation and experimentation with digital images, surfaces and spaces has yet to be fully acknowledged. This article seeks to contribute to this broader task by focussing on the mainstream cinematic history of the digital composite, and specifically those moments where it displays a particularly self-reflexive character. If the digital composite has traditionally been characterised by its attempt to totally erase signs of its composite nature, across the period of CG images’ proliferation in cinema an occasional figure emerges seeks to do the opposite: a digital composite that formally fragments, foregrounds, and scrutinises the digital surfaces that constitute it. Drawing on scholarship on the computer image, digital media and the post-cinematic, this article will argue that these returns of the self-conscious digital composite speak meaningfully to their historical context.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:77316
Uncontrolled Keywords:Digital composite, seamlessness, fragmentation, CGI
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press


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