<p>In the past decade, our preconceived ideas of film and the form that we’ve come to accept as ‘film’ have been challenged. Film is no longer constrained by a single screen projecting a single moving image.</p>
In the past decade, our preconceived ideas of film and the form that we’ve come to accept as “film” have been challenged. Film is no longer constrained by a single screen projecting a single moving image. The moving image has morphed into a hybridization of different types of new media. A single image or scene can not only be composed of formerly disparate aesthetics such as motion graphics, animation, typography and traditional cinematography, but can also comprise an infinite number of editable, photographic layers.
According to new media theorist Lev Manovich, the new composited nature of the image makes film more spatially dynamic. In doing so, cinema no longer has to be a single screen interface that accesses the film’s story through a linear plot structure, but can utilize multiple windows to access multiple streams of information at once. In this sense, a narrative becomes a single potential access point among many. A story can be seen as a database that is accessed through “visual plotting,” with the narrative becoming the interface that is projected on a screen in front of an audience. In much the same way a computer browser or operating system can be a collection of several windows that the user tabs through, cinema has the potential to expand its expressive reach beyond just a sequential unfolding of events.
Maybe McLuhan had it wrong. Maybe the medium is no longer the message, as “the message” and “medium” become increasingly disassociated from one another through the integration of several mediums utilized to tell a single, more robust story.
To put it another way: An interface is, broadly speaking, a means of accessing a database of information. With regards to cinema, all the raw materials—footage, special effects, script, etc.—can be seen as the “data” or “information” composing a single film. The final film itself, after all the editing and post-production, offers only a glimpse of all the data that was used to produce it. But what if we changed the interface we use to experience this film and made it more akin to the multimedia interactive access that computers provide? Allowing viewers to explore the “database of information” at their own whim, as opposed to a singular storyline dictated by the director. Cinema then becomes, as Lev Manovich calls it, a “hyper-narrative” where “multiple trajectories traverse through a database.” This traversal can lead to several different narratives and a film then becomes an exercise in a de-centralized, inconclusive, fetching of material. Manovich played with this idea in his experimental film installation Soft Cinema where live footage, shifting abstract visuals, and voice over narrative were synced algorithmically and juxtaposed across several windows contained within a single screen.
A still from Lev Manovich’s Soft Cinema.
In his book Interactive Hyper Narrative Interactive Cinema, Nitzan Ben-Shaul derides Manovich’s database as narrative idea, claiming that it is incapable of being elevated beyond the level of attraction. Traditional narrative, according to Ben-Shaul, is what keeps viewers’ attention by providing a conclusive outcome to the events represented. Sustained attention, then, is impossible when disparate elements are sutured together via multiple interfaces with no determinate outcome. While schizophrenic conceptions of cinema as a series of interfaces traversing a database derail deep engagement, he also believes that interfacial cohesion through the use of narrative is also possible.
Eugene Kotlyarenko’s 0s and 1s is not only a culmination of the ideas of both Manovich and Ben-Shaul, but also a solution to the singular nature of the browser as screen. Kotlyarenko sees the ubiquity of the computer screen as a chance to redefine the language of cinema. While Manovich’s Soft Cinema is difficult to navigate and its screens feel unrelated, 0s and 1s is accessible and visually arresting.
The film uses multiple tropes of internet culture to tell the story of a man who has lost his computer and the ensuing distress this loss causes him. What unfolds is an unraveling of sanity as the protagonist goes down a list of possible culprits in an attempt to identify the culprit. While the plot may sound remarkably quotidian, it’s a poignant story of a man whose life is so dependent on technology that when he is cut off, he’s incapable of functioning properly. In creating a closed narrative, Kotlyarenko is able to utilize multiple screens and interfaces embedded within the context of a browser to tell a story that is capable of enhancing, rather than dissolving, attention.
Morgan Krantz and Alexi Wasser in 0s and 1s. Courtesy YGK Productions.
The use of multiple interfaces in 0s and 1s aides with character definition by providing viewers with several sources of contextualizing information at once. Social network streams, such as faux versions of Twitter and Facebook, offer in-depth insight beyond the traditional moving image elements. These social elements, as well as other digital tropes such as a first person shooter perspective or a video game level overview, are used meaningfully to enhance the mood or purpose of a particular scene. Even pop ups, the scourge of any browser, are used thoughtfully to enforce the narrative progression.
Surprisingly, each type of narrative interface used remains cohesive to the story and never feels superfluous. Insights into characters are revealed that would have been impossible in a traditional film due to temporal limitations, but by fully utilizing the space of each screen, Kotlyarenko offers a more vivid picture than ever thought possible.
Morgan Krantz, Romy Windsor and Eric Sweeney in 0s and 1s. Courtesy YGK Productions.
0s and 1s marks a turning point in cinema as it adapts to a contemporary media environment. In the coming years, one screen will become less appealing to an era of users more used to multitasking and browsing. Cinema will no longer be at the mercy of a sequential progression of photographically captured images, but will be capable of a spatial modularity wherein multiple interfaces will be used to access a larger database of narrative information at a time.
Although 0s and 1s finished its week long New York City premiere, the film will continue its theatrical run throughout 2011 and screener requests for theaters, film festivals, etc. can be made on the movie’s website.
Images courtesy of Eugene Kotlyarenko.