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I am reluctant to specify a particular role for film criticism today. I think that all sorts of approaches can be valid and interesting, ranging from traditional formal analysis, historical research, and theoretical extrapolation, all the way to new approaches that were not possible before, such as massive data analysis and commentary in the form of video essays rather than written texts.

Whatever critical approaches are used, however, I think that it is vitally important for film scholarship, analysis, interpretation, and elaboration to be easily and rapidly available via open access online. The old scholarly model of peer review, extensive revision, and long delays for print publication is no longer valid in the Internet age. Obviously, some sort of editorial choice and assistance—meaning both suggestions for improvement of particular works, and curation of the results—remains important in the face of information glut. But there should be better ways—more open and transparent, more widely available, and quicker—than what has been done up to now (and which is inherited from a now defunct printcentric culture). Having scholarly and critical work available online fairly quickly will both boost continued argument and discussion, and lessen (even if it cannot entirely abolish) the hierarchy between established scholars and reviewers and people who don't have institutional authority, but whose insights may in fact be of great value.

My current research is centered upon what has been called post-cinema (to use the title of a forthcoming anthology of essays, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda). Within this broad current, I am especiallly interested in the new aesthetic possibilities that result from recent digital technologies for the production, distribution, and reception of audiovisual media. I understand these possibilities in a number of ways.

Marshall McLuhan argued a half century ago that changes in media necessarily involve as well changes in what he called (following William Blake) the "ratio of the senses."[1] When new forms of audiovisual creation, dissemination, and reception are introduced, we start to see and hear in different ways; and even more importantly, the relations between seeing and hearing are themselves changed. McLuhan himself speculates that the electronic media of his own time were inciting a shift in emphasis from the eye to the ear. More recently, Michel Chion has similarly suggested that television and video are audiocentric, in contrast to the way that, in traditional cinema, sound tends to "congregate around the image."[2] Arguably, these changes become yet more extensive when we move to digital or computer-processed media.

None of this is to imply that technologies rigidly determine, and limit, what can be expressed through them. Many artists today still create movies and videos that look and sound much as they did in the 20th century; the new digital means can easily be used for older, more traditional artistic ends. But digital tools do provide new affordances; they open up possibilities that were not available (or at least, not as easily available) before.

Consider, for instance, how recent digital film technologies have enabled, on the one hand, rapid, aggressive editing, and on the other hand (real or simulated) single long takes. Neither of these approaches is altogether new. The Soviets in the silent era experimented with radical montage, and Hitchcock, in Rope (1948), sought to create the effect of a whole movie in a single apparent take. But works made in recent years (after 2000, say) deploy these formal techniques in radically different ways. A film like the late Tony Scott's Domino (2005) features a violently restless, almost ADD-like editing style, with continual minor adjustments of perspective, reframings via jump cuts and stuttering repetitions, and overlays of heterogeneous image and sound sources.

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The result is not a cognitive leap of the sort that Eisenstein sought to achieve, but rather a continual modulation of perception on an affective, pre-cognitive, and infra-sensory level. Scott leads us (or better, forces us) to experience images and sounds that normally remain beneath the threshold of attention: the atomistic, fragmentary constituents of our usually smoothed-out conscious awareness.

As far as long takes are concerned, consider the music video directed by Us (Luke Taylor and Christopher Barrett) for Labrinth's song "Let It Be" (2014).

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Traditionally, a long take (whether actual or faked) works by substituting camera movement for editing. It captures and renders an unbroken block of spacetime, corresponding to a single continuous experience of duration.

But "Let It Be" does something entirely different. It substitutes digital compositing for editing, while camera movement seems to take place in its own autonomous realm. The video does indeed consist of a single long and fluid camera movement, snaking its way through and around a warehouse space. But in the course of this movement, we see simulations—out of temporal order—of the many stages of Labrinth's process of writing, performing, recording and publicizing the song. The elaborate camera movement follows the pre-existing rhythms and articulations of the song. In effect, it carves out a time-volume from an otherwise undifferentiated space. Within this time-volume, events and processes that actually occurred at different moments in different locations are all given to us simultaneously. The time the camera takes to explore (or to unfold) the volume is different from—indeed disjunctive from –the times of the happenings depicted within the video. "Let It Be" gives us a slice of subjective experience on one level, but it locates this experience within the database logic that organizes it, but that we are unable to experience directly.

These are just a few examples of the many ways in which digital technology alters the ratio of the senses, and induces us to see, hear, and feel—at least vicariously—dimensions of social and ontological process that are formative of consciousness, but not normally accessible to it. At least one task of film criticism in the twenty-first century is to keep up with these transformations, and remain open to them.

Author biography:

Steven Shaviro is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University, He is the author, among other books, of The Cinematic Body, Post-Cinematic Affect, and Melancholia, or, The Romantic Anti-Sublime.

Notes

    1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994).return to text

    2. Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).return to text