The Mixed Media(tion): constructing the end-image

this essay originally appeared at www.ifilm.net / June 1999

Talan Memmott

End -- meaning the consumable state of the image...

Let's consider the objects of formal cinema and digital cinema. The first question is; what are the specific objects of each?..

After a century of moving pictures it is a seemingly simple question, but in regards to digital media the answer is not so evident. With a variety of media types and methods of delivery it is much harder to pinpoint the actual object of DV.

The formal cinematic object would be the film itself. Film leaves the image, the content open. The image is tangible, visible as the media, on the media, the media... The image is the object. It is not necessary that the media be attached to a projector, its preferred machine to be viewed. Certainly, the space in which the image is consumed is privatized when film is viewed this way -- up close, frame by frame, and the object is removed from its intended (public) context; but the image is present.

DV, and videotape for that matter, does not hold the image in an optically referable manner. The image is interior to the object -- the object conceals it. Still, DV never provides the image itself; rather, the media provides the encoded and mysterious schema for the reconstruction of the image at the terminal. DV requires an attached delivery machine for the presentation of the visual image. It is the machine that translates the expression of the object into the consumable end-image.

There are more detours en route to this success when you consider Internet based transfers. The E-cinematic delivery machine is comprised of a series of couplings, all subject to variable performance -- end-user equipment, connectivity, network traffic, server load... Where time is calibrated and generally uniform in formal cinema, the e-cinematic event simulates time through the buffered release of data delivered in discriminate packets, at encoded intervals. With potential bandwidth flux and equipment issues factored in, the e-filmmaker must relinquish some control over (narrative) time and the end-image as there are too many modalities to predict. In consideration of this, what may be the most interesting aspects of e-cinema at the moment are the potential of the technology and the openness of the market - the freedom in distribution.

More so than the picture...

It would be interesting to view the legacy of media extensions of any given digitally delivered film, to observe it in all the formats through which it has passed, all the iterations of the film from its raw footage to its presentation over the internet. From film, video, pixelvision or digital origins to Quicktime, Real Player, Media Player, MPG to the server, the network, the configuration of the viewer's machine -- the calculus of the end-image. By the time the image is realized it has become something of an allegory of the filmmaker's original intent - the sum of a rather thick process. Hidden, and only made present by request, through the equally allegorized (processed, transfigured by the apparatus and communicated, directed toward other machines for processing, then back again) command of the end-user, it is practically a miracle that an image is deliver through this labyrinth of mixed mediation.

Onward...

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copyright 1999 t. memmott