I think you are getting to the crux of the debate about stereoscopic technology. Many of the 3D televisions that I have found use similar reprocessing algoryhtms to those deployed by the studios in an attempt to retroactively re-produce new content. These display technologies would cut against the status of the unique object (read: Avatar) just as they produce a new cult of upper class viewers wearing those awkward shuttered 3d glasses. The 3D processing that I have attempted was intended to speak to aura in both senses. Once it was clear that I could produce acceptable quality stereo-optical images (my best is of a station wagon and a motorcycle) I was underwhelmed by the response I got from my test audiences. The station wagon/motorcycle did not rouse much passion from anyone. The comments I received on the installation often said something to the effect of: your performance is good, but 3D is nothing special. In the context of speech acts that might hail individuals to become spectators this takes on an added dimension, since so many public relations texts for films are predicated on the idea that pronouncing/naming/declaring a film 3D would be a saleable quality. Aura in the context of 3D technology is produced by the PR department, the ghost of the auteur, and an attention to the work of art itself. The theory of this installation is dialectical, it pushes the idea that we can democritize the means of 3D production, but affirms that the discurisve dimension of 3D (what I would claim is more important than the somatic dimension) remains in control of a few.
Great post, Dan. Your work is incredibly fascinating and you’ve raised a number of interesting points. I wish I had been able to see your exhibit when it was still being hosted. With the elite status of owning a 3D television and the fact that content for that medium is severely limiting in its variety, the notion of democtratizing 3D is something that warrants closer examination. I was wondering if you might be able to expand a bit on your application of aura when it comes to this home-produced 3D technology. Are you looking at aura solely from an experiential stand-point (the creation of moments, etc.), or are you also referring to the auratic potential found in a unique object? If it is the latter, does that aura diminish through the democratizing process (i.e. through extended mechanical reproduction)?
The development of alternative viewing technologies certainly impacts the reception of the genre. Puzzle films are typically associated with DVD technology and the manipulation of the image that it allows for is often cited as one of the primary means by which the puzzle is solved. Without access to this kind of manipulation, it is arguable that the films are harder to figure out. Similarly, the compression of the film in these different formats would play a role – since puzzles films require careful viewing, the more compressed the image, the harder it is to isolate these clues. In fact, the first time I taught Memento, one of my students who loved the film and claimed to have watched it fifty times didn’t notice the Sammy-to-Lenny wipe until he watched the film projected on a theater-sized screen for class. I also think that the development home-editing technologies and distribution sites like youtube have a role to play. Now it’s possible to watch a film like Caché once, read a blog to help figure out what you missed and then watch the relevant clips on youtube so that you “get” the film without the need to watch it multiple times.
Thanks for a really compelling question. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know! Most critics argue that the puzzle genre develops in the 1990s alongside the advent of DVD technology and that it is the postmodern iteration of the classic mystery or thriller genre. However, Barbara Klinger’s Beyond the Multiplex (see Jesse’s post below) does try to track some of the features of these films back through cinema and, taking Memento as the first puzzle film, argues that its narrative structure has roots as far back as Edison. I’ve not spent anywhere near enough time thinking about the prehistory of the genre to argue for or against her historical trajectory but it would certainly be interesting to think about the idea of the puzzle in classical or early cinema. I’m working with a more specific definition of the puzzle film that a number of other scholars (again, see the post below) but I’d be curious if anyone else could venture a predecessor to Memento, which is typically seen to mark the advent of the genre.
I’ve only dipped briefly into Klinger’s book but I’m inclined to agree based on my experiences, although her classification of puzzle films is a bit off, in my opinion (I’d make a distinction between complex films that reveal their twists – The Matrix, The Sixth Sense – and films that deny any sense of narrative unity – Mulholland Drive, Run Lola Run – and puzzle films, which have a narrative unity but hide the means of putting it together). Still, most of the scholarship on puzzle films is male and reinforces Klinger’s argument. Similarly, in my classes it tends to be male students who are the most obsessed with these films, and the most cinephilic in general. However, the idea that women are uncomfortable with technology seems a bit too easy to me and somewhat outdated. There is perhaps something else going on here in terms of gendered behavior given the sense of mastery that these films promise. This idea of finding the key and unlocking a right answer has a lot in common with the masculinist logic of enlightenment/scientific/empirical discourse. I don’t mean to suggest that men like definitive answers and women are okay with ambiguity, but I think we might want to try and reframe this question of gendered spectatorship as a response to narrative structures outside of specifically gendered bodies.
This is an interesting question and I agree that the shift in spectatorship is tied up with larger trends towards commodification and privacy. However, I think that puzzle-solving behavior still exists in a public sphere, although the nature of this has also changed. Although these films are primarily watched and rewatched on DVD, this still seems to be a communal event – people watch them together in their dorm rooms or with friends who similarly enjoy trying to catch the clues. Puzzle films are also a favorite for bloggers and fan sites which implies a kind of digital public that operates in ways akin to more traditional publics. On a certain level, it seems that the complexity of these narratives really calls for some kind of communal experience since the films can be so challenging to work out alone.
For those interested in BIG marketing and promotional activities, here is an interesting video (http://www.facebook.com/#!/video/video.php?v=530461804190) released today and photos of recent in-theater events (http://us.bigcinemas.com/buzz.asp).
Barbara Klinger also writes about "puzzle" films and argues that this new genre emerged specifically with the DVD market in mind. The fan research conducted for Beyond the Multiplex (2006) was likely completed five or six years ago, so I’m curious to hear Sarah H.’s take on one of Klinger’s key points about the genre. She finds—largely due to the genre’s association with the "technophilic" practices you also note (the utilization of DVD technology to make the viewing process more ‘interactive’)—that the fan base for the puzzle film is predominantly male. Have you found this to be true in your teaching and research on the genre?
Very interesting post. I couldn’t help reading your last line — "This kind of cinephilia, often lamented as a dying mode of spectatorship, thus seems to be alive and well, only its locus has shifted from the movie theater to the home theater" — and thinking of how the short theatrical release window for contemporary films (which has shifted from six months to three months (or less in some cases)) has had an impact on this kind of repeat viewing. In an earlier age, films could stay in theaters longer (months and occassionally over a year) which would allow for viewers to go back to the theater to solve particular puzzles. Are there any films from pre-1980 that had previously enticed audiences to attend theaters over and over again to solve them?
Thanks for the terrific questions.
I don’t think these dynamics were "obscured" for American media conglomerates. Independent companies have dabbled in distributing Indian movies such as Lagaan (Sony Pictures Classics, 2001), but primarily for independent (art house) theaters. The innovation here is that a chain is creating a consistent space for a specific national cinema rather than an art house theater trying to bring Indian films into its normal mix of programming. BIG is creating a brand identity for the diaspora.
Foreign investment may be required to create a counter public, but Phoenix Theatres was already operating some Bollywood houses before their partnership with Reliance. The union made a larger, more significant chain.
There are more and more partnerships between Indian companies like Reliance and American companies such as DreamWorks and CBS. That is a separate but equally fascinating development.
One of the reasons why studying exhibition can be fascinating is the way in which a company like BIG Cinemas can expose the viability of a market and of a community (or public). Regal, AMC, and Carmike might start showing more Indian films, but, like Zacheretti notes, they’re probably not going to start serving samosas or creating a distinctive atmosphere that is one of the central reasons why the BIG and CGV concepts may work very well.