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THE CASE FOR NON-LINEAR PERCEPTIONS IN CINEMA

 

Wherever your opinion falls in regards to a technological singularity, it’s difficult to argue that at present our technology has not significantly altered our methods of communication, organization, and recall. These changes in our information processes are begetting changes in every industry and culture in the modernized world and yet the worlds of information technology and cinema seem to me to be the ones worth concentrating on here. This is because while the one is the source of these changes, the other is a mirror, capable of giving us perspective as well as commenting on that perspective. The fact that at present that perspective is seemingly hopelessly mired in the linear is the crux of the problem. Regardless, both are driving forces in our culture towards a hive mind i.e. a collective consciousness. Cinema has always been a vast edifice of memories, but our ever-growing immersion in a second life via technology is now if not challenging that edifice then working in tandem with it, creating the possibility of new, streamlined perceptions that are both exciting and dangerous.

 

I originally wrote this article a few years ago for a now defunct website and in that original iteration, I proposed the idea of a post-intellectual perception. At the time it sounded a little ridiculous, but now many would agree that we are living in that post-intellectual world, ushered in by the internet's ubiquitousness and its infinite recall, or at the very least rushing headlong towards it. I proposed that we imagine a post-intellectual perception in which we would no longer be concerned with the amassing of knowledge but the experience of it, a possibility dependent on myriad factors, not the least of which is our ability to free ourselves from the shackles of linear narrative but a possibility none the less. Now, in my opinion, we are living in that post-intellectual world and far quicker than I expected. This is seen as a horrific turn of events by those that perceive it at all, and yet I would propose that while it is frightening, it's frightening not because of the seeming rise of a pride in ignorance and the inability of our most recent generations to remember anything in detail, but because of how quick it has happened, how those conditions are in danger of becoming permanent, and most importantly because the narrative is still in the control of the advertising dollar. In tandem with this development, however, we've also witnessed a de-location of both knowledge and perception, both becoming at once broader and more shallow, and again, more importantly in my mind, less linear. The very nature of the technology fosters it even if the narrative is still aggressively working against such perceptions.   

 

Are we not in many ways creating a collective memory through our online interactions here through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our personal blogs? A collective consciousness in the form of flow based interactions? And while the digital revolution may have democratized the world of filmmaking it has also seemingly, paradoxically narrowed not only the playing field but the field of vision of the so-called revolutionaries. A phenomenon, I believe to be directly related to the non-linear technology we have embraced while still slaves to a linear perception. I am not suggesting that these interactions are alone set to drastically change us as humans but I believe the seeds are being sown at the root level to completely upend our perception and therefore our experience of time and thus art. There is a shift occurring from the linear to the non-linear that should not be ignored. 

 

This concerns me at this early stage first and foremost as a filmmaker because cinema is still an essential tool in the forming of social, cultural and political perception. Given this is mostly accomplished through propaganda whether it be of the political or lifestyle variety the fact remains that much of how we perceive the world is informed by cultural and historical narratives reinforced by cinema and its offspring, and now the Internet in all its permutations. Which is to say that while cinema in many ways seems to be dying in the shadow of the internet, its techniques can still be utilized to mold, reinforce and upset the new perceptions it is fostering. As a lover of cinema I have long enjoyed the pleasures of both narrative film and documentary but as a practicing filmmaker, I can’t shake the power experimental cinema holds over me. The immediacy and rawness of emotion evoked in the best examples of the form are integral to my continued fascination but the true power of experimental cinema for me has always resided in the intangibles; that which I cannot locate absolutely in a strip of unspooling celluloid or line of resolution is the alpha and omega of my addiction, those moments when time is mastered and sculpted not into a perception guided by narrative but pure, direct experience. More often than not I find these experiences in experimental films or films utilizing experimental techniques where the intention, the theme, the emotion is unencumbered by trite storylines or clever structure. And it is with experimental cinema techniques that our greatest chances for an evolution of perception lay.

 

From Muybridge's work with the persistence of vision and Melies showing us the Man in the Moon to Eisenstein and the birth of formalism, the experimental, the avant-garde, the underground has existed within cinema since its inception. In fact, cinema itself was the experiment, only later did it beget the entertainment that supports and reflects life, that now however pervasively and insidiously dictates it for many. The Internet is perhaps the most important invention since the Gutenberg Press and that ushered in the Enlightenment. Cinema for me is as important. It's effect on perception perhaps less recognized, but nevertheless as affecting. For me it is most obviously the tool mankind has created to teach himself the art of non-linear perception (the process of creating a film, narrative or otherwise is and has always been non-linear) led sickeningly astray by advertising executives. However, this proto-spatial perception we are designing for ourselves is long on knowledge and short on experience, a problem exacerbated by cinema’s reliance on narrative, a problem whose remedy lies with cinemas true non-linear nature.

 

If we look at the history of the best experimental film, it’s not hard to see the social and political corollaries, the concerns and pressures that formed the work and methods of filmmakers like Deren in the 40’s (female identity, social rituals,) Anger in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (homosexual identity, occultism,) but too often these works were marred by a reliance on Freudian symbolism, the non sequitur, psychosexual themes and metaphors that read today as clearly as any Hollywood narrative devices (perhaps a reason why modern student filmmakers emulating them often fall flat?) It wasn’t until Brakhage made his central metaphor that of visual perception that we were given a language with which to articulate direct experience on celluloid and as much as his work was a part of the larger movement of Modern Art it was, more importantly, the groundwork for a spatial cinema that has yet to be fully realized.

 

Experience is the key word here, not entertainment and certainly not knowledge but direct experience devoid of the intellect. An experience beyond the sum of its parts, an experience becoming more, and more, rare in today’s culture for while we live in a time where the possibilities for sharing our visions are unparalleled the critical thought and support for experimental cinema is simply not there. In fact, it hasn’t been since the golden era of the music video, an era that saw the exploitation of experimental film techniques in the service of song narrative and band image effectively moving the form one step forward and two steps back. The advent of the internet and video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo have so far only further widened the gap between intelligent discourse and true experimental filmmaking, an occurrence that is completely at odds with the possibilities of the technology at hand and I would argue due not simply to a lack of interest but a lack of exposure, education and support, initiatives that we must foster as we venture forward if there is to be any hope for the intangible in cinema and our lives.

 

Moving forward what matters most is that we encourage, nurture and multiply these intangibles by providing a breeding ground for the experimental; a place online and physical where instinct, emotion, and experience are placed before form, intellect, and tradition. We mustn’t leave experimental cinema to be regulated to the vast online inventory of YouTube and the rarified world of art galleries but give it a serious national and international platform where it can if not change the world than at least the viewer’s growing non-intellectual perception of it. After all, why do we create art? Is it not to share visions, illuminate corners of human experience, and cleanse the palette of the ubiquitous?   

 

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