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The Power of Film and Visual Language

Updated on January 30, 2014

Going Commercial

In 1985 Steve McCurry snapped a photo of a mysterious Afghan girl whose direct gaze with her green eyes, has intrigued the West for so long. Today it is known as one of the most captivating images seen around the world. Today’s advancement in new media such as Photoshop has advanced today’s artist to manipulate previous masters. Afghan Girl is still today one of the most reproduced photo in history. An artist from took that image and combined it with a photo of a recognizable homely dude, Rodney Dangerfield. The artist says that no offense was intended. The work is a good example of how commercial image manipulation has brought art to a new level.

The Study of Film

When thinking of old media one immediately may think of hand made works, with traditional media such as oil paints or clay. The nature of the works is part of a past culture of a society. Their skills and knowledge have been passed down through generations from master craftsman to apprentices. Today’s new technologies have lead us to media that has advanced sources and changed the art of living, creating a rise in cyber culture. This is relevant in the rising impact of race and gender and ones cyber identity and actual identity. It has changed the nature of representation and how we see ourselves in the world around us; leaving material works of art outdated and in left in the books.

An immense advancement in technology has been the camera. Researchers did not consider cameras as a simple recording tool or a way to capture everyday moments as some do today, but as a complex artistic means that could be manipulated like pictorial elements. Photographer, Eadweard Muyridge studied animal locomotion in 1887. He studied movement through a series of snapshots, he time framed people as well. Muyridge's motion studies are considered to be a critical step in the evolution of photography to motion pictures. Dziga Vertov's 1929 film Man With A Movie Camera gave a new conceptual outlook of an ordinary soviet worker. Vertov enabled and with the power of film, can control and compose realities. He experiments with perceptive and what we know as the camera "eye." He controls the space and time the viewer sees. It directly speaks to contemporary audiences about time and how we see and think. "This is why Vertov's film has particular relevance to new media. It proves that it is possible to turn effects into meaningful artistic language" (Language of New Media). Vertov presents the range of opportunities the camera offers while decoding the world. Nam June Paik's video installation TV Buddha (1974) expands the definition and language of art making. His work represents an early phase of experimentation in video. The camera focuses on a point, which can be seen on a monitor, capturing the oddness and distance that exists between the mindless technological stare of the television monitor and the Gaze from the sitting Buddah.

Donald Judd is a great example of a conceptual artist that shows a new way of seeing. Judd's work "boxes in space" is a style of art called minimalism. Most of his work consists of him creating objects that occupy three-dimensional space and rejects illusionism. He occupies a space with dozens of shiny metal boxes all spaces evenly apart and are mathematically precise. The work is not only meditative, sharp, simple, reflective, clean, orderly, references the grid, shows a sense of randomness, but makes you reconsider the concept of space. The viewer decides how to occupy and move through the space.

Ron Burnett writes, "vantage point does not come from in a single or direct way but must be created." This means a lot of things. When people look at images they tend to visualize themselves and how they communicate the results. This opens possibility and stages of what we know as real and shows a shared experience. Images live on when they can reflect all the vantage points. "The ability to use and create images comes from an innate disposition that humans have that is sometimes proportionately balanced by experience and sometimes not. I am convinced that dreams are one of the royal roads into a world that does not need a narrator to be effective and that daydreams are among the most important residual strategies that humans make use of to manage the swirl of thoughts and images they encounter within themselves and the environments of which the are a part" (Grotstein, 2000) An example of this is the Odessa stair scene from battleship Potemkin. The film is greatly impacted by the juxtapositions. Sometimes cutting is dialectical: point counterpoints, and fusion. The jump cuts between the fearful faces of unarmed citizen’s verses the faceless troops in uniform. The music helps enhance the danger that the subjects were in and gives the viewer a better understanding of what is going on. The camera close-up gives a relationship to the subject and the viewer and vise versa. Shots from a distance help create the world while at the same time documents the past. The commodity of this new media is that videos are not the same as paintings.

Vantage points are used in the genre of Film Noir. Film noir is known as a "visual" Filmmaking genre. The "visuals" frame the vantage points. The visuals often give clues, which foreshadow future events that will or might occur. Film noir has a dystopian feel with its witty crisp dialog drive. They lack or have a total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and have a state of constant warfare or violence. There tend to be a man verses machine or man verses corporation issue and there is a constant sense of movement. There is never a happy ending. The opening film credits from "The Killers" and many film noir films in general are very important. The signs and the lighting reinforce visuals and the writing is used to locate and disseminate history. "Headlamps illuminate the road ahead as the car advances toward a vanishing point defined by the converging lines of the median and order stripes of the highway, pointing to an imaginary intersection n the darkness beyond the scope of the two cones of light. As it roles forward, in a narrative stratagem inherited from silent film (and because the music is amplified on the soundtrack, the film appears especially silent), the lights move by the road sign that displays, before it disappears into the dark (Decoding Film Noir: Film Hieroglyphics): a town sign called "brentwood: New Jersey" and below that "drive carefully." The writing is iconic to the film both graphically and ocularly to the manifestation and mystery in the composition. There is a drama of the sign disappearing into the night and the viewer cannot fail to decipher that the name of the town will stay in their memory as well as the two mysterious characters speeding along at night. The high contrast in lighting makes the scene very mysterious and manifests fear.

The 1995 crime film hit "Se7en" is a more recent and like "The Killers" is a type of iconography. The opening scene starts off slow then goes into an apartment crime scene with Morgan Freeman. Another detective, Brad Pitt, comes into the scene and then it cuts to them walking outside the building. It is raining out which is significant. Water forms a barrier and gives a gloomy feel to the setting as well as mystery. Other similar themes are the "possible worlds/realities" of murderers. A few minutes into the film we are with who we soon learn is the murderer as he flips pages of he cuts off his skin on his fingers to hide his fingerprints. He mysteriously cuts up words and images form magazines and papers and glues and bind them together in books. The song "I want to fuck you like and Animal" by Nine inch nails plays during the credits and intensifies the creepiness. Both credits are effective in showing how a collective technique of film credits is virtually underwritten by filmic icons or signature effects and devices that decipher good from evil.

Yoko Ono is one new media video artist that presents a distinct view on gender. Ono explores concepts and performs in a way that she can interact with her audience. An example would be her piece Cut Pieces, which was one of her successful pieces in which she outwardly communicate her internal suffering through her art. For this piece Ono herself was the art work and allowed direct audience interaction. Viewers were given scissors then would go up on stage where they would cut a piece of her clothing until she was near naked. The discomfort that the viewers, the interacting people on stage and Ono might have felt, it gave the work more meaning with no scripted outcome. The work was significant to the violence, what is inappropriate about physical contact and is somewhat symbolic to rape. Ono engaged the audience but gives them power to create the outcome of the art and was an overall success to Ono's exploration of gender. Shirin Neshat's Rapture both literally and figuratively separates the idea of gender. Neshat's film installation has two opposing projections that show men and women separated from each other while divides then both visually and spatially. Both are kept locked in a changing though subtle interaction that powerfully highlights gender-based inequalities. Pipilotti Rist stimulates viewers with her video installations, playfully merging fantasy and reality while undermining traditional feminism. Rist work involves women that have power and beauty while also transmitting a sense of happiness and simplicity with issues related to gender. Rist's installations also explore sexuality and femininity, through a formal language.

A new media that depends on the viewer’s expectations of reality and of realism is animation. Good animators employ narratives and techniques that are both intuitive and counter intuitive. They depict, not drawings that move but are "art of movements that are drawn." They attempt to give "life" not only to animals (anthropomorphism) but to humans as well. Animation is an enduring medium. In the beginning exploration of animation dreams of Toyland from 1907 Arthur Melbourne Cooper animated real toys (puppet animation) in this short animation. A young boy dreamed that his toys (cars, teddy bears, policeman, monkey, and horse) came to life to dance, play, chase each other, and fight. The joy of this media is how it takes away the subconscious anxieties of reality and the real world and puts you in a fantasy world. Dreams of Toyland and many other animations to come Duck Amuck plays and brings life to the movement. The frames the drawings extenuate the perception and movement in between those frames and intensify virtual creativity. Animation creates shifting appearances as if one is in a dream or as if created in ones imagination.

In the recent featured film Walle, after centuries of living on a ship in microgravity passenger must rely on the ship's automated systems and have suffered severe bone loss and become extremely obese. Wall-E, a robot that is designed to clean up the waste covered Earth far in the future. Wall-E eventually falls in love with another robot EVE, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity. It is key to note that the characters in this excerpt do not have human voices, but instead communicate with body language and robotic sounds. Simplicity was preferred in their performances as giving them too many movements would make them feel human. Very different from older animation Stanton felt the moral of the film was "Irrational love defeats life's programming." He continued, "That's a perfect metaphor for real life. We all fall into our habits, our routines and our ruts, consciously or unconsciously to avoid living, to avoid having to do the messy part, to avoid having relationships with other people, and dealing with the person next to us. That's why we can all get on our cell phones and not have to deal with one another." Stanton noted many commentators placed emphasis on the environmental aspect of humanity's destiny in the film, because "that disconnection is going to be the cause, indirectly, of anything that happens in life that's bad for humanity of the planet" making the under drawings to this film somewhat directed toward the darkness of society. It also questions the distinction of what is real and what is fantasy. The mood creates a powerful visual language for our time and how we see ourselves in the real world today’s, unlike the playfulness and simplicity of the other two examples. Despite, animation enables magical things to happen.


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