Thursday, July 10, 2008

Text In Your Viz

Kevin Kelly has a smart post on what he calls "vizuality," which he explains as "visual literacy" -- what he really means is more like "video markup," the ability to bring the same resources of identification, reference, marginal comment, etc., to video as we can to text. For example, why can't we link or point not just to a particular scene or frame in Casablanca, but to a fez on the head of a background character that may be only intermittently visible throughout the scene?

One of the frustrating things about working in cinema studies is that you don't have these reference tools down, both in the sense of "being handy" and in the sense of "conventionally standard." Put another way, there's no good way outside of video to "quote" video. Dropping a movie clip into a Word document only begins to do the job: again, you need to be able to insert, highlight, add asides and ellipses -- in other words, to select and to emphasize. It's like the difference between being able to give a page citation and being able to give a line.

There is one howler in Kelly's post: "Cinema has always resisted text, even to the point of preferring dubbing foreign languages rather than permitting subtitles." Not true! All you need to do is to look at silent and early sound films. Not only do you have the intertitles, you sometimes see close-ups of documents, i.e., letters, newspapers, etc., which the audience is expected to read in order to follow the plot. Sometimes you even have text painted on the screen, which the characters then interact with -- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has a good example of this.

This is one of the problems I'm working on right now, specifically with respect to German film, and it's far from sorted out. But it suggests that if we're looking to better understand the synthesis of text and image and its possibilities, we need to look beyond recent memory and towards technologies that for one reason or another have been left by the wayside. Silent film is one of these; illuminated manuscripts and woodcuts are another; there are countless more.

Via Snarkmarket.

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