Order my new book, Ideologies of the Real
story © Michael Betancourt, September 2, 2019 all rights reserved.
My new book Ideologies of the Real in Title Sequences, Motion Graphics and Cinema is now available! This book presents a new theory of cinematic realism appropriate for the digital age.
This book explores the question of realism in motion pictures. Specifically, it explores how understanding the role of realism in the history of title sequences in film can illuminate discussions raised by the advent of digital cinema.
Ideologies of the Real in Title Sequences, Motion Graphics and Cinema fills a critical theoretical void in the existing literature on motion graphics. Developed from careful analysis of André Bazin, Stanley Cavell, and Giles Deleuze’s approaches to cinematic realism, this analysis uses title sequences to engage the interface between narrative and non-narrative media to consider cinematic realism in depth through highly detailed close readings of the title sequences for Bullitt (1968), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), The Number 23 (2007), The Kingdom (2008), Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) and the James Bond films. This analysis develops a modal approach to cinematic realism where ontology is irrelevant to indexicality. His analysis shows the continuity between historical analogue film and contemporary digital motion pictures by developing a framework for rethinking how realism shapes interpretation.
This book contains three sections where each chapter develops a theoretical investigation of cinematic realism using a title sequence as the prime example, chosen for its utility as a case study: the analysis proceeds via an extended close reading that connects these expressions of a subjective or objective order to the historical questions of cinematic ontology and photographic indexicality. They are not chronologically arranged; this analysis does not argue for a directed, teleological progression, nor propose a final answer to the problematics of realism in motion graphics, offering instead an analysis of the shifting semantics of indexicality, its claimed relationship to ‘the real,’ and the distinct interpretive modes this claim creates. The issue of cinematic ontology, raised by André Bazin’s arguments about cinema, haunt this analysis, continually returning in the relationship of artifice to index; however, questions about which claims are valid descriptions of ‘the real,’ and what is the “true” ontology of either analogue or digital images is not of concern to this discussion of how motion graphics deploys indexical claims to expressing/presenting a link with reality. What matters is the claim itself, not whether that claimed link to ‘the real’ is correct, appropriate, or defensible: it is an issue of encultured meaning, the articulation of the relationship to ‘the real,’ and the consequences of its enunciation on the modal presentation. Abandoning Bazin’s proposal of photographic ontology as articulating realism enables the continuity between analogue and digital motion pictures to become obvious. This modal approach to ‘cinematic realism’ is an en passant alternative to historical, ontological claims for indexicality, offering in their place a modal engagement where the Modernist concern with “purity”—the essential nature of the image—is tangential (if not entirely irrelevant) to cinematic indexicality and realism.
The designs chosen for discussion play a discursive role. Their selection responds to the particular need for a clear example of the theoretical issues under consideration: the role of indexicality in developing “subjective” and “objective” modes that identify ‘the real.’ The resulting discussion is divided into three sections: part 1 concerns the elaboration of subjectivity; part 2 addresses the claims of objectivity; and part three is summative, addressing their ideological significance. Jack Cole’s title sequence for the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) begins the analysis in Part 1 because of its self-conscious invocation of the devices used in realist fiction while simultaneously challenging them, giving their role in this design the capacity to serve as an introduction to the issues of indexicality and realism that return throughout the analysis. This title sequence shifts from “objective realism” to “subjective illustration” by undermining the photographic indexicality common to commercial and avant-garde cinemas in the 1960s—thus producing its famous uncanny affect. The difference between the understanding of “uncanny” in the ‘realist fiction’ of Cole’s design and the ‘metaphysical reality’ that appears in the titles for The Number 23 by Peter Frankfurt (2007) distinguishes the subjective articulations of stylization from the more familiar objective articulations of naturalism. This role for indexicality separates Frankfurt’s subjective design from the dynamics of audience identification that constrain the ‘unreal fantasy’ portrayed on-screen in the subjective allegory of sex shown in Robert Brownjohn’s title design for Goldfinger (1964). His design separates the indexical claim of being-factual in The Number 23 from the artificial claim of being-fictional through an ambivalent articulation of desire as subject and meaning. Part 2 explores how the separation of “subjective” and “objective” presentations allows for a clear distinction between documentary and fictional claims, a separation the audience makes easily, but which confounds ontological approaches to photographic indexicality. Digital media develop the separation of “subjective” and “objective” that emerge in motion graphics as an extension of how “objective” presentations converge on historical cinematic realism: Pablo Ferro’s fusion of title credits with montage in the ‘realist fiction’ of Bullitt (1968) distinguishes the narrative emphasis of Giles Deleuze’s analysis by marking the difference between the ‘reading-image’ and the implication of causality imposed by traditional continuity editing. This same objectivity follows a more familiar development in documentary realism in which the historical testimony presented by the collage of animation, typography, and archival photo illustrations in Stephan Burle’s opening design for The Kingdom (2007) separates objective realism from its correlation in photography. This self-contained documentary on United Stated/Saudi Arabian relations demonstrates the dependence of the ‘documentary effect’ on the audience’s past experiences. In direct contrast to the ‘objective realism’ in Bullitt and The Kingdom is the paradoxical ‘material function’ clearly on display in Danny Yount’s title sequence for Blade Runner: 2049 (2017). These role of technical failures (glitches) in this design create a confusion between their indexical role as symptoms of a digital breakdown of the image, and their symbolic role as representations. While some of these objective title sequences are narrative, integrated with the story-telling’s elaboration of cause-effect, others are more concerned with how audiences relate the depiction they see on-screen to their own lived experiences, a response that highlights the ‘event’ nature of cinema: the mediation presented on-screen energizes the direct connection of depiction and depicted in ways that appear to turn the mediated denotation of a thing into that thing in itself, making it present for the audience, but mimesis is not a given. Part 3 articulates conclusions about these four realist modes. The two indexical modes ‘documentary reality,’ and ‘metaphysical reality’ entail a distinction that is more clearly marked in the two artificial modes, ‘realist fiction’ and ‘unreal fantasy.’ All four modes deny any ontological assumptions about the imagery on-screen, countering the pervasive historical belief that photographic images are necessarily linked to reality. This limited group of designs allow a deeper consideration of how these dynamics inform the cinematic realism of motion graphics, and a recognition that the “idealized” spectrum of naturalism::stylization is modulated between indexicality::artificiality. The historical breadth of the six motion graphic designs considered in detail enables an exploration of realist problematics separate from the Modernist aesthetics of “purity,” thus bringing the ideological dimensions of the indexical claim into focus.
Copyright © Michael Betancourt September 2, 2019 all rights reserved.
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