Guest editor's introduction: genealogical and archaeological approaches to 3-D.
The tendency to approach 3-D film as a novelty used to draw audiences to the cinema with the promise of an unfamiliar (if not entirely new) optical experience has led to 3-D's peculiar historicization: the history of 3-D is constructed as a series of short-lived, unsustainable "crazes" that mark the decline and rise of the film industry and its profitability. From this perspective, 3-D's rise is no more than a sign of an industry in crisis. However, 3-D's recent resurgence has not been limited to movie screens; rather, it has migrated across a broad range of platforms and media, including television, smart phones, photography, tablets, video games, and live theatrical performances. The fact that production companies have profitably exploited this migration makes the "competition" argument increasingly untenable. As Elsaesser points out, the film industry now makes much of its profits from DVD sales (and, we can add here, 3-D Blu-ray sales) and therefore cannot be thought of as competing against itself (221). The migration of 3-D across a range of platforms and technologies also reminds us that cinema has always been one amongst a broad range of media and optical devices to exploit the visual pleasures, profitability, and aesthetic possibilities of 3-D. The essays in this collection remind us that the origins of 3-D cinema's technologies, mode(s) of address, and aesthetics are heterogeneous and cannot be reduced to a single industrial explanation. Moreover, they make clear that the qualities often associated with the most recent "wave" of 3-D cinema (including enhanced realism, immersiveness/spatial depth, emergence effects, tactility, temporal depth, and the disappearance of the frame) along with the affective and sensorial effects they seek to produce (such as shock, belief, and an enhanced sense of presence) themselves have a long and varied history. This history, in turn, has played out across different practices and technologies that emerged from and responded to a broad range of aesthetic traditions, cultural contexts, industrial changes, and economic pressures. To help trace the various lines of these complex histories, the essays in this special issue take genealogical and archaeological approaches to the analysis of 3-D cinema and media and make connections between a range of past and contemporary uses of 3-D. They approach the resurgence of 3-D in the cinema, photography, art exhibits, and live performances through questions of spectatorship, industry history and practice, the status of the screen, realism, and the history of special effects. They link current uses of 3-D technologies to various historical precursors, including medieval religious relics and art, the stereoscope, late nineteenth-century motion studies, Pepper's Ghost, high-frame rate filming, genre, and the phenomenon of franchise filmmaking. Throughout, they make compelling connections between old and new media, visual cultures, and technologies. They demonstrate that those aspects of digital 3-D that seem entirely new are often, in fact, quite old--even as they pay attention to the pleasures and purpose(s) of older 3-D technologies and media when they were new.
In her essay, "Old Tropes in New Dimensions: Stereoscopy and Franchise Spectatorship," Caetlin Benson-Allott argues that directors of recent franchise horror films have exploited 3-D in order to offer spectators a new mode of identification not just with individual films, but with the very seriality of the ongoing franchise. Focusing on Friday the 13th 3D (1982), Benson-Allott shows how the film uses its self-reflexive set pieces and stereoscopic gestures to engage the spectator as a "franchise connoisseur" an expert viewer who derives pleasure from the movie's performance of its own rules and conventions. By demonstrating how recent sequels like The Final Destination (2009) and Final Destination 5 (2011) have also turned to emergence effects to reengage viewers as connoisseurs of their meta-cinematic franchise, Benson-Allott demonstrates the centrality of this mode of address to the (industrial) life of the horror franchise and, moreover, how opportunistic emergence effects "expose the unique politics and praxis of franchise spectatorship."
Julie Turnock's article, "Removing the Pane of Glass: The Hobbit, 3-D High Frame Rate Filmmaking, and the Rhetoric of Digital Convergence," provides a historical analysis of high frame rate filmmaking (HFR) as a special effect technique that has been used most recently by the industry as one of several promotional strategies for both enhancing the experience of 3-D and mitigating viewer skepticism that this experience is worth the higher ticket prices charged to see a film in this format. She shows how the use of HFR in recent films such as The Hobbit (2012) has troubled common-sense notions about realism in the cinema, sparking debates around the degree to which CGI technology should strive for a more "unfiltered" realism--whether such realism is characterized as greater perceptual realism or as less evident mediation. "In the industry-wide changeover to digital capture and projection," she argues, "high frame rate filmmaking provides a surprisingly revealing and contradictory discussion on what an aesthetic of contemporary cinema, and especially a still emerging digital aesthetic, should be, especially in comparison to other moving image media."
Alison Griffiths' article, "Sensual Vision: 3-D, Medieval Art, and the Cinematic Imaginary," traces the contemporary 3-D experience to previous art works and modes of viewing/spectatorship and makes use of medieval visual theory and neuroesthetics in order to explain our ongoing fascination with the sensorial plentitude of 3-D. Griffiths analyzes the power ascribed to images in both our contemporary context and the Medieval era, and shows how such power is connected to the idea of the screen (in the case of cinema) as a permeable membrane. Griffiths links 3-D as embellishment to medieval image-making as adornment, and goes one to analyze the correspondences between the tactile quality of 3-D cinema and medieval art, both of which based their spectatorial pleasures on the promise of a multi-sensory encounter that invokes the sense of tactility and prompts viewers to reach out and "touch" the image/object on display. In this way, Griffiths demonstrates how medieval religious art, "like the return of the repressed, has come back to haunt blockbuster cinema ..." Griffiths' analysis of a commercial for the Fujifilm FinePix 3-D camera makes persuasive connections between the pre-modern and contemporary media landscape and helps bring into relief "some of the enduring tropes found in cross-platform 3-D representation."
Katharina Loew's article, "Tangible Specters: 3-D Cinema in the 1910s," provides a fascinating historical analysis of "Pepper's Ghost," the pseudo-binocular process for producing 3-D effects in the absence of a visible screen. Initially used in nineteenth-century theater, phantasmagoria, and magic lantern shows, this process has more recently been used to create spectacular appearances, disappearances, transformations, and multiplications in contemporary live performances, such as the Musion Eyeliner "resurrection" of Tupac Shakur at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Loew traces the various uses of Pepper's Ghost in the first decades of the twentieth century, including Oskar Messter's three-dimensional sound films (called "Alabastra") and Karl Juhasz and Franz Haushofer's "Kinoplastikon." Throughout, Loew discusses both how Pepper's Ghost has historically figured as a response to industrial changes, including overproduction at the end of the 1910s, the rise of the feature-length film in the late teens, and the desire of producers to maintain cinema's variety, attraction-based format. In turn, she distinguishes the aesthetic of this process from 3-D cinema's emergence and immersion effects, and shows how its absence of a visible screen format sought to efface the separation between the moving image and the spectator by negating the apparatus, thereby giving rise to "seemingly tangible encounters with virtual performers in the 'here and now' of the auditorium."
Brooke Belisle's article, "The Dimensional Image: Overlaps in Stereoscopic Cinematic and Digital Depth," utilizes a media-archaeological approach to 3-D. She returns to the stereoscope in order to show how this technology was used to produce temporal "depth" as well as spatial depth for its fascinated viewers. Rather than simply connect stereoscopy to current cinematic articulations of 3-D, Belisle turns to the works of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey to show how, taken together, their motion-study experiments can be seen as functioning like a hinge that connects stereoscopy and photography to cinema. Belisle demonstrates how the hybrid formats of this period simultaneously drew on stereoscopic approaches to spatial and temporal synthesis while anticipating the virtual continuities that the cinema would eventually "delimit and consolidate." However, she notes that if we end this historical investigation with film, we risk overlooking the connections among stereoscopy, motion studies, and other later technologies. She goes on to demonstrate "how the strategies of depth Marey and Muybridge explored and anticipated important ideas regarding space, time, and depth that now appear 'new' as they are rediscovered through digital technologies," particularly in recent uses of "bullet time" and in the work of digital artists such as Camille Utterback and Sergio Prego.
A word on the structure of this special issue. I have organized the articles so that the topics addressed bear historical correspondence to the emergence and depth effects of 3-D. The opening essays by Caetlin Benson-Allott and Julie Turnock address the very recent past, and synthesize questions of spectatorship with industry history, realism, and (in the case of Benson-Allott), emergence effects. The final two essays by Katharina Loew and Brooke Belisle immerse us in the historical past using media archaeological approaches to the history of 3-D, and analyze and historicize 3-D and stereoscopic technologies that thrived in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in order to make connections between new digital forms of 3-D and their pre-, proto-, and para-cinematic precursors. Connecting these two sections is Alison Griffith's essay, which also uses a media archaeological approach to make connections between the power, promises, and pleasures afforded by contemporary 3-D technologies and medieval forms of visual culture that created depth and emergence effects in the absence of a visible screen (which bears important relation to Loew's analysis of "Pepper's Ghost") while invoking the tangibility and tactility so central to the pleasures of past and present incarnations of 3-D cinema (as both Loew and Caetlin Benson-Allott demonstrate). Each of these essays, then, connects the past with the present in novel ways while at the same time demonstrating the historical significance-and theoretical implications--of the resurgence of 3-D during what is increasingly regarded as the cinema's most recent transitional era.
Elsaesser, Thomas. "The 'Return' of 3-D: On Some of the Logics and Genealogies of the Image in the Twenty-First Century." Critical Inquiry 39, 2 (Winter 2013): 217 246.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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