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Open Access Reconfiguring film studies through software cinema and procedural spectatorship

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The increasing use of software and database aesthetics in film and video production has created hybrid modes of spectatorship by altering the dynamic between media production and reception. Software-generated narratives (pre-programmed databases that create films through random selection and combination of discrete audio, visual, and/or textual tracks) remove the viewer from the actual algorithmic process, drawing his/her attention instead on interactions between hardware and software. Here, the element of unpredictability that is part of cinematic pleasure lies in the recombination of discrete elements (audio, visuals, subtitles, and so on) and the unexpected ways in which the software stitches those elements together. The subsequent reduction in the degree and compass of authorial control invites us to reconsider existing frameworks of spectatorship and narration within new contexts of mobility, performance, and databases. In this article I consider Soft Cinema films (Lev Manovich, Andreas Kratky, et al., 2003) as prototypical software-driven examples of this shift in viewing conditions and reception contexts. I argue that, despite its emerging and changing techniques and aesthetics, software-generated cinema retains one of the primitive socio-pedagogical functions of the cinema: training audiences to receive and buffer contemporary medial sensations. Just as early cinema prepared audiences and worked as a buffer for shocks of technological and industrial modernity, software cinema trains the viewer in new modes of film spectatorship and new modes of narrative and affective subjectivity that correspond to the hypertextual ways in which we interact with digital technologies. These viewing modes create a new form of procedural spectatorship that has been evident since the first pioneering experiments in generative cinema and a form that is, nonetheless, not entirely detached from existing theoretical paradigms of cinematic spectatorship and the development of the cinematic medium.
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Keywords: algorithmic authorship; convergence; digital media; expanded cinema; procedural spectatorship; software cinema; variable identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Marina Hassapopoulou holds a PhD in English/Film and Media Studies from the University of Florida. Her academic work mainly focuses on interactive cinema, digital media and participatory culture, installation art, transnational cinema, alternative historiographies, European youth culture, and digital pedagogy.

Publication date: September 1, 2014

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  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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