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Towards the feminine sublime, or the story of ‘a twinkling monad, shape-shifting across dimension’: intermediality, fantasy and special effects in cyberpunk film and animation

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Intermediality and special effects (FX) enjoyed a privileged status in the science fiction 'cinema of attractions' in the 1990s. Intermediality designates the interactions, mutual refashioning or remediation, and the conceptual fusions occurring between various media in a given cultural production or between several media elements, forms and techniques in a single medium. This article examines the transfers, transformations and fusions between analogue (photographic-based) cinema, photography, 2-D animation, computer animation and digital cinema in two cyberpunk films: Oshii Mamoru's Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku kidotai, 1995) and Larry and Andy Wachowski's The Matrix (1999). My analysis also explores the gender fantasies and peculiar transitional imagination generated by special effects in the two films. A careful examination of intermedial processes in Ghost in the Shell reveals that its reinvention of cyberpunk, and of analogue and new media produces a new paradigm for the history of cinema that reinstates animation as the pivotal structural dynamics, unconscious and conceptual architecture of cinema. The Matrix rewrites the history of cinema as the story of FX technologies, and of the fantasies constitutive of, or made possible by, special effects techniques. What might be called the fantasy of the feminine sublime in Ghost in the Shell allows the film to redefine female creativity as the central libidinal, technological and aesthetic drive in twentieth-century visual culture. The fantasy of the tesseract (a four-dimensional geometric figure that came to be regarded as the structural operating principle of cinema, animation and the digital morph) is enlisted in Oshii's anime to express animation's longing for the fourth dimension. In The Matrix the subversive potential of this fantastic figure serves mainly to articulate the crisis of analogue cinema in a period of transition to computer culture.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 2002

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