Chair: Dr Aidan Power (University College Cork)

Room: G27, O’Rahilly Building (ORB), UCC

 

Eugenie Theuer (Vienna)

ABSTRACT: “And Died to Kiss Its Shadow on the Screen”
The Threat of the Digital in Contemporary Metacinema

Contemporary cinema has been marked by a hitherto unseen proliferation of metafilms. Since the medium’s centenary in 1995, we have witnessed the release of a plethora of films like The Truman Show (1999), Adaptation (2002), The Artist (2011), and The Cabin in the Woods (2012), which, to a lesser or greater extent, flaunt their own nature as cinematic constructs and reflect on some aspect related to the motion picture medium and institution.

This research paper, which is based on a doctoral research project analysing the metareferential turn in contemporary cinema, argues that the current trend towards metareferential film can be traced to a sense of cinema being in crisis and even facing its impending death in the wake of the digital revolution. This crisis has elicited a variety of metareferential responses, which range from shedding critical light on cinema’s deficiencies over celebrating its capacities and milestones to considering alternative ways of filmmaking.

The paper will focus on recent metafilms that thematize the threat that digital technology poses to cinema, as well as the threat that digital cinema poses to society. It will explore how films such as Strange Days, Wag the Dog, and The Congress contribute to a cultural conception of digital film as sterile, cold and fake, highlighting its dangerous potential for deceiving the viewer. The analysis will further consider the ambivalent stance that these metafilms ultimately take towards the digital conversion of cinema by coupling their cyberphobic narratives, which invoke a nostalgia for the material and for analogue cinema in particular, with an extensive use of special effects based on the most advanced digital technologies.

Bruno Surace: (Turin)

ABSTRACT: Forever Dying
film and the aesthetics of the coma

Film is always metafilm, looking inwards at itself, addressing a time which is no longer. Manifest proof of this thesis can certainly be found in all that constitutes postmodern cinema, from Tarantino to Lynch, but also holds true for modern, classic and even the original silent cinema. Every film expresses itself by reflecting on its own linguistic and narrative nature: is Godard right, when he formalizes the passing away of cinema with Adieu au langage, or  Resnais (neither of these names has been cited randomly) when, always post-2000, he says Vous n’avez encore rien vu? Film has always been in its death throes; death as tension is intrinsic to it in that it is a primeval condition of existence. We are talking about a factual, material death, since the history of the cinema is full of “dead” films, buried under the rubble of time, but also an incorporeal death, which every film faces when, first being shot and then watched, it sees its evocative aura progressively fade, to the point of oblivion. These conditions would appear to be connected. The death of the film occurs when it is at its height, when it reveals the mechanisims of deception through the very act of trying to conceal them, offering resistance against itself, and therefore constructing a peculiar aesthetics which we could , cynically, define as the aesthetics of the coma (life in death, death in life). Moreover, apropos of the dead films mentioned above, it is interesting to consider how the cinema not only reaps its victims but also, unexpectedly, resuscitates them. Entire cinematographic currents, for many destined until recently to being forgotten, at a certain point and with a certain ‘buzz’  become cult phenomena, like the Italian comic-erotic cinema of the Seventies: where does the bridge lie here between sociology and semio-aesthetics? The purpose of my paper is thus to lay the foundations for an aesthetics of the coma as a natural condition of film, starting from an “enhanced” conceptualization of metacinema that embraces not only those films which are dead or resuscitated, but more than anything takes into account the majority: those films which are – forever – dying.

Ciarán Kavanagh (University College Cork)

ABSTRACT: For Whom does the Bell Toll?
Science Fiction, Cinema, and Spectacle

“[Science Fiction] is dying; but then SF has always been dying, it has been dying from the very moment of its constitution.
Birth and death become transposable”
(Roger Luckhurst)

In “The Many Deaths of Science Fiction”, Roger Luckhurst symphonises several decades of death knells – peals (or appeals) declaring the passing of the genre. Arranged together, they do not, however, ring in harmony – the various and contradictory criteria used to adjudge the genre’s ostensible death proving discordant. More interesting than each individual case is the anxiety that presides over all, a similar anxiety that results, perhaps, in the comparable century-long proclamations of cinema’s death. But what does the metaphor of death mean, exactly? What does describing a genre, a medium, or a form as dead actually imply?

In this paper, I take such proclamations of death as announcements not of simple death, but rather of apotheosis: death not meaning termination of existence, but a termination of ‘unique’ existence – a transcendence. In the case of science fiction, this translates to the genre’s distinction from the mainstream, its existence as a discrete genre; in the case of cinema, its (apparent) failure to progress artistically, to distinguish itself as a unique form with unique capabilities in an age supersaturated with unfilmic film.

This paper examines the parallel cultural trend of the death knell by examining how science fiction functions, as a genre, in film. Of particular focus are the distinct differences between the genre’s manifestations in text and on screen, particularly visible in adaptations (such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). It proposes a link between cinema’s power of spectacle and the tendency of the genre to move towards Myth in its filmic manifestations, and finally suggests how this phenomenon may be used as a prism by which the wider question of whether #CINEMAISDEAD may be refracted.

Joseph Jenner (King’s College London)

ABSTRACT: A palimpsest of cinematic realities
posthuman experience and Under the Skin (2013)

In Under the Skin (2013) Jonathan Glazer mobilises a variety of cinematic ontologies to create a multifaceted experience of cinematic reality, one that exceeds the spectator’s ability to anthropomorphise the film experience. Glazer’s film destabilises the relationship between nonhuman and human consciousness, creating what I shall term, after Cary Wolfe, a “posthuman awareness” of the fluid and enlarged nature of material reality.  Across the one hour and forty three minutes of the film, the blending of documentary-style hidden cameras, hand-held shots of Glasgow central, sweeping vistas of the Scottish landscape, as well as the use of visual and special effects used in the black spaces of the ‘alien void’, attune the spectator to a variety of different cinematic ontologies that interact with one another. Glazer’s film does not allow the spectator to take any particular cinematic reality for granted.

The alien void scenes take place on blank screens that have specific postmodern connotations of loss of originality, the unlimited possibility of recreation and representation, and a flattening of ontology between subject and object. Take, for example, the early virtual reality special effects in science fiction film’s such as Tron (1982) and the ‘construct’ spaces of The Matrix (1999).  Yet in Under the Skin, the lived-in candour of bodies placed within or against the blank screen offer a depth that resists their ontological reduction to the technological mediation of postmodern ideology. The smears of faeces, erect penises, and facial tumours of a man with neurofibromatosis share the same space as the star image and denuded form of Johansson. Paying close attention to film form, in this paper I shall argue that what Under the Skin offers, then, is not the infinite recreation of simulated forms, as in Tron and The Matrix, but the embrace of multiple types of embodiment that treats all matter as equal.