Post-Conference Report of Transformations I: Cinema & Media Studies Research Meets Digital Humanities Tools

Cinema & Media Studies Research Meets Digital Humanities Tools gives the leaders of media studies a chance to get together and discuss the transformations and the future of this field. The conference is wide-ranging, with couples of speakers and a great number of significative topics. Most of them specifically focus on the influence of digital humanities on reinterpreting film and film history, refining the research methods, and reconstructing the teaching system. Among all the panels, I feel the Deb Verhoeven’s “Big Data Goes to the Movies: Beyond the Itinerary” and Debashree Mukherjee’s “Maps, Microhistories and Macroanalysis: Digital Futures of Indian Film Historiography” interest me most.

Putting forward the term of “kinomatics”, which means the study of the geometry of motion, Verhoeven tries to explore the movement pattern of certain genres in a given area. In order to make sure everyone can get the key points that were addressed, she mainly takes the “Greek Cinema in Melbourne” as an example to evaluate the relationship between venue operators in Australia, Greek film production companies, and the particular configuration of Greek film diffusion in Australia. All these movements data across certain regions are finally visualized in the bar graph, circle graph, and more vividly, in tree graph and windmill graph. These charts help her get a lot of interesting discoveries and conclusions. For example, after comparing the ubiety between population and venues for a few years, she finds that the emergency of theaters is not necessarily due to the population centralization. On the contrary, the community’s formation relates closely to the new theaters arising. This instance tells us the truth that several data or chart together may disclose more information, as well as the great influence of film on human beings.

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Image 1.2.3.4: Conference PowerPoint

Mukherjee states her understanding of digital humanities in another perspective. Her speech concerns more about how to collect the data and how to apply the data to film history rather than the data visualization. She makes a rough list of the missing films in Indian film history and emphasizes the importance of digital formats and online archiving. The website “indiancine.ma” is a project by Pad.ma where scholars can remotely gather and annotate their own clips. Among all her in-depth macro analyzes, the application of data grounded on the film subtitles leaves me deep impression. By catching all the English subtitles, scholars can know the frequency of specific words or expressions, and have further research on the distinct style in a definite period or area. What’s more, she also shows the function of catching each frame, and the statistics based on each frame can give scholars a direct view of the primary color, the most frequently used structure, or the various scales.

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Image 5.6: http://indiancine.ma/

Transformation, the core concept of this conference as well as the theme of each panel, reminds me of chapter 8 “Digital Cinema and Film Theory – The Body Digital” in Elsaesser’s book. I agree his argument that “digital cinema” is by no means just the achievement of cinematic effects by digital means. Essentially, transformations include the technical revolution, the category shift, the diversification of viewing experience, and the new applications in teaching. Furthermore, for the film theorists, the inherent connotation of “digital” is probably beyond the object of study, but a research technique, a methodology, which means the theories will arise from the huge database and strictly logical speculation, instead of the ideal observation and supposition as before. In the process of research, collecting the statistics, in turn, contributes its effort in enlarging and enriching the database. In other words, this transformation has the dual benefit: the research becomes more convenient and reasonable with the digital approaches while the digital method takes advantage of various studies to refine itself, to activate the astronomical data.

Reviewing all of their incisive ideas, I remember a data-based research in Chinese cinema study. Peter Rist, the chair of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Concordia University, uses a big data way – ASL (Average Shot Length) – to support his idea that King Hu, a great Chinese director of martial arts, is also a genuinely experimental innovator in the 1960s and 1970s. Through calculating the ASL of King Hu’s films, collecting data of other directors and the international mean ASL of the same period, and comparing the difference between them (in a very similar way to Mukherjee’s research), he not only finds that King Hu’s cutting rate is faster than that of the other notable contemporary director of martial arts film, but also discovers that his ASL is remarkably shorter than the international mean ASL. Based on the analysis of the data, he comes to the conclusion that King Hu’s films have a very complicated but stylistic rhythm created through changes in the meter of editing, as well as other shifts between stasis and action, including those of character and camera movement.

Taking a broader view, we can see that the application of digital humanities tools is not limited to cinema studies. In other media, we can also glimpse the significance of digital humanities. Take television as an example. As Verhoeven said, the spread of a cultural product is affected by various factors of viewers, such as the age, household income, birthplace, proficiency in English, etc. Chinese Spring Festival Gala, which produced by CCTV and has evolved into a new folk-custom, is always lacking an authentic and valid rating data for the research and future production. CSM is the primary data provider now, but it only collects the data based on years and provinces. CSM seems to possess neither a representative and a sufficient number of samples, nor the consciousness of relating present data to socio-demographic factors, where the research value and commercial value mainly exist.

In a word, the digital humanities tools have a cross-cultural and cross-national meaning to the cinema and media studies. We should realize that many countries and fields still need a sufficient emphasis on digital humanities, and there are still plenty of films to archive, plenty of data to record, and plenty of facts to document. We are supposed to collaborate and contribute our share to advancing the development of digital humanities. Only in this way can we enjoy the convenience and reliability brought by the digital technique, with which the academic and commercial circles will welcome a more bright future.

 

Works Cited

Hallam, Julia, and Les Roberts, eds. Locating the moving image: new approaches to film and place. Indiana University Press, 2013.

Mukherjee, Debashree. “Notes on a Scandal: Writing Women’s Film History Against an Absent Archive.” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies1 (2013): 9-30.

Elsaesser, Thomas, and Malte Hagener. Film theory: An introduction through the senses. Routledge, 2015.

Rist, Peter. “King Hu, Experimental, Narrative Filmmaker.” Davis and Chen (ed.), Cinema Taiwan(2007): 161-171.

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