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Volume 5 Issue 05 | May 2011



Original Forum

Readers' Forum

Press Freedom: Still a Far Cry
--AJM Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan
Repressing the Press in Pakistan --Iqbal Khattak
Of Elusive Freedoms
--Somnath Batabyal
Bangladesh Cinema:
Decaying…or Rebirthing?

--Zakir Hossain Raju
The Power of Television
--Jyoti Rahman
Female Directors, Female Gaze:
The Search for Female Subjectivity in Film

--Rubaiyat Hossain
A Photo Feature:
Unsung Heroes of the Night
Cinema as the Work of Art in the
Age of Digital Reproduction

--Fahmidul Haq

Contemplating Media Freedom
--G.M. Shahidul Alam

Of Democracy and Media Freedom
--Mubashar Hasan

'Equal Property Right':
Much Ado about Nothing

--Kaberi Gayen

Our Migrant Workers:
Hands that Feed the Country

--Ziauddin Choudhury
Righting Past Wrongs
--Kartick Chandra Mandal


Forum Home

Cinema as the Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Digital developments can boost the local cine scenario, suggests FAHMIDUL HAQ.

Benjamin, Aura and Digital Reproduction
In his ground breaking article entitled 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' Walter Benjamin (Benjamin, 1936) depicted how mechanical reproduction has changed the nature of production and consumption of art work. The most important thing is that the work of art has lost its aura. Aura is indicative of art's traditional association with primitive, feudal, or bourgeois structures of power. For the case of painting, there is always an original one, hanging in a museum or in the house of an elite person. One's claim of seeing Monalisa is not complete until he or she goes to the Louvre and sees the original work of art. But in the case of press, photography or film, one cannot differentiate between the copied one and the master. In the age of reproduction, the work of art loses the aura of originality. Benjamin (Benjamin, 1936) says the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. Even the printed copy of Monalisa can be found in front of the Louvre which contributes, to some extent, to the loss of aura. According to Robert Kolker (Kolker, 1999), Benjamin, unlike most of his Frankfurt School associates, did not look at this loss of aura with alarm. Rather, he thought about the growth of popular culture as something to be understood not as an oppressive reality, but as a potentially liberating one. The mechanical reproduction system could democratis e art. One who has a still camera can be a creator of a work of art.

Robert Kolker says nothing is so entirely without aura as digital (Kolker 1999: 71). There is no distinction now between 'original' and 'reproduction' in virtually any medium based in film, electronics or telecommunications. Douglas Davis (Davis, undated) says the fictions of 'master' and 'copy' are now so entwined with each other that it is impossible to say where one begins and the other ends, resembling lovers folded together in ecstasy. Any video, audio, or photographic work of art can be endlessly reproduced, without degradation, always the same and always perfect. Digital bytes, with the presence or absence of signals (1 or 0), have created the option of enormous numbers of replication with the same quality of the primary creation. A digital file can be copied from one disk to another storage device and can be released or uploaded in the Internet.

Walter Benjamin says:
The contemporary decay of the aura rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction (Benjamin, 1936).

Benjamin mentions 'the desire of contemporary masses to bring things closer spatially and humanly', and this desire works in the same way among new and young filmmakers of Bangladesh and other Third World countries to make films from a mass level. The digital film offers making diversified patterns of films -- short or full length, feature or documentary or animation, shot in HDV or on mobile phone, distributed in mainstream theatres or as flash streams on the internet.

Though Benjamin mentioned film as a mode of mechanical reproduction, 35mm film had a certain aura. Especially the production management, huge expense and business and projection state of 35 mm film had the impression of a gigantic task. Anybody who wanted to be a filmmaker, saw its gigantic impression as a hindrance. But the digital film has come to lessen the aura of film. It has created an opportunity for everybody to be a filmmaker. Benjamin's implied idea of welcoming democratisation of art medium has appeared in a truer sense. Not only the production expense or easy management, even the size of digital camera is much smaller than a 35mm camera.

The debate is still going on over whether digital video camera can achieve the quality and aesthetics as of 35mm film. Several directors -- including James Cameron, David Fincher, George Lucas, David Lynch, Robert Rodriguez and Lars von Trier -- have claimed that celluloid film is dead and that future filmmaking will be an all-digital medium. Yet other directors -- including Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino -- have said that they will continue to shoot on film (Barsam, 2007: 368). But the advent of HD (High Definition) or HDV (High-end Digital Video) camera have reached the quality of 35 mm film. Moreover, digital filmmaking offers the option of less expense and time, easy management and more creative control of the director over his/her film. Throughout the world, shooting film in digital format is gaining increasing popularity among makers who want to represent the reality in the film instead of entertainment.

According to Xeni Jardin (Jardin, 2005 cited in Barsam, 2007: 369), digital filmmaking has some advantages in comparison with 35 mm film -- aesthetic and cost advantages.

Holly Willis says, countless pessimists have bemoaned the passing of 'real' film, while as many champions of digital video had heralded the advent of a new democratised form of filmmaking, one that will release us from the tyranny of the Hollywood film industry and the pitfall of the massive consolidation of media within a few transnational corporations (Willis, 2005: 1).The democratic nature of digital film allows more people to be filmmakers. This is especially important in a country like Bangladesh where many talented people want to make films, but the high cost of 35 mm film does not permit it. The low cost and easy management of digital cinema offer new makers a way to start making film and thus changes the cine-scenario of the country.

In big studios, digital cinema is the vehicle of making movies more spectacular and glossy, but in the Third World countries it is considered the new medium for new cinema. This study tends to investigate the potential, trends and problems of digital cinema of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh it remains in its primary phase, however, new filmmakers are proponents of digital cinema. Some senior independent filmmakers have also engaged themselves in making cinema in digital format while some mainstream filmmakers are also showing interest making film in this format.

Bangladesh perspectives
Digital cinema of Bangladesh is only passing through its primary stage. And at this stage, the term 'digital cinema' has become two glamorous words in the cine-scenario of Bangladesh. But the term has created a lot of misnomers at the same time. The technological phenomenon sometimes has been described with wrong interpretations. Even the telefilms broadcast on television channels are sometimes called digital cinema or video fiction as some young makers, many of them from film society background and who dream of making 35 mm films, have tried to apply their film sense in their television productions. Again, the fashionable term is tagged with some ordinary productions made for television channels to enhance credit. Some productions are made in DV camera and transferred into 35 mm. Some productions are shot and edited in digital technology, not sold to television channels, but are never released in mainstream theatres. Others were shot and edited in digital technologies, released in mainstream theatres but not exhibited through professional digital technology. All these productions are called digital cinema in the context of Bangladesh.

Digital technology inspired the digital generation to make films. The government's decision to recognise digital cinema in 2010 has inspired more. The young people of the new generation are well oriented with digital technology. They have grown up digitally -- mobile phones, computers, Facebook. They are living in a visual world -- from billboards on the street to the computer screen at home. So they want to create visual image -- they want to be filmmakers. And the gap between the dream and reality is not very big, with many young people already having started their productions. They reveal their plans of making films on Facebook and on blogs, they collect cast and crew from the online community, they update their production process, release promos on YouTube and invite online friends to see the movie after release. These are going to be really all-digital productions -- pre-production, production, post-production, promotion -- everything is done digitally and with the help of online. If it is a very short film, it is released on YouTube for free. The director needs only the appreciation and criticism from his/her online friends.

The major problem of digital cinema in Bangladesh is its distribution and exhibition. Digital cinema can be distributed and projected in several ways. One is direct projection from the digitally enabled projectors from a hard drive or from similar other external drive. The other distribution systems are satellite systems, terrestrial broadband and the Internet. There is no ideal digitally enabled theatre in Bangladesh for direct projection, not even satellite, terrestrial broadband or the Internet systems for distributing digital cinema. Because of the absence of professional distribution channel and exhibition system, Tareque Masud transferred his digitally made film Ontorjatra (2006) into 35 mm. He went for non-theatrical alternative distribution with the help of film societies throughout the country for his next project, Runway (2010). Tokon Thaakoor made his film Blackout 2006 and has been waiting for five years for its professional release. Morshedul Islam exhibited his film Priotomeshu through an advanced multimedia projector 5000 Lumen. Nurul Alam Atique had to sell his film Dubshatar (2010) to Impress Telefilm because of absence of digitally enabled projection systems. Apekkha (2011) by Abu Sayeed was shown in mainstream theatres with the help of advanced multimedia technology.

However, projector rental is not a professional approach. Bangladesh needs digitally enabled professional cine theatres. This can be done in two ways -- one, digitising the existing theatres, two, establishing new theatres. The problem is, who will do it. The government can develop a digital cine theatre network. This can also be done by entrepreneurs. But until now, there is no sign of that. If the digitally enabled exhibiting theatres cannot be developed, the potentials of digital cinema, the expectations from new cinema will not materialise. Some other non-professional exhibitions, such as exhibition by the rented multimedia projector will be abandoned by the audience. Most of the audience has left the cine theatres decades ago. They prefer to watch movies at home on DVD players or on television. In the cinema hall, if they get the same image and sound as they watch at home, they will reject the so-called digital film. Audience want to see film in theatres, unconcerned about its format. So the projection system has to be improved in terms of in-depth image, surround sound in a comfortable theatre environment. But the utmost precondition is the quality of film. If the digital infrastructure is developed and a good number of quality films are produced every year, then digital cinema can bring a positive change in the declining cine scenario of Bangladesh.

Benjamin, W. (2008, originally 1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Badmington, N. and Thomas, J. (ed.). The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, p. 34-56. Oxon: Routledge.
Kolker Robert. (1999). Film Form and Culture. Boston: McGraw-Hill College.
Davis, D. (undated). 'The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995'. http://cristine.org/borders/Davis_ Essay.html, undated, accessed on 30 April, 2010.
Barsam, R. (2007). Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film (2nd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Allen, M. (2003). Contemporary US Cinema. Harlow: Longman.
Willis, H. (2005). New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image. London: Wallflower Press.

Dr. Fahmidul Haq is Associate Professor at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.

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