Digital technology is allowing cinema to capture the human form with unprecedented clarity. In the era of Facebook, face films are astonishingby Mark Cousins / January 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Right from the earliest days of the movies, audiences must have felt like shouting, “Look how much I can see!” The phrase, and its exclamation mark, express the pleasure of discovering new categories of visual experience in cinema: moving-image travelogues of camels at the pyramids or Tsarist splendour in Russia in the late 1890s; close-ups of the luminous faces of something called a movie star in the late 1910s; the sweeping Technicolor fantasies of the 1930s; the “liquid metal” computer-generated effects of Terminator 2 in the early 1990s. The cinema image began as a pale, fuzzy, flickering, monochrome imitation of the brilliance of human sight, and has been marching ever since towards rendering such visual detail on screen.
In recent years, thanks to digital technology, that march has speeded up to the extent that I now want to shout “Look how much I can see!” at least once a year. Today’s shooting and projection technologies have an unprecedented power of visual mimesis. Perhaps speeding cinema will never match the neuro-retinal complexities of actually witnessing an event, but it is getting close.