The company Tunecore recently announced a promotion that would facilitate distribution for the independent film community on iTunes – for a fee, of course. It’s not the commercial aspect of this situation that interests me, however, it’s the very idea of distributing big-screen films on mobile devices. In the midst of what’s obviously a fervent rush to claim money-making territory in the industry of new media cinematic content, it seems as though no one is considering the actual size and shape of the screen image. More importantly, no one is really discussing the opportunities that arise to create fresh content rather than just shrink commercial cinema into a smaller package. The prospect of creating content for the mobile device screen seems like a perfect chance for the film and video artist to once again re-imagine the moving image, experimenting with forms ranging from narrative to structural to abstract.
Looking broadly at the situation, one can see a general trend over the past decade toward making and marketing new media—and television—projects more “cinematic”. This is a bit problematic, as the established language of cinema (or narrative cinema) is structured on a scale of communication that is subverted, or at least weakened, by the smaller scale of the personal moving image screen. It seems careless to ignore the impact of scale on visual language when creating content for these mobile devices screens, even for laptop screens or regular televisions. If commercial film content for mobile devices is being produced within the visual parameters of most commercial “cinematic” projects, then it is probably following a language of big-screen movies that is built around compositional and stylistic motifs honed and ingrained over the past five decades as a recognizable method of communication. If existing films are simply being shrunk down to iPhone size, then they absolutely follow this bigger-than-life language. The problem in applying such a particular cinematic vernacular to the small screens of mobile devices is that its fundamental impact is built upon relationships of scale that assume a screen size akin to that of a commercial movie theater. A giant Death Star is not the same as a Death Star the size of my fingernail. An enormous close-up of Klaus Kinski’s face does not carry the same visceral impact as the action-figure sized version. Even watching something inherently not commercially “cinematic”, like a handmade Brakhage film, is completely different on a mobile screen.
Is this size dynamic the reason, besides some sort of drive for social status, that people have always wanted bigger and better televisions? Is there something inherently lacking in the impact of cinematic moving images when processed through the small television or laptop screen? If so, what can be done to create content specifically for the small screen explosion, for these mobile and personal devices, that actually plays TO the scale of the interface?
I would contend that a possible solution is not, as some would argue, about interactivity, but about creating content that work with a small scale and employs a symbology of the personal. The scale of traditional cinematic language is based on something more than a personal viewpoint – something embodied, but also bigger than life and universal. The ontology of the personal screen device calls out for another language of visual representation, something small, something intimate. A language that connects with and refers to a culture of personal media identities and image-based communications, and certainly a language that takes into account the subversion of established narrative forms and temporal storytelling. Does that just mean amateur video and diarist recordings? Not really—controlled, stylized, creative content for personal screen devices would still fill a role that YouTube-style videos cannot. It would continue in the tradition of experimental film and video as a testing ground for new forms of perception and visual communication; concepts with inherently limited growth space in the YouTube structure, as most of those videos are inherently rooted in superficiality and created to be seen by way of spectacle and social exposure.
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