Patterns and Recurrence

The question that I keep coming back to when I think about Walter Benjamin, reproduction versus replication and new digital media, is what makes analogue film special? This is a personal question as much as a general one. Despite being very happy to shoot on digital most of the time, I still feel a strong attachment to celluloid, but I don’t fully understand why. In trying to understand what separates these two mediums, I’m trying to answer this question on a personal level as much as on a wider scale.

I’ve already theorized about why analogue film exerts such a strong grip over filmmakers and audiences. I wonder if it might derive from our understanding of celluloid’s fixed lifespan when compared to digital’s perceived immortality. In that same post I also questioned whether it relates to the limited supply of analogue vs. the limitless supply of digital and the perception that a rarer object has a higher value. I also wondered if it relates to filmmakers’ fears of the way in which digital technology can hide their art, leading to audience apathy for the business of filmmaking. Or is it more that they fear the democratization of their art as suggested by Walter Benjamin?

I’ve  also been thinking about how the obviousness of the flaws in analogue technology force our minds to fill in the blanks, linking it to memory, nostalgia and mythology. These unseen moments and the ability to create our own interpretation of what happens in them seem to be a fundamental part of what (consciously or not) attracts people to analogue technology. It gives us an opportunity to have a personal relationship with that technology and the art which its used to create. It also gives us a chance to see patterns which may or may not be there.

Looking at all of this together, I realize that the crucial point which I want to delve deeper into is the human desire and need to see patterns in every aspect of our lives. Analogue film fulfils this need in two separate strands. Audiences become accustomed to the aberrations inherent in analogue technology (like flicker) and develop a fondness for the look of celluloid, finding comfort in the repeated patterns of its specific visual style. Even though the audience may not be aware of this preference, its effects can be seen in the artificial addition of analogue aberrations to digitally captured film. The classic example is the industry standard frame rate of 24 fps which is no longer technologically necessary for digital cameras. Audience rejection of higher frame rates hints at this subconscious need for the familiar patterns of analogue film.

But this need for pattern isn’t limited to the superficial flaws of analogue technology, it also links to the need of humans to feel special and to find meaning where there might be none. The ability analogue film gives an audience to fill in the blanks and to make our own interpretations of what we see gives us the chance to find these meanings and identify patterns in them (whether or not they are really there).

So, all of this is a roundabout way of me trying to get to the point of the next stage of my research; how humans see and create patterns in everyday life, and how these real or imaginary patterns affect our behaviour. I want to dive into the physical patterns of architecture and movement, but also the psychological and social patterns of religion, magic, justice and art.




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