Video Remix: Cinema/Interface/Translation

Cinema/Interface/Translation from Jacob Bohrod on Vimeo.

Password: iml501

Laura Mulvey’s “Passing Time” (Critical Cinema, 2011) codified a lot of my disjointed ideas regarding cinema and medium. It reified for me some of the key take-aways from Jean-Louis Baudry’s “apparatus theory” (not surprising, as Laura Mulvey was one of the principal shapers of this once-popular notion), particularly when he posits that there may never have been a first invention of the cinema. I think Baudry is prescient when saying this, forecasting the “transmedia” moment of today, and Mulvey’s chapter picks out the political implications of a media that was never born and thus can never die. Her final sentence: “If cinema may now be turned back on itself, into means of looking backwards at history, at the cultures of modernity, the new life offered to old cinema by new technologies paradoxically maintains its presence within this threshold period of transition and uncertainty.” Mulvey’s time travel metaphor imagines cinema as timeless, or perhaps the true-time, a time that is less a concrete phenomenon than a space of cultural, technological, and political movement. To a certain extent Alexander Galloway writes the same thing about the computer interface, but he uses a different metaphor: translation. Although his label varies (of course he prefers “effect”), I think the meaning stays the same. “…[A]n interface is not a thing,” he writes, “an interface is always an effect. It is always a process or a translation.” I don’t think I’m reading too far into this statement when I say Galloway uses “translation” in the same way Mulvey uses “time.”

Cinema/Interface/Translation attempts to conflate these two uses. Both speak universally. Mulvey (and Baudry) posits that cinema can be thought of as a universal time, a moment of present-past that signals toward the future. Galloway submits that the interface is perhaps less a language than a translation, what for Benjamin could be described as an act of universalization (even if the universal is and will always be impossible). The relationship might read like this: Cinema:Time::Interface:Translation. But really they are describing the same thing, “being on the boundary” or the “presence within this threshold” – a transformational process that bridges past and present, language and meaning, art and politics. They are concerned with media as gateway and are conceiving of our interactions with media as fertile moments of intersubjective and cosmic understanding. My video only dissects a portion of this difficult concept, using linguistic translation as a bridging metaphor between cinema and interface. It depicts Antonio Banderas’s character from The 13thWarrior slowly learning languages foreign to him (real: Russian, Norse; and fictional: Elvish, etc.), and in the process of doing so he (as well as the viewer) also learns the “language” of cinema, or the type of translative power it wields. But the cinema has also been “reset” – reordered and remystified as the interface, my example of which being video games. The gibberish languages of video games mimic the real and fantasy languages of cinema, but our process of understanding remains uncannily similar. This isn’t to say that video games and film are the same or produce the same kind of understanding, but that as visual media they both embody the tool of translation, materializing the site of difference and thus exposing us to it. I argue, along with these authors, that this can be an enlightening experience, or rather that it is always an enlightening experience whether we recognize it or not.


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