Academic journal article CineAction

New Media Resistance: Machinima and the Avant-Garde

Academic journal article CineAction

New Media Resistance: Machinima and the Avant-Garde

Article excerpt

"Somewhere between the video game and the CD-ROM there could be another
way of making films...."
--Jean-Luc Godard (1)

It was Jean Cocteau who suggested that the cinema as a pluralistic and egalitarian medium could never come into fruition "until the materials are as cheap as pencil and paper." The string of technological advances in digital video technology and editing software for the personal computer have steadily brought the cost of filmmaking closer to Cocteau's utopian vision and no group has adopted these new technologies with the enthusiasm and resourcefulness as avant-garde filmmakers and video artists. It appeared that the avant-garde was continuing a trajectory towards the use of increasingly affordable tools and means of production during the single-channel video art revolution of the 1970s. Since then however, the possibilities of many new "expanded cinema" technologies has facilitated a movement away from the thrifty art-making tools Cocteau once championed. The latest developments in new media technology do not share the economy that video offered 20 years ago (2). Much of virtual reality, augmented reality and experimental screening spaces are raising the cost of new media works and narrowing the number of people who may use these new tools. These exciting new technologies surely hold promise for the future of experimental cinema, but they have also drawn attention away from cheaper apparatuses more readily available to financially strapped independent artists.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The success of video art, measured by four decades of innovative work, seems in part attributable to the possibility of camcorders getting into the hands of a diverse group of artists. However the focus of the new media movement has ceased to be the democratizing technological forces that were once central to the avant-garde. Was video, as a cheap apparatus for making folk art, abandoned for the more sophisticated, expensive and more intriguing tools of new media? Indeed, part of the fascination with video art as a medium stemmed from the ability of marginalized people to make art works which radically challenged hegemonic visual discourses in new ways (3). Though multi-channel installation works called for enormous allocations of money, single-channel works were an important stream of video art making which offered the most access to (frequently) insolvent artists. It would be fair to say that the video art movement as we know it is predicated in part on its accessibility to people who could not afford to obtain any other cinematic apparatus. The question is, what new technologies will further create spaces for the disenfranchised to be involved in cinematic discourse? I will posit that machinima has such democratizing properties. In this sense, I hope to draw parallels to a younger generation of outsider filmmakers, or folk artists, who are engaging with video game culture much the same way video artists once critiqued television. They have aligned themselves in some unusual ways with the video art/avant-garde film movement in their technological ingenuity and their appropriation of extant mass media images all within the expressly cheap confines of the PC or Video game consul.

The word machinima (ma-SHIN-i-ma) is a contraction of machine and cinema first coined by the "The Strange Company" film collective; a group of gamers devoted to their own unique version of detournement also known as emergent gameplay or metagaming. These terms refer to playing games in ways contrary to the designer's original intentions. Traditional narrative machinima is created by scripting a story, recording game play within a real time 3D environment (either through the POV of an avatar or through a commonly offered in-game camera feature), using actors to create voice-overs and finally editing the game play and voices to reflect the script. Other techniques of machinima making include improvisation or reprogramming (also known as modding) which render scripting, and often voice-over, unnecessary. …

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