something introductory: Intermediality vs Multimedia

February 4, 2008

One hundred years ago the modernist tendency thrust itself upon western society through one keen shift in the way the act of creation was approached. Modernist artists discovered the uniqueness of the media in which they worked and exploited those differences in order to define their styles. With the trend of self-criticism, artist such as Pablo Picasso were able to approach three dimensional presentations through a lens that only a painting can recreate, cubism. Music saw composers like Igor Stravinsky who sought to redefine musical composition by experimenting with dissonance and narrative composition. Lastly in literature writers like Virginia Wolff and Franz Kafka used the narrative form of expression itself to aid their narrative styles of storytelling. From an observational point of view cubism and Kafka share very little, but when looking at how both Picasso and Kafka approached their work, they become similar in that they used what makes the medium unique. Medium specificity established the course of art for the twentieth century, paving the way for the convergence of media in the internet age of the twenty-first century.

The modernist course of art has evolved into the contemporary, postmodernist art world of today. Speaking generally, and utilizing postmodernist tendencies, the walls erected by modernism in exploring the specificity of media are being knocked down as the focus of exploration shifts from what is unique to what is shared. New works of art are exploring the relationship between media rather than the characteristics unique to each medium. Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book best emphasizes this new exploration. The film can be described as a visual representation of literature. The film uses literary tools to communicate while also transforming language into a visual art. The premise of the film revolves around a fledgling writer seeking to stake her claim in the publishing world. Frustrated by the rejection from her late father’s publisher, and lover, she seeks to use the publisher’s new lover in order to manipulate the publisher into publishing her work. She manipulates both the publisher and the lover by seducing the lover and using his body to transmit her text to the publisher. Thus the audience is given both a cinematic narrative between the three characters as well as secondary references to this literary narrative being created and distributed via a human body. The film uses, as its language of communication with the audience and with the characters, the written form in multiple languages. This form is presented visually, not aurally, and does not provide translation when presented in a foreign language. Ultimately the text in the film is not presented to be read by the audience but rather to be viewed. The characters, however, see the visual text as literature and seek to own it as quickly as possible. Were a text made cinematic it would not be interpreted for cinema like the multiple adaptations of classical literature currently popular in American cinematography, but rather it would be transformed into the cinematic image. Joy Sisley in an essay on the intermediality of The Pillow Book suggests “that as a radical mediation of writing The Pillow Book not only upsets a conventional separation of word and image as two separate entities and mutually exclusive media, but also figuratively closes the conceptual gap between word and image by reminding us that writing is a visual medium” (Literary Intermediality, 36).[1]  By closing the gap between word and image The Pillow Book skates the line between literature and film. Now it is very apparent as to which side of the line this “film” falls on, but nonetheless there are elements of the film that are more reflective of a literary narrative, such as the lack of any one character describing that which is written on numerous bodies throughout the film. The film’s inspiration is a real book written by Sei Shonagon at the end of the 10th century in imperial Japan. Shonagon’s pillow book was a journal of sorts where she kept detailed lists, comparisons, poetry and various other entries she felt a need to remember. The movie pays homage to this text through paying homage to the literary tradition. By emphasizing the visual aspects of literature, this film acknowledges the intermediality between the two forms of art. The essence of the book is preserved literally through the words on the body, while the film narrative seeks to create a relationship between text and image.

The late 20th century saw an increased focus in this intermediality with the rise of adaptations as well as new original works. It is very easy to brush off adaptations as unoriginal works of art reflective of a financially driven industry, but it is naïve to suggest that these reinterpreted narratives do not provide their own “original” elements. Take for example A Charlie Brown Christmas animated short, the first animated version of the famous Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Today the film and its soundtrack, composed by Vince Guaraldi, are seen as synonymous with Charlie Brown himself. But the original Peanuts comic strip was only a comic with no musical accompaniment. Once the Peanuts characters were combined with Guaraldi’s music, a relationship formed that transformed the narrative for a new medium, television, giving it a whole new depth and perspective. This new version is not a stand alone television special however, its style of story telling is completely reflective of the comic strip character that originated the story, thus it is a hybrid animation created through the combined processes of comic narrative styles and animated. auditory elements. The idea of retelling a narrative through a new medium is not a new concept; artists have been visualizing mythical narratives for centuries. But the way in which these different medium interpretations are interacting is. For example when the NBC television drama, Heroes premiered in the fall of 2006 it was accompanied by an online graphic novel that was published once a week, with the airing of every new television episode. The comic described back stories to the characters featured in the series while foreshadowing events to come. The comic was not a retelling of the show but rather it added additional narratives to the ones featured on screen. While it helped to advance the narrative it also reflected the intermediality of the show itself, a cinematized comic strip. Though the show’s narrative was completely original, it was inspired by earlier comic strips such as Superman and X-Men. Thus in the late age of modernism or rather in the age of postmodernism, media are integrating to evolve the narratives they are telling; giving The Lord of the Rings trilogy a cinematic equivalent complete with theme music or showing the tragic hero behind the wicked witch of the west from The Wizard of Oz in Wicked.

On the other side of this push towards intermediality is the immersion of a new medium of artistic expression, the computer and more specifically the internet. Thus far the medium of the internet has been mostly used to present preexisting art to a wider audience. The medium specific art for such a tool is still be debated, the argument of the artistic merit of video games and websites has not come to a close just yet. But it is important to understand that too many who are exploring the artistic potential of blogs and the internet at large do believe to a certain extent that the creativity behind the creation of a webpage deserves the same kind of respect as the artists who use brushes and canvas to express themselves. What can be agreed upon is the artistic potential of such a tool. The internet, using the computer as its tool for communication, acts as a fully interactive virtual space where anything from a painting, song to even video clip can be transmitted. This versatility allows it to be extremely adaptable to our growing desire for intermediality. As mention above, the NBC television show, Heroes, used the internet to publish its graphic novel that accompanied the show’s weekly airing. This novel could have been put into print, in fact in its online form it used many of the signature characteristics of graphic novels in print, such as the thought bubbles and organizational structure, the latter of which does not aide an internet reader in following the narrative. Because they placed this graphic novel online there were able to present it in multiple forms: a printable version, an interactive version, and an animated version. Each version of the comic told the same story but used different attributes to tell it, attributes that before the internet would have been considered medium specific. The internet as it is being used in the year 2008 (this distinction is extremely important as the uses and design of the internet are very rapidly changing in its ever growing popularity) has defined the idea of multimedia. Therefore the concept of an internet based artwork utilizing multiple media to present the creative idea is neither unique to blogs nor does it originate from them. But as we will see blogs have served a crucial role in expanding the concept of the internet’s multimedia capabilities.

[1] Literary Intermediality, 36


what is cloverfield? (spoiler)

January 23, 2008

I feel it is now time to address this cinematic disaster officially and publicly. Let me start from the beginning. As most movie goers who followed in anticipation the viral campaign that lead up to January 18th, 2008, or as I used to call the film: 1/18/08, I first saw it at Transformers opening day (great film by the way).

Cloverfield had a very enticing teaser trailer.

In this teaser they revealed nothing in regards to the plot, scenario, or even the name. A very clever ploy putting it in front of one of the most anticipated films from the summer. So as to be expected the internet community came together to solve the puzzle that was the untitled J.J. Abrams project.

Now I’ll be honest somewhere down the line I did lose interest in the film, probably as the semester started and I had other things to focus on other than anticipating this film but still I did happen to attend the midnight showing here in St. Louis. Going into the film I had this idea that it was Blair Witch (which I never saw) combined with Godzilla, but actually good. Well it was that last part that was mostly not true. The premise is that combination however, we are given the entire story through the lens of a hand-held camera that conveniently is turned on only at the good parts, so we skip all that boring walking around and figuring out what to do stuff that one would normally focus on in such a crisis situation. But what we are most lucky for is that they actually decided to bring the camera with them, I mean could you imagine how bad this movie would be if they just left the camera behind, or if the first character to die was the one with the camera, I mean man are they lucky that he happened to die in the last scene.

Anyway it was a disappointment and why, you ask? Because it was exactly what you would expect from the trailer except in the movie you actually see the monster.

But let me list some pros first.


They don’t waste time explaining where this creature comes from, I like that.

We aren’t seeing it from the point of view of the president or the hero who blows up the alien ship with a nuke at the end with the fat lady. (Though I do love that movie I was happy to see a monster attack from solely the point of view of the everyday person.)

The monster picked my city. (One saving grace to this film was seeing the Time Warner Center and watching them defy gravity and scale one tower to get to the other)

The prerelease hype. scavenging the internet for information was not a boring task.

Last pro: with an uncritical, no expectation attitude this is a fun ride, well that is if you aren’t like my friend and don’t get sick from the shaking, and I mean shaking, camera.

The cons:

So as is expected the dialog is shitty and unrealistic for people who’d really be in this situation. And the only reason I compare it to reality, which is not something I’d typically do with a monster movie, is that I feel that is what they were going for. They were trying to make this as real as possible where from the moment it starts attacking we are seeing the attack from a point of view that scares us because it is supposed to be realistic and close to home. I know that the Guardian has suggested that this film represents America’s coming to terms with 9/11. While I strongly disagree with that I do see the connection, it is very probable that Abrams is looking to profit off our new found fear of sudden chaos. Does this film represent our coming to terms with the lessons from 9/11, that we need to be vigilant against such chaotic abrupt forces? Well I don’t want to engage in a political debate but I don’t see 9/11 that way. I see it much more reflective of a unique situation between America’s perceived involvement in the Middle East and our actual intent. This move has not convinced me that I when throwing parties in my apartment I need to have ready the emergency plan. But then again, I know many people who went out and bought duck tape and plastic to seal themselves in should a chemical attack occur. The problem with this analogy is that it makes the attackers inhuman, and so by doing removing the act from the human realm, something I hear far too much about Nazi Germany. 9/11 was not a monster attack, it was a human attack. That fact cannot be ignored, when it is it allows us to believe it is unavoidable, now don’t mistake me I don’t mean to say that we could have prevented 9/11, perhaps we could have, but that is all together irrelevant now that it has happened. By unavoidable I mean to say that it removes us from thinking about it in human terms, and thus allows us to forgo that crucial step of trying to understand why it occurred. Why did an entire nation rally behind the idea of exterminating an entire culture? This was a human act as is 9/11, as such we need to understand the why, and not brush it off as some sort of crazy fundamentalist action, even if it is just that. That crazy action can occur again, we can commit it, and in fact one could argue that the death toll we have procured in Iraq of Iraqi civilians is equivalent. Like I said I have no interest in getting in a political debate here, the only reason I bring this up is because Cloverfield shouldn’t be a political message.

In all I was expecting more from this film, to me it was all too sudden and frankly their actions were too unrealistic. No New Yorker would seek refuge in the subway as a means to go to the monster and with such explosions occurring due to a monster on the loose would we really be using the Brooklyn Bridge to escape? And WHY did that monster go after them? There are millions of people in New York and yet it singled them out at least twice if not multiple times.

But again this is me being critical, I guess my biggest problem with it was that we knew it was a giant monster right away which to me just seems too fake to accept, I guess I was hoping it wouldn’t be another Godzilla in the end. But like I said without a critical view this was one hell of a ride and I did enjoy the suspense and special effects. I do not believe this to be some sort of analogy for 9/11 as I don’t see my interest in it being increased since the time Godzilla or Independence Day came out.

The ending note is this: When a big monster attacks, don’t take a bridge, the water is swim-able and that is what you should do. If you choose to stay on the island, then don’t go in the subway or in any big buildings that look attractive for knocking down. And what ever you do, do not get bit by one of the little ones.

Huysman out.

What will come of the book

January 15, 2008

In working through aspects of this thesis I have come across a fair amount of literature on the future of the printed book. I knew going into this project that I would find such discussions but what is curious to me is our desire to weigh in on such a what if conversation. Yes the book in its printed form has been a fundamental tool to our society since its inception and yes today for the first time in history that which the book offered can now be offered by something else. But this new technology, right now culminating with the Kindle I guess but I have yet to see this new device in action, can it really replace the book? Or rather is this really a conversation worth having. Now I know that I have defended the value of this artistic conversation and in so doing have met many individuals who believe the entire conversation of defining art has no value and ultimately hurts art in our culture, I obviously disagree with that sentiment. But with the discussion over the plight of the book I really see no value. This new medium will create a new art, not a new platform for the same art. So the better question is will the old art die? I don’t think so either, writing has not died out after typing became available, and with that I don’t think print will go out even if this Kindle and its super screen that doesn’t strain eyes really does work. 

I guess the point of this post is to get that out, I’d rather these authors focus on what makes internet writing unique and new rather than waste time describing it as an improvement to the book. TV is not an improvement to film and VHS did not replace the cinematic experience. But on the flip side I don’t think those comparative arguments work either, because radio I do believe is on the out thanks to the internet and soon TV will follow. 

 But both of these mediums never established themselves like the book did and that may be its saving grace. It is part of our history and its tangibility along with its content is what makes it unique. 


So here I am complaining that this argument is occurring in these texts and by doing that I too am contributing to the discussion. Oh well back to the thesis…



Now for a little bit on film.

December 11, 2007

I’ve been avoiding this subject as I find myself split on the issue. Part of me, the forever a kid part of me, loves big blockbuster films, the types of films that employ numerous special effects and great action scenes with good comedy and epic adventures. One such example of a film which ended a trilogy I find myself one of few who enjoyed all three is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I know this film was too long for many people and for others it was just too far removed from reality, with all its supernatural elements, that it failed to live up to what the first film had created. But for me it was perfect. I loved that it went too far and was too long and even utilized elements directly from the ride to remove itself a little too much from the rest of Hollywood.


Yes, it did do that! You see when the whole team was entering that weird ghost world called World’s End, there was roughly thirty seconds of white screen with sound bites from the ride itself, having the effect of removing us from the cinematic world and dropping us back in reality, reminding us where this trilogy comes from. This very subtle use of that technique is the trend in cinema I feel has been lost in recent years.


Now enter that other part of me, that part that wants cinema to challenge conventional ideas and especially this superhuman hold that narrative has on film. Why does film have to be a narrative to be a film? The answer is it doesn’t and I’m sure there are many out there that can point me in many directions to films that don’t follow a traditional narrative, but the point I’m trying to make is that a complete removal from narrative makes film video art, and it ends up in museums rather than cinemas. So what I am really asking for is that artistic desire to challenge and push the envelope, that break from rules and traditions that is controlling film so closely these days. I think that no other medium suffers from such a financial hold as film does.


I want to be proven wrong so let the recommendations for “artsy” films start. But also I hate that they have that title, I hate that this traditional narrative form of film has become The norm. No one goes around saying I want “artsy” paintings, painting has retained itself as an art, what happened with film? I’d also suggest that this isn’t limited to film but rather that film has the larges financial hold on it. Music, theater, literature all suffer similar industrial blocks.


Now the better question is are these blocks? Are these media being controlled and suppressed in order to turn a profit and turn are into an industry or rather is the industry where art is today? Perhaps what I am complaining about is no different than someone from the turn of the century complaining about the loss of perspective in modern art, perhaps this entire complaint is no different than those who thought modern art was the end of art. Hmmm can we except that industrialized art is just as much art as those that “do it for the art and not the profit?”


That is a question I leave for the discussion to decide…


Revisiting Journalism with Documentaries

November 22, 2007

For a second post on Thanksgiving I want to expand on the conversation of Journalism and Art. Specifically I want to add a conversation on Documentaries. What is the role of a documentary today and how does that role interact with art and journalism? What is interesting to me is the word itself, I believe it is only applied to film and then when we think of the equivalent in literature we fall into the “nonfiction” category of biographies, historical studies, social studies, and so on. So we have touched upon the artistic value in journalism that it may be art through the way in which this “information” we receive on a daily basis is transmitted to us. That basically journalism and especially photojournalism becomes art because of the way it (being the “information”) is interpreted by the journalist. Well the same can be said about documentaries and I bet one would be hard pressed to find a documentary film director who would disagree with the idea that what they are doing is art. After all it was Buñuel’s film, Las Hurdes, which highlighted the fundamentally paradox of documenting: by observing you alter and therefore influence.

So by this same argument can nonfiction literature be art? I guess the most ironic example of this would be the publication art criticism or history. Is André Bazin an artist like Jean Renoir? The truth is, and I believe critical theory will back me up on this that it is impossible to comment on society without influencing society, therefore all critical thought and philosophical theory plays as much a role in shaping society as it does in describing it. So one could argue that it is the way in which André Bazin writes as well as how he chooses what to write that makes him an artist. But then does art become about form rather than content? Are we suggesting that he, along with journalism, is artists because of how they create rather than what they create? Basically I return to the fundamental question: Is the newspaper a work of art?


I expect answers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.



Mr. Magorium’s Imagination

November 20, 2007

I have a couple of extremely developed and elaborate comments to respond to and I promise to get to them soon, I have been busy with the whole finishing assignments before going home for Thanksgiving break but I couldn’t resist comment on a recent film I saw before leaving.


Last night I saw Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. A children’s film by all accounts and wonderful in that respect. But I am not bringing it up here for its childish qualities, I am bringing it into this discussion because despite those that see this as “low art” or “light art” or just “entertainment” or even those closer to myself who may be inclined to call this film “art” I was influenced by it and was capable from it to engage in a thoughtful discussion on imagination.


I love imagination and I love honoring it and playing with it. I am one of those who believe no one is ever too old to play pretend, and because of that I was really moved by the subtle dialogue and that not so subtle sentiments of this film, perhaps we as a society are too serious; we need to play pretend more.

Free Imagination!

Is Disney art?

November 16, 2007

Tonight I had the pleasure of hearing Neal Gabler talk about the life and times of Walt Disney and his animation career. Gabler has recently published a biography on Disney, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. During his talk he described the artistic pursuits of Mr. Disney, how it was never about the money for him but about the goal of realism. This, he claims, explains why Walt was always on the verge of bankruptcy, if not there completely. It is truly an inspiring story about one man’s pursuit for the ultimate achievement in animation, to make it real.

But I am not writing about my childhood hero to talk about is inspiring nature. I am brining him up to talk about his artistic attributes. Does Walt’s creations stand as art? It can be very easy to say yes, but also very easy to say no. Yes, they represent artistic achievement in that their goal is for the creation of art, that object that has no other primary function but to interact with us on a purely aesthetic level. But also they are challenging in that they push the medium, that of a hybrid between film and painting/drawing, to its limits, to the fringes of its capabilities where it becomes truly a hybrid with film and later, speaking of today’s animation, a hybrid with technology itself.

But it also is not art in that its goal was not to challenge society. He wanted those same renaissance creations, just with the addition of movement. What he was doing was not expanding the ideas of aesthetics but rather limiting them to that which is expected, that which we see in a linear fashion. And it wasn’t for a long time before animation was freed from its linearly established reflection of reality.

But I don’t think I agree with this either. I would like now to connect to an older post of mine, First step towards... Here I described art not as an object but as an interaction. With this much freer definition I believe one like myself can easily call the experience I had with the Disney cartoons and theme parks as artistic. So with that being said I open it up to further comments and criticism. But for myself Disney remains an inspiration of mine and an artist/imagineer/entrepreneur I aspire to be.