Barbara Flückiger (Universität Zürich)
Film as a Material Object and the Digital Turn
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Paradoxically, the materiality of analogue film comes more clearly into focus with digitalization, since reflected practices of transferring film elements into digital formats require a deeper grappling with the film’s material basis. Until now, it has only been through the development of methods that generally valid principles have been established, in contrast to art history, for instance, in which inter-disciplinary methods have long been standard.
The scanning of films, in particular, can be understood as an essential interface between analogue and digital materialities, whose epistemological configuration has heretofore been given little consideration. In scanning, basic functions of binary coding, mechanical construction and optical supports combine, on the technical side, with institutional and economic framework conditions, which determine pratical implementation and technical innovation.
To this can be added the historical component of the development of film materials since the advent of the cinema at the end of the 19th century, especially film color processes, which for several decades were barely standardized and developed in experimental fashion. As a material point of departure for digitalization, we should not only consider the variety of playing formats, but also different film elements, which boast traces of diverse aging and fading processes, which need to be perceived and charted.
With the concept of material aesthetics, an established interdisciplinary approach can expand the technical and historical perspectives concerning the systematic exploration of the interaction between the material basis and the forms of aesthetic appearance.
In numerous digitalization and restoration case studies, which have been carried out in recent years in the DIASTOR and ERC Advanced Grant Film Colors research projects, fundamental insights can be gained into how theoretical considerations affect practice. This includes, among others, the development of a multi-spectral film scanner, which can more optimally capture historic film materials.
Prof. Dr. Barbara Flückier is professor of Film Studies at the Universität Zürich. She gained her PhD at the Universität Zürich in 2001 and her habilitation at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2007. Her monographs Sound Design: Die virtuelle Klangwelt des Films and Visual Effects: Fimbilder aus dem Computer have become recognized as key texts in the field. Her research focuses on the interaction of technical innovation and aesthetics, and includes several practice-oriented projects on the digitalization and restoration of archive films.