Hyper Modern Cinema
The Instant Image and the Meditative Frame
When writing on the question of the postmodern in 2020 how can we not feel that such an age has been surpassed by what Marc Auge has called supermodernity? Though written as long ago as 1992, Non-Places, his book on the subject proves a very useful guide in helping us think of the present moment. Postmodernism was about the collapse of grand narratives, a mixing of different styles, and the questioning of high and low distinctions in art. It was also about putting inverted commas around our attitude and behaviour, as if Sartre's bad faith would go away if we could just be ironic about it. To watch Neighbours or to enjoy Kylie Minogue was not simply to enjoy them, but knowingly to enjoy them, to watch or listen to aspects of popular culture self-consciously aware that you know that they are not of great value, but they have value to you as long as you are aware that there is self-consciousness attached. But how does that knowingness work in the socio-political sphere? To knowingly get on a plane and add to the deterioration of the planet, is it enough to be aware of the term 'global footprint' and know that you are an environmentally destructive Yeti living a reality (numerous travel trips) and an ideal (we must do more for the planet), simultaneously?
But let us backtrack a little. What we want to do here is focus on cinema, but to do so we will first need to ground ourselves with a few quotes from thinkers who have thought the postmodern while at the same time hinted at, or began to explore, the supermodern. First, we have Francois Lyotard, who very usefully looks at three aspects that for him defines the postmodern. "the use of repetition or quotation, be it ironical or not, cynical or not, can be seen in the trends dominating contemporary painting" but also in the other arts too. The second is that "one can note a sort of decay in the confidence placed by the two last centuries in the idea of progress. This idea of progress as possible probable or necessary was rooted in the certainty that the development of the arts, technology, knowledge and liberty would be profitable to mankind as a whole." Lyotard's third aspect is more complicated. "The right approach in order to understand the work of painters from, say, Manet to Duchamp or Barnett Newman is to compare their work with the anamnesis which takes place in psychoanalytical therapy. Just as the patient elaborates his present troubles by freely associating the more imaginary, immaterial, irrelevant bits with past situations, so discovering hidden meanings of his life, we can consider the work of Cezanne, Picasso, Delaunay, Kandinsky, Kleen, Mondrian, Malevitch and finally Duchamp as a working through - what Freud calls durcharbeitung - operated by modernity on itself." It is complicated partly because it covers a range of painters that go far beyond what is usually seen as the postmodern, post-war period. But what is clear from Lyotard's remarks is that if posmodernism has aesthetic value it doesn't rest on its capacity to mix terms knowingly but perhaps unknowingly - allowing the unconscious rather than the conscious a central role in working with the past into the present. As Lyotard says, "this being granted, the 'post' of postmodernity does not mean a process of coming back or flashing back, feeding back, but of ana-lysing, ana-mnesing, of reflecting." This will be central to how we see an aspect of the supermodern in the cinema of Kiarostami, Tsai-Ming Liang and Haneke. These might not seem like the most modern filmmakers from the perspective of technology (are they not outdated next to the James Camerons, Christopher Nolans and David Finchers?), but from the position of phenomenology they allow us to keep seeing what is not immediately apparent. This is partly why in such filmmakers we cannot easily separate supermodernism from modernism. As with the artists Lyotard invokes, they don't only represent a breach but also a continuation.
Thus there is a relationship with questions of authenticity in Lyotard's remark that might seem antithetical to a postmodernism celebrating surfaces and self-reflexivity, but the irony of postmodern thought is that many of the thinkers credited with being vital to its moment, philosophically and theoretically, would also question its facility. Jean Baudrillard comparing films that have a semblance of reality with films that he believes lack that relationship says, "cool, cold pleasure, not even aesthetic in the strict sense: functional pleasure, equational pleasure, pleasure of machination. One only has to dream of Visconti (Guepard, Senso, etc., which in certain respects make one think of Barry Lyndon) to grasp the difference, not only in style, but in the cinematographic act. In Visconti, there is meaning, history, a sensual rhetoric, dead time, a passionate game, not only in the historical content, but in the mise-en-scene. None of that in Kubrick, who manipulates his film like a chess player, who makes an operational scenario of history." Baudrillard includes in this coolness Chinatown, All the President's Men, The Last Picture Show and others in an argument we will later contend, but what is clear is that Baudrillard does not simply celebrate the simulacra of images, indicating that there is no reality behind them. ('On History, Simulation and Barry Lyndon')
Postmodernism for both Lyotard and Baudrillard is a problem - their purpose is to understand the nature of it rather than proselytise for its existence. So too Fredric Jameson, talking about the pace of life in our postmodern moment. "But time today  is a function of speed, and evidently perceptible only in terms of its rate, or velocity as such: as though the old Bergson opposition between measurement and life, clock time and lived time, had dropped out, along with that virtual eternity or slow permanence without which Valery thought the very idea of a work as such was likely to die out..." (The Seeds of Time) Paul Virilio, who has written a great deal on speed and writes very pessimistically on modern life, quotes a comment made by Coppola. "someone asked Francis Ford Coppola why had American cinema continued, in spite of everything, to be the stuff of dreams; it's America which has become a kind of huge Hollywood..." (The Information Bomb) It is this America that fascinates and terrifies Baudrillard. You wonder whether the world itself isn't just here to serve as advertising copy in some other world. When the only physical beauty is created by plastic surgery, the only opinion by opinion poll surgery...and now, with genetic engineering, along comes plastic surgery for the whole human species." (America)
These are all comments indicating that postmodernism is hardly something to be celebrated but the level of condemnation will vary from writer to writer. One of the ideas that we want to pursue in looking at the hypermodern is how from the point of view of history it can appear perhaps horrifying, from the perspective of aesthetics it can seem if not hopeful then at least significant. The two events that would seem to usher in our hypermodern moment would be 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008. The first led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are still being played out in an ever more chaotic Middle-East, and the financial crash, which led to austerity in numerous Western countries and the rise of what has been called the alt-right. They were both events that seemed to push us further into questions addressed by postmodernism. Reviewing books on 9/11 by Baudrillard, Virilio and Slavoj Zizek, Nick Spencer says "Baudrillard and 9/11 are of course made for each other. The aftermath of the 9/11 events suggests the validity of Baudrillard's unjustly maligned writings on the Gulf War of 1991. In those texts Baudrillard claimed that the definition of the Gulf conflict as a war was erroneous because those events lacked the symbolic components that are integral to the meaning of war. The highly problematic framing of the events following 9/11 as a war on terror suggests that Baudrillard was right to highlight how American power deploys the rhetoric of military conflict as a means of legitimizing its authority to act as global police and economic center." (International Journal of Baudrillard Studies) 9/11 was significant for a number of reasons, but above all else perhaps because it combined the realism of event captured by a handful of video cameras and a perception of the event that was quite unreal. US cinema had rehearsed catastrophe in so many films of the 90s (Independence Day, Armageddon, Speed, Deep Impact) that the destructive spectacle of the planes going into the towers could best be understood through the perceptual apparatus provided by the films that had shown similar events in various manifestations. In 2001 digital cinema could incorporate low budget films as dissimilar as Festen, The Blair Witch Project, Timecode, Dancer in the Dark and Chuck and Buck, but the disaster film, while utilising CGI would be made on celluloid and offer all the privileging of viewer perspective missing from the apparently ad hoc approach to image-making in the digital features. Yet 9/11 was not only a horrible example of can-do make-do technology as the terrorists used simple box cutters to be the main weapon in their attack on the States, the event was filmed thanks to low-budget technology. There is no footage equivalent to the collapse of the Empire State Building in Independence Day, the destruction of Paris in Armageddon. Computer technology in the form of computer generated imagery was there to show up the formidable nature of the US, not for its impotence to be captured on shaky digital cameras. This was the year before Nokia, Sanyo and others introduced a camera on their phones, but the digital camera had become an affordable option for many and was no longer at all bulky - the HDV-302P for example.
The point of the high-budget disaster movies of the 90s was to imagine the unimaginable, but they lacked the dimension of the unimaginable as a thinker very important to postmodern discourse would be inclined to address it. Jacques Lacan wondered whether the real could be accessed at all, believing we possessed a symbolic structure and an imaginary faculty that would frame what he called the Real. According to Malcolm Bowie, "for Lacan, the real thus comes close to meaning the 'ineffable' of the 'impossible' but this does not lead him to adopt daunted or resigned attitudes towards it," "On the contrary, Bowie says, "it is a practical analytic tool." Yet in the hands of many artists seen as postmodern the inaccessibility of the real can be an opportunity to accept a play of meaning that need never entertain the Real. If numerous films of the nineties insisted on presenting the unimaginable in the too readily imaginable form of special effects, in a manner consistent with classical cinema's unironic approach to meaning, numerous other nineties films played up the ironic: the inaccessibility of the real. They could allow for postmodernism's acceptance that notions of authenticity were of far less importance than the inverted commas that could be put around violence, love, hate, ambition and other states of being and tension films would previously take straight. Numerous films that were comedies nevertheless contained within them the distance of the comedic. Many of the key filmmakers of the nineties practised this approach to cinema, and we might think of Kika, Trainspotting, Rushmore, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but also Two Days in the Valley, True Romance, Fight Club and The Opposite of Sex. There were not generically comedies, but they offered an aloof sensibility that indicated we were in the realm of movie feeling rather than feeling. It would be the sort of difference Umberto Eco noticed when saying "what Casablanca does unconsciously, other movies will do with extreme intertextual awareness, assuming also that the addressee is equally aware of their purposes. These are 'post modern' movies, where the quotation of the topos is recognized as the only way to cope with the burden of our filmic encylopedic expertise." ('Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage')
Many films were not attending to the problematic in the world but in the problematics they could find in the movie world. This was an aesthetic pragmatics evident in numerous comments by the filmmakers themselves. Tarantino would say of his approach to violence "there is never a moment when I'm telling you this is happening in the real world, when you're not aware that you're watching a movie." (Sight and Sound) Discussing Fight Club, David Fincher would argue with development people who reckoned voice over was a lazy way of telling a story. "It's not funny if there is no voiceover, it's just sad and pathetic." (Film Comment) Danny Boyle reckoned he was looking for exaggerated performances in Trainspotting, believing it was consistent with the novel's approach to character. "They're highly stylised performance scenes which [Irvine] Welsh has chosen to illustrate characters. And you need actors for that. Choices like that push you toward a highly stylised approach which eschews the detailed 'this is Leith, this is no 23 in the street approach.'" (Sight and Sound) The point isn't to symptomise the world, but to escape from getting closer to it, as though taking the Lacanian problematic as gospel. Access to the real is impossible, ergo we can now stay within the realm of the fictive and formalist. Equally, in the disaster film, the emphasis was not on the intricacies of socio-economic global injustice, but space invasion and ecological disaster. The real world was too complicated and better to retreat into hyperbolized disaster the filmmakers seemed to be saying. As Rolland Emmerich said more recently, Just after Independence Day came out, I met Steven Spielberg and he said: "What you guys have done with that film, everybody will imitate you." He was right. When you look at Marvel movies today, it's always about alien invasion, and a lot of stuff gets broken. Also, these films don't take themselves too seriously. (Guardian)
Did 9/11 show up the failure of both approaches; suggesting that whether it happened to be ironically Tarantinoesque, or the hyperbolized catastrophic, the event of September 11, 2001 mocked these modes of false mastery? Let us not be too persuasive in our narrative: 1999's Fight Club was nothing if not a symptomizing film addressing problems of masculinity and anger, no matter the exaggeration and the easy comedy, and there were numerous filmmakers who appeared to be anticipating a problem with easy irony and were very much complicating it, whether it was David Lynch with Lost Highway, Lars von Trier with The Idiots, or eschewing it altogether, the Dardennes with Rosetta, Claire Denis with Beau travail and so on. Yet these would be filmmakers closer to the hypermodernity we will go on to talk about: directors for whom the question of the real is vital. All we would wish to suggest is that the catastrophic and ironic modes were undermined by the 9/11 attacks. Tarantino may continue to make very entertaining films about a derealized Nazi Germany and slavery, but they are not for us central to the hypermodern moment - they contain an even greater degree of reflexive denial.
However what constitutes this hypermodern moment that we are living in and through? One aspect concerns the pace of history. As Marc Auge says "there accelaration of history corresponds, in fact, to a multiplication of events very few of which are predicted by economists, historians or sociologists." The most extreme example of this unpredictability is manifest in the US president. As Gary Younge says "over the past week alone Trump has launched a trade war with his allies, held an Iftar dinner to mark the holy month of Ramadan, which Muslim groups boycotted, attacked his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation over a conflict of interest, disinvited Super Bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House reception because he had heard several weren't going to show up, and claimed he has the right to pardon himself. The remarkable thing about this week is that - compared with his behaviour in other weeks - it's not that remarkable." (Guardian) We could add also the density of events. As 9/11, the Mumbai attacks on 26/11/2008 and the Paris atrocity of 13/11/ 2015 illustrated, these were multiple simultaneous attacks across a country and across cities. Previous key terrorist incidents were generally isolated affairs. Whether it was the event at the Munich Olympics, the Entebbe hijacking or the West German embassy Siege in Stockholm, events were usually singular. Even if the IRA would bomb several places at once (as in the 22 bombs detonated across Belfast on Bloody Friday), there was not the sense of logistical precision, the harmonising of numerous disparate elements familiar to these three key recent acts of terrorism. Fred Hallyday in Open Democracy says, "The key implication is that "terrorism", as ideology and instrument of struggle, is a modern phenomenon, a product of the conflict between contemporary states and their restive societies. It has developed, in rich and poor countries alike, as part of a transnational model of political engagement. Its roots are in modern secular politics; it has no specific regional or cultural attachment; it is an instrument, one among several, for those aspiring to challenge states and, one day, to take power themselves." The terrorist increasingly offers something of the logistical density states are seen to possess. They show themselves as organised units rather than haphazard ingrates. The more coordinated and organized a terrorist organization can appear to be, the more they represent a threat to the state on their own terms.
Indeed this can be reflected technologically too. While before terrorist organizations would put out tatty footage of atrocities online, Isis clearly employed people to do the job properly. "In addition to the blatant propaganda vibe, the videos have strikingly high production quality they are shot in HD and include sophisticated graphics and logos. Most of the content is in English, suggesting that they are specifically designed as a recruitment tool for Western audiences." (Vice) If history is moving at such a fast pace, then who controls this information and how it is disseminated gains increasing importance. With the internet there are also endless platforms on which to place it. This is vital to a viral culture, where a video can be posted and find an audience in hours, and quite different from the inbuilt audience assumed to be there for CNN, BBC or Channel 4; now a video could go up and have ten hits or ten million. Information does indeed spread like wildfire. Even a short story like 'Cat People' by Kristen Roupenian which could usually expect a sedate, sizeable readership in the New Yorker magazine where it was published, promptly became because of its dating subject matter, a Twitter phenomenon as people would decide whether it was an attack on men, or about the sensitive nature of feeling. The story wasn't read as a work of nuanced art, but as a Rorschach test of tribal loyalties. The discursive capacity for debate gives way to the viral: it isn't about what something means but how fast its meaning can move. This is an epistemological dromology, what Virilio would call an information bomb, a missile attack on thought, perhaps, that demands ferocious pace over intellectual force. As Virilio says, " faster, smaller, cheaper - this Nasa slogan could shortly become the watchward of globalization itself. But with one nuance, since the speed and smallness in question would no longer refer to devices designed to conquer extra-terrestrial space, but to our geography at the moment of its sudden eruption." (The Information Bomb)
But we must remember our purpose here is to attend to film. We might then assume that the films which are important would be part of this pace, but while there is some validity to this claim, equally many of the most important works of the new millennium haven't accelerated their narratives but slowed them down, found new and interesting ways to call into question the pace of information partly because it would be an epistemological myth to assume that we have received all this information. Let us think of three things here: one is footage of 9/11, the second is Michael Haneke's film Hidden, the third is the viewing experiment concerning what is called inattentional blindness. If one watches online the footage caught by various news channels of the attacks, 'September 11, 2001 - As It Happened - The South Tower Attack', we notice how the commentators talking about events are blind to what was happening until the moment of impact. As they are talking about the explosion in the first tower we see coming into the frame the second plane. We will see the plane because we are looking for it, but generally the commentators don't see it until it explodes into the building. In Haneke's film, the closing shot does not cue us to pay attention to anything in particular within the frame. Though there happens to be a conversation taking place between the sons of two of the film's leading protagonists, there are also numerous people and conversations taking place within this single take, lengthy shot. There are a number of ways in which Haneke could have cued us to what was important. He could have slowly emptied the frame so that the boys are the only people left there; he could have had them wear bright colours that would more likely have drawn our eye, or he could have made all the other noise ambient except for the boys' conversation. Instead he asks us to watch the frame, perhaps assuming nothiong of import is happening as the end credits start to roll. As Roger Ebert said, "how is it possible to watch a thriller intently two times and completely miss a smoking gun that's in full view? Yet I did. Only on my third trip through Michael Haneke's Cache did I consciously observe a shot which forced me to redefine the film. I was not alone. I haven't read all of the reviews of the film, but after seeing that shot I looked up a lot of them, and the shot is never referred to. For that matter, no one seems to point to a conclusion that it might suggest."
It is possible not least because we miss things all the time, just usually most of these things are not deemed pertinent? In a series of experiments, Daniel Simons and others have noted that if one's eye is focused on one thing it is very hard to pay attention to other details that are in plain sight but also somehow invisible. In the Invisible Guerrilla experiment, for example, viewers are asked to notice how often a ball is passed around between various people and miss completely that a man in a guerrilla suit has passed through the frame. In other tests, scarves appear and disappear, plates come and go, and colour jumpers change. This is called inattentional blindness and indicates that it is a common feature of human perception, or lack of it. Our interest isn't to investigate the cognitive causes or even how it affects some people more than others, or certain people in certain situations and not other ones. Our interest in it rests as a hypermodern problem of perception. If the postmodern suggested we had seen it all, the hypermodern as we are defining it indicates we are missing information all the time. Thus when people talk about the development of slow cinema in recent years, we needn't see this as a reactive response to the fast pace of existence initself, but also as a demand on the filmmakers' part that we have thus far seen so little. When people insist that a film is slow, this ought to be based on the fact that all the information has been absorbed and that the film thus must move on. But whether it is the plane coming into the shot in the news footage of 9/1, the guerilla passing through the film in the experiment, or a perfectly skilled and accomplished critic like Ebert admitting that it was only on a third viewing he noticed an important detail in Hidden, we can say that we haven't seen it all but seen so little. How can we see more?
If we go back and watch a fine John Ford film like Young Mr Lincoln, we may notice that the mise en scene we might seek is actually not there to be found. There is a scene in which Lincoln is dancing with a woman and her man appears in the background. It would seem we should pay attention to this figure as he is clearly jealous of Lincoln, and we might assume the young woman has designs on the future president. But, no, the man appears and disappears at will: anyone paying close attention will see a man who is not at all central to the mise en scene, making a mockery of any attempt at deep focus continuity. Most viewers will have no problem with this and why should they? But what if a film demands to activate the entire cinematic space so our eye must be attentive to everything within the frame? This is proper scenic density far beyond what David Bordwell could possibly have meant when he discusses for example the 1951 film The Enforcer.
Here he notices that even though the action has moved from the mirror to the window, we hold in one shot on the mirror as we see the water that was splashed against it during the fight. This remains in focus and centre frame while the fight continues elsewhere. For Bordwell this is vital to scenic density: "the shot keeps several items of dramatic significance salient in the composition." (Observations in FilmArt). This is what we find Ford hasn't done a little over a decade earlier in Young Mr Lincoln, and what Bordwell would suggest is not being done in many recent films. The difference though is where the classical filmmaker would assume the viewer wouldn't much care for the background detail it was on the screen nevertheless, however incoherently. Many of today's filmmakers for Bordwell control the frame very carefully but also very narrowly. "directors have limited their options by relying too much on stand-and-deliver and walk-and-talk. There are other aspects of visual storytelling that today's filmmakers neglect. One aspect is the possibility of gracefully moving actors around the set in a sustained fixed shot." (Observation in Film Art) "Part of what gives the Enforcer shot its interest is the superimposition of two moments of action in a single space: Rico's diversionary turn from the washstand, recorded in the splash he made on the mirror, and the struggle taking place a few seconds later." This approach to the image is what Bordwell explores so well in Figures Traced in Light, looking at long take masters like Theo Angelopoulos and Hou Hsiao Hsien. Nevertheless, whether it is Raoul Walsh in The Enforcer, or Angelolopoulos in Eternity and a Day, Bordwell prioritises a categorical notion of intelligibility. In On The History of Film Style, in a chapter called 'Making the Image Intelligible', Bordwell insists: "before directors wish to convey ideas or moods, evoke emotion or themes, transmit ideology of cultural values, they must take care of some mundane business."
Bordwell addresses this as an aesthetic problem; we wouldn't want to separate it from a broader ontological and epistemological concern: a concern with the nature of information, and the consequences to our being. It is all very well making the image intelligible, but what does that intelligibility serve, and even this notion of intelligibility depends on what we are focusing upon, as our example from Young Mr Lincoln illustrates. Discussing editing and continuity, Martin Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker says, "The priority is absolutely on the best take for performance, and frankly I don't understand why people get so hung up on these issues, because if you look at films throughout history, you will see enormous continuity errors everywhere." Schoonmaker goes on to say, "so throughout our history of improvisational cutting, we have decided to go with the performance, or in this case particularly with the humor of a line, as opposed to trying to make sure a coffee cup is in the right place." (Film Comment) Bordwell wouldn't necessarily disagree with Schoonmaker, saying "Only the visual information at the centre of attention can be perceived in detail and encoded in memory. Peripheral information is processed in much less detail and mostly contributes to our perception of space, movement and general categorisation and layout of a scene." (Observations in Film Art). But this will surely depend on what the filmmaker has trained us to pay attention to. If normal perception as Bordwell couches it allows us to miss so many details that are deemed unimportant, how can a filmmaker persuade us that everything in the frame is of significance? If we cannot alter our perceptual focus then Haneke would be wasting his time in the closing shot of Hidden, but throughout his work and throughout Hidden he has been asking us to pay more attention, to be wary of taking the image for granted. In the opening shot of the film the central characters muse over what they should be looking out for, and at the end of the film that is exactly what we are expected to do when the two boys are talking in the shot without anything cuing us to focus upon them.
Let us suggest there are two aspects to the new millennium which can help as understand an aspect of contemporary film. On the one hand information moves ever more quickly as finance firms make decisions at a pace the human mind cannot easily countenance and celebrity really can become almost instant. As John Lanchester says in 'After the Fall', "Financial markets today are not like that. They aren't gathered together in one place. In many instances, a market is just a series of cables running into a data centre, with another series of cables, belonging to a hedge fund specialising in high-frequency trading, running into the same computers, and 'front-running' trades by profiting from other people's activities in the market, taking advantage of time differences measured in millionths of a second." (London Review of Books) Equally, fame can be measured in minutes rather than years. Charlotte D'allesio and a friend took a few pictures of themselves in bodysuits, bikini tops and jean shorts and posted them on social media. So far so normal. But when the successful LA photographer Bryant Eslava took some photos of the girls and tagged them on his account, their images began to go viral. Soon the girls were seeing themselves everywhere, featured in roundups of the festival and in the "popular" galleries of Tumblr and Instagram. They were gaining hundreds and thousands of followers by the minute. This is the fast-paced nature of millennial life, but that doesn't mean we are processing this information - as the algorithms that take care of financial transactions prove, humans really can't keep up. But this suggests we also need to find room for what we could call the slow-paced nature of thought, which isn't quite the same thing as saying we need to slow everything down. It is more that we need the time to make sense of the information in front of us. Some have seen this move towards slower films as consistent with meditation, where we clear our minds, allowing our thoughts to drift. As Manohla Dargis's says in 'Defense of the Slow and the Boring', faced with duration not distraction, your mind may wander, but there's no need for panic: it will come back. In wandering there can be revelation as you meditate, trance out, bliss out, luxuriate in your thoughts, think." (New York Times) How many of us have not done exactly this watching many a film that doesn't push the plot along, and we aren't unsympathetic to Dargis's point. But for our own it is instead that the image insists we take our time in making sense of its content, to understand the nature of its rhythm, and to acknowledge the peculiarity of its perspective. If we think back to the newscaster talking about the plane going into the first tower as we notice the plane in the background going into the second, so out inattentional blindness will blind us to what is going on in the background of the shot because of our assumptions about concentrating what happens to be in the foreground. The more time a film gives us to look around the image rather than just instantly scanning it, the more pertinent information it can contain. In films by Haneke, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Cristi Puiu, Tsai Ming-Liang, Bela Tarr and others, we don't so much receive information, we scan it, and this is quite different from the scenic density Bordwell describes.
Take for example a scene where we have the film's central couple attending a concert (as happens in Haneke's Amour). We might choose to offers a quick establishing shot to say this is the couple in the concert hall, followed by a medium close up of the couple sitting in their seats. Alternatively, we can hold to the long establishing shot and leave the viewer to find the couple amongst the crowd. How long would such a shot need to be held? Possibly thirty seconds as opposed to three or four, perhaps longer still. This would demand the informational scanning we have discussed. In Damnation, Bela Tarr shows a woman singing in the titanic bar, a run-down haunt in a depressed town in Hungary. He moves the camera around the screen space in chiaroscuro so that we pick out the film's central character in immense shadow before the camera continues past him and round his back and picks out the singer that he has been listening to - his mistress. Tarr gives us a long take but in sinuous close up as he picks out the pertinent infromation and reveals it to us over the course of the take. We aren't initially shown the central character, and though we hear the singer we don't see her until the camera curves behind the main character's back as the camera moves in on his coat so closely that it looks for a moment almost as if the film has cut. This is the filmic rhythm that Tarr emphasises, a rhythm that doesn't make it especially millennial (Tarkovsky, Angeloupolos and indeed Tarr's compatriot Miklos Jansco were all interested in the rhythmic revelation), but can very usefully be utilised in generating a different type of relationship with information. One that doesn't insist on rapidity, but on a visual rhetoric that understands the form cannot easily be separated from the content. There is no pragmatism here, no sense that the artist has to convey necessary information. The image instead asks to be absorbed, felt, interpreted. It insists on patience. This is not the patience of emptying one's mind, but allowing as much as possible the image to fill it. Most images do not do this, and the faster we are expected to make sense of information, the less inclined that this process takes place. One reason internet culture works is because it demands instant response: the liking of an article on Facebook, the copy and pasting of an article, the retweeting of a tweet. The difference between the meditative image we are discussing and the instant image that has now its own name in instagram - images that are instagrammatic as opposed to medigrammatic lies in the difference between an image of a plane going into the twin tower as the central content of the image, and the image of a plane going into the tower as other things happen to be going on in the foreground. This awareness would seem to us part of the hypermodern age, that images are not slow because we can think about them, but that we must.
Perhaps we are talking here of a variation of Lacan's exploration of Poe's the purloined letter but for the purposes of understanding the density of information that we are constantly bombarded with. The letter is of course hidden in plain sight all the better for it to remain invisible. By the same reckoning it isn't that a report now is necessarily classified and completely hidden from public view. It is just as likely that the new will be buried in plain view, released on a day when other important news makes it seem unimportant. As Business Insider said in 2018: "a rather cynical tradition has developed in recent years in which, in the final days and hours before MPs leave Parliament for an extended break, the government releases a deluge of embarrassing reports, statistics, and statements in an apparently deliberate attempt to bury them." Whether it is burying a report about poisoned drinking water, courts being sold off or the nature of terrorist funding, western governments often bury information rather than hide it. "The UK government spends billions on research aiming to guide and inform its policies. Yet it turns out the government doesn't know exactly what it has commissioned or published. Worse, there is evidence that government-funded research is sometimes deliberately buried or delayed. Transparent and open government, this is not." (The Conversation.Com) If people have so little faith in mainstream media outlets, if the US president can talk about fake news, this shows that faith in the information we have been given has in some ways replaces the conspiratorial as an epistemological concern. If we invoke Lacan it is to see that a letter can be in clear view but that doesn't mean anybody is going to read it. It is as though there are dozens of letters lying open on the dressing table, but how do we know which one to read no matter how available they all happen to be?
If we can invoke Lacan to understand something of the nature of the problem, we can bring in philosopher Gilles Deleuze to comprehend how this might work in the context of the cinematic image, and how it might give space to the medigrammatic possibilities in the frame. Deleuze talks at the beginning of the Movement-Image about cinema as an information system and discusses directors he sees who work with saturated images and rarefied ones. Renoir and Altman saturate; Ozu and Antonioni rarefy. But today, numerous filmmakers rarefy and saturate simultaneously: play up the idea that nothing much is going on while allowing us to see that indeed a great deal might be going on. In Haneke's Happy End, the first few minutes of the film are shown from the perspective of a mobile phone and in the next shot from a wider, CCTV camera, showing a working site over a large crater. At the edge of the frame we see a building collapse but we are not cued at all to see it and will notice it probably only when it is half-over. By focusing on the narrow stripped image of the mobile phone, before opening the image out to show the CCTV footage, Haneke wrong-foots us by showing the mobile footage that narrows the frame and then the 'normal' footage that we might miss. Not only because we often do, but also because Haneke has let us into an even narrower image than usual.
In What Time is it There? by Tsai Ming-Liang, there is a scene with his Taiwanese heroine alone in Paris sitting in a cafe. In the foreground is a man with his back turned to us but facing heroine Shiang-chyi Chen. He seems to be staring at her on the basis of the angle of his head and Shiang looks up and down as if feeling she is being watched. Perhaps she would like this man to talk to her; perhaps not. In the background of the shot, clearly in focus, sits another man who we can see frontally, though in the distance. After a minute, possibly frustrated at the unseen man's unwillingness to make contact, maybe uncomfortable with his staring, she gets up and leaves. As she does so she exits by passing the man in the background, who notices her, looks at her again as she leaves, and looks at her a third time after she has left the cafe. What are we to make of this scene? We are well aware of Shiang's loneliness, and that would often be a precursor to a contact that could be romantically hopeful (Before Sunrise) or romantically malignant (Berlin Syndrome) in another 'women abroad' film, but in each instance we have actualization. Tsai refuses this actualization and leaves the scene in a state of speculative possibility. We might feel that the man in the foreground whose face we don't see would be a dangerous liaison, as terrible perhaps as Teresa Palmer's turns out to be in Berlin Syndrome, where she is locked into the apartment of the man she sleeps with. The man in the background might be closer to an Ethan Hawke as Shiang would have the enjoyable encounter Delpy has in Richard Linklater's film. But at most we can speculate on these figures. While such speculation may seem be a pretty low form of criticism - what happens to characters after a film is rarely the concern of film critics but often interests the general spectator; perhaps partly why the public loves sequels and the critics don't. But any speculation offered is based on the questions the form asks. What does the man look like like who seems to be staring at Shiang we may wonder, if he is staring at all. Why does the man in the background look at Shiang three times? She is a beautiful woman, a pragmatist may reply, and this is Paris, where men are more likely to look at women than most, evident in a 2013 diktat for the Metro which actively asked Parisians to refrain from staring at beautiful women according to the Politeness Manual for the Modern Traveller. Interviewed by Mark Peranson in Indiewire, Tsai said "In real life, I do not enjoy the crowd, I like to be myself. Loneliness and isolation are part of human nature. Some people put a value or price tag on isolation, but others are very afraid of it -they have to get involved, go to a crowded place. But that does not mean that you aren't isolated in a crowd. Thus, we have very pretentious human relationships, because people fear this social element of isolation." The scene captures that sense of loneliness which contains solitude in its pride but also contains isolation in its feeling. We sense Shiang's solitude is much more pronounced than Palmer's or Delpy's. This is partly linguistic - Tsai talks about hiring an apartment in Paris but feeling that like his heroine his poor grasp of English and French made it more difficult to feel at home in the city. But it is also dispositional: we believe that Palmer and Delpy are more comfortable with the crowd, cosier in company. Thus though we can speculate on what the various characters' motives within the scene happen to be, what matters more is that we comprehend an aspect of Tsai's form, and the feeling that it is serving. He manages to give a form to a very complex type of loneliness and does so by achieving the sort of visual intricacy that, like Haneke's work, insists on a detailed attention to the frame.
But why is this hypermodern? Haven't Antonioni, Godard and others already radicalised the image, created an ambiguity within the frame that leaves us musing over what we need to pay attention to rather than dictating clearly our eyeline? Perhaps the difference resides partly in the idea of the frame that refuses our expectations and a frame that insists on our perceptual faculties. The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami would be central to this shift, someone who could take what would seem like an image close to the neo-realists, and turn it into an image closer to Antonioni and Godard. When one looks at an image from Godard or Antonioni it is in the world and abstracted from the world, whether it lies in Antonioni's reframing of priorities as a character is small within the frame and a building large, or Godard's playing up a colour scheme to emphasise red, white, blues and yellows. Kiarostami's images look like they are from the world and remain in the world. We look at them and do not see the astonishing aesthetic imposition we find in Antonioni and Godard's work. They can seem like they are just showing us something in front of our eyes; then we realise that what we are noticing is what is not so obviously in front of our eyes but what is absent from the frame. By way of comparison, when in Godard's Vivre sa vie we watch the central character and her boyfriend breaking up, we watch them do so aware of Godard's aesthetic. We follow the conversation while they have their backs to the camera as they sit at the bar, and though there happens to be a mirror that allows us partially to see the man, the emphasis is on obstruction: on Godard making clear that the choices he is making are not the choices most filmmakers would make. It is ostensibly irritating and alienating. Kiarostami does not seek this irritation and the viewer is unlikely to think too much initially about the information he is withholding from us, even in a film like Close Up, where the police come and arrest a young man for impersonation and instead of following the police, the film focuses on an aerosol can running down the street. Kiarostami is concerned with omission rather than confrontation. While Godard will allow the camera to announce itself all the better to say that what we are watching is being assertively directed, Kiarostami gives the impression that he is respectfully giving a partial view all the better to understand an aspect of the world and not only the drama we are being told. When for example the director focuses on the Range Rover in A Taste of Cherry driving around the hills outside Tehran as we hear the conversation without initially seeing the faces of the people talking, this is Kiarostami keeping his distance but without insistently remaining aloof. The best way to describe this is by noting that while Godard asks us to acknowledge that what is showing us is a representation, Kiarostami is more inclined to say this is a partial perspective. We never see everything so all a filmmaker can do is make us acknowledge that partiality. Kiarostami like the neo-realists will film the streets, will show us the world 'as it is', but the neo-realists did not give us a sense that what we were seeing was also what we were not seeing. When the bicycle gets stolen in Bicycle Thieves, director Vittorio De Sica follows the moment of greatest suspense as the central character goes off in chase. We don't believe we are missing something. Kiarostami's advancement on neo-realism while still working in what looks like realism rests on this partiality. What makes him a hypermodern filmmaker is the deceptive realism he practises. Like Haneke and Tsai, his images often don't look especially cinematic in the aesthetic sense of Godard's or Antonioni's, Tarkovsky's or for that matter Tarr's. It can seem like we are just watching a car going round the hills, or a boy passing through the streets. In The Wind Will Carry Us, we never see the faces of a TV crew travelling with our central character to a remote village in Iran, while in Where is My Friend's House? The boy will never reach the friend's house where he is determined to return a book. Kiarostami tells us that we do not need to see those faces, we can imagine them well enough, and they are not important to our understanding of the experience. In the latter film, what matters is the boy's determination not his destination. Once that determination has been shown lucidly, the film can end. If one branch of the hypermodern as we are couching it constantly tries to find in the anxiety of the real the hyperbolic image that will show us everything, Kiarostami, Haneke and Tsai, in very different ways, are saying that we can never see everything.
The filmmaker's purpose is to show what its theme demands, and what can allow for speculation, meditation and hesitation in a reality that is always partial. The invisible guerilla tests and the 9/11 footage indicate that these are the filmmakers who understand an aspect of our hyper-modern condition without relying on computer-generated imagery because what is missing is more important than the impossibly present. The Hollywood film has of course always created films that give the impression there is no off-screen space that need concern us because everything of import is on the screen and more or less in our face. If it isn't there it is of no importance, When Bordwell talks up the scenic density of The Enforcer, nevertheless that density is all narratively pertinent. The splash of water in the foreground and the fight in the background is narrative continuity in the same frame: the fight started at the sink and continues near the window. The director could cut, but part of the ingenuity of the mise-en-scene lies in the absence of that cut. But while there are layers of meaning in the image, there is no offscreen space to puzzle over. The big-budget film wants to remove off-screen space even further and one way in which to do this is by making the films so fantastically oriented, and so determined to show us what we could only have previously imagined, that the films practise a phenomenological claustrophobia, one close to the world of animation, by removing as many real-world coordinates as possible. Thus the rise of the superhero film, as if countering very deliberately the sort of seventies American films that were determined to offer a twofold pertinence. Whether it would be a western like Ulzana's Raid that wanted to attend specifically to the plight of the Indian while at the same containing allegorical possibilities for the war in Vietnam, or The Godfather focusing on the specifics of the family on the rise and the internal mechanisms of the mafia, while at the same time unavoidably commenting on capitalism, numerous American films of the decade insisted on refused on closing down the narrative to pass merely for entertainment. It isn't that superhero films can't allude to the political (as Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises attest), but these are the exceptions to the rule and can hardly compare to numerous seventies films like Taxi Driver, All the President's Men, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation and even Jaws as a means by which to take the nation's pulse. The Dark Knight is allegorical but isn't historical - it seeks the abstract over the concrete and like many a superhero film entertains ready solutions over ongoing dilemmas in spaces that we needn't attend to because they have so little connection with a real world. In contrast in many seventies films we did attend to that world. As Fredric Jameson says, "we want to remember how vividly Dog Day Afternoon explores the space which is the result of these historical changes, the ghettoized neighbourhood with its decaying small business gradually being replaced by parking lots and chain stores." (Signatures of the Visible). What makes cinema hypermodern is partly the bifurcation lies the inattention of the superhero film and the hyper attentiveness of many by Tsai, Haneke and others to the spaces in which they film.
Thus the hypermodern in American cinema usually takes one of two forms, hyperbole and/or velocity; in European and international cinema, hyperattentive observation. Of course, there are numerous American films that are still attentive ( Elephant, Brown Bunny, Moonlight), just as there are European and international films interested in hyperbole and velocity (The Baader Meinhoff Complex, Amelie and The Lives of Others) but it is the European and international filmmaker who seems to us much more inclined to find in the image the detail rather than the plot point, the complexity of a situation over its ready solution. As Christian (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Graduation) Mungiu reckons: "There's always ambiguity in life. There's always complexity. I'm always trying to portray this kind of complex situation without judging the characters, without having any comment of my own. At the same time, I'm not necessarily trying to make the characters solve these kinds of moral issues. I think this is where cinema can be useful, to show the complexity of life without comment." (Vox) Obviously, he exaggerates his case: Mungiu is not filming life but a slice of it as dramatic action. But this would appear to be a quite different problem from the one Christopher Nolan addresses even if Nolan would insist he is interested in life too. For Dark Knight rises he wanted to work without CGI in a scene where the villain Banes drops a plane Nolan wanted to make it as real as possible, with Nolan saying, "It was sort of an incredible coming together of lots and lots of planning by a lot of members of the team who worked for months rehearsing all these parachute jumps." But we might wonder whether this is Nolan interested in the capturing an aspect of reality or the hyperbolization of spectacle within the authentic. There is something to be said for this approach that refuses doing everything on a computer, but it is also perhaps competitive rather than complex. Nolan wants to make films that raise the directorial bar; if everything spectacular happens to be done by the computer people, where is the director's imprint. If James Cameron was at the forefront of computerizing cinema with Terminator 2 and Titanic as the pre millennial American maestro, Nolan occupies a similar place post millennium. While Cameron talked up digital cinema and special effects, Nolan defends celluloid and real machines. Speaking of Dunkirk Nolan said, "Most of what's in the film was done with real Spitfires. The planes are in incredible condition and can do all the dogfighting, all the aerobatics. They are remarkable machines. (USA Today) Here Nolan attends very specifically to the real world, with USA Today noting "Real Spitfires, of which there are only a few dozen air-worthy planes left, flew again in battle for Nolan in 'Dunkirk' after having been retired from the Royal Air Force by the early 1960s. The last operational sortie took place in 1954."
Such an approach to reality is very admirable, yet still this is hypermodern cinema as hyperbolic intent. Nolan goes back to the machines from the past with machines from the present all the better to put us into the pilot's seat."But mastering the feat with bulky IMAX cameras that brought vivid images and expansive field of view to the large screen was a victory compelling Smithsonian's Air Space magazine to say: Dunkirk boasts some of the most thrilling aerial engagements ever staged. Imax cameras have been regularly used in millennial blockbusters to indicate scope and immensity; merely a camera utilising depth of field will do the work Tsai and Haneke require of it. While Nolan wants still to create spectacle that is consistent with the instagrammatic; Tsai and Haneke seek out the medigrammatic. But these are two sides of the hypermodern coin, as if to point out, on the one hand, the spectacle of what can be captured and on the other what can be missed. If 9/11 is such a key event for the image in the 21st century it rests partly on the spectacular that was rehearsed and the terror that was missed. One means missed here not just in the sense that the government and the people didn't see it coming (despite an early attempt on the twin towers in 1993 that killed six) but didn't see it coming in the image itself. This is is the sort of missed image that numerous contemporary international filmmakers are very interested in indeed.
Equally, we have suggested the other major event of the millennium has been the financial crash, an event of that turned perversely the collapse of the twin towers into a metaphorical image before the event: it was as if the World Trade Centres falling were a foreshadowing of the financial collapse to come. We do not wish to be flippant about this, but politics falls under aesthetics and not the other way round from an artistic point of view. This is where Karl-Heinz Stockhausen made such a hash of things when saying weeks after 9/11 that 'the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos...You have people who are so concentrated on one performance, and then 5,000 people are dispatched into eternity, in a single moment. I couldn't do that. In comparison with that, we're nothing as composers.'' (New York Times) Stockhausen had a point, but the timing was wrong and the exaggeration of the claims very troublesome indeed. But what we can rescue from the rubble of the remark is this: that art takes from the world the images it needs to make sense of the world. Insensitivity in life is not always the same as insensitivity in art, as we might see in a statement made by the Conservative politician (and future PM) Boris Johnson in Telegraph: I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people [namely Muslim women] should choose to go around looking like letter boxes. From the point of view of politics many found it insensitive; from the point of view of aesthetics we might find it weak. If he had compared it to the London Gherkin at night to the Burka, for example, we might have been equally offended but not aesthetically so. We could admire the visual simile while taking offence at the remark, just as we can see the importance of the editing in Birth of a Nation without admiring the racist message the editing contains. An artist will often flirt with ostensible insensitivity for a deeper sensitivity towards a given situation.
Martin Scorsese's 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street is much more 'insensitive' than 1987's Wall Street, but this is because the financial industry needs a new symbolic form to be understood. Wall Street wanted a Manichean struggle between the bad Gordon Gecko who would asset strip companies, and the good union bloke who is the dad of the young man caught between figural and literal father figures. Will Bud Fox go the way of the dark side or be salvaged by the light? This is morally analogue cinema; Scorsese suggests a digitized era where morality moves so much more slowly than financial information as Jordan Belford cannot see the damage he is doing as he is caught up in the pace of his life. The film might be set initially in the year that Wall Street came out, but as it moves into the nineties the deregulation becomes ever more pronounced and the film is interested less in the spevcifics of the financial transactions than the pace of life which is consistent with fast moving capital. There have beem more diligant films than The Wolf of Wall Street (most especially Margin Call) but Scorsese knows the attraction of the fast-life and manages to find the appropriate correlative for living in the fast lane. While before such lifestyles belonged to actors, sports stars and rock musicians, now many of the super rich and the still young are in the world of banking, trying to live life at a pace consistent with the algorithms that push money around the world. While in Margin Call almost nobody can understand what is going on short of a rocket scientist slumming it in finance, in The Wolf of Wall Street Belford doesn't really care what is going on as long as it is going on. If he is at the centre of the the chaos then what matters is being at the centre not the chaos. In one famous scene he so high on qauuludes that he can't see he has trashed his new Lamborghini. He is a figure who won't take responsibility; the perfect embodiment of a system of finance that outsources the data to systems out of human control. As Sean Dodson said in the Guardian: "Amid all the fallout from the financial turmoil, one group has yet to feel the accusing finger of blame: the analysts who built the computer software that drove the derivatives markets that, in turn, drove the financial collapse. Since the Big Bang of the 1980s, large amounts of stocks and shares - and derivatives of them - have been traded automatically by computers rather than by humans." Dodson adds, These so-called algotrades accounted for as much as 40% of all trades on the London Stock Exchange in 2006; on some American equity markets the figure can be as high as 80%. Whether driving a fast car on drugs or allowing algorithms to make you fortunes on the stock market, in each instance Jordan Belson isn't really in control. At the same time as there is no control, neither is there really any responsibility as moral hazard became a term used to describe the perverse incentives available to bankers who would profit from loss: "Moral hazard is a situation in which one party gets involved in a risky event knowing that it is protected against the risk and the other party will incur the cost. It arises when both the parties have incomplete information about each other." Belford flogs useless stock to individuals who believe they are buying into a prestigious company and Scorsese cuts from the fancy talk on the phone to the reality the customer is buying into: a dilapidated shed in the middle of nowhere. The client might make money as long as the shares keep rising, but if they plummet there is nothing underpinning them. By this stage, Jordan and his gang will have profited hugely from their share of the profits in this non-existent business and will thus incur no risk at all. This also works in the broader context of banking bailouts: as Paul Myners said "Far too many bankers themselves have enjoyed massive awards during the crisis, even as their firms were rescued." (Guardian) The government rewards failure, and thus the bankers can take risks without incurring personal loss.
What has this to do with hypermodern cinema we may ask? What makes The Wolf of Wall Street so different from plain old Wall Street? Our answer rests on the question of how cinema films money and its movement, how it captures an aspect of the speed vital to contemporary living. Finance just happens to be the arena where we no longer need claim time is money, in the old capitalist adage, but speed is money. "A micro second is one millionth of a second: and in the speed fuelled universe of Automated Trading, these time differences determine profit or loss. High Frequency Trading (HFT) and algorithmic trading are both types of automated trading started in the USA in the early 2000s. Offering the advantages of reduced error and lightning-fast response speeds, 'algo trading' is now a worldwide phenomenon, and accounts for nearly 70% of equity trades in the US alone." (Do Big) If we have proposed 9/11 is such a key event not only because it captured so fundamentally the spectacle that so many films live by, but also the inattentional blindness so many 'art house' filmmakers have sought out, then the financial crash indicated that the pace of information is a fundamental mode of thought: the ultimate in instrumental thinking.
To understand an aspect of this, and the bifurcation we can see in the type of cinema Kiarostami, Tsai, Haneke and others practice, against the Scorsese of The Wolf of Wall Street, Nolan's Batman films and for example the David Fincher of Gone, Girl and Fight Club. We can usefully draw here on an aspect of Heidegger's thought. In What is Called Thinking, Heidegger says, "the sciences' one -sidedness retains its own many-sidedness, but that many-sidedness may expand to such proportions that the one-sidedness on which it is based no longer catches our eye." In this sense films that emphasise the pace of the work, the capacity to problem solve and think quickly resemble the thought of science, a problem-solution model for our existence that is the object of analysis rather than the subject in front of the world. When Tsai, Haneke of Kiarostami ask us to see what is in the image, they are asking what we find in it, not necessarily what we must extract from it. If in the former instance, in the 'scientific' for arguments sake, the greater our absence, the more successful the extraction. It wishes for the right answer, not our answer. No matter how fast our thinking, no matter how many times we watch it, we will never know why the central character in A Taste of Cherry wishes to take his own life. At a certain point in Gone, Girl, we know for sure that the central character's wife has faked her own death so that Nick will be arrested for her murder. This is revenge for the affair she discovers he has been having. Gone, Girl is a fine film of manipulation and counter-manipulation, a hyperbolic example of the calculative that captures very well the pace of thought which has to think quickly, and works through numerous variables as the two leading characters try and stay one step ahead of each other.
In Heideggarian terms Gone, Girl would be at thoughtless film no matter all the thinking that goes on in the process of watching it, and by the same reckoning the financial industry, the business sector and the political arena would all be thoughtless too. Phrases like "you can't buck the market" and "it is the economy, stupid" are the opposite of thoughtful remarks: they suggest that the market is as natural as breathing and any discussion about this is just hot air. But as the economist, Ha-Joon-Chang says, "all markets are in the end politically constructed. A lot of things that we cannot buy and sell in markets used to be totally legal objects of market exchange - human beings when we had slavery, child labour, human organs, and so on. So there is no economic theory that actually says that you shouldn't have slavery or child labour because all these are political, ethical judgments." But the finance industry has little interest in such thoughts; instead, working off a herd instinct that knows how to back winners and losers as quickly as possible: indeed so quickly that human intervention itself can seem too slow, evident in our remark about high-frequency trading. Perhaps we could claim the financial sector is the logic of quick-thinking at its most pronounced; the antithesis of the slow wisdom Heidegger observes when famously saying, "what is most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking." When we attend so little to the possibility of this thinking we are in a Nietzschean wasteland, watching as "the wasteland grows". We may have ever more gadgets, ever faster technology, but that doesn't mean we are thinking. Cinema can make us think or it can make us calculate. The instagrammatic image adds to this sense of calculation; the medigrammatic asks us to retreat from such calculations, to see more in the image than we think we can instantly grasp. It is true, as we've noted, this is not exclusive to hypermodern cinema, and partly why this branch of the hypermodern is in some ways a continuation of modernism into our own era, just as we see the fast-paced a variation on the postmodern.
Thus to conclude what we see in today's cinema is the presence of two events haunting it, 9/11 and the financial crash, and seeing in them an opportunity on the part of filmmakers to 'take advantage' of such events: utilising them for spectacle and pace, or for an angle upon them that calls them into question, wondering if we can think about the world we are in by intervening in it with thoughts about it. We have seen the consequences in the context of both 9/11 and the financial industry of acting without much thought. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were necessary because something had to be seen to be done, no matter if they lacked the translators required to fight the war. The army "said, for instance, that it lacked the linguistic capacity to support the prosecution of two major wars at one time, the baseline requirement of American military planners since the end of the Cold War," according to Nathaniel Frank in the New York Times. The financial collapse demanded an instant bailout, with the result that the consequences were not thought through on a governmental level, leading to government austerity. As Mat Taibi said in Rolling Stone: "what few remember about the bailouts is that we had to approve them. And much like the Iraq War resolution, which was only secured after George W. Bush ludicrously warned that Saddam was planning to send drones to spray poison over New York City, the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive." It was the ultimate example of thinking on one's feet even if those feet were of clay. "At one meeting to discuss the original bailout bill - at 11 a.m. on September 18th, 2008 - [Hank] Paulson actually told members of Congress that $5.5 trillion in wealth would disappear by 2 p.m. that day unless the government took immediate action, and that the world economy would collapse "within 24 hours." It is unironic that the financial industry was bailed out at the sort of frenetic pace the industry had been practising for years, even if someone looking at the long game would have been able to see the consequences of such immediate calculation and the detriment to societal well-being. The hypermodern age has become, of course, an age of unrest, an agitative age that needs, more desperately than ever, the wisdom of cinema that does not assume to know everything in a glance.
© Tony McKibbin