Publicerat av Markus Amalthea Magnuson den 15 februari 2010
Kategorier: Film · Media · Mjukvara · Teknologi

Moving images as databases

Det här är en experimentell text jag skrev i samband med en skoluppgift, utifrån texten ”Information, secrets, and enigmas: en enfolding-unfolding aesthetics for cinema” (pdf, 13 sidor) av Laura U. Marks och i viss mån texten ”Methodological Fatigue and the Politics of the Affective Turn” (pdf, 15 sidor) av Imogen Tyler. Som vanligt refereras Lev Manovich. Första delen handlar om filmen som databas och andra delen applicerar några av dessa tankar på filmen Das Leben der Anderen (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006).

Anyone who have attended lectures by Trond Lundemo at the Department of Cinema Studies at Stockholm university should be somewhat familiar with the concept of moving images as databases. By querying a film on basis of genre, cuts or other features, at the same time we are unfolding the enfolded information of the film in accordance with Laura U. Marks’ deleuzian view of images as a subset of ”the universe of images”, filtered through an information layer.

Now, what is particularly interesting with this concept is its connections to the digital image. Because the digital image becomes calculable, actually by definition according to Lev Manovich, it also drifts into the area of databases in a purely technological sense. The concept of the moving image as database merges with the digital moving image as actually being based on calculable, discrete data.

For example, consider the online movie store. Through a graphical user interface we make queries such as “genre equals drama” and are presented with a subset of the full range of available movies. In analogy with Marks, our query represents a layer of filtering information, narrowing “the universe of online movies” down to a certain set of images. We could go even further and express the operation through a common database query language such as SQL:

SELECT * WHERE genre = drama

This line of code could actually be run against a database and yield the mentioned results. Filtering by genre, however, is always a complex matter considering the many twists and turns of genre theory in film studies; it is still a problematic pursuit to define ”genre” or to separate them from each other. Instead we may turn to the more mathematical aspects of film data, say duration. Again, expressed as SQL:

SELECT * WHERE duration < 60

This might yield all movies below a running time of one hour. Or, if the duration is the actual information we’re after rather than the movie itself:

SELECT duration WHERE genre = drama

By dividing this set of durations we could by an additional operation end up with the average length of a drama film. In conclusion, moving images as filtered, queried, unfolded information is no longer only a theoretical concept but a very real, technological operation.

But not only the user is filtering, the process is ongoing both ”client-side” and ”server-side” to use another analogy from computer science, that is, the range of films considered as ”the universe of images” in our online movie store is already in itself filtered by such processes as markets, censorship and ”taste”. Thus, the lack of analysis of power and hierarchy that for example Imogen Tyler would criticize deleuzian film theory of, need not be absent.

The single layer of information in Marks’ sketch could be expanded to a multilayered set of information filters, including the different layers’ position in a hierarchy. In fact, this hierarchy could be a point of unfolding, much in the same way as ideology critique (in a Gramscian sense) is a way of discovering or unfolding hidden power relationships.

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) is a very rewarding example since it – while being a film object to be put under scrutiny from such a deleuzian perspective – also travels on a meta-plane where a database is constructed, queried and filtered in its diegetic world. This film is thus a database and at the same time about a database.

If the reality of Sieland and Dreyman and their lives is to be seen as the universe of images, and Stasi as some sort of subject interpreting these images in search for certain information (i.e. querying the universal database) then the surveillor Wiesler is an information filter in between these two, constantly negotiating the claims of the ”real”. From a strictly freudian view we could as well view Sieland/Dreyman as the id, Stasi as the super-ego and Wiesler as the negotiating ego.

At one point Wiesler gets rid of his co-surveillor under the pretense that this person cannot be trusted. At that moment two conflicting information filters collapse, or merge, and Wieslers interpretation becomes default. From now one, the only information channel available to the Stasi is the already filtered database delivered by Wiesler, namely the huge stacks of typewritten paper detailing the surveillance results. As we know, Wiesler deliberately alters his findings when writing them down, or outright ignores adding information. If by ideology the original contents of the online movie store is already filtered and narrowed down, the same goes for the surveillance database made available to the Stasi. Thus, we do not have access to the ”real” universe of movies, and the Stasi does not have access to the ”real” lives of others.

Can anyone in the film be said to have access to ”all” information? No, obviously not, and Marks would probably agree. Information layers are crucial for our interpretation of the world and actually a prerequisite for any interpretation to take place at all. Also, the information flows are not traveling in a single direction but are multi-relational and sometimes even interfering with themselves like Heisenbergian quantum wave-particles. For example, the viewers knowledge of Sieland’s knowledge of the hidden compartment beneath the doorway causes a certain interpretation of Wiesler’s involvement in moving the typewriter, but not until we know of his knowledge and also his intentions.

Much could probably be gained from continuing this analysis based on various media technologies in the film (i.e. microphone as filtering the universe of sound, or typewriter as filtering the universe of text/language) but having already exceeded the required 300–500 words of this essay by more than 100%, such exercise will have to wait.

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