Video Transformers in the Expanded Field


From TRANSFORMERS: THE PREMAKE (Screenshot by Patrick Friel)

From the birth of Hollywood to the recent present, the life cycle of a commercial movie is typically understood in four stages. Production is where the film is developed, shot and completed. Promotion is where the film is marketed through media and advertising. Exhibition, is where the film is seen by the public. And reception is where the impact of the movie on the public is measured, whether in ratings and reviews or in box office revenues. While that feedback may be applied towards the development of future productions, the reception stage is generally seen as the end point of the life cycle of a feature film. And it is the only part where the public has any input in the life cycle.

However, in the Internet era, there are multiple means by which the amateur public can participate in all stages of the film’s life cycle. Amateur footage of location shooting from the production makes its way to YouTube. Fan networks sharing advance information about the movie take part in the publicity and promotion. And amateur review videos and uploaded clips can be seen as part of the film’s exhibition, whether officially or not. This unprecedented role of the amateur in a film’s life cycle may radically transform the operations of the movie industry as it has operated for nearly a century and requires a new framework of understanding.

In 1979, the art historian Rosalind Krauss published an essay titled “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” in which she argued that our notion of sculpture had been radically transformed due to emerging forms and practices. If you could put a broken TV monitor in the middle of an empty room and call it a sculpture, or plant a stick on a hilltop and call it sculpture (not just the stick itself but also the hilltop), then what does it even mean to call something a sculpture?

In an attempt to devise an answer, Krauss used a diagram based on four distinct categories. Krauss asserted that modern sculpture was something that distinguished itself as separate from two other forms of three dimensional art, landscape and architecture. She then used these categories to map out other forms of art that had been called sculpture but might be understood to be something else, depending on whether they affirmed or negated landscape or architectural forms. In other words, she had identified a turning point in the history of sculpture, that it had entered an expanded field of forms and practices.

The footage shown in this video is of a field named McCormick Place in Chicago. The field was turned into a movie set for a major Hollywood blockbuster. But this footage, found on YouTube was filmed by an amateur outside of his hotel room. How are we to categorize this footage within the field of commercial moving images? In the world of commercial movies, there are the producers and the consumers. The maker of this video is producing a commercial image, but at the same time he is also consuming it.

How might we categorize the different participants in the expanded field of moving image production? Someone who is both a producer and a consumer is a fan. Someone who produces movies but not for commercial reasons might be called an artist. Someone who consumes movies but not for commercial reasons might be called a critic. This video, which is both produces an image while at the same time consuming it, might be considered a fan video. But what if it could be turned into its opposite, as a work both negates commercial production and consumption? What might we call this kind of work?

To find and answer to this question requires looking from a new perspective of how an image is made, whether it be an expensive commercial blockbuster, an amateur video, or some strange combination of the two. And we must not only look at the image, but also look at who is doing the looking, and how their look compares to ours.

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