Screens, A practical Approach in Digital Media

Screens. The apparatus in which an image can be held and manipulated. Colors ever changing at a rapid pace, fooling our senses into believing in motion. The screen can be intoxicating, thrilling, dramatic; all in a matter of moments. At its core the screen combines the ancient art of oral traditions with the advent of moveable [6] type as the screen is able to reproduce our world visio-mechanically while describing it in alarming detail. The screen represents the end-product of image capture, editing, distribution, and self-reflection. It is the screen where critique and debate of humanities reflection can be discussed in perpetuity. Film Theory, as it was devised in the 20th century only applied to celluloid and the “big screen” of the cinema. Yet in the modern era, many different recording technologies and screen sizes compete for mainstream attention, threatening to jettison film studies into obscurity. Film and Media Theory must evolve as the big screen is remediated into alternate and ever changing forms that hide the messages of our humanity eerily similar to the cinema before it [7].  

Today, screens come in all shapes and sizes. From the standpoint of the canvas in which moving images are displayed, this dominant and accessible form of consumption and creation for well over a hundred years has changed little over time. It is true that the standards of the canvas have evolved; 1.33:1, 1.37:1, 2.35:1, 1.24:1, and 1.77:1 are all dictated via the corporate machine that manufactures cameras, screens, and content. The modern screen has its roots in celluloid film as we can see and hear the aesthetic echoes of film’s early auteurs pronounced in the digital ‘content creators’ of today. The format may change, but what the content says about our humanity does not.

As academics and philosophers have built their careers on the analysis of “film” and “cinema”. Thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, Andre Bazin, Davis Bordwell, and D.N. Rodowick have defined and further redefined film theory into a truly academic endeavor [1]. In the essay “Contemporary Film Studies”, contained in Post Theory, David Bordwell maps out the short history of the discipline and identifies two trends in film theory; culturalism and subject-position theory [1]. These “grand theories”, are categorized by “that their discussions of cinema are framed within schemes which seek to describe or explain very broad features of society, history, language, and psyche” [1]. This oversimplification of film theory attempts to silo previous work in the discipline by dismissing perspectives of Psychoanalytic Theory. Instead, Cognitive Theory is proposed as a replacement to address the moving image and spectatorship. With so many differing ways to analyze the moving image from an academic perspective, how does film theory apply to modern screens or digital platforms without fracturing into a thousand different theories? To simplify this evolution, I propose that film and media theory should be structured into an overarching taxonomy entitled “Platform Theory.”

Modern digital media resides in the historical footprint created by late 19th century analogue film both from a technological perspective (lens/screen) as well as the perspective in which we seek narrative analysis (theory).  In 2007’s, The Virtual Life of Film, D.N. Rodowick argues that the terms “film” and “Cinema” should be removed from the nomenclature of modern media theorists as the classical theories of cinema have already influenced new media [2]. Specifically André Bazin’s influence on the ideals and technology apparent in video games proves that film theory has its place in digital media. In the 1960’s, Bazin made a rhetorical shift from looking at cinema as a technological development to a reflection of reality [3]. Specific to the medium, Bazin proposed that the end game for cinema was the 1:1 mapping of reality, indistinguishable from real life. Sixty years later, with the popularity of virtual reality headsets and augmented reality, the screen has technologically evolved, striving to replicate the reality of the cinema through long established vernacular of the motion picture. This vernacular is what media theorists have critiqued and debated over the 20th century. Although other scholars such as Manovich have advocated that film theory no longer applies to digital media as the digital form encompasses or supplants early film and television work, I firmly believe that the content created on the different hardware and software platforms share the same inherit DNA.

Taking a cue from Kevin Kelly’s, “What Technology Wants” [8], the idea for Platform Theory is a reconfigurable and nimble taxonomy that intends to be a flexible framework for past, present, and future digital media platforms. Using the screen as the nexus, Platform Theory branches off to include the cinema, television, games, user generated content, digital art, computational photography, and more. Further subsets that share their parent forms can be created and studied on-the-the fly, freeing scholars for their respective theoretical prisons. This reshuffling of media and film studies would quell the debate and attempt to reinforce the themes and ideals that are not only shared across platforms but what makes them unique as well.


[1]  Carrol Noël, and David Bordwell. Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. University of    Wisconsin Press, 2009.

[2] N., Rodowick D. The Virtual Life of Film. Harvard University Press, 2009.

[3] Bazin André. What Is Cinema? University of California Press, 2005.

[4] Benjamin, Walter, and J. A. Underwood. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Penguin Books, 2008.

[5] Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2000.

[6] McLuhan, Marshall, and W. Terrence Gordon. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Gingko Press, 2015.

[7] Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 2003.

[8] Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants Technology Is a Living Force That Can Expand Our Individual Potential – If We Listen to What It Wants. Penguin Books, 2011.


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