Disegno 2022/1

Total Cinema: Film and Design

Editors: Ágnes Karolina Bakk (Guest Editor), Zsolt Gyenge, Olivér Horváth (Managing Editor), Szilvia Maróthy, Márton Szentpéteri, Péter Wunderlich (Project Manager). Founding Editor: Heni Fiáth

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Table of Contents

Ágnes Karolina Bakk, Zsolt Gyenge, and Olivér Horváth: Introduction. Total Cinema: Film and Design




Ágnes Karolina Bakk, Zsolt Gyenge, and Olivér Horváth: Introduction. Total Cinema: Film and Design

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 4–10. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1eds

The movie screen is up in flames and the audience flees in panic, thinking an atomic bomb has just been dropped. The director rubs his hands: film and the outside world have blended into one—at least in Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993), set in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. May this be the “myth of total cinema” described by André Bazin in 1946, according to which the art of film was never really driven by its accidental technological history but by a desire to grasp reality in its entirety, to reconstruct “a perfect illusion of the outside world in sound, color, and relief”? Dante’s larger than life director pays homage to B-movie showman William Castle, who shied away from little when it came to engagement, be it narrative, visual, or somatic. Castle appeared on screen offering the audience a (faux) choice between alternative endings, used 3D illusionism, and installed “buzzers” in the seats and skeletons flying over the auditorium—not unlike Eisenstein’s Proletkult theatre which included tightrope-walkers over the viewers’ heads and firecrackers under their bottoms. Is it possible to unite the effects of agitprop theatre, the illusion of agency in American trash films and the immersive formats of our time into a single conceptual framework? And if it is, would that be cinema? Film theorist Andrew Dudley already claimed in 1997 that “[t]he century of cinema offered a fragile period of détente during which the logosphere of the nineteenth century with its grand novels and histories has slowly given way—under the pressure of technology, of the ascendance of the image, and of unfathomable world crises—to the videosphere we are now entering.”

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Dave Gottwald: Total Cinema, Total Theatre, Total World: From Set as Architecture to Set as Virtual Performer

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 12–32. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1dg

Sets are a construction within André Bazin’s “recreation of the world in its own image.” During the 1920s, advances in film stock (which improved image clarity) and better lenses (which expanded depth of field) meant that the visual fidelity of sets had to increase. Most critical was more sophisticated camera motion. Cranes could now take the camera into sets, which required more complete environments. Sets have mutated and spread ever since. Architects began working in the movie industry and movie people began working as architects. With the introduction of the first Disney theme park, this practice became codified and thematic placemaking has since proliferated globally. Sets later provided the blueprint for digital games, and as embodied in the game engine have reached virtual holism. Today, Industrial Light & Magic’s StageCraft pairs LED display walls with game engine technology on a soundstage called the Volume. StageCraft replaces both CGI and the traditional set with mixed reality, photorealistic digital environments. Filmmakers can also make design changes in real time and move these virtual backgrounds around the players. This article posits a new history of the spatial philosophy of set design in which the experiential mode of themed spaces, video games, and virtual reality each become a unified recombination of Bazin’s rigid theatre/ cinema dichotomy.

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Pedro Crispim: Kōji Wakamatsu: Alienation and the Womb

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 34–53. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1pc

This essay intends to analyse four feature films from Japanese filmmaker Kōji Wakamatsu: The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966), Violated Angels (1967), Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969) and Violent Virgin (1969). Besides its narrative simplicity bordering on appalling eroticism, this informal tetralogy shares a particular design and spatial trademark: all four films are set in a single, tight, claustrophobic space. By resorting to Wakamatsu’s poetics of cruelty, political criticism and his use of sexuality as social commentary, I intend to inquire into the actual nature of his tetralogy’s use of filmic space in three particular dimensions: firstly, through an understanding of postwar Japan—especially the 1960s—, which contextualises Wakamatsu’s blossoming career in pink films during chaotic times; secondly, through individual analysis of each film, underscoring common denominators like their use of horrific sexual violence, themes of pseudo-revolution that degenerate in alienation, and Brechtian stylistic flourishes: all emerging from these films’ spatial dramatic unity, its chamber-like enclosure which recurrently resonates with metaphorical designs of the “womb;” and thirdly, by the tetralogy’s—and Wakamatsu’s other work from this period—ability to conceptually predict the ultimate paroxysm of its sociopolitical context, when revolution, sexuality, and death came together in Yukio Mishima’s bizarre suicide in 1970. Hence, Wakamatsu’s use of womb-like design of space in his informal tetralogy acts as a nihilistic, feverish cinematic rendering of all those major Japanese aff lictions that, climaxing in Mishima’s attempted coup, ultimately put an end to the social turmoil of 1960s Japan, and paved the way for the social transformation that steered the country in a mostly steady, conservative way from the mid-twentieth century onwards.

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Péter Horányi: Wandering Gazes on the Screen: The American Material Environment in James Benning’s Films

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 54–68. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1ph

The experimental filmmaker James Benning has a unique way of approaching American life through a radical film language. My paper addresses the question of how American material culture and design appear in Benning’s early work. A recurring feature is his preference for the depiction of landscapes, buildings, objects, and vehicles over human characters that support viewer identification in mainstream documentaries. In the first half of the paper, I present the main stylistic features of Benning’s body of work within the context of structural film and documentary filmmaking. Then I provide a detailed analysis of three of his early films: 11 × 14 (1977), American Dreams: Lost and Found (1984) and Landscape Suicide (1986). I show how Benning was able to create a film language with structural experimentations, long takes, and wide shots that offers a perceptual experience that goes against mainstream narrative film and documentary traditions. Overall, the aim of this study is to present how Benning’s art provides an epistemological insight into American design and material culture of the 1970s and 1980s.

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Marshall Deutelbaum: The Hidden Architecture of CinemaScope Set Design

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 70–85. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1md

Almost seventy years after the popular success of the CinemaScope film, The Robe, inaugurated the widescreen era, there remains little critical understanding of the design logic of wide format films. Drawing on the evidence gained from an examination of nearly two hundred CinemaScope films, this essay focuses on the earliest of CinemaScope films, How to Marry a Millionaire (completed before The Robe but released after it), to offer a radical re-thinking of how set design is the key to widescreen aesthetics. The essay illustrates how, from the very beginning of CinemaScope production, a pair of grids were used to determine the composition of the frame and placement of actors within it, jobs that were normally ascribed to the director. Thus, far from being mere background, the grid-defined film sets add to the general sense of heightened interconnectedness that, like narrative and plot, satisfy a viewer’s desire for order and coherence.

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María Cecilia Reyes: From Screenwriting to Space-Writing

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 86–103. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1mcr

In the past ten years, audiovisual creators have been working on the development of narrative experiences for extended reality (XR) technologies, especially virtual reality (VR). The evolution of this practice has led to the creation of a technical language and processes. The transfer of knowledge from cinematography and videography has been the basis for the creative practice of “immersive narratives,” very often carrying with it jargon and practices that do not fit entirely with XR’s spatial nature. In this essay, I ref lect on whether we are still writing for a screen or writing for space from a practitioner’s perspective. Such a change of perspective starts with the recognition of the perceptual sphere and how to compose scenes in it. In this regard, a review of storyboarding for VR, followed by my own experience in creating an interactive VR movie, allowed me to ref lect on the concept of framing, camera positions, and authorial intentions. Finally, I argue that we can move from screenwriting to space-writing in relation to the technologies and immersive power of XR.

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Patrícia Nogueira: Space On and Off Screen: The Détournement of Documentary into Video Installation

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 104–117. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1pn

This essay proposes the détournement of the documentary film Displacement (Nogueira 2021) into a video installation, as a process to subvert the sequential documentary account of reality, as well as to interrogate space and movement on and off screen. Instead of editing and presenting the images and sounds in a continuous f low, the setup of the installation fragments the narrative and replaces the sequential format by a projected, sculptural, four-channel experience, composed of a prologue and three acts: (1) the family’s daily activities; (2) disruption of the quotidian routines; (3) the family’s displacement. While the installation projects the prologue onto clear white translucent plastic (like the ones used to cover construction sites) at the entrance to the darkroom, the three acts are projected on the three walls surrounding the audience in the darkroom. The result is an intersection of images and sounds: a juxtaposition and intertextuality of the content to offer an immersive view into family life. It also raises the question of embodiment in video installations, especially the notions of spectatorship, authorship, reality, performance, and, most importantly, what the boundaries of the screen are in the expanded practice of documentary film.

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Ervin Török: Remanences and Futurities: Jonathan Rozenkrantz: Videographic Cinema

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 120–124. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1et

Jonathan Rozenkrantz’s book, Videographic Cinema analyses the now obsolete medium of video from a refreshing and exciting perspective. The book focuses primarily on the emergence of analogue video images in theatrically released feature films. Rozenkrantz’s approach to the archaeology of video images is carefully balanced between the refusal of ontological idealism on the one hand (exemplified by works of André Bazin and D. N. Rodowick, among others), and on the other, the refusal of the reduction of video images to mere textual signifiers.

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Alexandra Karakas: A New Account of the Relation between Art, Science, and Design: Noam Andrews: The Polyhedrists

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 126–130. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2022_1ak

In general, the intertwining of drawing, perspective, instruments, design, and science is still far from being fully understood. In particular, the way mathematical knowledge of solids relates to art is a multidisciplinary endeavour that is hard to grasp without simplifying matters in some way. In his new book titled The Polyhedrists: Art and Geometry in the Long Sixteenth Century, Noam Andrews aims to detail the history of Platonic solids in different domains.

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About the Authors

Disegno 2022/1, page range: 132–134.

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