My last test film, Visual disorders, created for the first time in the open access journal [in]Transition yesterday. This open access journal features peer-reviewed academic video essays and presents a wide variety of film and media analysis. Visual disturbances use state-of-the-art eye tracking visualizations to explore how viewers perceive and perceive movies poorly.
Some readers may remember my 2007 Disney mashup, A tale (y) of use. This film, in its own way, helped open the genre of video testing by sampling commercial movies for educational purposes.
Visual disorders is a very different kind of film but based on the precedent established by A tale (y) of use and the diligent work of scholars, lawyers, archivists and activists to bring Fair Use to the 21st century. For visual disturbances, I should send a very special message to the lawyer and professor of Irvine University, Jack Lerner. His students at UC Irvine's Intellectual Property, Arts and Technology Clinic reviewed the film and wrote a valuable opinion letter on its fair dealing status. This letter finally resulted in the purchase of a Errors and Omissions insurance policy to protect the film from frivolous copyright infringement.
Visual disorders uses 187 unlicensed clips (at the bottom of the 385 clips used in A tale (y) of use!) commercial movies to explore how the public watches a movie. The cinema suffers from a fundamental problem that tells a story: the medium captures too much visual information from reality. Thus, from the beginning, Hollywood filmmakers have developed a series of tactics to subtly focus public attention on key narrative details. Administrators skilfully used the framing, lighting, lenses, and camera movement to gently guide the audience around the frame. Editing protocols can then be used to smoothly organize space and carefully mark temporal changes to link the hundreds of fragments of a movie to an easily readable narrative set. And unsurprisingly, these tactics attracted public attention so that we "see" the same movie as everyone else.
But what happens when a filmmaker chooses to ignore these rules or, better yet, to subvert them? Where does the audience look and see the same movie? The visual disturbances call on the psychologists Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris "(of The invisible gorilla conceptions of inattentional blindness and change of blindness to explore how the public perceives and misunderstand cinematic images.
The film focuses in particular on French filmmaker Jacques Tati and on the way his films deliberately betray our perception. Tati has only made a handful of films during his career and these seem to be deceptively simple on the surface. Yet, repeated viewings reveal alternative (and sometimes bizarre) readings of narrative events. Visual disorders suggests that Tati's staging method advocated a kind of visual blindness and that some filmmakers in film history deliberately used this technique as a stylistic option.
To reveal this hidden movie style, Visual disorders employs a variety of research methods: mix of focus groups with historical and industrial audiences, original film material combined with formal analysis of existing films, and state-of-the-art visualizations. My colleagues from Bucknell, Aaron Mitchel and Nathan Ryan (as well as students Taylor Myers and Alexander Murph) have helped me use eye tracking technology to examine how the public looks and watches a movie again. Do the narrative techniques of Hollywood force us to see the same thing over and over again? And does Tati's more open style encourage the public to "wander" around the frame and discover new materials? WatchVisual disorders discover!
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