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The Ecstasy of Hyperrealism

Narayana Takacs University of Melbourne

The hyperreal can be defined as the indiscernibility between the real and the illusory, the order of the image becomes entangled. Cinematic realism has lost out to the spectacle of violence. By violence, I mean the abrasive quality of non-linear temporality in digital media, it is here we glimpse the interval, the convergence of different temporalities in space. In these images of the hyperreal it is not the violence itself that delights the viewer, rather it is the awe of an impossible temporal moment. Carolyn Guertin describes this desire for the interval as wanderlust a lust for movement. Within digital cinema hyperrealism is born of the interval, a visual transformance, linkage that begins with digital montage.

A jump cut in film editing is a cut that removes a section of a continuous shot. The technique breaks continuity in time. Any moving objects in the shot are displaced. This jumping does not correspond to a rational explanation. A match frame is considered its opposite, it cuts between two different spatial images creating either a sense of continuity or juxtaposition. With the digitisation of cinema and the rise of non-linear editing and compositing software “time becomes spatialised, distributed over the surface of the screen”(Manovich 2001:325). Digital montage is a convergent cut, a spectacle where textual qualities are more important than temporal continuity, reality becomes ambiguous with disconnected arrangements of time. This disjunctive cut is a mastery of spatio-temporal composition. Jan Spechenback (2000) warns of the danger of the anything goes unrestricted temporality of digital cinema, this attitude signals “the collapse in the rational movement-image of classical cinema” (Darren Tofts 2007:114). This spatialisation of time is a visual syncope, an impossible absence. For Catherine Clement(1994:1) this moment of syncope is “an absence of the self. A ‘cerebral eclipse.’” Syncope is a contracted instance, as Clement(1994:5) says, “Syncope makes things go quickly, it accelerates.” The contraction occurs as a moment of discord, syncope catches you off guard; it is unexpected. A syncopated rhythm is born of an unresolved moment, it is the art of rapture, a jouissance of the mind and body. A mental disjunction, there is an element of ecstatic rapture about the suspension of time where temporal absence defines form. Syncope is an unseen linkage between two temporal states, it is the time of the interval. Similarly, Guertin’s notion of wanderlust, of shamanic ecstasy, is a lust for the rhizomatic movement of the interval “that disruption that results in our transportation by desire.” There is an ecstasy of movement and absence located in the divergent temporal reality of the interval. The moment of crisis causes the

reality to become indiscernible, a convergence arises between the actual and the virtual. This interval distorts temporality to an impossible state. The visceral time of syncope leads to rapture in the hyperreal. It is the spectacle of digital cinema: time is now suspended and absent of the self. This non-linearity of form is manifest through the spatialisation of time. The body spasms in a moment of rapture, flickering to and fro, spatial displacement fractures consciousness, the viewer is seduced by the impossible.

shamanistic/ epileptic /flux guertin

Movement and form are abstracted through a suspension of time. The exploration of ruptured moments is essentially the pursuit of the body in time. This attempt to reveal the nature of the disrupted form is inhibited by its instability. This departure from stable forms is apparent within hyperrealism. Forms are displaced in time, they become dislodged from a coherent linear progression. The gap in time, in-between the ruptured movements of the body, is where syncope lies. Digital cinema is the cinema of hyperrealism, the execution of the impossible, “[i]t is a way of sculpting time, of capturing extraordinary moments of transcendence…” (Tofts 2007:112). This is the Deleuze’s ‘interval’ at work in the unstable flow of digital media. Hyperrealism floods our sensory experience in a constant barrage to gain our attention. Here we are captives to the addiction of the ecstasy of hyperrealism, where speed and time orchestrate syncope. Meaning is derived from what is lost, from the textual qualities generated by this ‘temporal hollow’. The ability of hyperrealism to seduce is in the interval, exposed by violence: the moment of impact, the transcendence, the duration. Digital montage is used to temper the speed of violence transitioning between time and space. The violence is interposed seamlessly with stylised linkages of virtuality or by a visual attack exacerbating the violence of speed, creating tension that is viscously punctuated.

In post-production, to ramp an image is to displace its temporality. Outside of this technical understanding to ramp is to act threateningly or violently. To combine the meanings within the discourse of digital media would be to do violence to the temporal existence of an image. This technique of ramping produces a heavily stylised digital temporality as all modes of time compression are available. Here, digital cinema has the capacity to do violence to time itself. This method of ramping is rife throughout the action and horror sequences of digital cinema, though it is not the violence that arrests our attention, it is the syncope of hyperrealism, the ecstasy of the impossible.

The zombie offers vantage point from which the acceleration of temporal violence can be observed with the digitisation of cinema. The theme of the zombie was popularised by director George A. Romero in his Living Dead series, the most well know of which is the 1978 Dawn of the Dead which has also been remade in 2004 and directed by Zack Snyder. What is of interest here is what occurred with the digitisation of the zombie. The zombie did not enter popular culture till its cinematic debut in Victor Halperin's 1932 release White Zombie. However, the original mythology of the zombie came from the Vodoun religion of Haiti (Davis 1985:42). The zombie genre does not exist prior to the film age because of its essentially visual nature; zombies do not think or speak--they simply act, relying on purely physical manifestations of terror. (Bishop 2006:197) This connection to a filmic popularisation provides a unique platform to examine the evolution of temporality in cinema from the original filmic conventions to the celerity of violence in digital cinema. In Romero’s Living Dead series zombies have specific behaviours, their movement is slow paced with an iconic shuffle and outstretched arms. While some zombies seem to have the ability to increase their speed in short bursts their locomotive capacity is severely limited. Despite this slow locomotion the genre of zombie movies are particularly horrific, “[t]heir primary actions are visceral and violent: They claw, rend, smash, and gnaw” (Bishop 2006:201). Comparatively, in the 2004 remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead the zombie is viciously fast and agile. While they still retain some of the behavioural characteristics, such as a vocabulary limited to groans and shrieks, out stretched arms, mindlessness, and the desire to consume human flesh, the principal difference here is their mobility. These are zombies that will make you run. The 2004 Dawn of the Dead was not the first to accelerate the violence of the contemporary zombie. In 28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle 2002) the zombie has a similar ferocity, and in some cases seemed to have increased celerity. All other aspects are similar with the exception that they are accelerated. Similarly, the film Resident Evil (Dir. Paul Anderson 2002) contained flesh eating creatures that did not suffer the impaired locomotion of the traditional zombie, rather these ones where biotechnologically enhanced. The digital zombie is accelerated violence, the manifestation of terror has shift from being purely physical to one of celerity. This shift in the temporal existence of the zombie has a direct correlation to the nature of its mediation. By digitising the zombie we have freed it from the temporal constraints of twenty four frames per second, the zombie no longer shuffles it has been granted the potential violence of unrestrained temporality. This is something to be feared more than anything else, the zombie’s celerity.

Speed resembles senescence, and death, this death that brushes up against that carries him off and bears him away from his people (Virilio 2005:44). The apocalyptic themes that are associated with the genre of the zombie film are accentuated by the speed of the contemporary zombie, a mindless creature of velocity that has come to take you away in an act of frenzied violence. The zombie is the warhorse of digital cinema “symbolising the terror of the end” (Virilio 2005:46).

The digital effect of ‘bullet time’ is essentially a temporal distortion, a slowing of perception in order reinforce a notion of imperceptible speed, as the name implies it is at the delight in the unknowable temporality of the bullet. Darren Tofts argues that these moments of bullet time, these moments of virtuality have an uncanny parallel to Deleuze’s concept of the ‘time-image’. For Deleuze’s the ‘time-image’ is the mutual coexistence of the virtual (past) and the actual (present), an interval in temporal continuance. This interval for Deleuze, “is an indeterminate pause, a dislocated transition that is neither here nor there” (Tofts 2007:115). Here bullet time can be considered a temporal manifestation of the disjunctive cut of digital montage. It exists outside of any known temporal existence, it is a simulated expression of false movement. Bullet time is the impossible celerity of violence, a visual point blank asserting the rhythm of the interval. It is the contemporary romanticisation of the celerity of violence, the duration of the bullet fired from the gun. It accosts attention with a sense of ecstasy, an interval of hyperrealism. The Matrix is an excellent example with which the celerity of violence in digital cinema can be examined in Neo’s need to become faster. The two iconic examples of bullet time in The Matrix are Trinity’s leap in the opening scene and towards the end where Neo dodges bullets. Darren Tofts argues that these moments of bullet time, these moments of virtuality have an uncanny parallel to Deleuze’s concept of the ‘time-image’ an interval in temporal continuance. As Tofts (2007:112) put it “Our perception, too, is of a time out of time, the time of the interval, of remote control and digital versatility.” Bullet time is the impossible celerity of violence, a visual point blank asserting the rhythm of duration. As Trinity says, placing a gun to the temple of an agent, “Dodge this.” It is an effect of the interval, an effect of different rhythms of duration. Its movement is as false as Trinity’s stasis is illusory. What appears to be movement is, in fact, the perceptual reinforcement of how fast she is moving relative to anyone else at that particular point in time. It underlines the difference in the rhythms of duration and in no way enables us to see how fast she is moving. (Tofts 2007:117) Virilio argues that disappearance occurs through the accelerated body. Acceleration is brief, time is

condensed, the moment is one of extremes. Here, absence is a departure from stable forms. The moment flickers through time, the body moves unconscious of its displacement in space: it continues, jilted and fragmented but retaining a disjointed fluidity. Vertigo ensues in anticipation of absence. Owing to an acceleration of speed, he's succeeded in modifying his actual duration; he's taken it off from this lived time. To stop "registering" it was enough for him to provoke a body-acceleration, a dizziness that reduced his environment to a sort of luminous chaos.(Virilio)

It is speed that is responsible for the alteration of temporal perception. It is speed that seduces through an addiction to the absence it produces. Conscious duration is altered as absence speeds beyond the sensory capacity of the body. The acceleration of technology rushes past, leaving the body behind in a moment of absence, lasting only the briefest of moments. Absence is a suspension of time. Temporal perception continues after the fact. A conscious glitch, error is registered, absence is not. Within this context, absence is a construct of the technological apparatus and will always exist outside of our experience. In this way speed induces non-linear temporal perception. The manipulation of temporal perception is induced by the direct sensory experience of the interval. It is the inevitability of technological violence that injects hyperrealism into the aesthetics of digital media. Digital montage causes a tendency towards disrupting the continuously variable to capture the mind in a moment of syncope, an interval in time. The contraction of perceived time causes consciousness to slip into a moment of syncope, the ambiguity of the interval. This temporal short circuit is an implicit aspect of the hyperrealism. The moment of absence is mediated by violence, it is an act of syncope.