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The continuum of control

Many asked me for a link to the video, “The Continuum of Control and its Manipulations: Pseudo-algorithmic techniques and the ‘realness’ of film.” (Whew! Next year a shorter title.) Here is the link:

The 15-minute limitation caused some important images to whiz by. You can study them at your leisure in this post.

The first image described the opposite ends of Mitchell’s continuum of nonaltorithmic and algorithmic images:

The second image showed two examples of image-making algorithms:

An algorithm is defined loosely as a set of instructions. In these two examples, one instruction set, the NPPA code, is self-imposed by the photographer. In the second set, the instructions are contained on a computer chip.

Roger Scruton states that the “ideal photograph” has a causal relationship with its subject; the intentions of the photographer are not essential. Mitchell’s continuum, then, has the ideal painting (completely a product of the artist’s intentions) on one end and the ideal photo on the other:

We can array a number of film types on Mitchell’s continuum:

This last image might be the most important if we want to test this model. It shows several film “specificities,” the underlying traits of a film:

The last section of the video explores three of these specificities and how to make a movie that looks algorithmic (made under certain limitations that ensure truthfulness) but in fact is completely nonalgorithmic (a product completely of the director’s intention). Those three were simulating real time through long takes; placing of action in the background, as if the camera happened upon it randomly; and privileging the point of view of the camera.

Michael J. O'Donnell

Michael O'Donnell is associate professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.

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