Cyborg Cinema: (Dis)Embodying Cultural Memory in the Digital Age

Parfitt, Clare (2009) Cyborg Cinema: (Dis)Embodying Cultural Memory in the Digital Age. The Korean Journal of Dance, 61. pp. 403-418. ISSN 1598-4672

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Abstract

In postmodernity, a range of digital technologies are used to store memories. These include digital cameras, ipods, memory sticks, and online repositories such as YouTube and Flickr. This process is not just personal. Mediated memories, such as songs stored on ipods and films stored on YouTube, often refer to collective experiences, whether those of a group of friends, or a global audience. Once stored, these memory files have the capacity to reinforce existing group identities, as well as creating new imagined communities, bound, for example, by the common experience of watching a YouTube film transmitted around the globe by email. These technologies can therefore be considered as vehicles not just of personal memory, but of cultural memory.

These technological mnemonic devices might appear as a substitute for the physical, bodily process of remembering. However, they do not function entirely separately from the body. Access to these digital archives can only be gained through human/digital interfaces, such as the computer screen and the ipod control pad. Each of these interfaces demands a certain mode of spectatorship on the part of the human user, and by engaging with the digital interface, the user’s body and identity are to a certain extent transformed. For example, the ipod’s white wires may confer on the user a status and identity as a techno-savvy participant in the global exchange of digital music.

Although many memory storage technologies do not use moving images, those that do, such as YouTube and digital film, operate in relation to discourses about the relationship between the moving image and the spectator that pre-date the digital era. The image of the dancing body has been integral to this discourse since the earliest films captured the routines of popular cabaret performers at the turn of the twentieth century. Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge! (2001), set in 1899 and produced using a combination of digital and analogue techniques, offers a contemporary reworking of this discourse. The film uses dance and music to invite viewers to enter convoluted circuits of popular cultural memory. Musical references to Nirvana and Fatboy Slim mingle with choreographies influenced by Hollywood musicals. The film has justly been called “a kind of movie museum” (McFarlane, 2001, p. 212).

Like many contemporary museums, this film seeks to physically involve its viewers in the experience of cultural remembering (and forgetting). The film’s frenetic camerawork, rapid editing, and rich colours and textures seek to provoke a bodily reaction in the viewer, while the extensive DVD bonus features facilitate an interactive dissection and extension of the film text via the prosthetic device of the remote control. The spectator is invited to become a cyborg, affectively connecting with mediated images and sounds from the popular cultural past. As a cyborg, the spectator can physically enter into a network of historically, culturally and politically diverse bodies and viewing positions, and situate themselves in relation to various subcultural, national and transnational cultural identities. Moulin Rouge! therefore offers a posthuman experience of cultural memory for the digital age.

Works Cited

McFarlane, Brian (2001) ‘Movies as Museum: Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge’, Meanjin, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 212-217

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright 2009 The Korean Society of Dance and the author
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cultural memory, Moulin Rouge!, Cinema of attractions
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N61 Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the arts
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1600 Drama > PN1993 Motion pictures
Divisions: Departments > Dance
Depositing User: Clare Parfitt
Date Deposited: 27 Aug 2013 11:11
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2016 09:39
URI: http://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/934

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