Attempting to Extend Benjamin

A few notes as I attempt to expand upon Walter Benjamin's key essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". The following excerpt is Part VIII of that work:

The artistic performance of a stage actor is definitely presented to the public by the actor in person; that of the screen actor, however, is presented by a camera, with a twofold consequence. The camera that presents the performance of the film actor to the public need not respect the performance as an integral whole. Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes its position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional views which the editor composes from the material supplied him constitutes the completed film. It comprises certain factors of movement which are in reality those of the camera, not to mention special camera angles, close-ups, etc. Hence, the performance of the actor is subjected to a series of optical tests. This is the first consequence of the fact that the actor's performance is presented by means of a camera. Also, the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience's identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing. This is not the approach to which cult values may be exposed.

I think it is fair to say that in the age of videogames and other recombinant simulations, the equation changes somewhat.


Actor identifies directly with audience; he may modify or adjust performance to audience during show; the performance is consumed as it is acted out.


Actor responds directly to camera; cannot adjust performance in response to audience; camera need not respect performance as an integral whole; performance is consumed at some point in time after it is acted out.


Actor responds directly to camera, but camera isn't watching; motion capture, green screen and CGI capture points of light that allow for the creation of virtual stick figure components; these components, in conjunction with digital skin wrappings and voice clips, are featured in performances the actor may not have done before in places the actor may not have been before; camera becomes a physical extension or surrogate of the virtual cameras (camera ludica = omnipresent godvision) that exist within the game environment; director may still control these virtual cameras, though the actor does not control the virtual character that features as this particular drama unfolds; in some cases, the performance is consumed before it is acted out.

In this case, not only is the actor's performance not necessarily respected as a whole — but neither is the actor's body.


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