Digital Folds, or Cinema’s Automated Brain

Elena del Río

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 10, 2015
venue: De Bijloke Music Center, Kraakhuis
format: in words
practice: image
keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, algorithm, film, modulation, Orson Wells

abstract video about the author(s)


The digital etching of the film image brings forth what this image already contains in a virtual state. It submits the linear, discrete flow of space and time to a modulating wave that reconstitutes this flow as a new entity. The digital thus gives new birth to the cinema by extracting, intensifying, and thus liberating certain qualities that were repressed or concealed under the requirements of a classical epistemology.

My presentation will look at two digital experimental videos by multimedia artist Gregg Biermann, Magic Mirror Maze (2013) and Iterations (2014), respectively based on the films The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947) and Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). I will consider these digital videos as instances of an algorithmic appropriation of cinema that is modelled on Leibniz/Deleuze’s concept of the fold and its fundamental double tendency towards continuation and differentiation. The foldings and unfoldings of film images in these works modulate an aesthetic structure that still is, and yet is no longer, cinematic. Through a combinatorial assemblage of images that breaks away from both classical and nonclassical forms of film editing, Magic Mirror Maze and Iterations part from the time-based figural expression that is cinema by carrying to a literal extreme the pursuit of the time-image: to make peaks of present and sheets of past coexist in a single image.

Applying rigorous algorithmic modulations that seem to resonate immanently with the aesthetic and conceptual principles of their respective films, these videos carry out a double, indivisible process—on the one hand splitting the self-contained film shots, on the other hand forcing into these split images a temporality of impossible simultaneity. This new temporality of simultaneous wholeness suggests a possibility that is also characteristic of Leibniz’s monad: the expression of the whole within the singular.

Algorithmic modulations are programmed in advance and applied to the film from the outside, and yet, once this programme has been entered, human intervention is at an end, and the automated code is left to do its work on and with the images in ways that are entirely autonomous and indeterminate. The digital code paradoxically releases a multiplicity of images in a state of continuous variation and immanent modulation. Transitions from moment to moment are almost imperceptible, yet they ceaselessly arise from the trajectory formed by the images themselves.

It is in the inherent capacity of moving images to bind time and affect together that we can identify the unique ability of cinema to liberate and intensify affective potentialities. But the digital can go further in some respects. As opposed to the arborised paradigms of editing identified with classical and disjunctive styles in cinema, the serialised, algorithmic style of digital composition preserves the chaoid states of the brain and precludes the formation of familiar paths of recognition. When following a logic of experimentation, the digital appropriation of cinema performs with exactitude the task that Deleuze assigns to art: to give rise to a composed, sensory chaos, a materiality that is synonymous with sensation.


about the author(s)

Elena del Río

Elena del Río is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. Her essays on the intersections between cinema and philosophies of the body in the areas of technology, performance, and affect have been featured in journals such as Camera Obscura, Discourse, Science Fiction Studies, Studies in French Cinema, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Film-Philosophy, The New Review of Film and Television Studies, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, SubStance, and Deleuze Studies. She has also contributed essays to volumes on the films of Atom Egoyan and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, on the philosophy of film, and on Deleuze and cinema. She is the author of Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection (Edinburgh, 2008) and The Grace of Destruction: A Vital Ethology of Extreme Cinemas (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2016).

info & contact


University of Alberta, CA


elena.delrio [AT]