"A recurrent theme in Friedrich Kittler's masterful Optical Media (Polity, 2010) is the importance of "standards". If "media determine our situation" - and indeed they do - then media standards are more than protocols. They dictate the very nature of our perception in the same way that the alphabet defines the possibilities/constraints of a language. One might go as far as to suggest that media standards strictly codify/configure what we call 'reality', especially because "there is no reality that has not been (p)remediated" (Richard Grusin) which evokes the Morpheus' dictum, "There's no reality outside the Matrix". Additionally, standards are conditioned by extra-technological factors, such as ideology. After all, according to Kittler - and the same applies to Paul Virilio - the evolution of media is inseparable from the evolution of warfare, with the latter being the driver, the catalyst, the trigger, if you pardon my pun. Consider this passage from Optical Media (219):
Speaking of televised political debates... Do you remember the 1959 "Nixon - Khrushchev Moscow debate" aka TV Kitchen debate, when Vice President Richard Nixon advocated America's superiority over the USSR by mentioning the importance of color tv? Premier Krushchev was not impressed, but he clearly missed the point. Thirty years later, we all watched the Berlin Wall crumbling down on our Trinitrons.
A few days ago, Australian filmmaker Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit: An Unfinished Journey, slated to open in mid-December, will be the first major feature to be screened at 48 frames per second. As you probably know, most movie projector advance from one frame to the next one 24 times each second, hence Jean-Luc Godard's famous dictum,"The cinema is truth 24 frames per second" - which was subverted into "Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth" by Austrian troublemaker Michael Haneke. Puns asides, this means that each cinematic frame is illuminated two or three times before the next frame is projected using a shutter in front of its lamp. As a result, the movie projector runs at 24 frames per second, with a 48 or 72 Hz refresh rate.
Interestingly, videogames' frame rate is usually 30 or 60 per second (here's more information about frame rates). James Cameron announced that he plans to shoot the two sequels to Avatar at 60 fps, "in order to add a heightened sense of reality". The implications are paramount. Or maybe not. On a purely aesthetic level, Hollywood blockbusters are emulating videogames. Not simply because CGI is so pervasive that there are no purely photographic shots any longer - they all include computer generated elements and CGI/code is the language of videogames - but also because their frame rate is becoming game-like. Since frame rate is the frequency at which an imaging device produces unique consecutive images called frames, film viewers will soon be exposed to higher frame rates/frequencies than before. If 60 fps will indeed become a new standard in cinema, it is safe to predict a new wave or "Media panics". Pundits will claim that "Accelerated cinema" could rewire our synapses and affect our perceptual capabilities forever. Expect a million articles full of brightly colored fMRI scans depicting our incumbent brain meltdown. Are we approaching the Lacanian Real, which, like H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu (as persuasively explained by Michel Houellebecqq), will drive us insane? After all, as Cameron implied, videogames/Cinema 2.0 running at 60fps offer a "heightened sense of reality". Or Reality?
Meanwhile, film scholar David Bordwell provides additional details on his blog. A must read for anybody who is interested in the future of that medium otherwise known as cinema. By the way, like Kittler's, the rhetoric of James Cameron and his gang of maverick 3D/digital disciples, i.e. Lucas/Zemeckis/Jackson/Rodriguez, is a rhetoric of media competition. The assumption is that media are endlessly fighting against each other to survive. Technological innovation is what keeps them alive, until technical disruption ignites a process of creative destruction, in a Schumpeterian rather than Marxist sense. This all sounds very Grusinian, right? After all, the key idea of Remediation is that media evolution is based on a Darwinian struggle/rivalry between the new and the old media. Jonathan Lethem would likely disagree. Media peacefully co-exist! Fax machines are all the rage! Neoteny will prevail!
Here's a key passage from Bordwell's post:
"But here’s the funny thing. At the 2005 confab, the directors summoned up an explanation that goes back to the days when TV threatened the movie trade: You need something special to yank viewers off their couches. In 1953, the bonus was widescreen color images and stereo sound. In 2005, the bonus was stereoscopic projection. All tentpole pictures, Cameron claimed, would be in 3D. “With digital 3D,” he said, “we now have a reason to get people out of their houses from in front of their flatscreen, high-definition TVs and back to the movies.” The premise was that 3D wouldn’t be feasible at home. [...] The message seems clear. Digital and 3D gave you a competitive advantage for a couple of years, but now it’s time to retool. Those of you who didn’t get 3D along with digital, better start moving, especially if you want Avatar 2 and 3. (Just what Lucas said in 2005 about Star Wars IV 3D, which still awaits us.) And upgrade to 48fps, or even 60. Cameron’s message got support a few days later, when Peter Jackson announced that he’d be trying to induce some theatres to play The Hobbit at 48 fps, the rate at which he’s shooting that 3D production." (David Bordwell, April 22 2012)"
I personally cannot wait for even higher frame rates, including 300 FPS, which have been tested by BBC Research in underground secret facilities. The idea is that fast motion with large HD displays could have a disorienting effect on viewers. Just imagine the possibilities" (Matteo Bittanti, WIRED)
Video Nixon - Khrushchev Moscow debate (July 25, 1959): Source: Internet Archive