Seeing the Spell: Baroque, Decadence, and a Cinema of Digital-Animated Liberation
Morton, Malcolm David
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This dissertation draws on the artistic traditions of seventeenth-century Baroque and nineteenth-century Decadence in seeking to formulate an analytical vocabulary for the aesthetics of digitally-animated spectacle in contemporary cinema. The dissertation seeks to critique binary antinomies of narrative vs. spectacle, and instead propose a concept of narrativized spectacle whereby digital visual effects have brought about a profound liberation in cinemas capacity to envision narrative story-worlds, and depict their workings. It takes the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster as its chief subject for this inquiry, insofar as this is the filmmaking idiom most given to the embrace and deployment of digitally-liberated spectacle, and one which is frequently assumed to be largely bereft of formal and narrative sophistication. This dissertation argues, on the contrary, that the Hollywood blockbusters spectacular nature in fact bears complex utopian implications, and that the crudities which occasionally mar the form in practice are more the result of not being imaginatively hyperbolic enough, rather than being too much so. The dissertations invocation of Baroque and Decadent aesthetics provides a conceptual apparatus for describing this contemporary cinematic idiom of digitized blockbuster spectacle. It identifies a Baroque aesthetic in such stylistic traits as verticality, profusion, and the sublime, as well as narrative themes of transgression of limits, reverence before imposing scale and grandeur, and refusal to ennoble passivity and martyrdom. Likewise, it identifies Decadent aesthetics in stylistics which privilege the gaze, the enclosed and aestheticized space, and formal ritual, as well as narratives ordered around principles of perversity, self-consciousness, and interconnectedness. The ultimate intervention which this dissertation seeks to make, however, is to demonstrate the centrality rather than marginality of animation to cinema, insofar as cel animation has always possessed the graphic freedom to realize any imaginative vision, which digital effects have only recently extended to live-action cinema. All of the aesthetics of Baroque and Decadent blockbuster spectacle that the dissertation traces could be and, the dissertation seeks to show, were deployed in the animated feature years in advance of the liberation of representation that digital effects would bring to live-action.