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  • Film Analysis after Film
  • Brian R. Jacobson (bio)
Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema. by Garrett Stewart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 320 pages. $90.00 hardcover, $40.00 paperback.

The usefulness of theoretical books on cinema has been called into question (especially today, because the times are not right).

—Gilles Deleuze, 19851

More than two decades after Gilles Deleuze's Cinema volumes, and even further in the wake of the widespread repudiation of psychoanalytic film theory and the revival of film history, Garrett Stewart's Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema asks, once again, is the time right for theoretical work on cinema? More to the point, does cinematic time demand it? In a sweeping analysis of the past decade that reaches across Hollywood and European cinema to examine film after its centenary and digital cinema at its origins, Stewart's book answers with a resounding yes! As digital technologies fundamentally alter the temporal ontology of the moving image, the time for film theory is, Stewart insists, now.

Stewart focuses on time, its formal representation, and its narrative signification, crafting an analysis of cinematic temporality that extends Deleuze's "time image" within a response to the emergence of digital cinema technology. But while Framed Time is often [End Page 260] in conversation with Deleuze's cinematic philosophy, Stewart has provided more than just a sequel to the Time-Image, updated for the twenty-first century. Drawing on narrative theory, recent work in media archaeology, and a diverse body of cinematic texts, Stewart offers both a new concept for medium-attentive narrative analysis—narratography—and a critical assessment of contemporary Hollywood and European cinema.

The book's primary concern is how the technological shift from photomechanical to digitally pixelated moving images affects screen narratives. Stewart starts from the premise that the emergence of the digital involves a fundamental change in cinematic time. Frame time—the segmented time of film produced at twenty-four (photographic) frames per second—gives way to the spatial configuration of framed time—a time that mutates, seemingly timelessly, within the digital frame. Stewart seeks to historicize this transition by identifying where and when the shift "comes to matter on the narrative screen" (3).

Such an historicization, Stewart argues, requires a new mode of narrative analysis—narratography—that is able to account for not only the structural organization of plot (à la David Bordwell's formalist narratology) but also for the content, style, and medium specificity of the images that compose narrative. Whereas for traditional narratology the image is of secondary importance to narrative structure, narratography brings content and style to the fore as crucial elements in narrative's very constitution. What is being narrated and how it is imaged, Stewart contends, are essential components of narrative analysis.

Framed Time focuses on images and narratives of media—including photographs, holograms, analog videotape, digital video, painting, engraving, ham radio, television, and film—to examine the ways that these representations both structure screen plots and mark cinema's reflexive commentary on its changing material base. Stewart proposes that narratives that draw on photomechanical origins tend to develop "metaphorics of succession and evanescence," whereas films that use digital electronics (even in part) often "gravitate toward themes of a more radical transmutation" (7). Using narratography, Stewart explores this hypothesis in analyses of nearly forty films comprising two distinct approaches to narrative that he argues have emerged in Hollywood and Europe since the early 1990s.

In Hollywood, digital technologies have formed the base for not only generic science fiction plots but also for "technophobic fantas[ies]" (159) of altered memories, reconfigured pasts, and the radical ontological transformations of "trick beginnings" (59) and [End Page 261] trick endings. In films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Final Cut (both from 2004), technological alterations of the past that occur within the films' plots mirror the operations of their digital base. Using narratographic analysis, Stewart draws out the significance of the films' representations of time by interpreting moments in which changes to the image and the narrative intersect. In Eternal Sunshine, the narrative of memory erasure is replicated in the film's freeze-frames, narrative looping, and its final fade...