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  • Dreaming of Cinema: Spectatorship, Surrealism, and the Age of Digital Media by Adam Lowenstein
  • Jennifer Gagliardi
Dreaming of Cinema: Spectatorship, Surrealism, and the Age of Digital Media. Adam Lowenstein. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, 280 pp.

In an age increasingly occupied by digital media, there has been a shift in understanding the way that spectators approach films. Adam Lowenstein's Dreaming of Cinema works to make clear the influence of expanding media on traditional cinema. He provides examples of cinema, multimedia, and images working together to alter the way that viewers relate to a given film. What makes this approach unique is his examination of this technological idea as something that is also rooted in surrealism. He uses surrealist media from artists such as Joseph Cornell and Salvador Dali, comparing them to modern-day technologies including YouTube and video games. Breaking up the discussion into five types of spectatorship, Lowenstein argues that the convergence of digital media and cinema creates a new kind of shared interaction between the spectator and the film.

Chapter 1, "Enlarged Spectatorship," shows how the medium can change the viewer's interaction with a story. His use of Andre Bazin and Roland Barthes is hard to follow as he switches rapidly between the two writers. His point about the space between word and image shows in his example of The Sweet Hereafter, a film based on a book of the same title. He focuses on the DVD extras, noting first that the scene index can turn the film into a series of chapters, altering the preconceived notions of the film with the use of the written word. The Sweet Hereafter exists in two different mediums, which causes the spectator's memory to be altered. This creates an "intermediated text produced by viewers" (41), laced with qualities of surrealism because of film and text qualities. Although interesting, this chapter focuses on DVD, a medium being overrun by contemporary streaming devices.

Surrealist cinema is compared to video games in the second chapter, titled "Interactive Spectatorship." Lowenstein examines Un Chien Andalou and eXistenZ, two films that blur the line between spectatorship and interactivity. He argues that films incorporate qualities that align them with interactivity, addressing how the viewer can "associate experiences of cinema with their experiences of video gaming" (52). The viewers are constantly involved in a game, looking for related images such as hands and eyes, in Un Chien Andalou. Lowenstein then introduces mimicry, an instance where the object in question seeks to assimilate into its surrounding environment (54). His example is eXistenZ, which encourages the viewers to participate in their own mimicry and become assimilated into the character's struggles and emotions. Lowenstein articulates how the viewers become a part of the movie, extending themselves into the space between themselves and the film.

"Globalized Spectatorship," chapter 3, is a weaker chapter because the main argument diverges into something completely different than what is planned out. Lowenstein first intends to show the effects of globalization on media spectatorship by comparing the 1998 Japanese film Ring with the 2002 American remake. Instead, the impacts of fan Web sites devoted to studying the films become the focus. These sites alter the viewer's relationship with the movie by allowing for further scrutiny of still images from the cursed videotape. Lowenstein argues that offering these still images online adds to the spectator surrealism by handing the viewer objects that can be viewed without the movement of the film. This emphasis on freezing scenes promotes [End Page 61] a well-articulated analysis of the change in spectatorship between moving and still images. However, Lowenstein's original goal to discuss globalism falls flat in the face of this different topic.

The fourth chapter focuses on the human–animal relationship and how it can be examined through movies and YouTube videos. With the "Christian the Lion" YouTube video, Lowenstein shows how the lion's response is comparable to human emotions, sparking a conversation about anthropomorphism. The original video and its parodies draw the spectator in based on the lion's humanlike emotions. As Lowenstein shifts to a film example, Los Olvidados, there is a clear focus on the physical relationship between...


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pp. 61-62
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