Lay summary

More and more contemporary film production is shifting into the digital domain. While many aspects of this transition have been discussed, the rewriting and transformation of film history has been neglected to a high degree. However, there is rarely a DVD edition of a historic movie without digital re-visiting or re-mastering. Currently, there are digitization and mass digitization projects underway in most film archives  around the world. When the possibilities of the new technology are applied to historic film material, a paradox emerges: archives and distributors alike present their historic footage with the promise that it is a historical record and at the same time re-mastered with the newest technology. Until now, film studies have reacted to this fundamental transition in film history and aesthetics only marginally.

Our research project therefore focuses on this cultural shift which dramatically alters the aesthetics and perception of the medial past. The current research in the field of the digitization of archival film is marked by a disciplinary heterogeneity - ranging from technological approaches based on insights from the natural sciences and computer science to archival studies and restoration ethics. Over the past two years we have investigated these heterogeneous approaches in our application-oriented project AFRESA, funded by the Swiss Confederation’s Innovation Promotion Agency CTI. In the context of this project, we became aware of the importance of developing a comprehensive perspective on the subject encompassing technical, material and aesthetic foundations. Based on this broad epistemological background, we investigate the transition first and foremost from a constructivist perspective which understands historicity not as a factual dimension but as a medially transformed aesthetic category. In a broader methodological context we rely on a pragmatic and semio-pragmatic approach as proposed by Roger Odin, Frank Kessler and William Uricchio which combines textual, institutional and perceptual analyses to investigate medial effects on audiences.

As David Rodowick has pointed out, in a century of accelerated technological development in the domain ofmedia it is especially important  that film studies has established a tradition to integrate technological history, social practices and aesthetic perception. It is this tradition we will rely on and which we seek to develop even further.