It's curious how little effect the advent of digital recording technologies have had on film style and structure - compared to, say, the introduction of synchronised sound in the late 1920s.
Back then, films underwent a seismic shift. I'm not just referring to the thing most people know about the changeover: the fact silent divas such as Norma Talmadge were discovered to have voices like cheese graters and soon found themselves out of a job.
I'm talking about the consequences of huge, unwieldy cameras that had to be placed in soundproof booths, making scenes static, increasing average shot length and discouraging location shooting; of the sudden demand for dialogue writers, which led to a run on Broadway talent that dragged film back, at least for a while, from standalone creative fervour to an unhealthy association with the theatre; and on the upside, of the way the marriage of sound and image created a whole new genre - the musical.
No part of the digital wave has been anything like as revolutionary as that, in terms of film style. Though action-adventure narratives have arguably become more confusing (a charge levelled at the Pirates Of The Caribbean series), the 'death of narrative' darkly predicted by some critics and theorists in the early days of the digital takeover has failed to materialise. No new genres have been spawned, and the 'desktop aesthetic' that was supposed to change the face of cinema around the time of Mike Figgis' split-screen feature Time Code (2000) seems to have gone into early retirement.
Influence of graphic novels
It's a paradox that some of the most visually creative commercial feature films of recent years - Sin City, say, or the French neo-noir Renaissance - derive their look from a paper-and-ink medium, the graphic novel.
True, computer graphics, rotoscoping and digital animation are used to transpose the graphic novel look to the screen, but all that technology is being used to approximate the feel of a two-dimensional artform that has existed for centuries, running in a direct line from Albrecht Durer's allegorical woodcuts to Frank Miller's comic-strip panels.
As David Bordwell has demonstrated (www.davidbordwell.net), even the user-power inherent in the DVD format has had little influence on how movies are conceived and constructed. He points out that the DVD has only freed up the viewer to the extent that it 'made a movie more like a book' - and though this means we can now watch scenes from films in any order we like, mostly we don't, any more than we choose to read novels backwards.
Exploiting digital possibilities
Only a handful of directors have embraced the interactive possibilities inherent in the medium. One of the few is Greg Marcks' 11:14, a multilinear narrative of smalltown life, the DVD version of which allows viewers to skip at will between the storylines of the five characters.
But in the vast majority of films, the new technology of cinema is a slave to pre-digital paradigms and narrative conventions.
So here's a thought. What if you were to bring a creatively gifted child up without any exposure to filmed narratives, then, at a suitable age, send them to be tutored in the use of digital cameras, Avid editing suites, computer graphics, DVD authoring and other post-analogue technologies - and finally, ask them to use these tools to tell a story' Would you get something radically different from what we are used to watching on our multiplex screens, or would the paradigm somehow assert itself, because it's in our DNA'
Some of the freshest products in analogue cinema history - Cassavetes' Shadows, for example, or Pasolini's Accattone - have been made by directors who had limited exposure to film culture and hardly knew one end of a camera from another.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I sense that we have yet to see the digital equivalent of these masterpieces.