Does the camera lens present us with reality, or with a structured narrative which reshapes what the camera “sees?” The development of “moving pictures” in the early 20th century led to a debate among filmmakers about the nature of the images they presented. From this discussion sprang two divergent schools of thought. Formalists thought that film was an art form beyond the simple recording of images; they believed that the medium itself imposes its own identity upon the images. Visual techniques, from simple cuts to complicated montage, sequenced images in ways that were not inherently “natural” or realistic, and film was regarded as a vehicle for individualized artistic expression because of the way the “reality” of the screen can be manipulated.
The realists, however, believed that the photographic nature of film rendered it somehow unique in its presentation of a purportedly objective reality. This school emphasized that the raw power of film was in its presentation of photorealistic images; that the audience “sees” exactly what is recorded. Realists stressed that the image on the screen is in fact the thing presented (as opposed to other art forms, such as painting or drawing, which offer us simply a representation of a thing). In his book The Power of Movies, Colin McGinn suggests that there is a measure of truth to both theories, and I tend to agree with him. He writes:
Formalism and realism are, in effect, theories about the nature of the cinematic look. The formalist thinks that hte image interposes itself between the viewer and the world, so that it is the image that the viewer looks at – the real world is hovering quite elsewhere. The realist thinks that we do not attend to the image but to the object it depicts – hence we look at the object. As I have argued, the realist is right about this, but it is a mistake to infer that the image enjoys no perceptual relation to the viewer – as if she were simply looking right at an ordinary object. The looking at that is directed to the object is conditioned by the image, congtrolled by the image, made possible by the image.
You may well be wondering: what on earth does all of this have to do with the DVD set associated with the 2005 World Series? Well, when I look at the DVDs commemorating some sports victory (and they are becoming more common), I think about this formalism v. realism debate. Why? Because of the way in which the cinematic images subtlely shape and inform our perceptions of that which we are watching.
Sporting events become more than sporting events; they become more than something simply seen and impressed to memory. The capacity to zoom in on the action, to project and focus the audience’s eye, becomes crucial in understanding how our perceptions differ when we watch something on television as opposed to watching it in person. And DVD sets like this strive even more to take raw footage (the realist’s presented image) and reshape that footage into a coherent narrative.
This DVD promises the “best moments” of the series, and offers multi-camera action footage which redirects the audience’s eye. Interviews with various players, coaches, and managers each work to shape the viewer’s perception of upcoming events. And ultimately we are provided with a visual compilation which serves to document more than a baseball game: it strives to capture the idea of a certain reality.
By winning the 2005 World Series, the Chicago White Sox won their first championship in 88 years. The series featured many intriguing storylines, from verterans in search of one more moment of glory to relative newcomers savoring the experience. But by offering things like the words of Aaron Rowand, the first position player to wear a microphone during a World Series game (but probably not the last, if the NFL’s Monday Night Football is any indication), or “a ride to the ballpark” with A.J. Pierzynski, the producers of the DVD want to do more than simply record the “fact” of the Series. They want instead to help viewers define it.
In that regard, the DVD serves its purpose. It is a flashy production and hopes to trade upon some of the “historic” aspects of the series, including the longest World Series game in history. At the same time, its primary market is for fans of the White Sox as a commemorative of their victory (hopefully, there are not too many folks in the world who will invite their friends and neighbors over to watch a recap of the World Series). Fans will undoubtedly be pleased by what they find on the DVD. Others, such as myself, can simply consider how a DVD such as this helps to define our “reality.”