Layers of Reality

With the revolution of new media, it’s apparent that media forms have gotten much more complex.  There is rarely ever one choice, one path or one layer.  Digital images consist of “a number of separate layers, each layer containing particular elements” that each can be manipulated separately (229).  If one has ever used photoshop to edit an image before, you understand that you can create layers to add, remove or distort objects before pressing all the layers together to produce the final image.  Manovich explains that producers of films change the layers of films and delete backgrounds, blur objects, ect.

Manovich also focuses on two very important concepts: databases and narratives.  He describes databases as a “collection of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other” (218).  Databases can be anything really such as flickr which stores millions of photos, or even imdb which stores pictures and biographical data.  Narratives, however “create a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly disordered items/events” (225).  This includes video games, where you are a character that follows a specific trajectory that holds different outcomes for different choices.  Narratives have an underlying algorithm, which is the hidden logic within the game or other medium.  In order to win a game, one must execute an algorithm.

It seems that these two concepts (narratives and databases) are polar opposites.  Is there a way to connect them into one object?  Through Tziga Vertov’s film, Man with the Movie Camera, the two concepts seem to gel together nicely.  The film is a straight hour of seemingly random images and footage with no characters or storyline, and, thus, a database.  However, the montage of images “reveal social structure among the multitude of observed phenomena” (240).  In a way, it creates a narrative by trying to make a story about the filming of such images and the complexity of everyday life.  I found something similar to this film, called video art.  The creator, Gary Hill combines vast quantities of random images (database) with a narrator and possible meaning that can be derived from the art.

Another example of database and narrative mixtures is the film, Mulholland Drive.  The film seems to start out like any other Hollywood film, with characters revolving around a storyline of a famous actress who no longer remembers who she is.  However, as the film progresses there appears to be many different layers and stories (a director being blackmailed into hiring an actress, a man who has nightmares about a hairy man in a parking lot).  The film is filled with many images, often times having nothing to do with the supposed storyline, distorting any sense of narrative the viewer originally started out with.

You can find the whole movie online if you’re ready to be confused out of your mind and experience a very intriguing mash of database, narratives, and layers that sometimes intersect.

5 responses to “Layers of Reality

  1. This makes me SO happy that you mentioned Lynch’s excellent film, Mulholland Drive. It’s one of my all time favorites and it is entirely fitting for this week’s Manovich reading! However, I would venture as far to claim that David Lynch’s style of film making also “merges both database and narrative into a new form.” For example, Mulholland Drive itself is a premium instance of Vertov’s concept of the “kino-eye.” As the viewer delves deeper and deeper into the film narrative…seemingly becoming acquainted with the characters of Rita and Diane…the entire “database” of the previous plot sequences is turned upside down in a way that does not even seem CLOSE to possibly making sense. That is the true beauty of the film, realizing the breaks between what is real, and what is a dream – what actually happened, and what is being imagined. Through the many layers of the film, the viewer is taking on a trip into the conscious of our main character through Lynch’s “database” technique of aligning various plot-lines with adjacent thoughts/desires/events that occurred in a previous time.

    I really do not want to give away the entirety of the film, but I HIGHLY support the recommendation of viewing this movie just to get an overall idea of the beauty of Lynch’s successful merging of database and narrative. Though it may take a few times of fully watching the movie to actually grasp the connections, (hey, I still don’t even understand it and I wrote a 22 page paper on it for a film class) – but in the end it’s worth it!

    FINALLY – I just wanted to comment on how awesome Vertov’s “Man With A Movie Camera” was … the overall style of the film and Vertov’s continuous implication of effects in such a fluid, yet artistic manner was simply great. For something shot in 1929…and scored with such a cool orchestra – I am impressed. It reminds me a lot of Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou” – both being silent films and both using interesting choices for transitions, lighting, and shooting of the subjects.

  2. I think that of the key concept that Manovich was talking in this chapter is the phenomenon of interface and content. The author is saying that the nature of content and interface has dramatically changed with the introduction of digital media, for example if we take a look at paintings the content and interface existed on the same level and was inseparable, but in a new media the same content might have different interface which will bring absolutely new experience to a user. In the other words interface determines our experience with content, that might be considered as notion of variability which was discussed by Manovich in the 1st chapter. I found it is very interesting how powerful is the interface: in one way it brings user closer to computer, but at the same time it moves us far away (it is the idea we were discussing last class) we observe various kinds of content representation governed by interface.

  3. The most interesting aspect of Manovich’s analysis falls within the perception of the interface as a the context for perception. I agree with you Casey that narrative becomes blurred especially in the framing of digital media. Similarly, the interface also lends to this blurring, because of the metaphors we access in our stereotype-memory access.

    Still, I believe that Emma has a very good point, the layers of database and narrative are much closer than is argued. You guys really need to check out this site


    It is quite literally the melding of narrative and database. Also, it is represents another point on Manovich’s concept, the narrative is dependent on the use of algorithms.

  4. Sorry I screwed up the HTML code, heres the full thing


    PhotoSketch allows users to create photomontages from basic stick-figure sketches – you don’t even have to have any kind of artistic talent to convey your idea. As explained in the video below, the tool takes a simple sketch of the desired montage elements and pulls photographs that correspond to them from Google, Flickr and Yahoo.

    Sketch2Photo: Internet Image Montage from Tao Chen on Vimeo.

    The program then decides from a variety of matching results which ones work together the best and merges each disparate image element into a cohesive whole. It even matches them to the scene with the correct color tones and adds shadows as needed. The whole process takes about 15 minutes.


    While PhotoSketch is remarkably easy to use, professional graphic designers needn’t worry about it replacing their skills anytime soon. The resulting image montages don’t exactly pass for real photographs, but could actually help designers and digital artists create quick concept images to present to clients, saving a considerable amount of time.


    It doesn’t appear that the tool discriminates between copyrighted and Creative Commons images or compensates the creators of the original images in any way, which would create licensing issues unless the problem is addressed before the tool is made available to the public. But, PhotoSketch does open up a whole new world of possibilities for the Photoshop-illiterate and professionals alike.

    New to WebUrbanist? Click here for the feed see our full archives and urban image galleries. Also visit WebEcoist and see amazing architecture, incredible interiors, fantastic furniture at Dornob and great gadgets, strange science and tech with a twist at Gajitz


  5. For me, the invention and importance of the electronic database is one of the most important topics Manovich touches upon in this passage. The author of this post chose the Manovich quote that databases are a “collection of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other” (218).” While the author of the post uses examples such as flickr or imdb, I think of the importance of databases in large businesses. It goes beyond just having lists of customers and their contact information stored in the database… it makes things increasingly more simple for lower level workers (interns like me!) to complete rather mundane tasks.

    The hedge fund I am currently working for has a database of old, current, and potential clients. The database is huge– it astounds me how much information about the clients it has amassed. Recently, I had a task where I had to send out an email to all of the current and potential clients. Before the creation of electronic databases, I would have had to enter addresses and contacts one by one. However, the highly evolved and “smart” professional database could weed out the clients I did not want to receive the email (the old clients) and automatically send the information to the current and potential clients. I think databases are both the impertative lifelines and fundamental accessibility tools of huge companies that make everything a bit easier for users.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s