Digital Lives: Refiguring the recent and distant pasts in new biographical forms
In the past decade digital media have progressively become the major forms of memorialising figures and events of the past. Memory itself, in the manner by which it is encoded, stored and accessed, has developed into an increasingly digitised medium due to advancing technologies and the proliferation of digital archiving. This article considers the impact of digital filmmaking and digital media forms on contemporary biographical narratives, as well as how digital filmmaking practices have been applied to the biographical film for unique aesthetic, thematic and narrative purposes. The examination of divergent applications of digital techniques in the representation of both recent and distant pasts will allow for greater insight into the modern biographical subject.
I focus on The Social Network (2010) in order to investigate the framing of a biographical subject within events of the recent past. I consider the manner in which the film exploits its pastness for unique aesthetic and narrative purposes, highlighting particularities of the generational zeitgeist through its non-linear narrative structure and its employment of what I describe as an “internet aesthetic” that serves to memorialise a previous technological era. This approach examines the film’s emphasis on visual composition and engagement with technology in its representation of its biographical subject. In this manner, the digital can be viewed as adding further forms of stylistic expression as well as having the potential to involve viewers more directly with figures and events of the past. This article also examines how digital representational strategies allow for a more temporally-specific engagement, reflecting the development of new ways in which audiences access and interact with history through biographical narratives. Viewing The Social Network alongside films such as Che (2008), Public Enemies (2009) and 127 Hours (2010) I illustrate how contemporary biopics construct different ways of experiencing their historical figures, with digital aesthetics lending qualities of presentness and propinquity to past events. Digital is frequently employed to enhance the immediacy of the past in order to align the spectator more closely with the experiences of a film’s subject(s), and the issues raised by these representational strategies need to be considered when looking to the future of the biographical film.