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Besides Film, What Are Some Other Ways We Experience the Split-Screen, I.E., the Multiplied, Multi-Layered Image, in the World Around US?

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Split screen is a film or video technique in which the frame is divided into discrete nonoverlapping images. It is used to describe the technique in making movies and television programs in which two different pieces of film are shown at the same time.

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The split-screen form had a renaissance in the late 60's and 70's, with such examples as The Thomas Crown Affair, Woodstock, The Boston Strangler, The Longest Yard, More American Graffiti, and Sisters and many others not shown such as Carrie, The Twilight's Last Gleaming, and The Andromeda Strain - all of which can be characterized as having an aggressive stance towards the use of split-screens as an integral part of the film's dramatic and visual structure. The experimentation with the device seemed to diminish significantly over the next two decades, but its use is being actively revisited in many contemporary films dating from the end of the 90's until today. Among many others, these more recent examples include Timecode, Run Lola Run, Rules of Attraction, The Hulk, Requiem for a Dream, and Phone Booth - plus others such as City of God, Snatch, The Pillow Book, Tulse Luper Suitcase, Conversations with other Women, The Tracey Fragments, and the television series 24, Trial and Retribution, and CSI-Miami. Interestingly, the current rebirth differs from the 60's/70's renaissance in that the splitscreens today are used with comparatively more restraint. They tend to act as a punctuation within a film's broader style, rather than as a defining visual motif as in the earlier period. Notable exceptions to this trend are the television series examples, and the films Timecode, Conversations with other Women, and in particular The Tracey Fragments. These works foreground the commitment to the split-screen device as a stylistic hallmark.

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The split screen – and this can be said across history, from the first examples in early cinema until today – finds a graphical solution for a paradox that lies at the heart of the cinema: the film image evokes a sense presence and yet what we see is absent. A film therefore connotes distance as well as proximity, and if we get involved with a film as spectators, a resulting confusion of self and other often ensues. This is also the foundation of spectator positioning in the cinema where one witnesses events that do not really take place (at least at that moment and at that place), where the sense of presence often overwhelms the knowledge of absence, even though sometimes the formal properties of the medium are foregrounded in the very act of reception. While this basic assumption is valid for all of cinema that functions according to the dominant ‘as if’ logic in which the spectator temporarily suspends her disbelief, the use of the split screen also emphasises the intricacies of media transitions (Bukatman, S. 1998). The three distinct episodes from the history of the split screen discussed in this article highlight three corresponding moments of media transformation: the everyday proliferation of the telephone in the 1950s, the diffusion of television in the 1960s and the explosion of digital media culture (the internet and the computer) in the 1990s (Caldwell, J.T. 1995). The films discussed above address these changes in terms of temporal and spatial mutations that act as allegorical configurations of changing media practices.

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Ordinarily, the split screen perfectly epitomizes the gap between the analogue and the digital era of filmmaking. Traditionally, the split screen was made with the optical printer, which re-photographed different strips of film that could then be put together (the optical printer was also used for fade-ins, fade-outs, matte effects and others). With the digital age, the same trick can be easily achieved with a software, and this is the way it is generally done today.

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Bourgoin, S. 1986. Richard Fleischer. Paris: Edilig.

Bukatman, S. 1998. Zooming Out: The End of Offscreen Space. In The New American Cinema, ed. Jon Lewis, 248-71. Durham: Duke University Press 1998.

Caldwell, J.T. 1995. Televisuality: Style, Crisis and Authority in American Television. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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Besides Film, What Are Some Other Ways We Experience the Split-Screen, I.E., the Multiplied, Multi-Layered Image, in the World Around US?
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