- don’t just research the subject of a film – become the film
- Luminant Point Display
- radiation / electronic fragments
- What if feels like to live in the early twenty first century
- in the kingdom of shadows
- Time for your close up…
- False Criticism: Cinema and the Conservative (Indie) Critique of the Bourgeois Society
- MGM (Jack Goldstein, 1975)
- one sided mirror – Guy Sherwin
- Why Don’t You…?
- hand or motor driven / shadows on the wall
Mark Downham’s article “Stoke Newington After the Rain: Representation and Difference in Apocalypse Now” (from VAGUE magazine’s 1988 Televisionaaries issue) starts like this…
Mark Downham got off the bus years ago to become the world’s first method film critic. Mark doesn’t just research the subject of a film, he BECOMES the film…
click on the image to expand and read the article
old tube tvs being switched off by Stephan Tillmans .
More than forty years ago a great Marxist critic, Walter Benjamin, said that it was going to be hard, and maybe impossible, for any child raised in the howling blizzard of signals to find his way back into the exacting silence of a book. Benjamin died in 1940, but what he feared from radio, cinema, and advertising, came a thousand times truer with mass television.
The box you are watching has done more to alter the direct discursive relationship of images to the real world on which painting used to depend, than any other invention this century.
This isn’t really a matter of good or bad programming – everybody knows the box is a cornucopia of dung most of the time, but the effects I mean, don’t depend on the quality of programmes, they flow from the nature of television itself.
You only have two choices when you’re watching a movie in a cinema, you can go or you can stay. With television there’s a third – you change the channel.
And so in a chaotic way the dream of the Russian Constructivist film makers and German Dadaists, has come true with television… because whole societies have learnt to see in terms of montage and juxtaposition.
Ours is the cult of the electronic fragment.
Because its so intimate and casual the box worked on us in other ways too. Its images had a weird kind of contradictory kind of tone, they were real, present in the room, but at the same time they were very artificial because their illusion wouldn’t hold. They kept creeping up the screen, or breaking off into dots and lines and jabber – not like film in a cinema.
Their reality was provisional.
Their reality was provisional, but the colour was ultra-vivid. Electron colour. Not the colour of ink or nature or paint.
Television messages get to you in small packets. You don’t scan the screen as you scan a painting, and you don’t inspect it, the way you might inspect a Chinese vase. The fate of these messages, these images, is to get equalised. Catastrophe, Love, War, Soap, they all pour forth in an overwhelming glut. And like radiation which in fact they are, they are everywhere. And they have effected art.
an outdoor sreening in bellissima, luchino visconti, 1952
… Film gave way to television as a “cultural dominant’” a long time ago, in the mid-twentieth century; and television in turn has given way in recent years to computer- and network-based, and digitally generated, “new media”. Film itself has not disappeared, of course; but filmmaking has been transformed, over the past two decades, from an analog process to a heavily digitised one…
… we are now witnessing the emergence of a different mode of production, than those which dominated the twentieth century. Digital technologies, together with neoliberal economic relations, have given birth to radically new ways of manufacturing and articulating lived experience.
… I am interested in the ways that recent film and video work … give voice ( or better give sounds and images) to a kind of ambient, free-floating sensibility that permeates our society today…
These works are symptomatic, in that they provide indices of complex social processes, which they transduce, condense and rearticulate in the form of what can be called , after Deleuze and Guattari, “blocs of affect.” But they are also productive, in the sense that they do not represent social processes, so much as they participate actively in these processes, and help to constitute them.
Films and music videos, like other media works, are machines for generating affect, and for capitalizing upon, or extracting value from, this affect. As such, they are not ideological superstructures, as and older sort of Marxist criticism would have it. Rather, they lie at the very heart of social production, circulation, and distribution. They generate subjectivity, and they play a crucial role in the valorization of capital. Just as the old Hollywood continuity editing system was an integral part of the Fordist mode of production, so the editing methods and formal devices of digital video and film belong directly to the computing –and-information-technology infrastructure of contemporary neoliberal finance. There’s a kind of fractal patterning in the way that social technologies, or processes of production and accumulation, repeat, or “iterate” themselves on different scales, and at different levels of abstraction.
from Steven Shaviro’s Post Cinematic Affect - where he looks at four works – Grace Jones’ Corporate Cannibal video; Olivier Assayas’ movie Boarding Gate, starring Asia Argento; Richard Kelly’s movie Southland Tales, featuring Justin Timberlake, Dwayne Johnson, and other pop culture celebrities; and Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Gamer.
Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows. If you only knew how strange it is to be there. It is a world without sound, without colour. Everything there – the earth, the trees, the people, the water and the air – is dipped in monotonous grey. Grey rays of the sun across the grey sky, grey eyes in grey faces, and the leaves of the trees are ashen grey. It is not life but its shadow, it is not motion but its soundless spectre.
and from that moment on, nothing ever changed…
I created my interior thoughts as commodities for the corporations that owned the board that I was posting to…
“…some of the computer Utopians from Silicon Valley were also beginning to realise that the world wide web was not a new kind of democracy, but something far more complicated where power was exercised over the individual in new and surprising ways.
Carmen Hermosillo had been one of the earliest believers in the new communities of cyber space, her online name was humdog and she lived on the West Coast, but then she lost faith and she posted an attack that caused a sensation online -
It is fashionable to suggest, she wrote, that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their individuality. This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions, their guts online, and I did so myself until I began to see that I had commodified myself.
Commodification means that you turn something into a product that has a money value. In the nineteenth century commodities were made in factories by workers who were mostly exploited… but I created my interior thoughts as commodities for the corporations that owned the board that I was posting to, like Compuserve or AOL and that commodity was then sold on to other consumer entities as entertainment
Cyberspace is a black hole. It absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as an emotional spectacle. It is done by businesses that commodify human interaction and emotion and we are getting lost in the spectacle…”
A vast construction whose ultimate purpose is beyond our ken
“… I understand only too well my own, almost insane compulsion to acquire more music than I could ever conceivably listen to, to the point where storing and managing it becomes a burden. What I don’t quite understand is the bloggers who hurl (in the vomitous sense of the word, almost) vast quantities of sound up on to blogs or message boards, filleting the entire discographies of artists they seem to admire and care about. You might call the syndrome “oversharing”, except that that the term already has another Web 2.0 meaning: the unguarded, minutiae-oriented self-documentation encouraged by blogging and Facebook-style social networks. In both cases, ‘too much information’ is the appropriate response.
There’s a delirious quality to the archive fever raging across the web, from YouTube to the legion of collective blogs dedicated to particular backwaters of culture or zones of sensibility. It’s like some kind of blind data-swarming drive, as if we are ants or bees building a vast construction whose ultimate purpose is beyond our ken. Which is perhaps why techno-utopians are so tempted to talk mystically about the noosphere as an emerging macro-intelligence. But another way of seeing it would be as a gigantic data dump, the collective archive as landfill.
Digitech virtually enforces this kind of activity by making it so frickin’ easy to upload and share while leaving just enough of a dopamine buzz to convince ourselves that these activities signify ‘achievement’. Thats the neurological theory of internet addiction as espoused by Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.
Another explanation draws on post-Freudian psychoanalysis. Developed by Jodi Dean in Blog Theory, the core idea is that the compulsive pleasures associated with netculture –
down- and uploading, tweeting, updating, searching – engage us on a level of drive as opposed to desire.
Our transit back and forth across the net is not really in pursuit of an object of desire, but for the intransitive sensation of going. More primal and basic than desire, drive is associated with repetition and regression: it’s not the quest for the (impossible) object that will fill lack, but a kind of enactment of loss itself. Dean analyses our participation in digicultural activity in bleak dystopian terms of capture, the ensnaring of human energy. I’m not entirely convinced that desire has nothing to do with it: if you go on YouTube or comb the blogs because in the past you’ve found delicious morsels of culture-matter; there’s also a neurotic dimension rooted in the anxiety of missing out on something. But Dean’s theory does account for the addictive, kill-time aspect, the way that you can fall into a trance on the computer and the hours just fly away.
The cultural worth of Doing-It-Yourself has been voided…
Probably the most disconcerting and provocative idea in Blog Theory is the suggestion that the cultural worth of doing-it-yourself has been voided by its recuperation by digiculture’s interactivity and participatory mechanisms. When pre-formatted platforms such as Blogger and Bandcamp bring once arduous activities (producing a fanzine, self-releasing music) within the reach of anyone who can be halfway bothered, the result is an excess of access and a glut of artistic production.
Digiculture is an exact inversion of the Situationist notion of the Spectacle. That concept emerged in reaction to the mass media, with its centralized and unidirectional broadcasting. Situationists like Guy Debord critiqued entertainments that enforced passivity and isolation, and called for participatory situations that breached the barrier between art and everyday life. This in turn influenced punk and the subsequent DIY explosion of micro-labels that persists to this day. In this schema, doing-it-yourself was not just about unleashing your personal creativity: it was a political act that threw down and egalitarian challenge to the professionalized culture of media and the hierarchy of stardom. The existence of the mass media and the mainstream was what gave DIY its utopian charge: you were ‘answering back’ to the monologue of the monoculture.”
From “Excess All Areas” an essay in Wire magazine by Simon Reynolds
The bottle over the wine
Epiphany No 6: It’s all about quantity. Just like you, I’m drowning in my riches. I’ve got more music on my drives than I’ll ever be able to listen to in the next ten lifetimes. As a matter of facts, records that I’ve been craving for years (such as the complete recordings of Jean Cocteau, which we just posted on Ubu) are languishing unlistened-to. I’ll never get to them either, because I’m more interested in the hunt than I am in the prey. The minute I get something I just crave more. And so something has really changed – and I think this is the real epiphany: the ways in which culture is distributed have become profoundly more intriguing than the cultural artifact itself. What we’ve experience is an inversion of consumption, one in which we’ve come to prefer the acts of acquisition over that which we are acquiring, the bottle over the wine.
Kenneth Goldsmith – founder of UbuWeb
From a radio programme about the Charlie Chaplin Archive…
Simon Louvish : It’s quite clear that Chaplin in The Tramp becomes very popular very very quickly… and Mack Sennet realises that people are asking for more of these Charlie Chaplin pictures – Who is this guy in the tramp costume ? We want to see more movies of him… and then Chaplin understands this and wants more money… and Sennet doesn’t want to pay anybody more money, and therefore Chaplin goes and signs with Essanay where he starts at the beginning of 1915.
In 1915 somebody, some unspoken public relations person at Essanay who is a genius managed to make him into the most recognizable person in the world within a period of less than six months. Between February 1915 and about July, Chaplin becomes immensely famous all over the world… and all these issues of merchandising – Charlie Chaplin dolls, Charlie Chaplin cartoons, everything starts to appear and within a very short time he’s extremely famous because somehow that character’s caught fire all over the world. But it must also be that somebody in the company knew how to exploit this and we don’t have that person’s name.
Matthew Sweet : How many years are we moving forward?
Kate Guyonvarch : This is still the same years… 1916… 1917… This is the album you wanted to see…
MS : Ah yes, this weird moment of mass hallucination (reads) Psychical phenomenon in Chaplin wave which swept United States. The Boston Society for Psychical Research has sent out circulars to its members in numerous cities throughout the United States seeking information concerning an extraordinary psycho-pathological psychic phenomenon that obsessed the country from Atlantic to Pacific and from the Canadian boundary to the Gulf on November the Twelfth…
Glen David Gold : What was claimed to have happened on November 12th 1916 – Charlie Chaplin was spotted in over 800 places at the same time … at different sorts of resorts, and hotels, and train stations … and he was allegedly seen doing different things all at the same time.
What’s indisputable, at that moment he was going from being a well regarded comedian to becoming the most famous man in the world.
And in a way this was a literal apotheosis.
He was the first person who in order to become famous … you had to see him through a machine. He wasn’t on stage, he was somebody that you went into a theatre and saw via this kind of magic eye… and there was something psychologically different about that, that I think the world was just catching up with.
I think that its inseperable from the War, and I think that its also inseperable from the motion picture as a narrative form of entertainment.
If you think about it … lets say around 1913 or so the only forms of popular entertainments were on stage and through newspapers and through sitting in your parlour and entertaining each other.
When the advent of film came along at first it was very primitive … but because people were interested in going along and seeing images of the War – newsreels – the middle classes started going to see the motion pictures… and this was roughly at the same time that Chaplin was starting as a comedian himself.
And there was something about him – he understands just about better than anyone else making pictures at that time, that audiences weren’t really going there to see a character , they were there going to see a stand-in for themselves.
People really felt that they could be Chaplin in a way … If only they were much, much funnier.
And this I think is why he wasn’t just the most famous person in the world , but he was a new kind of most famous person in the world.
In the Nineteenth Century to become the most famous person in the world you were royalty, you were a pope, you were Lord Nelson, in other words you’d actually done something. But by the Twentieth Century you became the most famous person in the world by reflecting something back to the audience about themselves.
If you talk about Houdini for instance, who was the most famous person in the world before Chaplin, there are all kinds of psychological understandings about why he was so famous, but Chaplin was even more famous than Houdini because he understood that the audience was intimately involved with him on an emotional level.
There’s a terrific set of psychological studies by Hugo Munsterburg collected in 1916 called The Photoplay.
He’s the first psychologist to really study and understand the cinema… and his theory was that what he called the bust shot, which is what we would call the close up, was a new development in art and psychology that we’d never seen before, in that, unlike on the stage, we were actually brought into the actors face, and we saw our own emotions reflected with the actor…
And Chaplin got this … and when there was a close up on him, you could see every passing fancy on his face. And no other actor really understood as well as he did that the audience was looking to him to see themselves.
MS : What’s the story of Chaplin and the First World War?
GDG : It was an incredible idea that you could, because of being an actor, be excluded from service … the idea that your value to the world would be more, by being you know, a buffoon was so incredible that I don’t think the British Military really publicly admitted to it…
But it seemed that they really understood that he was a moral booster above anything else. There was the famous study about showing shell shocked veterans Chaplin movies. When they couldn’t even sit up in bed, and they couldn’t even recognize their own mothers, they recognized him.
KG : The last thing I wanted to show … was this beautiful picture
MS : The front page of the Illustrated London News, New York edition, Saturday August 24th, 1918, and this shows wounded American soldiers in a field hospital in France, they’re liying on their backs… they’re all bandaged up and a film, a Chaplin film – is being projected on the ceiling because that’s the most comfortable way for them to see it, and in the background is a pianist accompanying this work as the projector sends this film playing upon the roof of the field hospital. That’s an extraordinary image.
GDG : What you have to understand is that when someone walked into a theatre and saw him at that particular time they were seeing him after some atrocities, and they were seeing him as an incredible relief to a terrible time in world history. To really understand World War One – that was the first war that was ever recorded on film, it’s the first time that people felt like they were on the battle field and the emotional change to go from seeing Ypres to seeing Chaplin within a few seconds … the relief that people felt was … overwhelming… I think…
If you, like the Bioskop, felt that nineties and noughties US “indie” films like American Beauty, Fight Club, Elephant, Magnolia, Thirteen, In the Cut, Virgin Suicides etc didn’t deliver the brutal critique of society that they promised, or that all that nineties and noughties indie comedy that was supposed to lay bare the mores of suburban families ultimately felt twee and ineffectual, this tour de force essay by Christopher Sharret from Film International may offer some answers…
(Although he does get it ***so*** wrong on the account of Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) – but hey nobody is perfect- Jelena)
As Adorno said - The dreams don’t dream
by Guy Sherwin
This 197 collaboration between Douglas Davis and Nam June Paik reminds me of a children’s TV programme I used to watch as a kid called Why Don’t You?
The programme’s theme song - Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead? always induced a disconcerting cognitive disonance in me – they’re telling me to turn off the tv but they want me to keep sitting here watching…
Diagram by fluxus founder George Mancunias, from the 1966 EXPANDED CINEMA issue of Film Culture. Many thanks to Lucy Reynolds for the diagram.