Sunday, May 10, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Brett Gaylor has created an inspiring and informative film about the subject of Copyrights. Or, as his film energetically demonstrates, what have become Copywrongs.
The most public contemporary debates about the subject of copyright infringement, fair use, and "the public good" have not gone outside of the entertainment industry. RiP takes the topic out of the courtroom and to the streets and this makes it one of the best documents I've seen on the subject.
The film is thorough, though I was surprised to see no reference to John Oswald's Plunderphonics project or Chumbawamba's Jesus H Christ album, but Gaylor more than makes up for these exclusions by providing an historical analysis which goes back to before the Gutenberg Bible yet also returns to the present by discussing not only new content creation by artists like Girl Talk and culture jammers such as Negativland, but also life and death matters illuminated by Brazil's renegade stance regarding the production of generic HIV pharmaceuticals they legally had no right to produce. By including this last topic within his debate he demonstrates the need to weigh the issue of private ownership rights–which have really become corporate ownership rights–against the damage too tight control can have on the lives of individuals.
One of the best segments of the film traces Walt Disney's creative dependence on art created as far back as the 1600s. As one of the main forces behind the revision of the Copyright Act in the 90's, the Disney Corporation receives an appropriately large amount of Gaylor's attention, including numerous examples of their egregious behavior provided by someone who loves Disney enough to maintain a Season's Pass to Disneyland and be a member of the Mickey Mouse Club.
Throughout the film Gaylor reminds the audience that what he is including on screen, but more so in the audio track, subjects both him and the audience to punitive judgments. He also digs deep enough to show the complicity of the United States government in a deliberate plan to separate intellectual activity from production, an action which has woefully backfired. The result of this plan to "elevate" the United States above production by outsourcing those services to developing nations has helped to amplify the current economic damages to both parties: the developing nations who are required to adopt American copyright laws and enforcement practices in order to import to this country and an American nation which has so abstracted its contributions to international exchange as to become entirely dependent upon those developing nations to provide its most basic needs.
Gaylor keeps the film amazingly focused and incisive considering how far reaching his topics go. He accomplishes this by repeatedly returning to the impact of decisions made in the 80's and 90's upon contemporary lives but, perhaps even more effectively, by framing the discussion within the framework of attempts to control and criminalize the general population and how those populations refuse to be controlled. Heady stuff, but delivered with panache and great wit.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I wondered how much this film would be relevant to me. As an artist I don't deal with copyright issues on a daily basis, in practice maybe not theory at least but...... this battle recently was thrown into my face by a recent heated debate about what defined "stealing" and what is appropriate. Should filmmakers create their own music for all of their films? Is borrowing music to make a project without getting consent illegal? Or moreover morally okay? These questions have been thrown around recently. As I watched this film unfold, I realized that for myself creativity is limited by rules, and we all must conclude for our own personal use what is appropriate to follow and what is oppressive. And no matter what our choice is, stand by our beliefs and don't back down. Progression can only happen with a fight. I am choosing creativity and swimming through the rest.
Apologies are due for not getting my morning coffee before attending this screening. Skipping that coffee prevented me from staying attentive during what may have been one of the strongest pieces in this program, Adaptation Fever. Hopefully someone else will comment on this piece or I will get a chance to see it again on a screener copy so I can do the work justice.
There were several pieces in this program I liked a lot. Poor Audrey and Still Life with Ho Chi Minh were the standouts, though I also liked The Sixtus Project quite a bit. A Film Far Beyond God was, for me, completely impenetrable and, in certain assumed conventions (the references to masculine bravado/machismo, Che Guevara, Jim Morrison and Arthur Rimbaud), came across as utterly pretentious. I did not care for this film at all, even on a technical level, as its use of cinematography and superimposition seemed no more than arbitrary. As for the topic of pre-Islamic gods, how that subject relates to anything in this film is beyond me.
Poor Audrey, in contrast, is a beautiful, concise, carefully constructed and emotionally resonant portrait piece. At first it appears to be about the tragedy of Hank Williams life and the superficially possessive reactions after his death. But the real tragedy revealed is Audrey's, Williams wife, who suffered much the same fate and disparagements as Yoko Ono (and, I'm sure, a number of other "wives of famous men"). Great use of minimal imagery for maximum impact. I also really like that this film only hints at the story behind the story. The film makes you wonder rather than causing you to feel like you "know."
Still Life with Ho Chi Minh is another excellent short film. Using untranslated conversations with Minh's personal photographer, the film applies superimposed dirt and filmic debris quite effectively as a metaphor for difficult times and the fragments of history which manage to be passed along in place of the "whole" story. I found the decision to not provide subtitles to be an excellent one as it forced me to concentrate on the footage and the emotional tenor of the voice of the photographer. Like Poor Audrey, a beautiful film I'd like to see again.
The Sixtus Project is quite minimal in its construction. Consisting solely of long takes of docking and unloading ships and a diaristic voiceover, the film manages to quite successfully evoke an attempt at communication between the filmmaker and a man nearing and reaching the end of his life. There are successes and failures within these attempts, but ultimately the film reminds us that we all die alone and that the experience of death is, in many ways, only about the survivor's attempts to find solace by projecting their own desires upon the person who has passed.
If I get an opportunity to watch Adaptation Fever while fully attentive and not nodding off–which I hope I do before the festival is over–I will add to this post.
Ben Coonley is a sharp and very funny fellow. His Remapping the Apparatus lecture was hilarious and a great critique on corporate/academic speak as manifested through Powerpoint templates. I particularly enjoyed his developed sense of word puns, one of which included his cat Otto, who is also Coonley's Tech Support Guru, demonstrating his Ottomatic Powerpoint templates as a helpful tool for more powerful and effective communication.
Needless to say, the lecture went gloriously askew, even getting a bit raunchy with boob bouncing and butt flexing gif animations. But mixed within the laughter came Otto's life story, which I found to be surprisingly affecting and a wonderful extension of the ideas commonly expressed through the allegory of Plato's Cave. Otto's presence echoed a sweet little moment I experienced between the earlier screening and Coonley's show where I met on the street just up from the theater the most talkative cat I've ever encountered. If this had happened after Coonley's show I would have thought I was hallucinating.
Most of Coonley's work addresses media critique through humor. The strongest pieces included 3D Trick Pony, Valentine for Perfect Strangers (another Otto contribution), and Appropriation Piece. The Russian version of Perfect Strangers would have been fun randomly discovered online, but screened within this program it proved to be excessively redundant. Personally, I found The Best Gifts and The Future of Metal to be completely boring, even if I could reason out the point of their inclusion.
So a little more info about the pieces I liked the most.
3D Trick Pony, really created and screened in anaglyph 3D, offered up a great analysis of the supposed Kuleshov Effect–the idea that montage can drive our emotional response to the films we are watching. Much critical theory of this sort, especially when approached as an abstract concept, debases analysis to the point of absurdity. Coonley demonstrates this by applying the explicit terminology of the theory to a scene involving an expressionless stuffed pony intercut with a Dachsund running across an empty yard. By removing emotive intra-frame content (I am thinking here of the Odessa sequence in Battleship: Potempkin) and relying solely on Kuleshov's description of how one shot affects our emotional response to the next, Coonley demonstrates both how influential human expression is to our cognitive processes and how necessary "reading" a face is to our ability to communicate in any effective manner.
Valentine for Perfect Strangers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETQ0urHjSIk) moved into the realm of seeking connection through internet personals and hyper-idealized human connection as expressed in the horrible sitcom Perfect Strangers [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_Strangers_(TV_series)], a television show which made Three's Company look like brain surgery. Otto is again at his best here, and his efforts to appropriate the model provided by Perfect Strangers by placing his Rat plaything's head into scenes taken from the opening of the sitcom and other media extravaganzas is hilarious but ultimately quite vacuous, which might just be the point. Michael Almereyda dealt with the subject of online avatars more powerfully and subtly in his film Happy Here and Now, but Coonley's approach gets to the heart of the matter more quickly and in a more explicitly humorous manner.
Appropriation Piece, in addition to Coonley's lecture, was the highlight of the screening. In this video Coonley advises a talking garbage can on a class assignment to create a video demonstrating the concept of appropriation. This is a very funny and astute piece with great usage of puns and the ambiguity of words heard versus words said. I don't want to give away the jokes because that will destroy the pleasures of this piece, but Coonley deserves induction into Oulipo for creating this hilarious exchange.
This program fell into these three personally defined groupings–
Music Videos: Mongoloid and America is Waiting
Meditations on America: Crossroads, Take the 5:10 to Dreamland, Valse Triste
Abstract Incantations: Looking for Mushrooms (long version) and Easter Morning
It was fun to again see the first Conner films I ever saw, Mongoloid and America is Waiting. These works still stand out as exceptions to the rule as far as music videos go. As entertainment, I recommend them highly for their use of rhythm and humor. But in the context of the rest of the Conner films I've seen this weekend they are lightweight pieces. Fortunately they were grouped together at the beginning of the program as this allowed Crossroads, Take the 5:10 to Dreamland, Valse Triste, Looking for Mushrooms (long version) and Easter Morning to emerge as the completely unique and deeply powerful pieces they are.
Following upon the Music Videos, the "Meditations," as I choose to call them, dramatically altered the mood of the evening. Each of these films passed along a somber, melancholy, and even a little bit of nostalgic energy. There is simply no more appropriate word I can use to describe Crossroads than somber. Conner seems to remove himself almost entirely from the editorial process with this film, at least in comparison to his other more kinetic films. It is as if he tapped into the National Archives and simply assembled, one after the other, multiple camera angles of a single event. The film is long, deliberately and appropriately so. The final shot is almost completely monotone, just a big wall of grey, though the dark shape of a ship eventually appears in the foreground as the camera recording the moment either drifts to the left or the ship drifts to the right. That the footage depicts military tests in the South Pacific, a place of intensely vibrant and verdant colors, only adds to the horror of such annihilating power. This version of the film contained only Terry Riley's music, though Patrick Gleeson's name remains in the credits (apparently a unique version of the film). Limiting the score to Riley's minimalist composition made the film feel like a single whole and I wonder if I would feel differently about the film seeing the music duties shared between two composers as it is usually shown. As it is, I loved this film and felt its placement in the program order helped me to gradually move into the headspace of the films which followed. Situating this film at this location in the program order is inspired programming.
I happened to be revisiting Raul Ruiz's Poetics of Cinema yesterday (http://tinyurl.com/djupv9) before I came into town for this second Conner screening. As Crossroads was screening two passages from Ruiz's book forcefully rose up in my mind:
"Don Ramon distinguishes between the historic and the legendary elements of this tale, and traces its origins to Italy and Syria; but in the end he decides that perhaps the story happened several times, in Syria, in Italy, and also in Spain. It is, in other words, what is known as an Immortal Story. It travels the centuries in search of victims in which to be embodied." [emphasis added]
"One of the most fertile inventions of our imagination is the figure we give to the cosmos, even though it loses its human substance to become a celestial form at one with the universe. How many simpler cases do we not find in nature? Faces appear in the clouds. the stars, the stones, sometimes in chemical reactions, in damp patches on walls. Wherever we turn, a human figure is composing or decomposing (as Blake says, 'All landscapes are a man seen from a distance.')" [emphasis added]
Apparently this latter thought also entered the minds of the group sitting behind me. As soon as the film ended they began talking about how they started looking for faces in the mushroom clouds. To my ears it seemed boredom provoked their mental wanderings. I'd like to think instead that Conner's pushing the limits of duration provoked them to a meditative state that will feed them ideas for a long time to come.
While the first quote mentioned above comes from Ruiz's discussion of a legend of murder and betrayal, I include it here because it sent a chill of predestination through my body. The thought that we, as a species, are trapped within a story we cannot escape is a frightening and incredibly bleak thought. What Conner achieves with Crossroads is the invention (acknowledgment?) of a new "Immortal Story," one that Robert Oppenheimer himself called forth when he quoted from the Bhagavad-gita after the first atomic explosion. "I have become death, the destroyer of worlds" he repeated to the rolling cameras (http://tinyurl.com/cnx47l). If only those words had entered our cultural heritage and social conscience as decisively as that first atomic explosion....
Take the 5:10 to Dreamland and Valse Triste continued these meditations on American practices, cultural hegemony, and "lifestyle" desires. Take the 5:10 to Dreamland starts with a boy climbing into bed, turning off his light, and quickly going to sleep. Immediately we are dropped into what appear to be his night dreams, which depend entirely upon the world he inhabits and the culturally-defined images which have been passed along to him. One of the simple aspects of this film I liked most was that there was no "soft dissolve" or "blur the image" transition to signify entering the dream state. The shift was as sharp as an off/on switch. I think we like to believe every choice we make is conscious, if not deliberate–a manifestation of the desire to control our own existence rather than feeling controlled by the culture we inhabit and that inhabits us. 5:10 shows this to be the desire versus actuality it really is by revealing how everything we encounter and everything we experience comes to color our existence, often in ways we are never quite fully conscious of. In this sense, 5:10 struck me as an analysis of external influences. Valse Triste, which translates as Sad Waltzes, seemed a much more personal exploration. Compared to the descriptive and somewhat distanced qualities of 5:10, Valse Triste is defined through its experiential character in a present-tense exposition. While it too was concerned with a past–one of the reasons I bring up nostalgia–there was a geniality of presentation which differentiates Valse Trise from all Conner's previous work. Looking at this film from this vantage point marks Valse Triste as a significant shift in Conner's work, from outright critique to an attempt to share an essentially unique experience. It also offers a conceptual transition toward films to come, which in this program included Looking For Mushrooms (long version) and Easter Morning. If any of Conner's films suggest a naturally developing human being interested in discovery rather than riding upon achievements of the past, Valse Triste is the one that does this for me.
Which brings me to what I am calling the Abstract Incantations, the two films Looking For Mushrooms (long version) and Easter Morning. A friend studying Hinduism once summarized the four life stages of Vedic philosophy for me in a way I cannot even attempt to repeat with my limited knowledge of the subject. But as I watched these two films the memory of that summary reentered my consciousness. I have, however, discovered this description of these Stages (http://tinyurl.com/czwuob):
1. Brahmacharya: - This stage is the first one and it begins at the age of 20 and extends up
to 25 years. This is the time when man leads the life of student and practices celibacy. The
motto of this phase is to train man to discipline himself. This is the perfect time to inculcate
values like self-restraint, knowledge and obedience.
2. Grihastha: - At this point of time man needs to pay heed to his social and family life. This
phase begins from 25 and lasts till 60 years. Grihastha is a crucial stage in one`s life where
man has to balance both his familial and social duties. He is married and manages his
household and at the same time looks after the needs of the world outside. This is the first
stage where he puts his knowledge to use. He has to discharge the duties of a son, brother,
husband, father and a member of the community. From here he moves onto the next stage.
3. Vanaprastha: - This is the step to Partial renunciation. This stage ushers in the life of man
at an age of 50 and lasts till he is 74. His children are grown up and he slowly moves away for
the material ties. It is his age for retirement and starts walking on a path that will lead him to
4. Sannyasa: The last stage in his life comes when he completely snaps off his worldly ties.
This phase begins at 74 and lasts till he dies. He is completely free from the emotional
attachments. It is at this age that he becomes an ascetic and completely dedicates his life to
While I certainly don't wish to impose any religious doctrine upon Conner–his "beliefs" or lack thereof are none of my business and ultimately irrelevant to his work in my opinion–or apply some kind of beatific "sainthood" to his life and career, I do see some striking points of reference between these middle two Vedic Life Stages and Conner's film career.
1958-1976 - A Movie through Crossroads (25 years old to 43 years old)
1977-1982 - 5:10 through America Is Waiting (44 years old to 49 years old)
1995-2006 - Television Assassination through Easter Sunday (62 years old to 73 years old)
Searching for any specific meaning from these final two films in the program seems pointless. In making this assertion I don't mean to suggest the films are pointless or valueless. I would say the exact opposite is the case. Searching for Mushrooms (long version) and Easter Sunday are gorgeous works, full of color, motion and, most importantly for me, an attempt to share firsthand experience rather than describe or critique it. There is, of course, no way for me to truly have shared the physical and mental experiences of the Bruce Conner who recorded the images which moved into the compositions these films became unless I had been there with him. And even then, I'd argue that such a sharing is ultimately impossible since our individual perceptions represent an accumulation of personal experience (as 5:10 and Valse Triste so magnificently demonstrate). In other words, the film I'd make, being in the same place at the same time as Conner was when he captured his images, would inevitably be different than his. But this is what attracts me to such personal cinematic output. Rather than seeking the "culturally shared" experience of a narrative thread that has existed for centuries (those Immortal Stories Ruiz mentions) as is the presupposition of narrative/commercial and much documentary cinema, works like these final two films by Conner push me to appreciate our individuality and uniqueness. In such a presentation I see potential rather than the trap of predestination. That, for me, is a revolutionary act which celebrates life rather than trying to control it.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
A pop control Minister shattering unprecedented Brazilian footage explores copyright. RiP: A Remix Manifesto is integral for anyone downloading illegal Piper Stones. Gilberto Gregg and filmmaker Cory Jammie were closing Cultural activist DNA and Industry favelas.
Which alarm barons draw Open engineer war songs? are giants rearranging revolutionaries and Muddy wall sharing Association charts?
mash-up complexities sued Digital battle users in Pittsburgh and Brazil. Although Lawrence is able to build central robber Affairs with challenging, global mom producers.
RiP allowed culture thresholds to Remix frontier Waters successfully.
Don't forget the first program starts early today -- Battle Scars: New Experimental Documentaries at 4! Ben Cooley will be presenting at 7.
I'm getting really pumped for RiP: A Remix Manifesto later on this evening. I highly recommend seeing it if you're interested in digital copyright, sample-based music, the musician Girl Talk, etc. The film actually inspired me to become more informed about open source content and the work of Lawerence Lessig. I'll be watching it a second time!
Also, check out the blog Media Futurist for more relevant information on the copyright in the digital age.