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October 18, 2002

Bye-Bye Movies, Hello Digishorts

Friedrich --

I dragged the Wife to an evening at ResFest, a touring festival of films made with digital equipment that happens to be in NYC this week. We watched a collection of shorts. A perfectly enjoyable and interesting way to spend an evening, like visiting a show of student art work. You're unlikely to be moved or touched, but it's genuinely interesting to see the kind of work that's being done. (And you know that the kind of thing you're seeing is going to show up elsewhere soon.) Some notes on the evening:

*What was most striking was how cheerful, young and attractive the crowd was. Remember the grubby and political NY Film Festival audience? How much they loved rooting for the avant-garde against the powers that be, and siding with the artists against the awful and fascist moneymen? None of that here. These kids were pulled-together and attentive, and they looked like they were going home after the show to get back to work on their own digital projects. We're all mediamakers now.

*Another striking thing was how little the films -- videos, really: shot on digital video, edited on computers, and projected digitally -- had to do with traditional movie language, or traditional movie values. The basis for what these computer-and-video kids are doing -- the elements of the language they're using -- is ads and rock videos. Quick cutting, multiple screens, lots of floating and flashing words, image processing, sounds that claw at your eardrums.

Hyperbolic, glamorous-but-edgy -- these are the terms these young artists see themselves in. This is their language, and they seem to like veering back and forth between pumpy, hyped-up effects and a gritty "reality-TV" look. As artists, they seem completely uninformed by movie history, let alone by the rest of the history of art. They seem to come completely out of magazines, pop music, and video, and to want to do little but orchestrate effects.

*The avant garde is here, now -- not that anyone's giving this fact a second's thought. Multiple screens, windows within windows, image and sound processing -- all this comes standard with any G4. You want multidimensonality? You want multiple perspectives? You want an absence of objectivity and a writhing mass of warring subjectivities instead? Click here.

*The visual quality of the shorts was ok-to-pretty-good: functional, a little watery, as though the theater lights were too high. (They weren't.) Parts of the screen sometimes pixillate, stripey objects go all zany -- and for a couple of seconds you watch the background rather than the action... Video/computer-image quality has quite a ways to go, although it has now crossed the "acceptable" line.

*This being a young scene, you'd expect the sound system to be a corker, and it was. Digital sound quality is miles ahead of visual quality. It's freakily good. You're right in the middle of every noise. The slightest shimmer becomes its own event happening all around you, the sound of glass breaking creates as elaborate a cosmos as a performance of Stockhausen -- whew. It's almost too much for anyone to manage expressively.

*In traditional subject-centered terms, these short videos were childlike and childish. They show zero sophistication where narrative and character are concerned; they might as well have been made in 1912. Rock out, make a joke, promote yourself, get into the grit of it, man, feel the tears -- that's about the level of thinking these shorts reflect.

The technology and techiques outrun the content -- there's more going on technically than there is substance-wise. Perhaps that's the reason I find that I'm almost never touched or moved by digital media products, "interesting" though I often find them.

But I wonder if this is a problem for the young people who were in the audience. They don't seem to have responses on the level where I experience good art, and they don't seem to want to get to such a level either. They seem to like living on the shiney, Dolbyized surface of digi-things.

Incidentally, and for what little it's worth: I was struck some years back, when I took a few courses in Premiere and Director, by how painstaking and fussy the work of making digital-video is. The results may dazzle, but the actual business of making those effects happen is as finicky and headache-inducing as needlework.

You can check out Res magazine, which covers and promotes the scene, here.



posted by Michael at October 18, 2002


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