July 9, 2011
Darling of the art world, Christian Marclay’s The Clock, like so many pieces of conceptual art, was for me as giving in the reading and anticipatory thinking about it as it was in experiencing it.
Now granted, the 24-hour film had a lot of buzz surrounding it, generated first in NY and then here in LA. So, I went primed for the viewing itself to reveal exciting thoughts and feelings about time and cinema: a kind of dance between form and affect, structure and concept, that I have often enjoyed via structuralist and other avant-garde films that are committed to practices and theories of duration.
But as was true of my experience of 127 hours, this contemporary time-project also delivered, instead, a meditation on time compression, cutting so frantically and gimmicky that one couldn’t catch a breath to think or ponder, or just be alive and aware in (movie) time. While that just may be the point–in our ADD, multi-tasking, world of cut-up screens we seek to ever fly away from boredom and contemplation–I got that point in just a few minutes. So why 24 hours?
Sure, the film was impressive as an indexing project, what Lev Manovich has called database cinema. And this was especially apparent to me, given that I was watching it with my friend, Carina, an early-modern historian, frantically trying to complete the index for her codex. But the cutsey cutting–montages of running in the rain, L-cuts carrying sound from one scene into the next, shot-reverse across time (thanks Maya Deren)–are pretty much Editing 101. Which leads me to the larger (and perhaps more controversial) reflection upon the growing craze for video and cinema in the art world. While I’m glad it’s there, there has been over a hundred years of production, teaching, and criticism about this medium, needless to say, much of it amazingly remarkable and astute, that hasn’t seemed to have moved as readily into the moving image’s new and fancy palaces. Not to say that avant-garde cinema and video haven’t had a precarious place in the art world since it’s birth, but the reception of present-day meditations on and celebrations of editing would be well framed by the huge body and long history of well-thunk missives on this very topic: itself a time project worthy of deep contemplation and careful consideration.
July 3, 2008
What’s great about the job (when you’re lucky), is that you have to write something (an adaptation of my MP:me Manifesto and the “talk” I gave about it a few months ago at SCMS for a book on First Person Media), and it irritates the peripheral vision. I have to do that, when?! I play scrabulous. Read a little Vertov. It seems scary. Undoable. Unfindable. Mine, but lost in the background. Covered with the stuff I put in its way. Then, some coffee, an email, a few days of this, then, I make myself sit down…and…type…and…whoosh. Out it flows. It’s fun. It might be weird. I don’t care. So much of this strange job is caught in the private pleasure of the flow and work of the making, speaking, and thinking. Most of what I’ve published was always obscure, and is getting more dated by the year, arguing a point in a debate that’s long settled. But what satisfies is the zip of the now. On the blog, people get to it faster, as I write. And it’s a bit less private and personal, I suppose, in the sharing of it. But a lot of the satisfaction of writing is in the spilling out of it.
So, I’ve been writing weird poetry—an homage to Vertov and Esfir Shub—as a way out of the trap of trying to write about YouTube video off the internet, on paper. Very rough, but loads of fun. Here’s the beginning:
The Me & the WE: Variants of a Manifesto Concerning First Person Media History as seen through a poetic attempt to represent a “Playlist” of 14 YouTube Videos, organized by me, SCALEthedoc (also known as Mp:me) and Paying Homage to the films and writing of Dziga Vertov (and his lesser-known contemporary, Esfir Shub)
1. I Call Myself Mp:me
From: SCALEthedoc. Added: February 28, 2008. 29 seconds.
Description: I call myself MP:me—as opposed to “cinematographer,” one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares. (After “WE: Variant of a Mainfesto,” Dziga Vertov, 1922). Category: Film & Animation. Tags: MPme Alexandra Juhasz Dziga Vertov Manifesto video camcorder feminist media documentary experimental theory politics
In a bedroom, on a bureau. A round mirror.
Feminine space. Cluttered with photos, knick-knacks, papers.
The stuff of women and family. Privacy.
We hear: “I call myself MP:me (MediaPraxis:AlexandraJuhasz)…”
(We remember Vertov’s: “WE call ourselves Cine-Eyes as distinct from ‘cinematographer’—that flock of junk dealers who do rather well peddling their rags.” )
Slow (but shaky) zoom into circular mirror. The first of many (circles, mirrors).
The female videomaker’s reflection, holding camcorder, centered, comes into focus, sort of.
She is all women filmmakers. She is Mp:me, not WE.
At home with technology. Alone with her consumer camera. On her bed.
She’s already dressed (none of this prurient eye-blinking-bra-on shit).
Her seated figure slowly fills the frame while she speaks her manifesto in a strangely off-putting and deep voice register. The language is stilted. Poorly performed. She’s no actress.
But he didn’t use actors either. Although the we he caught was usually unaware, and she is so aware, even hyper-aware, that she’s quoting nearly hundred year old film theory from a script penned by her own hand, onto a computer, taped to her mirror.
“THE MOST UNPROFITABLE, THE MOST UNECONOMIC WAY OF COMMUNICATING A SCENE IS THROUGH THEATRICAL COMMUNICATION.” (Vertov)
Different reals. New truths.
She reads: “…as opposed to ‘cinematographer,’ one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares.”
And she’s no cinematographer either. No machoman.
Just a modern feminist inserting her words into the Manifesto Vertov left behind. Repeating. Ripping. Fan-girl. He invented a world seen newly.
As the camera zooms, the exposure keeps shifting. Smears on the mirror disrupt visual clarity (Have you seen his images!)
Some might find her’s beautiful. They’re certainly self-referential. And dirty.
Calling attention to a mediated seeing. A female framing.
Still zooming: the eye of the camera finally fills the frame. It’s gone beyond self-referential.
YouTube cuts to:
2. Euganea Movie Movement 2006 Sigla
From: euganeamoviemovement. Added: February 16, 2007. 1:17 seconds.
Description: Promotional video for the fifth edition of Euganea Movie Movement film festival (Monselice – Padua – Italy 2006) http://www.euganeamoviemovement.it. A small tribute to Vertov’s cinema Category: Film & Animation. Tags: emm euganeamoviemovement festival cortometraggio monselice dziga vertov
Jazzy but slightly electronic. Old but new. Zippy.
Railroad gate closes.
Cut to: An ancient box on a tripod, a movie camera. Its lens is being changed by the hands of an otherwise unpictured male. The camera is subject, and it is clean and square.
A recognizable, signature shot, Vertov.
A machine. A man.
Man with a movie camera.
A beret set atop a contemporary video-camcorder on a tripod in a modern room.
Machine’s still subject with a comparable yet slight male touch. Nod to an earlier time.
Fragmentary cut to extreme close-up on eye of camera with eye inside. Vertov’s.
Everything’s moving fast. Cut to the jazzy score.
Long shot of Vertov’s cameraman leaving apartment building lobby. Camera and tripod on shoulder, framed by elaborate doorway: an arch of graceful windows. He’s all action. Very modern.
Now, contemporary cameraman leaves rectangular hallway, slimmed technology on his shoulder. Things change, they stay the same.
Guys on cars, with cameras, in long shot. Moving fast.
Shot from high above and down below.
Framed by the elegant, complex, arch of a railway bridge.
We see from their machomen’s moving vantage.
A city. The countryside.
Now and then, intercut. Film and video. Film looks better. Cleaner. Darker. Chiarascuro.
The real world but artfully rendered.
A bench. A train station. Mountain. Silo. Gear. Fence. Parts of a train’s machinery.
“MAKE WAY FOR THE MACHINE!” (Vertov)
Modern cinematographer stands on a train track.
A locked fence. His access is difficult, poor guy.
Vertov’s train tracks. His cameraman sets up daring shot as train approaches from distance.
“I, a machine, am showing you a world the likes of which only I can see.” (Vertov)
Modern adventurer giving it up for the project of seeing.
Cut to signature camera eye in extreme closeup.
“The Eye, disputing the visual concept of the world by the human eye and offering its own ‘I see.’” (Vertov)
Cut to colorful poster advertising Euganea Movie Movement Festival, 2006.
It’s all been an ad. Hmm.
March 3, 2008
I have been thinking about the badness of this set of videos. About how when I make conventional vlogs, I never worry about form, and that’s liberating: YouTube as soapbox. About the fact that I do actually make “quality” documentaries (my most recent is SCALE, see much about it on these pages), and for that work (which I also characterize as DIY), I hire a cinematographer and an editor, it take several years of my life to complete, another year or more to distribute, and loads of money to do all this work (in comparison to the insignificant amount of time, capital, planning, or execution required for any of my YouTube videos).
What does this tell us about form, expression, and politics on YouTube?
1. Form mandates where you sit and how you move on YouTube. Bad form relegates you to the conventions of the vlog, “good” form is your passport out of NicheTube.
2. Form effects how well and how much you are heard on YouTube. The bad form of a vlog propels its movement in that this marks its veracity and authenticity. Bad form on any other form of video limits the effectivity of your message, both in how well it can be understood and in how many people will be moved to watch and listen. Bad form marks the hand of an amateur, and the space of the mundane.
3. Bad form is intimately linked to the private, humble expression of the vlog; good form (aesthetics) is required for effective expression outside the personal.
4. Politics demands the building, feeding, and inter-relating of individuals to make committed communities. If you are using media as part of this program, the media must inspire conversation and connection: because the words, images, and sounds are compelling in combination. Need they be “good” to do so?
So where does the humble YouTuber fit into this? How trained need she be? How articulate? Does this need to be her job? Isn’t the point that she is an amateur? When we actually use our own material, and the skills we have, what and who can we effect?
March 2, 2008
August 27, 2007
(After “WE: Variant of a Manifesto,” Dziga Vertov, 1922)
I call myself MP:me (Media Praxis : Alexandra Juhasz)—as opposed to “cinematographer,” one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares.
I see no connection between true femi-digi-praxis (the integration of media theory, digital practice, and feminist politics in an historical context) and the cunning and calculation of the profiteers.
I consider expensive corporate reality television—weighed down with music and narrative and childhood games—an absurdity.
To the American victim documentary with its shown dynamism and power disparities and to YouTube’s direct-to-camera dramatizations of so many individuals’ personal pain or pleasure this femi-digi-practioner says thanks for the return to real people, the hand-held look, and the close-ups. Good…but disorderly, not based on a precise study of Media Praxis (the hundred year history of theoretical writing and related political media production). A cut above the psychological drama, but still lacking in foundation. A Cliché. A copy of a copy.
I proclaim the stuff of YouTube, all based on the slogan (pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption), to be leprous.
–Keep your mouse from them!
–Keep your eyes off those bite-sized wonders!
–They’re morally dangerous!
I affirm the future of digital art by denying its present and learning from its past.
I am MP:me. I build connections to history and theory and inter-relations between individuals and committed communities. With my small cheap camcorder, my laptop, and internet connection, I make messy, irregular feminist video committed to depth and complexity.
“Cinematography, ” the earliest male tradition of sizeable machines, stylish form, and solo cine-adventures must die so that the communal art of femi-digi-praxis may live. I call for its death to be hastened.
I protest against the smooth operator and call for a rough synthesis of history, politics, theory, real people and their chaotic, mundane desires and knowledge.
I invite you:
the sweet embrace of America’s Next Top Model,
the poison of the commercial send-up,
the clutches of technophilia, the allure of boy-toys,
to turn your back on music, effects, gizmos,
out into the open with camcorder in hand, into four dimensions (history, politics, theory + practice), in search of our own material, from our experiences, relationships and commitments to social justice.
Mp:me is made visible through a camcorder femi-digi-praxis: a small, hand-held, retro video aesthetic connected to a lengthy history of communal, low-budget, political and theoretical media production, Media Praxis, begun by truly great cinematographers, men with movie cameras, politics and big ideas. Mp:me simply (post)-modernizes and feminizes We’s foundational praxis.