Who knew? The YouTube indie-movie Life in a Day is the freaky feel-good twin of the art-world movie The Clock:

  • they construct dogmatically linear narratives with staccato marches forward to metronome of sun, wave, and cuckoo
  • they piece their homages-to-the-day from found source material
  • compilation films both, they redirect their footage to new “trans-media” screens: from YouTube to art-house, from cineplex to museum
  • triumphs of the database, they impose new logics (of narrative, linearity, causality) through montage
  • false devotees of duration, they foreshorten time’s stickiness with a jittery compulsion for change
  • there were lotsa clock-shots in both

But here the similarities end, for

  • one is built from trash, finding the artful in the prosaic; while the other builds from both competent industry product and great masterpieces alike, re-locating the art squarely to the artist’s hand and mind
  • one is a sappy celebration of humanity and community and commonality; the other, a high-brow parlor game for would-be cineastes
  • one finds narrative pleasure in documentary’s unexpected truth (long takes are only granted for scenes of quirky, revealing, to-the-camera soul-bearing); the other disturbs originary narrative coherence through its showy and artful cornucopia of associational documentary editing techniques (color, movement, weather, feeling)

With so many images and so little time, at last dawns the era of the editor: the wife at the editing bay, not the man with the movie camera.

Elizaveta Svilova, editor of MWMC, as seen in MWMC


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.

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.
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.
“emm presenta”
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.
Cut to:
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.
Really fast.
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.

YouTube Cuts to: