Are you sick of feeling like you have no control over your life? Well, sit your powerless ass down and watch this feature that will teach you claim the power that you seek through controlling your impulses, your image, and manipulating others. Delicious.
“…film is more like thought than anything else.” – John Huston
“… the director is the ringmaster of a circus that is inventing itself” – francis coppola
In film, the cut is a strange experience that breaks our continuous perception into pieces and transports us through time. Why do we accept it and why does it work?
…Perhaps we accept the cut because it resembles the way that images are assembled in our dreams. However, we still know so little about the nature of dreams that this observation is relatively shallow.
Murch also suggests that the cut has a conscious, physical incarnation as well. The blink is the physical mechanism that interrupts the continuity of our visual perception, cutting the flow of visual images into more significant bits. Providing a frame through which we organize our thoughts and digest information.
Murch provides an example from one of his films. During editing, he noticed that Gene Hackman blinked at about the same time that the scene needed to be cut. To Murch, this represented that Hackman understood as an actor when the thought of the scene or a particular dialogue was complete and was ready to transition to the next one.
… our rate of blinking is somehow geared more to our emotional state and to the nature of frequency of our thoughts than to the atmospheric environment we find ourselves in. the blink is either something that helps an internal separation of thought to take place, or it is an involuntary reflex accompanying the mental separation that is taking place anyways.
…you will find that your listener will blink at the precise moment he or she ”gets” the idea.
… for instance, a person being assailed simultaneously by many conflicting emotions and thoughts is desperately using blinks to try to separate thoughts, sort things out, and regain some kind of control.
so, what makes a good cut?
how to make the cut feel right (Murch)
one. identify potential cut points
two. determine what effect each cut would have on the audience
three. choosing which one of those effects is right for the film
Aside from his advise on how to edit film, I found Murch’s book to be a more general guide for design. In many ways, his book wasn’t just about film and where it is headed, but about all creative disciplines coming to terms with new modes of production. Here are a few pieces of his advice that I find relevant in architecture as well.
don’t losing track of the big picture - constantly remind yourself of the important pieces to capture (print outs of key frames of important moments) – the photos provided heiroglyphs for a language of emotion – there isnt a word for it in english, but you can see it in the photo
getting caught up in the details – it’s easy to lose track of the big picture when you’re staring at details all day.
scale – Murch places himself in the theater to remind himself of the way that his film would actually be enjoyed. To me this says that empathy is important – considering others and consider the context for your design is key to its success.
don’t allow yourself to be impregnated by the conditions of production (for Murch this means emotional artifacts don’t necessarily need to carry into the final product)
emotional attachment and objective detachment - stepping away from your creative work for editorial purposes can sometimes be the best thing you can do.
do your best to see only what is on the screen – be objective
organization – keep notes – index things – properly store information
test screenings – can be extremely educational, but be cautious. forces a new light of criticality of your own work, self-conscious criticality – seeing things you’ve never seen before. To me this highlights the importance of getting outside opinions to add depth to the work.
faith – cutting out the heart or the umbilical? sometimes you just have to have faith that you’re doing the right thing
dream reader :: dreamer (editor :: director) – the editor prods the director to reveal the essence of the work. there should be a close relationship relationship between the technical and creative elements of the work.
multiple contributors – avoiding the single viewpoint can be an important way to achieve success.
the tools make a difference – linear :: non-linear workflow – analog :: digital/parametric – different tools allow us to explore and execute our ideas differently
speed - and the downfalls of speed – the tool taking over, cuts happening too quickly. design is a slow process and can be at odds with speed at time. Rigor becomes the most important element of the design process.
fewer people – loss of the rigor of technique, collaboration. fresco painting was an expensive effort of many people with interlocking technologies, overseen by the artist, who took responsibility for the final product. the emergence of the solitary tortured genius of modernity.
preservation of different versions – reflective of design iterations, sorting through the infinite design options more rigorously, more effectively opens up more creative avenues
reduced book keeping
an observation and a couple rhetorical questions:
film making process has the potential to add richness to other design processes through focusing on story telling (narrative, emotion, rhythm, etc.) transitions between elements.
the cut is a distinct threshold, a point of inflection … if cuts are reflective of our conscious and subconscious realities, what does this state about our ability to live in a world where thresholds don’t exist?
the cut has the potential to interrupt our existential continuity as well; history, society, time, space. how can we use cuts to draw attention to the non-linear nature of history, space, time, and culture?
“Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed eternally; she did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it in her ear.”
The most interesting part of E.M. Forster’s short story, The Machine Stops, is the fact that it was written in 1909. Forster began exploring themes in newly industrialized, twentieth century Britain that we are still coming to terms with over a century later. His tale brings to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, modern day North Korea, natural ecology, 1984, The Giver, Farenheit 451, and the Matrix, just to name a few. It also predates all of those, well, except for Plato.
Forster draws from the available material of his time to project his future aesthetic; mechanized armchairs, zeppelins (at least that’s what I pictured …), knobs, buttons, and nozzles, giant automated worms. Perhaps this work serves as a precedent to steam punk. Forster uses his aesthetic to paint a grim picture of a future void of human connection, in which his humans have executed their fantasy of becoming one with a machine that ultimately destroys them.
Though his story is a pessimistic prophecy, Forster divines several themes that remain important today.
a world of proxies
Forster’s story is ultimately an environmental catastrophe tale, through which his subjects’ detachment from the processes they are embedded in leads to their destruction. Our tendency to disconnect from our environment and to experience it only as something outside of is accountable for our strained relationship with our environment and is literally destroying our world and its mending apparatus. The devices and technology that we are increasingly dependent upon have the same alienating effect on the social level … obliterating space and isolating people.
“Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence. The better a man knew his own duties upon it, the less he understood the duties of his neighbour, and in all the world there was not one who understood the monster as a whole. Those master brains had perished.”
networks and hierarchies
We think of our newly networked world as having the ability to overcome the traditional hierarchies embedded in our society. However, networks blur into hierarchies and hierarchies easily succumb to networks. The Machine succumbs to its own inefficiencies as pieces begin to break down. What started as an automated network to augment the lives of its users evolved into a hulking committee based hierarchical machine that ends up controlling the lives of Forster’s subjects.
“Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops – but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds – but not to our goal. “
As seen on thisiscolossal.
On the Rights of the Molotov Man provides a point, counterpoint style dialogue between Joy Garnett, an artist, and Susan Meisalas, a photographer, on the principles of appropriation and context.
Does the author of a documentary photograph – a document whose mission is, in part, to provide the public with a record of events of social and historical value – have the right to control the content of this document for all time? Should artists be allowed to decide who can comment on their work and how? Can copyright law, as it stands, function in any way except as a gag order? Who owns the rights to this man’s struggle?
These are the questions that Garnett poses after presenting an account of a dispute around one of her paintings. Her reinterpretation of an iconic photograph taken by Meiselas sparked a conversation around ownership, copyright, and creation.
Copyright law is intended to promote the progress of useful arts; to protect the investment of inventors for a limited window of time when it could enter the public domain and be built upon. Meiselas’s image would not fall outside of these bounds. By putting herself into a warzone, Meiselas’s took considerable risk, and in theory should be compensated for the fruits of her labor. She argues that its not about the money, but that she owes it to her subject to protect him from decontextualization.
Both Garnett and Meiselas’s accounts deal with meaning of the image through context. In Garnett’s case, the man is stripped of his context; his gun omitted, his surroundings removed, history erased. The image tells a story of life in the digital age, of the anger and violence of obscured context, alienation, and capitalism. Meiselas’s account gives a detailed history of the image and its socio-political impact in an attempt to reestablish that context.
… indeed it seems to me that if history is working against context, then we must, as artists, work all the harder to reclaim the context. We owe this debt of specificity not just to one another but to our subjects, with whom we have an implicit contract. … it would be a betrayal of Pablo Arauz if I did not at least protest the diminishment of his act of defiance.
Meiselas makes an important point: context matters. Meiselas tells the story of an image that has indeed been appropriated many times before Garnett, by multiple parties for conflicting motives. This clearly shows that artist does not have control over who comments and appropriates the image.
Ultimately, the image’s efficacy as a document of the body in extremis is what gives it power. Joy Garnett taps into this power, as others have before to give the Molotov Man new life. We find ourselves negotiating the threshold between each of the artist’s positions. We have to reinvent context while destroying it at the same time. Whether intended or not, Garnett and Meiselas have done this, the discourse surrounding their work has exposed us to the impact of the man’s action while at the same time allowing us to place the image back into its original context.
Copy, Transform, and Combine.
In his TED talk Embrace the Remix, Kirby Furguson gives a succinct yet powerful synopsis on his four part video series on the same subject entitled Everything is a Remix. Furguson’s premise is that the acts of copying, transforming, and combining are the basis for all artistic creation in the twentieth century. In fact, Furguson’s primary technique for demonstrating his argument is through remixing (juxtaposing) of media (copy, combine). This technique can either remove or replace media into its historic context to reveal our collective dependence on the legacies of others and the contradictions of our past. In other words, remixing re-contextualizes content to give it new meaning.
Ferguson suggests that copying is how we learn about the world, and through this process of replicating, opportunities for mutations emerge. In this sense, the evolution of ideas is akin to genetic mutation. Taking a quick glance at the wikipedia page for Mutation, one could glean that in genetics, there are four primary ways that DNA can mutate: spontaneously through some sort of glitch, errors in replication, errors in repair, and chemical induction. Conceptually, these forms of genetic mutation should have corollaries in the alternate dimension of ideas.
Mutation can occur in genes and memes through errors in replication and repair; what starts as an error becomes a new form. I’m reminded of a piece I read on Slate earlier this year which tells the story of a photographer who had her working hard drive stolen from her car. Eventually, her hard drive was recovered, but the data was damaged. However, after looking at her recovered images, she determined they were actually better. In this case the mutations were the outcome of jumbled up digital data.
Spontaneous mutation is attributable to some sort of chemical glitch internal to the molecules of the DNA itself. In the realm of memes, a parallel could be the subconscious and preconscious mind interacting with the conscious mind. This could include instinctive or learned reactions to an idea or stimulus. In this sense, spontaneous mutation could arise from an idea being exposed to multiple cultural and customary factors. For instance, the color green could mean one thing to a person in Chicago but carry a very different meaning to someone in Macau.
Genetic mutation can also occur from induction from external forces at the atomic level; an outside catalyst such as chemicals or radiation influencing, altering, or damaging the replication process. In the realm of memes, this outside influence can come from interactions with the world at large or from external influences such as literature, art, and music. As Furguson states, “our creativity comes from without, not within”; creation requires influence. Though this type of mutation may not be the most common in the genetic realm, it may be the most common in the Memetic realm.
“The words are the important thing. Don’t worry about tunes. Take a tune, sing high when they sing low, sing fast when they sing slow, and you’ve got a new tune. Woodie Guthrie
Furguson notes in his presentation, the internet has been exposing the interconnectedness and interdependency or our ideas; revealing the genetic ancestors of our concepts. Copyright law is intended to promote the progress of useful arts; to protect the investment of inventors for a limited window of time when it could enter the public domain and be built upon. Furguson claims that in contemporary American society the small details have become patented – this is where patent law begins to contradict its intent. A question that arises, is how to define the boundary between an original and a mutation, and how different does a mutation need to differ from its source? The meme of common good has been overwhelmed by intellectual property.
Part of the reason for this has to do with loss aversion, which has to do with protecting what is ours, however we may have gotten what is ours in the first place. Furguson brilliantly juxtaposes quotes from Steve Jobs, first showing him saying how shamelessly Apple has stolen from others, then by showing a quote demonstrating how ruthlessly Jobs was willing to defend the iPhone from intellectual property theft by Samsung. Apple got its start by remixing Xerox’s GUI, carbon copying certain elements, and making improvements to other elements to provide a similar but improved product. This calls into question the idea of authorship, which may be blind to the reality of the ways that ideas are replicated and remixed in the real world.
I invented nothing new. i simply assembled the discoveries of other men … progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable. Henry ford
In The Ecstacy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem reflects on the genealogy of creative culture, ownership, taste, and capitalism.
Lethem opens by demonstrating the complex genealogy of literature, music, and poetry. Artists are constantly referencing and borrowing from their predeccosors to reinterpret and recontextualize existing content in new ways. In this sense, Lethem calls collage the de facto art form of the twentieth century. Though the modernist tradition attempted to obscure its sources, creating the illusion of sourceless novelty, authorship exists as a deconstruction and curation of existing elements. Our traditional sense of the author as the sole proprietor of his/her content is thus obscured. Simply placing objects in an unexpected context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities.
As Bruce Mau says in his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, “Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.”
The internet helps us establish this threshold between originals and replicants through its implicit and explicit history. The sources of content can oftentimes be revealed through through the web’s innate connectedness. In the digital age, the very nature of our access to content (and the speed with which we access content) has an obscuring effect on its source. It’s as if the internet (or Google) is imposing its will of open commons to the world. And it shows. Oftentimes, a Wikipedia entry is returned as the first hit of a search query. Since Wikipedia is entirely managed by a volunteers, it does a relatively good job of citation, because its interface is standardized and its content is peer curated and scrutinized.
As Lethem states in his essay …
…copyright is revered by most established writers and artists as a birthright and bulwark, the source of nurture for their infinitely fragile practices in a rapacious world. … (However) … copyright is a “right” in no absolute sense; it is a government-granted monopoly on the use of creative results. One in which the loser is the community, including living artists who might make splendid use of a healthy public domain. The demarcation between various possible uses is beautifully graded and hard to define.
Here Lethem points out that creative media exists on a spectrum that is beautifully graded and hard to define. Media can exist in separate economies, that of the gift and that of commodity. Art that matters to us — which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience — is received as a gift is received. This type of gift offers a shared experience of life, because it is not owned by a single entity, it connects us to one another. According to Lethem, this is essentially why advertising cannot exist as art.
This is the reason why even a really beautiful, ingenious, powerful ad (of which there are a lot) can never be any kind of real art: an ad has no status as gift; i.e., it’s never really for the person it’s directed at.
If it is indeed possible to destroy art by converting it to pure commodity, couldn’t an advertisement be remixed and converted to art, thus destroying its status as commodity? I’m reminded of this piece of graffiti that was written about in Slate last year. The artist/vandalist/remixer effectively destroys the poster’s aesthetic and intent by reconstituting its context it with a cartoon whale.
Lethem eviscerates large corporate entities like Disney for not paying back the cultural debt that they owe. Almost all of Disney’s early animated content is explicitly derivative of the work of others. However, when it comes to licensing any of their characters, Disney is unwilling to let go. This enclosure of commonwealth culture for the benefit of a corporate owner highlights the deep flaws within copyright and patent law. Though, however much they may try, Disney still can’t control their content on the web. Here the internet acts as the great equalizer for the public domain. Sooner or later, I believe that sole proprietors of commonwealth culture will be forced to come to terms with the realities of connected culture. Lethem expresses his concern for the increasing privatization of the world of art and culture. I believe that the forces that would shape the world into a hierarchy will be overpowered by the strength of the network however strong the striations may be.
Perhaps the idea of authorship itself is due for a remix. In The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo suggests that the future of architectural authorship is one in which the architect doesn’t design the building at all, but designs the the rules for a system into which the building’s contextual forces play. In other words, the architect designs an algorithm that generates the building. A variety of variable inputs can generate wildly different outputs.
…everything is derivative! I wanna know why?!
Allergy to Originality is a clever and satirical commentary on the concept of originality and criticality in the age of instant knowledge.
The film quickly begins with a movie theater ticket booth attendant rattling off a rapid fire description of the concept of artistic plagiarism as the cultural appropriation of existing elements. Plagiarism ultimately deals with determining ownership and when ownership is shown to be a fuzzy concept, plagiarism gets fuzzy too. In fact, the teenage attendant mentions the lack of precise and rigorous distinction between … acts of artistic plagiarism. The account is hilariously revealed to itself be a plagiarism of the a subsection of the Wikipedia page for … plagiarism.
This device is recycled several times in the video, first to describe plagiarism, then originality, selling out, and editing. Echoing the sense of repetition that is so common in the arts. At one point the moviegoer asks, “What are you, some sort of wikipedia reading robot?”, alluding to a broader question in the age of instantaneous access to information “Are we all becoming Wikipedia reading robots?”. And if we are, “What’s wrong with that?”.
Amongst my peers, there is a tendency to immediately google every unknown; directions to the store, the name of that movie I saw last week, Steve Gutenberg’s filmography, etc . Relying on that instantaneous access to infinite information comes with a risk of not taking the time to effectively assess and process that information, resulting in a diminished ability to think critically. This risk is illustrated in the short when the movie goer responds to MIB3 being sold out by recounting the Wikipedia definition of selling out in the wrong context. This happens again when the teenage attendant lists off the Wiki entry for Edit, followed by the moviegoers reading of Edith, this goes on ad infinitum as the credits roll. Even the music at the end credits alludes to this robotic quality with its sci-fi throwback aesthetic.
While plagiarism may be the MO in arts, content alone does not comprise originality. In fact, on the wikipedia page for plagiarism, under Praisings of Artistic Plagiarism there is a quote that illustrates the difference between simple plagiarism and novel plagiarism (originality):
Sterne’s Writings, in which it is clearly shewn, that he, whose manner and style were so long thought original, was, in fact, the most unhesitating plagiarist who ever cribbed from his predecessors in order to garnish his own pages. It must be owned, at the same time, that Sterne selects the materials of his mosaic work with so much art, places them so well, and polishes them so highly, that in most cases we are disposed to pardon the want of originality, in consideration of the exquisite talent with which the borrowed materials are wrought up into the new form.
The quote demonstrates that intellectual criticality and artistic rigor do not come prepackaged with access to an abundance of information. Composition matters. The brilliance of Drew Christie’s piece lies in the structure and composition of the elements of his story, something that undoubtedly takes rigor. He thoughtfully repurposes a lifetime’s experience of formal and informal learning into a well crafted opinion piece. Originality exists in the individual sense in that each person’s unique experience through life gives them the opportunity to see through a different lens. Additionally, history is just as subjective as memory can be; my repurpose will undoubtedly be different from your repurpose. Originality is not simply about whether you have the content, its about how you use it.