I’m always revolting! – Brian Selke, Best Friends Gallery
Brian shouted this while leading a group of hip, young artists out on the town after a show at Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington, IL. We had a chuckle when I reminded him of the double entendre by telling him that I found him revolting, too. The exchange was fitting for talks about revolution because people do find the action revolting. I’ve written a few things about the artist’s role in the digital revolution, as well as the segmented reality that we find ourselves living in today. I wanted to take some time to share some films and a speech that have been on my mind lately.
Diana’s belly ache. Nelson’s big mistake. Che (2008) was Steven Soderbergh’s two-part, cinematic event with Benicio Del Toro playing Ernesto “Che” Guevara during the Cuban Revolution and his capture in Bolivia. The credits came in the form of a program with photos and interviews, probably to make room for extended geography lessons at the beginning of each half. I enjoyed the whole show, but the people I went with experienced the films as 5 hours of torture. Chris Nelson didn’t suspect the movie I invited him to would be so long and Diana developed a belly ache halfway through the first half, suffering through the rest of the program. I’m learning that revolutions have this effect. Epic for some, annoying to others and downright nauseating to a few.
Press Pause Play (2011) This feature documentary looks at the digital revolution from a variety of viewpoints, genres and artistic mediums, showing a clear divide between those that believe we’re on the brink of a new golden age in creativity and others that fear a decline in the creative economy. As with any hyperbolic debate, the truth and our realities exist somewhere in between. I fall closer to the believers than the nay sayers on this one. Using terms like Re:Nuisance and Art Permaculture to describe what we’re witnessing in Chicago suggests that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid of the digital age but the challenge is to reconcile that with trying to earn a living in our current economy.
The opening of the film reminds me of my first encounter with the digital revolution. I was in the last class at Southern Illinois University to require a composite 16mm print for production 2. My next choice was to shoot a narrative on film or a documentary on video. I chose digital but also experimented with optical printing, straddling the divide. I’ve remained there in the decade that’s followed, using digital tools to tell a story with depth and analog to experiment and reinforce photography fundamentals. While the appeal and accessibility of democratized media is exciting, I feel a deep sense of nostalgia when certain things slip away from us.
The Death of Industry is another chapter of the film that intersects with my life. The value of DVDs disappeared right when I learned to build and burn them for myself. I knew this because Blockbuster Videos all around me were being replaced by cheaper, more convenient options. I scooped up discount DVDs like they were vintage vinyl, finally able to afford any movie I wanted. That was the same year that we bought our first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex,) I liked the accessibility of the medium because my analog video workflow was still clunky at the time. Being a late adopter of high definition video, I focused on craft in storytelling and editing instead of chasing the latest technology. This wasn’t a choice made out of principle, it was mostly economic. Today, my DSLR and my HD video camera are one in the same. While some would suggest that it’s a brave new world, it certainly reminds me of the dual-system recording that I started with on 16mm.
Much of the conflict between those that embrace the digital revolution and those that deny it revolves around elitism and whose point of view is worth distributing. Without elitism, no one would know what content is worth paying attention to. Without the democratization of distribution through the internet, you wouldn’t be reading this today. We’d written about over-saturation of media and the curated economy because our platform was born out of the frustration that our creativity, and that of those around us, was being drowned out by what Moby calls the gray goo effect and what naysayers call a cacophony of masturbation. Whatever it is, we’re swimming in it and just trying to keep our heads above the surface. Whether it’s the decline of the cultural economy or a new cultural renaissance won’t be determined until it’s all said and done.State of Cinema: Steven Soderbergh from San Francisco Film Society
State of Cinema. Back to where I started. Steven Soderbergh, who matched the dawn of Youtube with “a foreign-language marathon with an admittedly distant and impersonal lead,” (Henry Barnes, The Guardian) gave a speech at the San Francisco Film Festival that spread like wildfire among cinephiles. The potency of the message was so strong that the festival posted it online the next day and it was on my feed two days after it was delivered. That alone is a testament to our age, but it’s trivial compared to his call to arms for all filmmakers and watchers. It was a line in the sand between Cinema and movies.
He starts his State of Cinema speech with the same nostalgia that we all feel, for a time when attention spans were longer than 3 minutes but recognizes that he may just be on the downside of a generational divide. He equates the grey goo effect to a drumbeat that’s been so persistent that he can’t hear between the beats. Some may see Steven as a curmudgeon, whining about kids these days and wishing for the old days. I know other filmmakers rejoiced and spread the sermon because he said many of the things we’ve been feeling for the last few years. It was groundbreaking because he pulled the curtain back on how Hollywood chooses which films to fund and distribute and explained why Cinema as I know and love it is at risk. Incredibly, this nightmare scenario makes me optimistic because the great artists and filmmakers around us may finally be heard.