Recently, electronic media artist and SVA faculty member Perry Bard presented an installation of her ongoing new media art project Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake at Studio 10 in Brooklyn. The press release for the exhibition provides the following overview of the project:
The award winning participatory project, which has been in progress since 2007, invites people around the world to interpret Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film Man With A Movie Camera for the 21st century. A website at http://dziga.perrybard.net contains every shot in Vertov’s film, while the scene index and tags allow people to select the shots they want to interpret. Software developed for this project archives, sequences and streams their uploads as a film. As each shot can be uploaded more than once, infinite versions of the film are possible. A new film streams daily on the website selecting from the database of submissions.
Inspired by Vertov’s intentions to create “a new language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theatre and literature,” the global remake asks how that language might transform in the age of the internet. Both writer and director, Vertov imagined an army of cameramen updating world news every four hours. Today we have that army of cameramen and the internet is the world stage. Bard’s generative project engages this public space to crowd source uploads, 3000 to date from 60 countries. The work was named by Google one of the 106 best uses of the internet and won a Guggenheim award as one of the Top 25 for its Youtube Play Biennial.
Back in January 2010, Bard delivered a lecture at SVA on Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake, which I discussed in a post I wrote at the time. In her talk, Bard spoke about the wide range of experimental techniques that Vertov used in making his film, and her own interest in using the techniques of crowdsourcing and computer-driven editing to recast his work in a radically contemporary form. The presentation also included a screening of that day’s random edit of Global Remake. (A video of the lecture is available at the VCS Vimeo page. I also recommend visiting the Global Remake website and checking out the film there.)
Bard’s use of a computer-controlled editing technology that was in its infancy when she started her project has proved prescient. Since the first screening of Global Remake in 2007, similar projects have popped up in the art world and across the Web. One example that I’ve discussed elsewhere is whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2008-present) by artist Eve Sussman; the piece presents an episodic film noir that’s edited live during each screening by a computer algorithm that matches snippets of pre-filmed footage with a cryptic audio narrative. Another version of the same idea from the world of pop culture is Star Wars Uncut, a crowdsourced remake of George Lucas’s 1977 film initiated in 2009 by Vimeo web developer Casey Pugh.
Bard’s project also prefigured the growing presence of DIY remakes of popular big-budget films on the Web. In addition to the fan-made contributions that provided the raw material for Star Wars Uncut, the creation of sweded films (lovably clunky zero-budget remakes of popular movies) has taken off in recent years. These videos often have an irreverent humor and playful creativity that’s also in evidence in many of the submissions uploaded by contributors to Global Remake.
The dialogue between Bard’s tech-savvy recasting of a bit of cinematic history and these other works reflects a fascinating interaction that’s taking place between the fine arts and popular culture in the age of new media. At a time when digital media and instantaneous communication are making the broad sweep of human culture available to us for consumption and remixing with a few keystrokes, new models of interactive and communal creativity are emerging that are likely to have a major effect on the way art is made and viewed. While Bard’s Man With a Movie Camera: The Global Remake is a continuation of the tradition of experimental filmmaking that also shaped Vertov’s work, it’s also an intriguing step in this new direction.