I’m running an exhibition of video art this week at Exchange Dublin. Below is the text that accompanies the work. Hopefully as entertaining a piece of pseudo-philosophical junk as ever graced a graduate art show. Show is 16th – 23rd of August, with a launch at 8PM on the 17th (no booze but cake, all welcome).
Hollywood Ending is a series of movie re-edits, each of which alters the meaning or significance of the ultimate moments in a film. Simple changes to the order of images and dialogue subvert the viewers expectations of familiar cultural products and tropes. By altering the final minutes of the narrative, the expected redemptive arc (or by contrast its countercultural subversion) is disappointed. Our expectations of the cinematic medium and of the concrete memory of adored myths are insulted. These pieces provide a commentary on a creator’s control over their creative work, and on how meaning is changed by apprehension. Each piece asks and answers a question, directly dissolving the ambiguity that lends the original its frisson. The show’s title plays with the purported threat to Hollywood presented by copyright violation and remix, as well as the historic tendency of studios to butcher cinematic greats.
Auteur Theory fetishizes centralizing the locus of artistic control in a cinematic narrative to a single component (most often a film’s director). Studio interference in the creative process is today seen as abrogation of the artistic imperative. I’m interested in the bowdlerised product, and by contrast the fan edits that attempt to reinvigorate the perceived betrayal of directorial vision by commercial imperatives. Both are responses to our feelings of collective ownership over the cultural products of the creative process.
Corporate entertainment and comedy in particular frequently derives worth from its reference to pre-existing cultural products. Star Wars parodies appear on shows like Turner Broadcasting’s Robot Chicken, and 20th Century Fox’s Family Guy. Wood Allen’s directorial debut ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?’ humorously overdubbed the Japanese film ‘Kagi No Kaji’ (Key of Keys). Today, the comedic political criticism of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report rely on remixing and re-contextualising others ‘intellectual property’. Such ‘authorised’ riffing on copyrighted and patented characters, iconography and footage is not open to those operating outside the corporate media system.
‘Trailer re-cuts’ became popular in the mid 2000’s as the remixing of film footage – a traditional calling card for cinematic editors, became democratised by advances in home computing hardware and software. With the ever growing popularity of Youtube, such trailers revision of a films intent – for example Robert Ryan’s ‘Shining’ which reimagines Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ as a heart warming comedy – became popular ‘memes’, despite violating copyright maximalist laws put in place to control “unauthorised dissemination of films and music”, like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (1998) and the European Union Copyright Collective (2001).
Artists like Matthias Müller have managed to circumnavigate these restrictions by producing work which remixes ‘out of copyright’ video and media. Musicians Girl Talk, Pogo, DJ Danger Mouse and Negativland have all defied the law to produce innovative remixes that both critique and reinterpret well known albums and cinema. Visual artists like Emergency Broadcast Network have used news and movie footage to satirise political figures, while brilliant detournements like Brad Neely’s ‘Wizard People, Dear Reader’ have parodied Hollywood’s slavish adherence to ‘The Hero’s Journey’.
In the United States a ‘fair use’ provision of copyright law provides a limited exemption to the necessity of obtaining permission from copyright holders in cases like parody, news report and research. No similar exemption exists under Irish law. A parliamentary ‘Copyright Review Committee’ is currently examining this and other deficient elements in our legislation. Meanwhile, new international regulations like the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s proposed ‘Broadcasting Treaty’, would make even limited derivations from our cultural detritus impossible, by granting additional copyrights to the first broadcaster of any piece of media.
Digital Rights activists argue that popular culture should be subject to fair use, as it provides (and is derived from) a common cultural capital, much like folk songs and stories. This necessary foundation of cultural criticism and creativity is being whittled away as new technology makes practical the application of copyright laws that have historically been ineffectual posturing. Already we see the abuse of these technologies in the form of Youtube ‘ContentID’ video removals, and DMCA ‘Takedown Notices’, based on automated scanning for ‘copyrighted content’ (such as music playing in the background of a home made video).
A set of new, permissive licences called ‘Creative Commons’ have been developed to allow creators to specify to what extent their work can be remixed – explicitly allowing or disallowing ‘fair use’ or commercial exploitation: Sacrificing for example, compensation in favour of attribution. However, in my own work I’ve been confronted by the paradox that the ideals of creative commons actually act to restrict the distribution of ‘derivative work’ produced using such licences. The possibilities opened up by Creative Commons licences and the commercial restrictions they place on derivative works mirror the historic conflicts between elements of the free software movement (free software vs open source).
This is in the end an exhibition in love with piracy. Movies rearranged without authorisation, cut from illegally downloaded rips with cracked warez tell stories their creators never intended. Characters pulled out of their fates whisper knowing lies, half aware and desperate to escape their scenes. Credits dishonestly claim authorship over censored ends. Songs carefully selected to contain a mood, drown their supported dialogue and shatter it. Our stories are larger than their tellers, continuing to grow after the last reel has been run. Escaping their bindings and galloping through mind fields. Returning home to whisper their alterations as we try in vain to sleep. They are awakening.
‘But do you love me?’
Annie Hall details a troubled affair between a neurotic Jewish intellectual (Woody Allen) and a pretty but vacuous WASP (Diane Keaton). The pairs doomed passion raised questions of class, ethnic tension and fidelity at a time when contraception was first becoming widely available; and changing the attendant potential for betrayal. The film’s non-linear, self-reflexive narrative and decidedly unromantic ending defied Hollywood convention while fitting neatly into the dramatic trope of tragically doomed love. This has been excised, leaving both audience and protagonists with a hollow dissatisfaction, which oddly has another kind of anti-dramatic authenticity.
Re-cut from Annie Hall (1977), Dir: Woody Allen
‘What song are you gonna play me, huh?’
Before Sunset is the second part of a romantic duet (alongside 1995’s Before Sunrise), two films that attempt to capture the essence of limerent love at first sight, both fleeting and enduring. The original ending satisfies a romantic imperative and retains a sweet equivocality, but raises questions about the morality of infidelity and the superficiality of intense (if enduring) erotic connections, as both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters are both in long-term relationships with their respective partners; Hawke’s character being married, with a young child. Here the ending has been subtly betrayed by increasing the sordidness and sexual purpose behind the couple’s final assignation.
Re-cut from Before Sunset (2004), Dir: Richard Linklater
‘Can I sit up front?’
The Virgin Suicides, a collaboration between director Sofia Coppola and author Jeffrey Eugenides, is a seductive meditation on adolescent melancholy, imprisonment and sexuality. Narrated by a group of neighborhood boys who initially idealise and then grow to identify with the pretty but overprotected daughters of a local teacher, the film is one of the most poetic and sympathetic depictions of the ‘dreamy summer’ trope of adolescent cinema. The original ending manages to be desolate yet deeply romanticised, creating a problematic romantic ambiguity surrounding the titular suicides. Here the ending has been subtly altered to subvert the movie’s purpose, by switching whole heartedly into a kind of American Apparel music video fantasy.
Re-cut from The Virgin Suicides (1999), Dir: Sophia Coppola
‘Where the fuck are we?’
Adam & Paul is an award winning Irish film which depicts a desolate day and night in the lives of two heroin users approaching the limits of addiction. The original film uses humour to soften the bleakness of its narrative, but ends with a typically unremitting ‘drugs are bad’ trope, which seems almost parodic in its misery. This re-edit imagines a ‘best possible world’ ending, where a glimpse of polyamorous loving redemption is offered to our beckettian duo.
Re-cut from Adam & Paul (2004), Dir: Shane Meadows
‘Don’t you have a daughter?’
The Wrestler tells the tragic story of Randy ‘the Ram’ Ramzinski, a dying wrestler who has allowed his relationships to fall away. The film’s ending sees Randy put his career before his health and his nascent relationship with a sweet-natured stripper. In this re-imagining, Randy makes a different choice, choosing to renew his relationship with his daughter rather than sacrifice himself like the veritable lamb.
Re-cut from The Wrestler (2008), Dir: Darren Aronofsky
‘Anyone got a problem?’
This Is England is a film (and ongoing series) depicting the confluence of race, poverty and extremist ideology in Thatcher’s Britain. The penultimate scenes of the film depict a brutal, racially motivated attack by the brutal and conflicted gang leader Combo. Here, Combo and Jamaican / English skinhead ‘Milky’ dissolve their differences over spliffs, creating a heartwarming evening of experimentation and personal growth for naive protagonist Shaun.
Re-cut from This Is England (2006), Dir: Shane Meadows
Crouched under the blankets, stealthily adjusting volume to match the volume of my parents voices. Moving my heavy yellow and black Sony Walkman like a rod under the sheets: Netting lost signals on long and medium waves. The romance of radio suffused my childhood. It’s claimed that eighty five percent of Irish adults still listen to the radio, but the essence of the medium is dead. The radio play, radio sketch comedy, distant reportage, long form high brow discussion – these things have melted away under the harsh studio lights of the visual culture. What has survived of popular radio, wilted and burned by the television is a kind of anxious banter – a desperate heavily compressed cry for attention out of a wall of similar noise. Chummy Mid-Atlantic DJs pattering like rain on paper. These sketches represent a spandrel. The culmination of a dead ritual. They are created not to reinvigorate, as graffiti in the 1970s and 80s revived and rebirthed street art. But to celebrate a beautiful and civilised anachronism.
Here the sketches are presented along with a USB key offering their source files for remixing. Rebalancing the pilfering of the video remixes in this show.
“I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.”