Re: The Politics of the Bootleg

From: Lisa Oppenheim (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2008 - 16:20:09 PDT

Dear Jonathan-
    Just a few points. First of all, let me state, for the record
that I have work in the Filmmakers Coop, have always supported them
in every way I can, and believe that UBU web has given them a lot
more business. I would probably have to ask Serra for sure, but
here's why, as a former faculty member of the Cinema Department at
SUNY BInghamton, I can make this claim. SUNY Binghamton is not
exactly an elite private school, money is tight, as I am sure you
know, and the more students clamor for something the more likely the
chair is likely to express interest in including it in the budget. I
have had students view films on Ubu or Youtube, and then ask me if we
could rent a viewing copy or purchase a DVD for the department.
This only helps formidable non-profit institutions like the Coop or
Canyon continue to do what they do. That's just my experience.

   And to answer the point Tony made. Issues of copyright are
important in the artworld as much as they maintain the sanctity of
the edition. I make my living in this economy and am not deriding it,
but I do think copyright laws are selectively enforced to protect the
market value of artworks, not the "intellectual work" of artists. And
maybe, in opposition to Tony's point, about the premature breaking
down of notions of intellectual property and ownership, the reality
of the situation is that there has already been a break down. And I
would argue it started to happen long before Ubu. And it is certainly
not the fault of Ubu, the interweb, or anything else. Maybe it
happened the first time someone took a photograph of picture, framed
it up, and sold it as their own work.


On Jun 10, 2008, at 5:55 PM, Jonathan Walley wrote:

> This is shaping up to be a very interesting and important
> discussion. I've already posted one ridiculously verbose email on
> this subject, and don't want to try the patience of my fellow
> Frameworkers, but there are a couple points worth making in
> response to Lisa:
>> No one watching "Zorn's Lemma" on youtube or Ubu is going to
>> mistake this for a cinematic experience. It is a reference. As are
>> pictorial documentations of other visual art works in newspapers,
>> magazines, blogs, flickr, etc.
> As a film professor, I have ample evidence to the contrary. My
> students increasingly see no difference between watching films on
> the internet and seeing them projected (competently and from legit
> sources) on the big screen. Either they don't know or don't care
> about the differences. A few years ago, I discovered that several
> students of mine in a documentary film class were skipping
> screenings and watching the films on Google video, Youtube, etc.
> They may not have mistaken the internet viewing for the real thing,
> but they didn't care either way.
> All of us on Frameworks are very knowledgeable about the
> differences between seeing a film as it was meant to be seen and
> seeing an impoverished copy of it on the internet, but increasingly
> those values are becoming irrelevant to the culture at large. Of
> course, part of my job as a professor is to show my students why
> they should see the real thing - to teach them the differences and
> explain why those differences are important. But I'm realistic
> about how many students I will ultimately reach with my message.
> Moreover, as I tried to show in my last post on Ubu (see below if
> you can stand it), their own statements are self-contradictory
> where this issue is concerned. Ubu admits to the poor quality of
> their videos, and pays lip service to the value of seeing the
> actual films in good projection, praising the institutions that
> show experimental cinema. But at the same time, Ubu laments the
> impossibility for most of us (due to financial limitations or
> geography) to ever see the films as they were meant to be seen. So,
> by Ubu's own logic, for most of us the Ubu viewing experience will
> necessarily be the only one. And if Ubu is really interested in
> simply providing an educational reference, a bit of enticement to
> see the actual films, then why not limit their postings to
> snippets, samples, stills, etc.?
>> Copyright exists to protect corporations not artists. It seems
>> like an obvious point, but one that has been lost in this discussion.
> You might find fault with copyright law, or the very concept of
> copyright, but this statement isn't right. Corporations may be the
> most vocal and litigious where copyright is concerned, but that
> doesn't mean that copyright is only relevant to corporations. Nor
> does it mean that the benefit of copyright is only monetary. Tony's
> email about individual ownership from the other day speaks to this
> very point. I'd only add that one benefit of copyright for an
> individual artist is that it gives them the option to deny sites
> like Ubuweb the right to, in effect, misrepresent their work by
> making it available in such terrible quality. I'd also say, and
> many others here have made this point before, that copyright
> protects institutions like Canyon and the Filmmakers' Coop, who do
> important work in making these films available - and not in the
> interest of making tons of money.
> Summer on Frameworks - always fun!
> Best wishes,
> Jonathan
> Jonathan Walley
> Assistant Professor, Cinema Department
> Denison University
> Granville, Ohio 43023
> David (et. al.),
> I'm afraid I can't share your enthusiasm for Ubuweb, at least in so
> far as avant-garde film is concerned. Though as a scholar of avant-
> garde/experimental cinema I have occasionally found myself lost
> amidst Ubu's large assortment of films, ultimately I have to object
> to Ubu's methods and rhetoric.
> You wrote, "Perhaps different artistic disciplines have failed
> understand each others ways of working." I think this is absolutely
> the case, though I'd say it's a one-sided misunderstanding - Ubu's
> of the practices of the avant-garde film world. Setting aside the
> copyright question (perhaps not so easy to set aside, but for the
> sake of argument...), reading a poem online is no different from
> reading it in an "official" published version. Indeed, reading a
> sixth-generation photocopy of the poem, so long as I can make out
> the words, will still give me the same experience as reading the
> work in a book. But obviously this isn't the case with film, as the
> halting, pebbly, index-card-sized reproductions of the films on Ubu
> attest. And these are primarily taken from low-quality bootleg
> sources to begin with. To quote David Lynch: you haven't seen the
> film if you've seen it "on a fucking telephone."
> In short, "comprehensiveness" isn't the only issue here.
> I know that Ubu attempts to address the poor quality of its
> reproductions. From the website: "We realize that the films we are
> presenting are of poor quality. It's not a bad thing; in fact, the
> best thing that can happen is that seeing a crummy shockwave file
> will make you want to make a trip to New York to the Anthology Film
> Archives or the Lux Cinema in London (or other places around the
> world showing similar fare). Next best case scenario will be that
> you will be enticed to purchase a high quality DVD from the noble
> folks trying to get these works out into the world. Believe me,
> they're not doing it for the money." And in a recent interview,
> Goldsmith reiterates this position: "There is nothing that will
> replace sitting in a dark theater on a huge 35mm screen with a
> group of warm like-minded bodies enjoying a beautiful film. But
> unfortunately most of us don't live anywhere near the place--the
> three places in the world where those things happen to be shown
> regularly. So this is not meant to be the real thing because it's
> not the real thing--it's a snapshot--it's a poor substitution. And
> we like the idea that the film quality is bad because it's going to
> make you want to go out and see the thing for real" (from http://
> [By the way, though there are plenty of other people affiliated
> with Ubu's, the consistent similarities between its language and
> statements that Goldsmith has made in interviews suggests that he
> really is "Ubu Imperator," if you will.]
> But this doesn't solve anything, and indeed Ubu's position is self-
> contradictory and sometimes downright arrogant. Ignoring the fact
> that Goldsmith doesn't seem to be aware of the difference between
> 35mm and 16mm, the latter of which is almost exclusively the
> original medium of the films on his website, he's talking out of
> both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, we should support the
> wonderful institutions that bring us avant-garde film; on the
> other, they make the films "absurdly priced or insanely hard to
> procure" by charging "hefty rental fees" (also from the Ubu site).
> Most of us can't afford to see "real" avant-garde films, either
> because of the expense of rentals and equipment or because we can't
> toddle off to NYC or London every week; but then, seeing these
> "snapshots" will apparently inspire us to spend the money we don't
> have to get to these cities as often as possible to see the real
> thing. More contradiction: artists' work on Ubu is "cared for and
> displayed in a sympathetic context," and if they don't want it
> posted on Ubu, "fair enough: it belongs to them, after all;" but
> those artists who, for whatever reason, prefer not to allow their
> work to appear on Ubu are placed in the hall of shame. These
> artists, according to Ubu, would "be wise to take a page from Cory
> Doctorow's essay Giving it Away and to take his advice that 'Being
> well-enough known to be pirated is a crowning achievement. I'd
> rather stake my future on a literature that people care about
> enough to steal than devote my life to a form that has no home in
> the dominant medium of the century.'" The all-knowing Ubu
> concludes, "Wise up, folks. It's later than you think."
> Aside from the contradictory nature of these statements (we love
> these artists until they ask to have their material removed from
> our site, then we pout), Ubu's policy makes no allowance for the
> possibility that individual artists may have all sorts of
> legitimate reasons for denying Ubu permission to reproduce their
> work. One very good reason, for instance, would be the
> aforementioned terrible quality of the films on Ubu. Another might
> be that the artist prefers another venue (such as the ones Tony has
> mentioned in his posts - indeed, Tony's own website, http://
>, includes images, texts, and full-length
> compositions, and the Vasulka site Tony describes is awesome).
> Ubu's call to these artists to "wise up" and get with it strikes me
> as the height of arrogance, and makes Ubu's praises of independent
> filmmakers ring hollow (just as their praises of institutions like
> FMC ring hollow in light of Ubu's suggestion that you have to be
> Rockefeller to afford renting from them). Goldsmith apparently
> doesn't consider that his position on free access is the only one;
> his statements smack of hubris, of trying to "out avant-garde"
> avant-garde artists, a sort of avant-garde pope who excommunicates
> those who aren't down with the right dogma.
> As Tony pointed out, there is a lot of mean-spiritedness on Ubu,
> which is disheartening. But it is compounded by the ignorance
> Goldsmith displays of the culture in which the films he presents
> were (and are) made, circulated, and seen. This is my biggest
> problem with Ubu: its model may work for poetry, but film -
> specifically avant-garde film - represents a very different
> institution and artistic culture. Preaching to avant-garde
> filmmakers who resist Ubu's model as a result of these differences,
> especially when you don't appear to understand their position in
> the first place, is, well, bad.
> Best,
> Jonathan
> Jonathan Walley
> Assistant Professor, Cinema Department
> Denison University
> Granville, Ohio 43023
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.