ubu + bootlegs + youtube

From: Jack Sargeant (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Jun 11 2008 - 05:37:11 PDT

There's several issues here.

There is an audience for underground and experimental work on DVD,
clearly the ongoing popularity of people such as Kenneth Anger - on
video then on DVD - is evidence for that. Likewise the transgressive
filmmakers Richard Kern and Nick Zedd have made their work available
on DVD. I worked with the British Film Institute on a Cinema of
Transgression compilation video (featuring Zedd, Kern, Beth B and
many others) and this title did sell out and the filmmakers were paid
royalties. When the video sold out the BFI decided not to re-issue
the tape, and within a short amount of time many of the films were
available on Ubuweb, although to my knowledge nobody asked the
filmmakers if this would be OK.

While it is good that the films are 'out there' (wherever that is) on
the Internet, the fact that (to my knowledge) nobody asked permission
is a little disheartening, especially as several of these filmmakers
have their own DVDs out anyway. It would, I think, have been better
if Ubuweb had asked permission and then put 30 second clips with
links to the filmmakers www sites, that way people can purchase the
work if they want to.

Ubuweb (and, to a lesser extent and thanks to the vagaries of some
posters, Youtube) help raise an awareness of otherwise marginalized
culture and are a valuable resource, but there is a wider issue at
stake: that of 'value'. By making everything available and
downloadable then everything seems to become equal. But while an
equality of access appears to be a good thing, in reality they are
simply perceived as equally disposable.

When teaching I regularly experience students who see no problem in
watching work online, when there is a clear difference both
aesthetically but also in terms of worth.
  There is, for example, a difference in watching somebody learning
pole dancing and falling off the pole (am I the only person who gets
sent endless links to bad Youtube gags?) and watching Harry Smith's
Early Abstractions, yet both are there on Youtube. Am I being a snob?
Sure, and I am aware of the paradox of my position as a fan of
'trash' culture. And yet this position of fan is perhaps that which
gave me a sense of value.

As a fan of 'trash' and b-movies (we're talking horror movies and
grindhouse shlock here), and growing up in conservative England in
the 80s, I had to search out films. You couldn't just download them,
you had to really dig, and dig deep, and that search was a crucial
part of the process, not least because wrong turns could be the
source to unknown treasures, with fans turning each other on to
various b-movie delights. Often the videos we got to see were 3rd
generation bootlegs - you couldn't find a legitimate copy of, say,
Texas Chain Saw Massacre on video in 1981 in the UK as it was banned
- but the bootleg wasn't ideal, and as soon as films were released on
DVD many people went and brought them because they were fans. As I
said you also got to discover other 'treasures' (I remember somebody
saying to me "if you like weird horror movies watch this" and turning
me on to Mondo Movies) and meet people with similar tastes and ideas,
in a short time there was a sense of community.

But it's not just filmmakers who lose out to online streaming whether
on Ubuweb or Youtube, it's also micro-cinemas and screening spaces.
Not the state funded videotechs and boutiques which keep going, but
those underground spaces that happen in small self financed venues,
or as a regular night in a room above a local bar, or people who 4-
wall a cinema to screen oddball movies and need a regular audience.
Working as a curate and film programmer I have toured underground
movies across three continents, and at every stop people turned up
and watched them, and I have made many friends through these tours.
However, often when I go to a micro-cinema now the audiences are
aging, quite simply less young people appear to attend screenings.
Indeed I have had numerous students (in film and in media) who quite
simply do not go to the cinema - not just independent film but even
brain-in-neutral-candy-floss mainstream film - when questioned the
cinema is not a priority because they can watch works online (or they
just don't bother to see something 'weird') and in their
understanding online viewing is ok because it is "the same thing".

This notion of watching online streaming, dvd watching, and going to
the cinema as being the same has emerged because of our cultural
emphasis on cinema as simply another form of story telling, the
visual and aural nature of the experience is believed so often to be
secondary to the narrative.

Another issue is in the relationship between so called technological
innovation and the experience of pleasure. With the introduction of
the MP3 player music became simply a 'personal soundtrack to daily
life' (is this an advertising slogan?), endlessly streamed through
headphones. But the pleasures of music are not just aural but also
physical, you need to feel the sound in your body, not simply hear it
in your ears, even on an individual level many people now seem
unaware that they are not really experiencing music fully, but you
cannot explain that to people who think the ipod has enabled them to
become interesting because the sound delivery device has a number of
different colour matt-plastic covers! The technological medium of
delivery is now valued by some more highly than the actually music.
The notion of personal pleasure also removes the collective
experience of music; seeing a loud band, dancing at a rave, hearing
an opera, whatever your interest there is a collective experience
which the technology negates when it becomes simply personal.

Likewise with film, no doubt people here on frameworks get annoyed
with the burned smell of crisco on popcorn and the loud whispers of
the audience in a cinema, but the collective experience of watching a
film is one of the pleasures the cinema, the shared experience of
wonder, or excitement, of emotion, is what defines cinema. Quite
simply you can't have that much fun watching a computer screen.


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