Re: [Frameworks] UBU - Not Pirates. A response to the UBU thread

From: Jonathan Walley (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Oct 18 2010 - 10:20:49 PDT

Given UBU's response, which I've only had the chance to scan quickly,
the course of this discussion is likely to change. However, to answer
David's questions from yesterday:

On Oct 17, 2010, at 9:10 AM, David Tetzlaff wrote:
> Jonathan wrote:
>> Which is what troubles me to see people so ready to accept the
>> anecdotal evidence that UBU has elevated experimental film's
>> cultural profile (and rental fees). If anything, I'd say UBU is at
>> least as much a beneficiary of this elevation - which has primarily
>> been accomplished "from the inside" of experimental film - as a
>> cause.
> Well, as there are no formal studies I know of, anecdotal evidence is
> all we have. And a claim that 'elevated cultural profile' results in
> increased rental fees strikes me as especially dubious. The argument
> of my earlier posts was that the economic value of experimental
> filmmaking cannot be realized through the commodity forms of sale or
> rentals of the films themselves.

Yes, at this point we only have anecdotal evidence, and we might
legitimately find that evidence encouraging even though it is just
anecdotal. My complaint was that some contributors (not you) were all
too ready to accept uncritically the idea that UBU was responsible for
upswings in attendance and/or rentals - that ANY exposure of
experimental film on the web would naturally produce these results. I
just wanted to point out that it isn't as if there haven't been
significant efforts in many other forms to make experimental film more
widely accessible (numerous other websites - more effective for my
money than UBU - as well as DVD releases, more programming/curating in
more places, an increase of scholarship on experimental film/video,
etc. More on this below).

I realize that "elevated cultural profile" might not be the best
choice of words. I simply meant increased visibility - greater
accessibility of films and more opportunities in more places to see
this kind of work. I didn't mean to suggest that the cultural stock
(as in perceived legitimacy or value, monetary or otherwise) of
experimental film was rising, though this might be true, only that it
is more visible and accessible. I acknowledge that UBU is part of
this, but I believe we can identify many other, more proximate, causes.

>> If attendance at Anthology is up, if rental fees at Canyon are at
>> stable, if more people are indeed getting exposure to experimental
>> film/video, I'd put UBU pretty low on the list of people to credit.
> (I mean this sincerely:) Who/what do you credit and what evidence
> (anecdotal or otherwise) leads you to this conclusion?

Well, keep in mind I said "if." But I do feel that, compared to when I
was first exposed to experimental film and video in the late 80s,
there has been a steady increase of that work's visibility. One
problem I had with UBU is that it overstated the inaccessibility of
the work it exhibited. I've talked about this a little already, but
more and more works are legitimately available on DVD, and generally
the release of these DVDs has been done in conjunction with the
artists or their representatives.

In the past 15 years, I've lived in three cities that are by no means
synonymous with experimental film: Madison, WI, Dallas, TX, and
Columbus, OH. And yet in all three cities I've seen increasing efforts
to develop a local alternative film culture, in which experimental
film has played a major role. 10 years ago I would expect one or two
one-off screenings of exp. film a year in Columbus. In the past two
years I've seen Bruce McClure, Jenn Reeves, Lewis Klahr, Jeanne
Liotta, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder, Cory Arcangel, Robert Beavers,
Ernie Gehr, and more - all in person - here. And I've been able to see
work by many, many others. When I read "this week in avant-garde
film," of course I see dozens of events in NYC and San Francisco, but
I also see them in the "flyover zone" with increasing frequency.

And when I say I'd put UBU low on the list of people to credit, I
don't mean to discount the web in general - I have already pointed to
several websites that provide access to, and information about,
experimental film that I find meaningful. And from my perspective as a
film professor and scholar, there's no doubt that there is more
scholarship on experimental film now than ever before and, in general,
more discourse on it - including on the web.

In short, I'd credit - US! By which I don't mean David Tetzlaff and
Jonathan Walley specifically, but the people on this list and in the
experimental film community more generally. The people on this list
make work, circulate information about it, release DVDs, preserve
experimental films, curate film programs and run festivals, teach and
produce scholarship about it, blog about it, share technical
information and exchange "machinery" with each other in a way that
facilitates screenings, and so on and so forth. And, importantly, they
participate in regular discussions about how to spread the word,
which, to my mind, produce more meaningful results than UBU.
>> Those who have voiced skepticism, even outright hostility, toward
>> UBU can't simply be dismissed as dupes of a corporate ideology of
>> intellectual property and copyright,
> Of course not. But what has pushed my buttons in this discussion is
> not the critique of Ubu, but the discourses raised in that critique.
> And, I'm sorry, but anyone who suggests 'copying is stealing' or uses
> the phrase 'intellectual property' without brackets IS a dupe of
> corporate ideology.

I agree that these concepts shouldn't be used uncritically, and that
in some cases in this discussion perhaps they have been. By the same
token, though, I've seen some equally unexamined anti-copyright
sentiments expressed in this discussion (again, not by you). For
instance, invoking the "free expression of ideas on the internet"
claim in regard to creative works makes me uncomfortable. You can
certainly argue against the concept of intellectual property, but not
by saying things like "ideas can't be owned." I don't think anyone
here believes that ideas are people's property, but films aren't
ideas; at best, films are objects that perhaps can be said to embody
ideas, but they are also much more. To equate films/videos with ideas
is to characterize BOTH at such a high level of generality as to be
practically meaningless. And I've said it before on this list, but
just because something is circulated digitally doesn't suddenly make
it NOT an object, in the sense of a specific work with recognizable
contours. Now, we can argue that ARTISTIC objects might have a
different status than other kinds of objects vis-a-vis individual
ownership, copyright, duplication, etc. But not on the bases that they
aren't objects, nor on the basis that they are "ideas."

I think some of the resistance to thinking of creative works as
objects and, by extension, property, is a resistance to the
commodification of art. I don't want to reduce artmaking to
moneymaking either, but I would just say that one benefit of a system
in which an artist is paid for their work - including from people who
wish to circulate or exhibit it - is that it allows the artist to make
more work. There's a lot of talk about supporting this kind of work,
and about increasing people's exposure to it. Well, at a certain
point, that's gonna cost money.

> I wonder if anyone at UbuWeb is listening in to this discussion. I'd
> certainly agree that UbuWeb could be improved -- though I'd guess
> that, like many film fests and screening series, it's mainly a labor
> of love with limited resources and the creators are doing their best,
> aware of the flaws, and just very limited in being able to deal with
> them. Nevertheless, we might light the proverbial candle instead of
> cursing the cliched darkness, and try to generate some ideas about
> online versions of experimental work (not just Ubu, there's a lot of
> classic material on Google video as well) could be improved to better
> serve the artform, the community, and the artists whose continuing
> practice keeps the form alive.

Here here!

Jonathan Walley
Department of Cinema
Denison University

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