I’m a film and television major, a media rookie, and I work for an innovation agency, so a television series on the history of cinema innovation is my kind of video treat.
Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, which aired on More4 and 4oD late last year was that very video treat. It was an absolutely gorgeous documentary which told the full history of the innovators and auteurs of the industry: some known, many lesser known. The book which foresaw the series is also a treasure; I only wish it had existed when I was a film student. The DVD box-set is due to be released later this year and Cousins has also hinted at cinema tours, so keep an eye out. I heartily recommend this series no matter how much you’re into film, as it’s so beautiful and engaging. But I do think it missed something out.
At the beginning of the story, Cousins makes references to the main street movie parlours where paying spectators could witness the (literally) awesome clips such as a Nevada boxing fight shot from the ringside. These populist sport clips cemented the ‘movie’ as a low-brow medium in the USA (as opposed to the art and auteur cinema France is known for).
The little clips and the streetside movie parlours nestled between ice cream parlours, groceries and tailors are not really all that different from recent innovations in film and visual media. Replace the independent booths not with multiplex IMAX cinemas and blockbuster movies, but with YouTube, or Vimeo. Replace clips of boxing with, well, clips of boxers outside the boxing ring, dogs chasing deer, and lots and lots of cats. The main difference is the accessibility to film-making and film-making equipment.
It’s a surprise to me then that this trend wasn’t covered in the series or the book, especially in his predictions of the future for cinema. Social media was totally ignored. It is easy to see why when most YouTube clips are more MTV or You’ve Been framed/candid camera fodder than blockbuster material. It’s not ‘cinema’ as we know it, but dismissing it ignores some important and wonderful innovations.
In 2011 the first “YouTube” movie was released - the beautiful and poignant Life in a Day is a feature-length release comprised of thousands of clips from ordinary people all over the world. You can watch the full 95 minutes online.
The movie itself is not amateur and it’s not a home-video either, on account of careful storyboarding and expert editing. But it is very much a social movie, and it’s being replicated in the UK this year (an important year with the Jubilee and the London Olympics), with Britain in a Day. I cannot wait for its release.
Star Wars Uncut perhaps is an amateur movie, and could probably only be considered as nothing more than a fanflick (and you should know I love fanflicks - I even said “Let’s see if this time round the power of the interwebz can get active enough to create a whole movie”). But it’s a fantastic concept and I really believe we are going to see more of this kind of stuff.
And, in innovating on business models, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has created hitRECord, which I love. It’s an ‘open-collaborative production’ company: something a little more ambitious than Ideas Tap. Artists of all types can collaborate on projects, re-mix each other’s work, and create polished pieces for show. I believe that individuals have made money from their work too. Gordon-Levitt (AKA ‘Regular Joe’) recently announced that he’s expanding the project, so it’ll be exciting to find out what this concept can achieve.
Film and TV will always be big, and big business. Blockbusters will always bankroll much of where the industry will head, and it’s a huge year for ratings-driven TV dramas too. But as Cousins said, box office hits are not what drive the movie industry - innovation is. Perhaps now is the time to pay more attention to the potential of social cinema.