Angry Robot

YouTube, Hollywood, Camera Phones

I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how one medium is going to influence another. Right now, there are so many media spilling into the same pot that it’s hard to imagine how the stew will taste. But in this AV Club year-in-movies retrospective, Tasha Robinson makes an apt observation:

To me, the trend there seems to be less about people filtering the world through their pop-culture experiences—apart from the occasional extreme iconoclast, who in this industry doesn’t?—and more about people filtering the world through camera lenses, seeing every experience as something to be caught on video and shared with a hungry voyeuristic world. I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 2008 Rolling Stones concert doc Shine A Light, and I laughed at the way Scorsese’s cameras capture people in the process of capturing Mick Jagger’s cavorting on their phones. He’s making his movie—a big, shiny, energetic, polished production—and they’re making their low-fi versions in the middle of it. Or looked at another way, they’re in the front row at a Stones concert… and they’re watching the experience on tiny little screens held up in front of their faces, because capturing it for later is more important than living it.

That attitude has its benefits—for one thing, it gave us Trouble The Water, which rides entirely on the amazing from-the-ground footage two New Orleans residents shot to document their own lives before, during, and after Katrina. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of that in 2009, as people continue to turn their cameras on themselves and their neighborhoods. Given that so many of our favorite 2008 movies were little lo-fi films about ordinary people rather than the pricey escapist fare, I’m suspecting this might ultimately be a good thing, and I hope it continues.

One of many interesting ideas here is that with so many cameras out there capturing footage, there’s a potential for a new kind of cinema that is both theatrical and collectivist. Imagine a room full of people at an event; you stage something going on in the room, and count on the people there to record it for you. You then sort through the footage from the event and assemble it. Or, you could post all the collective footage for anyone to assemble their own edit. It’s the sort of production that would have been completely inconceivable 15 – 20 years ago.

It’s also the sort of production perpetrated by none other than The Beastie Boys, with their awesomely titled Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That in 2006, the year Google bought YouTube, and conceived well before YouTube opened for business.

I don’t know the moral of this story – it’s ongoing, as they say. Perhaps it’s that the Beasties are awesome.