The best web video of 2010
14 critics and curators on their favourite videos new to the web in 2010.
If there were any justice, Matt Hulse’s feature about a deaf Scotsman who cycled to the Arctic Circle would have been in our cinemas long ago. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the brilliant animated website, and buy something in the shop to help get the feature made.
People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz
Vicki Bennett, aka People Like Us, is the Queen of Appropriation. Blue Moon began as a live performance, combining archive-collage with a sampled / live score. Online, it’s intimate and mesmerising.
The Black Dog’s Progress, the film Stephen made for Channel 4’s AnimateTV, was a big hit, winning two British Animation Awards, so we were thrilled when he offered us an online premiere of his new work – actually two films that fight it out within the single frame.
Our office is down the road from London Bridge tube station, where drawings from Dryden’s Art on the Underground project – portraits of Underground staff – are on display. Online, each of the 60 portraits has a film of the portrait being made, with fragments of the conversation between artist and ‘sitter’.
We were going for Ryan Trecartin, but saw Adam Pugh picked him last year… so for our final pick we’ve gone for Kitteh Kitteh, from awesomely hip studio Tokyo Plastic. It’s what the Web was made for.
Chris Beckman weaves found footage of cameras being dropped into a visual tapestry that creates its own new meaning. We travel through wormholes created by the editing, landing in different lives and often countries each time the camera is picked up. A friend calls it “a roller-coaster ride through society.”
Russ Chimes – Midnight Club EP Complete Trilogy
Saman Keshavarz first came to my attention with his wonderful music video for Cinnamon Chasers. Now he takes us on musical trilogy for Russ Chimes’s Midnight Club EP. Each track has its own video, each part of a larger story that follows a young man on the search for his missing kidnapped girlfriend. Deft flashbacks and flash-forwards reveal more of the story with each cut, taking the audience on an amazing ride.
This great little documentary takes the avatars from ‘World of Warcraft’ out of the game onto the streets of Dublin, while the players behind them describe who they are.
Last Minutes with Oden
This film won our Vimeo Festival. The story of a man’s love for his dog and the pain that goes with losing your best friend, it guarantees an emotional response.
Out My Window
I love this new approach to documentary, which allows the audience a more rounded view of the subject-matter. I wouldn’t have watched a traditional doc about high-rise buildings in Canada, but I found myself sucked into this site and the characters within.
The Strange Death of Political England
People Like Us and Ergo Phizmiz [see above]
A montage of the UK’s two most dependable found-footage montage/collage/mashup/remix/appropriation/cut-up artistes…
Curtis’s experimental half-hour portrait of 1970 – part of an intended online series relating the “emotional history” of the past 40 years through archive documentary clips and contemporaneous pop hits – inevitably recalls the form of the BBC’s old The Rock ’n’ Rolls Years, at least for those of a certain generation. Of course, it’s more philosophically ambitious than that, marrying political grand narrative with the quirks of lived experience – and would seem to continue Curtis’s ongoing project of exploring our political loss of faith.
Fascinating to revisit the 1970 flavours of colonialism, terrorism, racism, feminism and labour activism. And of course Curtis’s eye for wacky satire remains true; anecdotes here about our paranoiac, pill-popping rulers span Richard Nixon, Pol Pot, Elvis Presley, Enoch Powell and Leonid Brezhnev, while Harold Wilson is all smoke and mirrors and Rupert Murdoch’s wife has a near miss with would-be Tory entryists turned screwball kidnappers from Trinidad. Now I feel like I’m writing the programme notes for a dubious soap opera…
Vicki (People Like Us) Bennett’s Keystone Cut Ups series highlights the perhaps obvious but nonetheless delightful links between early avant-garde cinema and silent comedy (I’ve always thought Buñuel and the Marx Brothers peas in a pod). The Blue Moon excerpt, a suite of trips to the moon and other early-film fantasias, is a particularly lovely watch, a cine-dream that’s also like a layer cake of film history.
99 Clerkenwell Road
- Currently offline
Another montage, of two very different animations. Sophie Michael’s silent, hypnotic 99 Clerkenwell Road is an abstract in the Oskar Fischinger / Norman McLaren vein, albeit with an unusually ambiguous sense of width (and off-screen space) and scale (are these cells? planets? I’m reminded too of Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten). Apparently it’s also more figurative than you’s think, in that these shapes are abstracted from the materials of an old shop at the titular address.
Dan did the music / sounds for the Dutch feature film Can Go Through Skin (2009). He came to Watershed and showed some of his short films which are available on YouTube. His use of sound / music is brilliantly experimental and as textured as the films as illustrated here in Flood and Fat Head. A true pioneer, innovator and experimenter.
Antivj have developed 3D mapping technology to an truly exceptional and monumental degree. See the building open up at about 3’45” and real life become epic cinema!
Chase the Tear
We did a retrospective of Bristol based John Minton at last year’s Encounters Short Film Festival. John has a lo-fi approach to create a rich texture. He does a lot of work for Portishead. I love the simplicity of John’s approach in Chase the Tear creating a cubist pop promo. The music isn’t half bad either!
I watch a lot of shorts for Encounters Festival without knowing anything about the people involved or the context. This struck me as an amazing accomplished piece which cried out for feature length treatment but worked absolutely within its own short form. Here is a director to watch.
Der Fuchs vom Auswärtigen Amt
One shot, one minute of quiet and peace, and wonder: something is rustling through a thicket – suddenly, right at the filmmaker’s feet, a fox appears that quickly checks out the area, then casually vanishes into the Berlin night; registered right around the corner of the FRG’s Foreign Office.
Cinekarmakar is one of the few places in the net we regularly visit. Few other filmmakers live cinema the way Karmakar does: he walks the world camera at hand, ready to react to whatever provokes his curiosity. The results off and on appear here, on his YouTube channel. We could have featured several other works from 2010, like: Mit Herz und Spiel, „HOM-BOT“ - Der kehrende Staubsauger, „THE BYZANTHINE EMPIRE“ and a Message for Angela Merkel, FILMMAKERS PRESENT (6): Lav Diaz on „Agonistes – The Myth of Nation“ or KOREA FILES (2): The Papermaker of Hanok Village. In the end we chose the little fox because there’s something deeply soothing about its presence there smack in the city – plus, there’s the tender, almost sweet curiosity of Karmakar’s gaze: he’s happy at that very moment.
Lundgren vs. Unicorn
Not merely content with giving one of the year’s finest character turns in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, Dolph Lundgren (or as we prefer to call him, ‘Master’ – not so much for his filmic ruling of the universe, but for his master’s degree in chemical engineering) also excelled in an extremely enjoyable series of one-minute Norton Internet Security spots.
Not all of them are as good as the Dolph pieces, what with the rainbow-obsessed unicorn for once a truly worthy foe, but we also have to bow to the greatness of The Hoff, particularly his sublime German flirting technique in Fan Falls for Hasselhoff.
And finally, a glimpse of the future. To get yourself in the mood, first watch the short bit of Austrian maverick master Peter Kern during a press conference for his upcoming satirical sledgehammer-strike Mörderschwestern, neatly dividing the present media into groups (state broadcasting to the left, Viennese liberal weekly etc. in the middle, radical papers to the right) and instructing them how to perform a canon.
Understandably, they oblige. It’s not subtitled, but just rejoice in the spontaneous musical splendour. And, yes, that is the one and only Helmut Berger next to Kern, who will also appear in the film – as will the canon, actually, so use the chance to start practising!
Then enjoy the trailer for this meta-masterpiece (‘in Mörderama’!), a prime candidate for the Ferronian Sight & Sound Top Five of 2011.
Carsten Nicolai and Simon Mayer (for alva noto)
Sönke Held for Felix Kubin
Yanni Kronenberg and Lucinda Schreiber (for Firekites)
Dear God, I Hate Myself
Jamie Stewart (for Xiu Xiu)
[note: features prolonged self-induced vomiting]
In the past year music videos regained something of their former cultural heft, thanks to the antics of Lady Gaga and the realisation that a large proportion of stuff watched on YouTube are pop videos.
Having been increasingly marginalised by TV (by terrestrial in the UK and MTV in the States), music video has also been creatively revived by the possibilities of online exhibition. Once again it has become a magnet for young filmmakers excited by creative freedom, even if they are creating on tiny budgets. One of my chief pleasures as curator / programmer of BUGi s the talent-spotting: discovering the new filmmakers who have just produced an outstanding work and are brimming with iconoclastic potential.
And now there’s a whole new way of perceiving and experiencing the ‘video’ as an immersive, interactive experience. So here, from the many great things shown at BUG in the past 12 months, are a few of the very best of the year.
L’Ogre (for Hold Your Horses!)
French directing collective L’Ogre fashioned brilliant ‘live’ versions of some of the best-known paintings in the history of art, featuring the members of the band Hold Your Horses. Ingenious, witty, life-affirming, low budget and a total joy to behold.
I Wanna Go To Marz
Casey Raymond and Ewan Jones Morris (for John Grant (feat. Midlake))
Just about the most heartbreakingly shocking opening you’ll ever see is followed by a wistful interpretation of the afterlife full of ice cream by this subversive and riotously inventive directing team based in Cardiff.
John Nolan has worked in visual effects on movies and TV, from Where the Wild Things Are to Dr Who, and collaborated more recently with James Lavelle, Chris Cunningham and Lady Gaga. His brilliant and hilarious first work as a director is a demo commercial that fully demonstrates his considerable talents in model-making and animatronics.
Cyriak Harris’s video and photo-manipulating “brain-spillages” (as he calls them) are comic worlds where the everyday stuff provides the jumping-off points for his explosions of mind-boggling surrealism – whether it’s farmyard animals, celebs off the telly or, in Cycles, the seafront at Worthing (his hometown).
Todo El Tiempo
Jesús Hernández (for Glez)
Jesús Hernández’s video for Spanish indie band Glez is a brilliant set-piece: a dinner party, rendered like an old master painting, crossed with Kind Hearts And Coronets – and given completely original visual treatment. Beautifully structured, Todo el Tiempo delivers an exquisite, vengeful climax. Hell hath no fury, indeed.
Jeremie Périn (for Flairs)
Outrageously vulgar, unbelievably scatological and morally questionable, this jaw-dropping exercise in pixel-art is the work of wunderkind French animator Jeremie Périn, and although the exploits of the incorrigible little hero may cause offence (certainly if you are of a vaguely feminist disposition), you won’t take your eyes off the screen.
The Wilderness Downtown
The Arcade Fire
A breakthrough in interactive music video by director Chris Milk and digital artist Aaron Koblin utilising the next generation of web code html5. It uses Google’s Street View data to create a personalised experience for every viewer.
2010 has been described at the year that the internet came of age as a political force, with the relentless release of US embassy cables via WikiLeaks and their offline media partners.
It could equally be described as the year the internet came out – with It Gets Better, the first large-scale social justice movement to be predicated entirely on online video. In response to widespread reporting in the US media of a cluster of suicides by seven LGBT-identified teenagers, syndicated alternative columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry shot and posted a YouTube video narrating their own experiences of bullying and isolation in adolescence, and describing their survival and thriving adult lives with the mantra “it gets better”.
Two months later, the project (also hosted on YouTube) has over 5,000 user-created videos, mostly from within the LGBTQ community, and over 15 million views. Posters range from US public figures such as Ellen DeGeneres and President Barack Obama, as well as Daniel Radcliffe, to individuals such as youth workers, teachers, town councillors and teens.
A group of LGBTQ employees at Pixar produced a (non-animated) talking heads video that underlines both the affective heart of the project – by making visible a thriving, multi-ethnic and physically diverse community – and the narrative contours that have raised criticism. Pixar’s collage of tales highlights the classic (Pixar) narrative structure of conflict and resolution, with plucky / quirky underdog heroes ‘succeeding’ (where success is defined as incorporation into the mainstream) through determination.
But the project has also framed the online space and audience for radical challenges to that narrative and its normative ideas of ‘better’, such as ‘When Did You Choose to Be Straight’ and ‘Reteaching Gender and Sexuality’, which is much lively and wittier than its title suggests.
There are, as yet, few formally-challenging videos – they largely rely on the classic consciousness-raising formula of talking heads – to suggest a cinematic movement on a par with, or influenced by, New Queer Cinema or the video art of David Wojnarowicz. Online video has, however, evolved a political consciousness and agency so that, for example, the censorship of Wojnarowicz’s video ‘Fire in my Belly’ at the Smithsonian could be swiftly critiqued and combated. It Gets Better outs YouTube as more than a database, but rather a community-building site of exhibition and responsive generation of moving-image works.
Halfway through Spike Jonze’s online short I Am Here, quite bored, preparing this list, I wondered whether the animated gif might count towards the five videos. I think it should, and this They Live-inspired iteration of the ‘Deal With It’ meme gets my vote. But if it doesn’t count, this is quite something.
Adam Curtis’s blog, mostly comprising the fruits of his archival crate-digging, continues to fascinate. The title of his main original work this year, The Strange Death of Political England, is perhaps ill-timed, but the video itself, a meditation sans voiceover on 1970, is free of the stridency that I think marred his last series, The Trap.
It would be interesting to hear the views of George Dangerfield – he minted the ‘Strange Death of’ meme with The Strange Death of Liberal England 75 years ago – on liberalism’s very strange rebirth; and, surely, that of ‘Political England’. I haven’t seen an online video from the recent protests and occupations of more than documentary value, but the clip of a policeman Dragging a Disabled Man from a Wheelchair is eloquent enough testimony.
In place of Alan Partridge’s online series, which is okay but feels like cheating, I’ll nominate the belated finale of Yacht Rock, not the best of the series, but by way of a heads-up; I only caught up with it this year.
The theme of the year is probably films shot on iPhones and ever-decreasing devices, but I don’t remember being blown away by any of them. I nearly chose Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Letter To Uncle Boonmee on Mubi, but he dominated last year’s list so I’ll give some others a chance.
The Wilderness Downtown
Chris Milk with Aaron Koblin
This video for Arcade Fire’s ‘We Used To Wait’ is admittedly a bit clunkier than it wants to be and only works in Google Chrome, but the idea of drawing on apps to create an interactive video has real potential. It makes for a surprisingly haunting experience.
Alice in Wonderland
Percy Stow & Cecil M. Hepworth, 1903
Is it a bit sycophantic to include something uploaded by the BFI? Although the film itself was interesting, the comments it provoked were fascinating. The fact that so many viewers believed it to be a hoax spoke volumes about our instinctive mistrust of media and the disconnect between modern audiences and the history of moving image.
Phillips’ ‘Parallel Lines’ was one of a number of new commercially-backed short film competitions, but the results of this one were probably the most eye-catching. Despite the handicap of having to craft a story around the asinine dialogue extract “it’s a unicorn”, there were a few notable shortlisted efforts, the best being this robot thriller from Rinsch – another of those DIY-effects artists, like Gareth Edwards, who’ll continue to set the pace in 2012.
Steve Coogan resurrected Alan Partridge online and returned to TV (with The Trip) at around the same time, but it was no contest as to which was funnier. The restricted webcam setting actually improved the focus of the comedy, making this a much better entry than the last season of I’m Alan Partridge. And the presence of the ever-excellent Tim Key was an unforeseen bonus.
This year I’ve become particularly aware of the amazing array of works by independent animators on the web, many of which I’d never have had a chance to discover outside of film festival screenings.
In line with my chosen field of interest in Japan, I want to draw attention to a selection of short works that stretch our understanding of Japanese animation. While many of these were realised earlier and some have already appeared, either legitimately or illegitimately, on YouTube, 2010 was the year most of these were published on the animators’ own sites.
My greatest discovery this year was Mizue Mirai, whose gorgeously mesmeric biomorphic cellular swirls in films such as Jam (2009) and Playground (2010), or the intricate geometrical abstractions of Metropolis (2009) and Modern (2010), look like they were created on computer, but are in fact entirely hand-drawn. You can get a taste of his work on the website of the CALF animation collective, of which he is a member, although a number are also available for viewing on YouTube.
At the other end of the spectrum is Shibata Daihei’s The Light of Life (2008), a hyper-realistic, stunning 3D-CG ode to the wonders of nature.
Takeuchi Taijin’s films experiment with photography and stop-motion techniques. He completed his latest film A Song Like a Fish in 2010, although it is not up on his website yet. His previous work, the playful A Wolf Loves Pork, is, however, and gives a good indication his quirky, inventive style.
The illustrator-animator Nakamura Keiko (aka KTooonz) has focussed on female sexuality in her pastiche cartoon style since the early 1990s, with a number of her works available for viewing on her website. Her dark Odilon Redon / Aubrey Beardsley-inspired coming-of-age drama Death and the Maiden can be found at YouTube, although apparently it’s not yet completed.
And finally, outside of the world of animation, included on the website of the London-based British-Japanese short filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda is his latest work Augmented City 3D, which makes innovative use of the old red-cyan anaglyph 3D technology to depict not just the physical but the virtual spaces of the modern city environment. See it in 3D on YouTube.
For Abel Ferrara fans, the appearance of Abel Ferrara TV has to be among the highlights of the past year. The site is regularly updated with Ferrara shorts, interviews, commentaries and clips. Ferrara’s legendary 1996 appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien also turned up on YouTube: probably the funniest seven minutes of film since Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck, which in many ways it resembles.
Tabi Yakusha (Travelling Actors)
Naruse Mikio, 1940
The communal project to subtitle Naruse’s entire oeuvre and make the results available in the form of ‘illegal’ internet downloads is now close to completion. Of the dozen or so titles that turned up in 2010, this is perhaps my favourite. Thematically a follow up to Naruse’s equally charming Sakasu Gonin-gumi (Five Men in the Circus, 1935), this could profitably be double-billed with Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987), another film that mercilessly deflates masculine presumption without ever encouraging us to feel superior to its characters.
The Sealed Room
D.W. Griffith, 1909
A wealth of Griffith silents can be found on YouTube. This 1909 short, inspired by Poe, is among the most interesting.
Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury (Cert 18)
Bloom’s homage to Ray Bradbury had me giggling for days.
Sibling Topics (section a)
The standout story of this autumn’s Liverpool Biennial. A thrilling shot in the eye for experimental video that forces a new vocabulary for viewing.
The Wilderness Downtown
Chris Milk with Aaron Koblin
While much net art aims for cerebral kicks and smart self-reference, this is that rare online moment, an interactive film that creates an emotive experience.
Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind)
Everyone’s favourite Slovenian philosopher holds forth on the ethics of Starbucks. Why can’t all philosophical discussions come with such simple and well-executed animation?
14 Actors Acting: James Franco
Drunk on the sweet perfume of his own unbridled charisma, when Franco turns it on no man can resist!
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Alexandra Chowaniec and Brian Chirls
Spinning out of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution documentary, RAW/WAR is a smart wiki-style collaborative video archive with potential to become a living library of feminist art and activism.
Online video just turned about ten years old. Not literally, but its maturity level is now about that of a fourth grader. It no longer pees its pants or has to be breast-fed. It’s maturing. Which is a good thing.
This maturity is fuelled by better content. Independent filmmakers and artists are sharing their work online because people of all walks of life are actually watching it. The audience is changing. Filmmaking is changing, opening up. And with this shift comes acceptance, and a stronger appetite for web-influenced content like we see today.
Now that online video is potty trained and walking to school by itself, I’m pretty excited to see it graduate high school and maybe lose its virginity. In that spirit, here are a few of my favourites from the year:
I’ll go out on a limb and say this is possibly one of my favourite videos of all time both for its experimental simplicity and stunning execution.
California is a place
California is a place, a team made up of Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari, creates lyrical and beautiful exposés on different fringe aspects of California. This piece in particular is driven by stunning, almost photographic portraits of the end of the American Dream and the opportunity that arrises for those who can see it.
Your Lucky Day
“A megaball drawing sends a convenience store spiralling out of control.” All the pieces of this film come together for pure entertainment. I would love to see more shorts like this.
Kirsten Lepore [see above]
I’ve been following Kirsten Lepore’s work on Vimeo for over three years now and everything this brain creates is gold. Bottle was a finalist in this year’s Vimeo Awards (it won the Community Choice Award) and exemplifies the talent and the imagination of independent animators alive and thriving on the web. Keep an eye on Kirsten.
Hermanos Inglesos feat. MeMe – Wanderland
Kristof Luyckx and Michele Vanpars
Bird eats berry. Bird goes on psychotropic adventure. Creative animation potential = unlimited. And yes, there are unicorns.