The QuickTime Revolution

quicktime old logo

“QuickTime was one of the fundamental technologies that formed part of the videoblogging practice. Apart from a very small number of users who relied on Windows Media Player, the majority of the independent videobloggers I interviewed relied on QuickTime (both the application and the codec) in some way through their videoblogging practice. As Cubitt argues, ‘there is no internet without the standardisation of internet protocols; and there is no exchange of moving pictures without standardisation of the codecs on which the various proprietary players can function’. I highlight QuickTime because it was such an important codec for the videobloggers to know and understand, and because, as it turns out, the development-cycle of QuickTime was significant to the videobloggers. QuickTime was also the first consumer-based video handler that actually worked, both as video support and as a shared platform amongst a large group of users. Manovich argues that the ‘introduction of QuickTime in 1991 can be compared to the introduction of the Kinetoscope in 1892: Both were used to present short loops, both featured images approximately two by three inches in size, both called for private viewing rather than collective exhibition.’”

Trine Bjørkmann Berry, Videoblogging Before YouTube p.54-55

Dream English Kid – Mark Leckey at Tate Britain

Mark Leckey Tate Britain

“The work was prompted by Leckey’s discovery of a YouTube video of a Joy Division gig he attended in 1979. This led him to speculate whether he could compile a collage of his memories. Acting as a form of self-portrait of his early life, the video explores ideas about personal history and collective memory and how the past has been enhanced and amplified in the digital era.”

Quote from exhibition leaflet for Mark Leckey’s show at Tate Britain O’ Magic Power of Bleakness describing the background to his video work Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD 2015

Mark Leckey Tate Britain

Single Take – videos by John Smith

John Smith is one of the most widely screened British artist film-makers, and as one-time drinking buddy, artist Cornelia Parker noted, “Most of John’s films have been shot within a few hundred yards of his front door, or inside his house.” In fact the house itself became the centre of one of Smith’s most poignant films Home Suite – a video love poem to his home of 12 years.

John Smith Home Suite
John Smith – Home Suite

“Home Suite is a close-up journey through a domestic landscape and a journey through memory.  Playing upon ambiguity and the unseen, the tape uses physical details of the space to trigger fragmented verbal descriptions of associated memories.”
John Smith

Composed of three thirty minute single take video monologues, ‘Home Suite’ presents us with an intimate anatomy of Smith’s home in Colville Road, Leytonstone, East London, prior to its demolition to make way for the M11 Link Road. The first two parts of the film examine in detail the toilet then the bathroom, comically describing the life of each room, unpacking its history, zooming in on a crack in the toilet bowl, panning across an eccentric Artex job on the walls. The house seems to be coming apart from the inside out, slowly giving up the ghost, merging with the landscape as Smith shows us where the Russian Vine has forced its way through the window frame in the kitchen and has snaked its way across to the gas pipes.

In the final third we emerge from the respectful silence of the condemned house and step out into the street where the mass ranks of police move in with bulldozers to evict the die-hards camped out in Claremont Road. Smith passes by with his video camera, shaken by the scenes he has witnessed, before crossing the road to walk around the corner to his new flat in a nearby street, where all is calm and as Smith notes, where you’d probably never realise what upheaval was happening over the road.

Smith had built an international reputation as a structuralist film-maker shooting his previous films on celluloid. ‘Home Suite’ was one of his first video works and in the commentary you hear him getting to grips with this new technology.

John Smith Hotel Diaries
John Smith – Hotel Diaries

“Worried and confused, I picked up my video camera and attempted to talk about what was going on inside my head. I had no idea at the time that this spontaneous recording was the start of a project that would occupy me for the next six years.”

John Smith

He used the Home Suite formula again in Hotel Diaries – a series of single take video monologues shot between 2001-2007 in hotel rooms around the world as Smith toured festivals with his films. The videos chronicle a personal reaction to the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel-Palestine. Smith’s trademark wit evident throughout, the banal setting of a hotel room evoking the everyday locales of earlier films (home, a pub toilet, street corners etc.). The camera often dwelling on a detail in the hotel room, a black television screen, ceiling tiles, the unmade bed, an image on the wall, as Smith unravels his improvised voice-over.

Hotel Diaries are either screened as individual single screen works, as a whole series, or as a multi-monitor installation as at Smith’s retrospective solo show at the Royal College of Art (2010).

“I’ve got myself into trouble at film festivals when I’ve won prizes for those films, particularly in Cork when I won the main prize for Museum Piece. I had to make a speech, and I said that it gave me particular pleasure to get a prize for this film because I’m a great believer in economy, and this film cost €7, or the price of one DV tape. And afterwards I had so many really angry young filmmakers coming up to me, saying “I borrowed £10,000 to make my film, and yours is a load of shit!”

Sight and Sound interview

Hotel Diaries excerpt

Watch Home Suite on Vimeo via Lux

Paradox Bullets

Paradox Bullets directed by Van Neistat
Narrated by Werner Herzog
Story and Screenplay by Tom Sachs and Van Neistat
Art Director Tom Sachs
Starring Ed Ruscha (also credited as Location Scout)

Do the easy thing first
Do the hard thing first
Patience is a virtue
Patience is a curse
Never Freak out
The Virtues of a Freakout
Irrational Thoughts Must Be Followed Absolutely and Logically (adapted from ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ by Sol Lewitt)

Paradox Bullets - Van Neistat, Tom Sachs
Paradox Bullets – Van Neistat, Tom Sachs

According to an article in Wallpaper the film is associated with a new design of trainers artist Tom Sachs created for Nike called ‘Nike Mars Yard Overshoe’ (not the ones Ed Ruscha is wearing in the film). Although it’s interesting to note that Nike are not mentioned in the 5 minutes of end credits. The project appears to be a confluence of two of Sachs’ long standing interests – space and consumer culture, and continues his collaboration with filmmaker Van Neistat.

 

Anti-commodity and free distribution in film and video work

In a 2002 article reflecting on the first decade of the London Filmmakers Co-operative (1966-76), one of its founding members Malcolm LeGrice observed:
“Where the film-makers established some semblance of functioning economy through Co-op distribution and exhibition rentals (financial exchange for the experience not ownership of the object), the non-filmmaker artists had little option than the sale of works or documentation. I believe this anti-commodity characteristic, together with the more collective attitude of the Co-op film-makers, challenged the ideology of artistic individualism and the demand for a marketable individual identity, and I think this carries over into an ethical/aesthetic form in the work itself.”
(Malcolm Le Grice – Filmwaves / art in-sight, 2002)

Contrast this with a video that popped up on my YouTube subscriber feed yesterday titled ‘The Top 10 Skills You Need To Dominate YouTube’, which included advice on ‘Branding’, ‘Business Strategy’, ‘Data Analytics’, and ‘YouTube Strategy’. Whereas it’s been noted here before, the parallels between the founding aspiration of the New York Filmmakers Co-operative for filmmakers to be able to freely self-distribute their work, and the ethos of online film-makers to do the same – videos such as this from YouTube approved consultants, reduce online film-making to a branch of digital marketing. The freedom to produce and distribute your own work is traded off against the financial possibilities offered through advertising revenue. It’s not producers and distributors influencing the nature and content of the work, but the insights from YouTube analytics and the need to develop a clearly defined, individual brand.

This is perhaps why artist film-makers seem to have a preference for Vimeo as an online platform for sharing their work, often paying a fee for greater flexibility and more features. ‘A marketable individual identity’ doesn’t hold much sway on Vimeo, where the algorithm is a less dominant force, and experimentation seems to be rewarded.

However, LeGrice notes the way that artist filmmakers were rejecting the model defined by the commercial art market in de-commodifying their work. And you can see that this also applies even to the ad-rev pursuing video producers and marketeers on YouTube who have established an alternative model of commercial video production where the producer is also the client, and the real commodity is not the video work but the attention of the audience, established through models such as that described in the Video Creators video. In this scenario, the videos themselves almost become disposable, a means to an end in a constant stream of content produced to appease the algorithm. Creators can adapt their work to fit the needs of sponsors, videos talking about mental health sponsored by therapy apps, vlogs about books and reading sponsored by Audible etc. The financial exchange is for a period of time in the attention span of the audience, not for the video work itself, which continues to belong to the creator.

However it’s achieved, through sponsorship, ad-share, or paid downloads and streams, online digital film-makers have achieved one of the principle aims of the sixties filmmakers co-operatives – to establish a ‘functioning economy’, find alternative sources of funding, and destroying the ‘budget myth’.

Point and Shoot

 

“We will also film the walk on digital super 8”

Andrew Kötting from the proposal for Edith Walks

Andrew Kötting’s film Edith Walks lit up the summer film season of 2017. The Guardian declared it “One of Summer 2017’s best movies.” It was Sight and Sound’s Film of the Week. It drew praise from the Financial Times and The Observer and toured cinemas across Britain and Europe. Nearly every précis and blurb for the film mentioned the fact it had been shot using digital super 8 – some mentioned digital super 8 iPhone cameras.

Edith Walks - directed by Andrew Kötting

Kötting rose to prominence 20 years previously with his beautiful visionary travelogue Gallivant – a journey around the coast of Britain by road. One of the most striking scenes for me, was the shot of Kötting posting yellow envelopes of Super 8 film to the Kodak lab from a remote post-box in the Scottish Highlands, explaining to his daughter Eden and his grandmother Gladys that if the envelopes got lost in the post he might not have a film. There was also a scene where Kötting hung out of the camper van shooting on his Super 8 camera, he then fell and broke his ankle. This was film-making with jeopardy – shooting from the hip on Super 8. After seeing the film at the Sydney Film Festival I went straight out and bought a Canon Super 8 camera and shot my first film on a 6-week trip to India.

“That’s what informs my work. It has to be difficult. I’ve never been comfortable with the comfortable. If it’s comfortable, it’s not worth doing.”

Andrew Kötting from an interview in The Guardian

While looking for a camera to film the walks for a book I was writing, my sister told me that Andrew Kötting was using a point-and-shoot stills camera that shot good video (she became a student of Kötting’s after I gave her the Super 8 camera that came with a projector I bought to watch my India footage. I also included a copy of Gallivant on VHS for context). She said he’d even used it to shoot some of the footage for his feature film, Swandown (another brilliant visionary travelogue), that had sat alongside the principle cinematography shot on a cinema camera. I’d been stood in the camera shop looking at the camcorders and following her phone call walked out with a Canon Powershot compact digital camera. I was surprised by the quality of the footage that came out of this little pocket camera. It was perfect for making a record of my walks.

Swandown Andrew Kötting
Swandown Andrew Kötting/BFI
Swandown Andrew Kötting/BFI
Swandown Andrew Kötting/BFI

Researching an upgrade a few years later I came across a YouTube video in which Casey Neistat talked about the cameras he used. I liked the DIY aesthetic Neistat applied to his craft and how he embraced the limitations of using compact point-and-shoot cameras because of the liberating benefits of having a go-anywhere camera – the camera without a crew. He shot a number of viral hits (some funded by huge brands that would have budgeted for a crew) on the tiny Canon S120. I bought one straightaway and used it to start a new series of walking videos (since replaced in two upgrades but still at the bottom of my bag everywhere I go).

“I remember presenting a black and white super-8 film at the London Film-maker’s Co-op as part of a Sin Now-Pray Later programme that was called Anvil-Head-The-Hun and inspired by the Jesus Christ myth. It ran for 80 minutes and came on four 20 minute spools, it really tried people’s patience but prepared me for the longer format of moving image.”

Andrew Kötting from an interview in The Quietus

When I joined Andrew Kötting for a section of the yomp captured in Edith Walks, he instructed me to shoot on my Panasonic GH3 mirrorless camera as if it were a Super 8, shooting in short bursts. His iPhone also became a Super 8 camera. There was evidently a Super 8 state of mind that could cross over to digital film-making. To ignore the possibilities of shooting endless hours of footage in favour grasping the potential of small cameras that could fit in the palm of your hand to capture the essence of the moment. The poor battery life, limited clip lengths, and lack of manual control became virtues rather than hindrances. A technology intended for documenting and sharing family occasions, holidays, and vloggers going for morning coffee was being utilized to create cinema. The point-and-shoot camera was a tool for making art.

A WALK BACK TO THE LAST LONDON BY WAY OF WATLING STREET
by Andrew Kötting, 2017

“Who you walk with alters what you see….

A film shot on an iPhone with a super 8 app documenting a walk made with Iain Sinclair from Dover to London along Watling Street, sometimes in the company of John Rogers and sometimes in the company of Anne Caron-Delion. The film was never intended, I had planned to make the walk and take a few photographs as proof BUT as is so often the case when walking with Iain one thing leads to another and in the next instance another journeywork pops out.” – Andrew Kötting