CUT, PASTE, STUTTER, GLITCH

In 2009, the EYE Film Institute invited the public to remix 21 film fragments from the Dutch early cinema collection.  In 2010, Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) debuted his remix of Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Glaz/Kino-Pravda at the Tate Modern in London.  From Chandler McWilliam’s computer-generated Silent to Ross Whyte’s electroacoustic “glitches,” film’s first decades have been found and reformed online.  These remixes mark the proliferation of digital film archives and video-sharing platforms.  They intervene amid vigorous debates about copyright law, fair-use, and the aesthetic and political possibilities of remix culture.  But these films also raise crucial questions about the affinities between old and new media, early film and contemporary digital culture.  EYE gave the following explanation for their own (institutional) interest in a remix “contest”:

  1. All these films are silent films, so very suitable for remixing—contestants could easily add their own audio to their mix.
  2. The clips selected from this time period were all public domain, so copyright was no obstacle.
  3. The obvious link between past and present. An analogy can be found between the practice of early film screening and the contemporary remix practice. Early cinema was to a certain extent an unfinished product: a film was often accompanied by a live narrator and/or by live music, and the content of both could vary from one screening to another. It also occurred that the cinema operator made his own cut of a film, or created a compilation with material from other sources: remix culture avant la lettre.

But what exactly do these revisions do to and for the early film image?  What kind of histories do they tell (or repeat)?  And where do these remixes belong in the early film archive?  For its part, the EYE Film Institute uses the open-sourced remix as a form of community outreach and a promotional tool for its “real” archival content, an approach that inadvertently generates a kind of digital detritus: the orphan offspring of orphaned originals.

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