The Texture of Remix

23May08

I’ve written some about vidding before – it’s an area of fan culture that I’m not too familiar with, but I’m interested when I find examples that speak to me. So I found this video, via Jason Sperb’s blog, quite interesting. It’s a vid of Punch Drunk Love set to Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” done by Kusoyaro:

What’s most interesting to me is that I find it an utterly compelling video, despite the fact that I’ve never seen the film (blame it on a combination of a radical decline of film vs. TV viewing in the 2000s, and a gut-level aversion to Adam Sandler – I’ll see it eventually…).

In fact, I like it even more for not having seen the film – I have no prior relationship to the characters or narrative, so I view the vid as a collection of compelling and frequently beautiful images. Because I cannot connect with the content, and it does not stir any memories for me, I’m left just to look at the pretty pictures – and that’s quite pleasurable. Some of the other vids on the artist’s site are from films that I do know, and they seem to be character studies that I find less compelling (though still effectively done). I can instead watch “No Surprises” as a fanvid celebrating visual style, not narrative or character – I read it as a tribute to P.T. Anderson’s use of straight-on framing, compelling tracking shots, and wonderful composition. I sense that there is a character study underlying this form, but I can easily ignore it and just appreciate the texture of the images.

I do have a prior relationship with the song, but again not on the level of content. I’ve listened to OK Computer countless times, and could sing along with “No Surprises” in the abstract, but I have no idea what it means or what it’s about. It’s just a collection of frequently hard-to-discern words that sound great together, with occasional mentions of “no surprises.” This is fairly typical of how I consume music, much to my wife’s confusion – lyrics matter much more for their sonic texture rather than their meaning, with voice as just another instrument playing in the band. Most of the time, bands could all be singing lyrics like Sigur Rós for all I know. (Anybody else hear music this way?)

I’ve written before about my general inability to watch film or TV and focus on visual style, at least when compared to many other film/media scholars I know – it’s hard not to watch for narrative, especially for the first time. But a vid like this allows me to focus my attention away from content, embracing formal pleasures and the real sense of texture of the film (or at least the vidder’s interpretation of it). And now I want to watch the movie, to see if I consume it any differently than my standard viewing style – or if I can get Radiohead out of my head while watching it.



3 Responses to “The Texture of Remix”

  1. 1 Jason

    Hi Jason–
    Thanks for the link. Its interesting that you haven’t seen PDL. Partly what I love about this video isn’t only the use of Radiohead or PDL, or the way they compliment each other. Its that this particular edit really does capture the spirit, style and mood of the film. Even though there’s no Radiohead in PDL, it still feels like I’m watching the same movie here, if that makes sense.

    peace,
    js

  2. 2 Elliot

    I had a very similar experience with a vid for the Thom Yorke song Analyze set to clips from Requiem for a Dream (you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjHH6lP1Hxc )

    Not only had I not seen Requiem before, but I didn’t even know the clips were from a movie. That’s the thing about vidding – the production value is high enough to give you the impression that the video is official and professional.

    I think this highlights what vidding. remixing, and mashups have the potential to do: free discrete aesthetic elements from their original context, to allow us to see how sound, image, and story interact to create different emotional experiences that are more than the sum of their parts. You might even say that some movie previews do this (though b/c they’re advertisements for entire movies instead of artistic riffs on the source materials, I tend to think of them as inherently misleading). I think this will be a more enduring reason to mash media up, rather than the cheapening thrill of making ironic commentary through juxtaposition.

    Also, I’m totally with you on Thom Yorke’s often unintelligible singing – they suggest rather than describe. Even when I read the lyrics, I feel like he just sketches something very general, not specific narratives or anything. Maybe some people like a story with their songs and others just like a scene.

  3. 3 Doff

    It’s interesting that you mention it’s hard to read for visual style when watching a film, that instead you read for narrative. But really the two are inseparable no?

    I understand you appreciation of this piece. I guess film trailers function on a similar premise in that we have no prior appreciation of the characters or plot, we are instead immersed in an audio-visual display from which we derive pleasure from the onslaught of frequently beautiful images vaguely connected to one another.


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