on gifs [ storifying the latent content of film/television narrative media ]

Gifs do so many things, I’m not even going to list all of those things! Right now I’m thinking about gifs as amplifiers of particular moments from narrative media. In these pieces, they strip moments from narrative, expanding the gesture used to tell a story while erasing the original context.

a moment from Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood”

This eternal moment, stripped from narrative, reminds me of tween frames in the animation process. As an artist who has learned how to make in many kinds of media, I often think of the making process while looking at an art object (or other thing). Tweening is the frame-by-frame drawing that carries the image from moment a to moment b. Its where animation really happens. Skilled animators’ tweens inform how the story is told.

But-and-also – gifs operate with a more cinematic set of visual references, thanks to copy/remix culture. They often inhabit the vocabulary of filler moments.  The embellishments in a televised or film-presented narrative used to allow time to pass, allow the viewer to update their story, create rhythm or pace for the narrative. These moments, over time, become the vocabulary of unconscious narrative of a film/television-presented story.

unconscious narrative the consistant (or inconsistant, depending on the skill of the filmmaker) backdrop woven of actors’ gestures, filler shots, setting, shot framing, color, mood, tone. The assemblage of choices related to non-verbal or not-plot content that provides a consistant ground for the ‘plot’ / cause-and-effect narrative / story, which is spoken or explicit. The language of film that operates outside of verbal story, the elements that make film/television an art form discrete from other storytelling media.

The gif can particularize moments from this unconscious language. The elements which we recognize as part of the assembly of a particular story.

Ryan Seslow has been developing discrete elements in gif form for quite some time. His characters and repeated making-gestures arrive on the screen-canvas of his website & other internet feeds. Recently he assembled several into a sequence.


Telling Stories : a gif by Ryan Seslow

Ryan steps into the space of a story. Its liminal – it is not yet a story – it is a projection field for a story of my invention. It invites me to create relationships between jump-cut moments. We automatically work to create relationships, as storifying machines, as viewers. Like we discover the Virgin Mary’s face in a waterstain or a fried tortilla.

Looking, looking back. The screen looking back at us – the portraited pretty lady winks (usually she’s the object in the gallery) its the gaze of the inhabited object – and then the gaze of others looking back –

new work [ oldschool : newmedia ]

selfie [ oldschool / newmedia ]

The negatives I’m using for this process were shot & processed long before computers became part of my process – –

When I met animation processes, it was, at first, printmaking and scanning and hand-manipulation. Then hand-altered 16mm film. I’ve particularly missed that, the bleach and salt and razorblades and rubber gloves and stamps, glue, glitter and tape.

I figured out how to do that again, recently.

the inadvertent we

You ever get one of those accidental “reply-all” emails at work, that cc’s the entire staff? For several days you endure reply-all replies saying “don’t hit reply all!” and “I wasn’t meant to read this” and “quit replying!”? Recently, a group of about 190 filmmakers endured this. We were the rejects, the ones who wouldn’t be showing. The intern tasked with sending rejection notes chose to say “hey guys, no go!” as a mass carbon copy email.

Fifteen minutes passed. The first – “Really? You told us this way?” email arrived.

As the day wore on, and the number on the little red dot on my email client kept increasing, something amazing happened. Shout-outs to friends across country. Invitations to submit work in other places. A shared googledoc where people could link to their rejects. Someone offered a screening of the rejected work. David Finklestein emailed me with an astonishingly clear read of my film, i.thou.

I watched a ton of fantastic films from the googledoc. David Finklestein’s Marvelous Discourse creates a world from his imagination, the opposite of the collage / dirty digital aesthetic I’ve indulged in for i.thou. In his films’ universe(s), dialogue exposes language’s underlying game of reference – image-based signifiers dance with language that poetically evokes, overloading the audience in a way that may be attempting to mimic our culture of mimetic, symbol-based overload. Plus I find his work gorgeous, playful, & funny.

I posted some of the shorts on my tumblr, as you do on the Internet. Even though the CC email rejection from the Film Fest that Shall Not Be Named played out almost a month ago, just yesterday I got an email from a filmmaker about traffic coming to his site from my tumblr post. And, just yesterday, a Brooklyn-based filmmaking team downloaded i.thou for an informal screening. The conversation continues.

i.thou : director’s statement [excerpt]

i.thou : caged bird

i.thou : caged bird

This film evolved from the process of codec alteration, commonly called ‘data moshing’. I saw Takeshi Murata’s work at the Hirschhorn in 2007. Already working in experimental video, I decided to figure out how to do that. A few youTube tutorials later, I started playing with data alterations on a variety of found, captured, and recorded videos. As I figured out the results I preferred – richer colors, slower transformations – I became really interested in moments where two people in a conversation ‘merge’, as in the closing image of the woman holding the man at gunpoint.
i.thou : blue faces

i.thou : blue faces

This kind of merging or collapsing of faces operates in the space of social dynamics of self and other. Martin Buber’s psychological philosophy describes how different people can see the world, based on their own personal development. In the ‘i-it’ dynamic, the self relates to others as objects or dolls, fixed images of some sort. In the ‘i-thou’ dynamic the self relates to other people as complex being with lives of their own. The term ‘sonder’ is also related to this.

I began thinking about the natural objectification that is at work inside the language of film. Constructing this film over a 5-year period was a long period of musing on the projected image, the archetypes that good films evoke through great image construction. Also, how the human mind constructs images or ideas, how our imaginations participate with the physical world to create reality.

i.thou : lets play telephone

i.thou : let’s play telephone

I’m looking forward to announcing exhibition / screening of the work.

Total running time : 38:29 // dolby surround // available in a variety of digital formats

ode to completion : i.thou

i.thou now stands as a 40 minute experimental film.

The stills collected here are moments from the making process.

The film is as much about the illusion of filmmaking as it is the illusion of perception, the malleability of our senses . . . A meditation on social vs. personal [ lived ] identity. Lived self and the dance of projection.

It’s also a 40-minute hallucinated, irrational, unbelieved, outrageous homage to women who have disappeared – – an imagined resurrection of the body of ‘the dead girl’ so many stories are built on in our media.

Silence, voice, image, experience, ownership . . .

. . . I’m putting the final touches on the audio mix today and tomorrow.

[ thoughts from the gallery of stills on flickr ]

stills : i.thou worksample 9.11








i.thou work sample 9.11 via youTube


i.thou, a film in progress since 2009. Tightly curated video is processed and reprocessed, the data files are altered, the result is collaged with further animation. Audiocollage keyed to the video.


This labor-intensive process includes at least half a dozen software tools and relies on the compression technology that drives digital video to work. About half of the film is currently “complete”.


The content unfolds in a dreamlike world. Symbols melt one to the next, gestures are iconicized, and the deconstruction of the visual language of film picks at its underlying illusion.


In this poetic landscape the story can be read in many, many ways.


We have come to the place where our fiction tells truth more than our fiction that claims to tell the truth

You don’t find poetry in the words. I love cinema. I deconstruct and reconstruct film’s vocabulary in my current creative process.

You don’t find poetry in the words. The mastery we find in this kind of artwork is not in the script, the plotlines, the rush of it. Its not in any one element, but the spirit in which the whole hangs together.

I study film because I know that eventually I’m going to make full-length narrative films. Sometimes the discoveries I make I find worthy of sharing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Parallel Lines ~ The Parallax View & Zodiac

Central characters in both films : behavior is driven by their occupation (newspaper reporting). Some of the tension in the films is created by these characters struggling with these the role asked of their position.

Parallax Corporation and the Zodiac killer are each faceless powers against which the reporter(s) struggle or argue, an “other” with no fixed identity. in both narratives the representative individuals of that other change as the narrative moves forward, the reporters discovering and rediscovering the face(s) of the oppressive “other”.

parallax view trailer

Neither film presents a tidy resolution.

Watching Parallax, I was struck by the visual connection to Zodiac. Both films have golden southern california sunlight, broad shots with a sense of natural light. Green-grass-sunny-day contrasts with rich darkness. My only viewing of Zodiac was in the theater, opening night. I was struck by the depth of darkness in it, not from the amount or proportion of “blacks” on the film but the richness of contrast, the texture in the dark. A quality of saturation and tone shared with some of David Lynch’s films. Parallax shares that quality.

Subsequent discussion of Fincher revealed he went for the visual vocabulary of 70’s film to match the time period of Zodiac‘s narrative.

Zodiac trailer

The reporter(s) at the center of each narrative are idealized truth-seekers in a film narrative context of assumed corruption. Each seeks truth at great personal cost, enduring self-transformation of either cynicism, getting lost in the cloak-and-dagger discovery process, upending their own assumptions, struggling to get others on board with their discoveries.

Can either of these narratives survive if set in the present? The news can lie to us, legally. It does so, mainly by omission. With one word, I jump the shark : infotainment.

We have come to the place where our fiction tells truth more than our fiction that claims to tell the truth.

Cinematography and narrative : the open, natural daylight bitten into by darkness. The narrative tension of men carrying psychological flashlights into the unknown, into the dark other-places both inside themselves and in their evil opponent. The lead characters attempt to find, define, conquer the unknown darkness outside themselves; they journey their own darkness.

No resolution. The rise and fall of fear in each film. The rise and fall of fear in each character. Will conquering the evil “other” resolve the fear each character lives with . . . Was that fear invoked by the other in the narrative?

Backdrop of paranoid tension, in each film. That paranoia the edge found between the rich darks and clear yellows.

Pretty good, for a human : Ripley as Durga

Ripley in fighting suit after opening the hangar door

Durga : n (Hinduism) the goddess Parvati portrayed as a warrior: renowned for slaying the buffalo demon, Mahisha

First motion : she raises her armored arms

In one version of the myth, Durga was a warrior goddess who defeated the demon Mahisashur who had unleashed a realm of terror on earth, heaven and the nether worlds.

Mahisa means buffalo, Mahisasur was born from the form of a water buffalo. He could not be defeated by any of the gods because of boons he had received from Brahma.

Over time, each god armed Durga with a suitable quality and weapon, so that with their combined effect she was able to defeat the demon. The word Shakti, or strength, reflects the warrior aspect of the goddess.

In another form, she is also Karunamayi, or one full of kindness.

Ripley catches up the Alien's head in her claw

Durga : In Hinduism, one of the forms of the goddess Devi or Shakti. The wife of Shiva. Born fully grown, created out of flames that issued from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and other gods. She embodies their collective energy (shakti). They created her to slay the buffalo-demon Mahisasura, whom they were unable to overcome. She is usually depicted riding a lion or tiger, each of her multiple arms bearing a weapon.

She uses the tools at hand to keep her enemy at bay.

She throws the invading Alien/Demon down the airlock, to exorcize it

The enemy at the heart of the film Aliens are profoundly terrifying creatures. The gory possessions, devourings, consuming of human bodies in order to live point allegorically to possession and exorcism stories, but with absolutely deadly results – no human ever survives an alien possession.

Enemies in horror films have to be absolutely other, yet embody something of ourselves that we are frightened of. The absolutely instinctual nature of these mucus-soaked creatures, whose nested jaws speak to some horrifying devouring appetite, some horrifying devouring reproductive nature . . . draw whatever metaphorical conclusion you will.

Monsters like this are the closest thing to a demon our atheist culture cops to. Our heroine, Ripley, warrior-queen, embodies Durga, that aspect of Shakti who is the original demon slayer, a goddess from a religion tended to by millions in India.

Alien hangs on to Ripley's foot, attempting to avoid her ejection (or exorcism) from the ship into space

She hauls herself up from the edge of the void, against the pull of the void, and prevails.

The Fool Reversed, Part 2 : Wanna know how I got these scars?

We can also file this post under “the poetics of annihilation : entertainment edition”. Warning : this post meanders …

Batman’s world as a reflection of human psychology has always been pretty clear to me. The hero survived incomprehensible loss as a child. Upon becoming an adult he polices his own demons by catching and locking up human ones. Batman walks between worlds, as all trauma survivors do, the world of civilized humans that we all participate in every day and the world where the trauma happened. Batman makes his own rules, a means of regaining power in a world that rendered him powerless when he was a child. He works to keep a chaotic underworld repressed or at bay … the story elements become personifications of the processes of trauma survival, particularly, in this post, managing the chaos of the PTSD process.

Revisited The Dark Knight, the second Christopher Nolan Batman film, this week. In it, we meet one of the most powerful portrayals of antisocial criminal insanity put on film, Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Heath Ledger Joker

The Joker : With Makeup

He describes himself as the dog who wouldn’t know what to do with the ambulance if he caught it. He sets all the money on fire, sets about killing yet another gang leader and asks “what a hungry dog will do for food”. He knows human motivation, human reactivity, and he sets fire to it whenever possible in ever-escalating scenarios. It doesn’t even seem to matter to him that one set of ideas succeeds or fails; he simply moves on to the next in a series of intense escalations.

Early on in the film the audience meets him through a series of his crimes. He asks of his victims, “Wanna know how I got these scars?” He tells Gambol one story, he tells Rachel another. In either situation there’s an invitation to the game the audience may be playing, that of, this horribly evil character can become comprehensible through the injury that created him. The Joker turns this notion on its head by telling different stories in each situation. He denies us the ability to relate to him, which makes him all the more terrifying as a character.

Scars without makeup

Joker Scarred, Without Makeup

There’s something else here, some other truth about relating to difficulty of any kind. Looking to the deep past to discover the source of present difficulty, or the reason why? Giant waste of time. The Joker forces those around him to deal with him on his terms. In the present. Doesn’t matter how he got those scars. His face is scarred and you’re the one looking into it. You’re the one confronted with the difficulty of him. His face is scarred and the scars themselves are scary, they make him ‘other’ in a way that unscarred faces are not. They cast him outside of ordinary interactions.

The movie documents the creation of social self through face, and the alteration of persona through its mutilation, through Harvey “Two-Face” Dent’s scarring accident. Harvey’s loss as an adult undoes him, as does the Joker’s visit to his hospital room to initiate him into an existence as a force rather than a specific human being.

Trauma survival has been described to me as the undoing of personality that Buddhists seek through enlightenment, via sudden extreme difficulty. The process of assimilating change quickly determines whether or not the human being involved is able to successfully integrate the EVENT into everyday life. Some traumas affect the biological mind in ways that point to deep psychological and physical connections of selfhood that have not begun to have been studied by science.

Story-cycles like Batman present the logic of trauma and its un-rational, yet logical, effects on persona in ways that touch on the universal difficulties of trauma. Why are the three plot-movers in this show masked? Batman wears a mask to enter into his second identity. The Joker’s mutilated face defines his relationship with the larger culture. And Two-Face, his ‘birth process’ out of the loss of Harvey, becomes the center of the movie.

Faces are the start of all human connection. When I suffered an accidental facial injury that involved black eyes, a broken nose, and almost 150 stitches in my mouth, it redefined my social interactions negatively for about six weeks. At another point in my life I gained a lot of weight. This also changed how other people responded to me. A year and a half later, when the weight came off, all of the tiny human interactions of my day improved as well.

Linguistically we also have loss of face : loss of our sense of status in the community. Our metaphorical language for social identity or persona starts with our faces. The sense of social role and facial appearance may be more deeply understood by actors and women, actors because persona is their bread and butter, women because the act of putting on makeup can reflect the act of composing onesself for the day. Of “making up the self”.

The Joker lives outside the human community, in almost total anomie. This permits his psychopathy. Harvey makes the traumatic journey from inside to outside through his trauma, losing his central human connection on his trip out. The Batman, of course, has to operate in both locations, shitty playboy Bruce to the neighbors, caped crusader at night.

Batman had a choice, our mutilated villains did not.

When a face is mutilated, it cannot be made up. Perhaps this is why Heath’s Joker skewers with his sloppy cheap stuff. Nothing can cover those scars.

When a face is mutilated, it cannot be made up. When a social identity has been shattered by trauma, it has to be made up, re-invented. If like Harvey Dent that reinvention is one woven with revenge and other reactions to loss, where is that person headed in life? The Joker ends up straightjacketed in Arkham Asylum. Even the Batman is stuck defined by how he chose to relate to his past, the adult reaction to childhood events.

When a face is mutilated, it is up to our neighbors not to wince. Our resilience as a culture is only as strong as our public ability to accept survivors as human beings who are not mutilated by the events they survived. Rape survivors may or may not have physical scars on their bodies. Our culture’s reinforcement of them as “raped”? As “forever raped” or “broken”? Not only is it a lie, these public attitudes can create scars where there would have been none before.

Somehow, the cycle of reacting in horror to accounts of events that were matter of fact to the people who actually lived through it has got to stop. Ordinary people are injured in horrifying ways; other ordinary people do horrifying things. We don’t usually have the spectacular make-up to tell us who the “bad guys” are. “Bad guys” may have ordinary or redeeming social features to them.

Oh, memory. People working in the PTSD field have described the process of the illness as time-looping through difficulty, having a repeating loop that can be triggered by things that, on the surface, sound similar (gunshots vs. car backfiring) The Joker loves to blow things up, set them on fire. One veteran of the Iraq war I spoke with about it described it as “having gasoline in his blood”, waiting for some ordinary event to spark his anger and “set him off”. The only regular thing about the Joker is his relentless push forward, creating chaos in an irregular yet continuing rhythm. This is what gets under my skin about that character, I think. For so many people that kind of fire is in their lives, waxing and waning, a response to a trigger somewhere in the body, a trigger disconnected from reality, relating to memory via a tricked out story …

… I wrote about Heath’s Joker as the Fool over here, in a post that’s in the blog I’m slowly migrating to this one. One other thread that I may discuss about this character in the future is his relationship to appetite. All good tricksters are deeply aware of the power of appetite. The Joker’s off-the-cuff statements about appetite, our animal nature, manipulation, and motivation fit the trickster’s archetype wonderfully.

“But who made animals of them?”

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai remains a perennial critical and popular favorite. Set in the late 1580’s in Japan, a group of farmers hires seven masterless samurai to defend their village from bandits.

The three-hour masterpiece is streaming on Netflix right now. Apparently Criterion or somebody else is going to release a new, remastered collection of Kurosawa’s work. Most of his catalogue is streaming. Snow day off work? Time to revisit Kurosawa.

I find his films take on the complexity and ambivalence of violent behavior quite truthfully, for a fictional medium. Additionally his post-war films become a long consideration of Japanese identity both during and after American occupation. All ripe territory for my minor obsession, the poetics of annihilation.

The impassioned speech in this clip speaks to the consequences of war. The film’s historical moment : ongoing lawless strife. The farmers ~ that nourishing class ~ besieged by the process of violence again and again become animals …

the process of making : clint eastwood, 1988

Instead of running for cover in a sudden nasty rain a week earlier, he used the downpour to set a somber mood for a scene in Central Park in 1955, using Bird drenched to the skin as a metaphor. ”Ninety-nine percent of the directors I’ve worked with would have been screaming and shouting that they couldn’t work,” says Mr. Valdes.

”Things happen that you can’t control,” Mr. Eastwood says with a shrug. ”If someone throws a scene at me and says you must shoot this scene today because the set won’t be available tomorrow, I won’t say, ‘I haven’t thought about it, slept on it, meditated over it, so I can’t shoot it.’ ” Nothing that has gone wrong tonight will follow him home. He will, he says, ”jump into the shower, brush my chops real good, jump into bed” and be asleep in five minutes.

In Idaho, on ”Pale Rider,” Mr. Eastwood left 50 members of the crew and cast cooling their heels for several hours while he climbed up a mountain with his camera crew to get shots of trees with dying autumn leaves that he wanted for his title sequence. Something in the pit of his stomach warned him that the leaves would be gone by the next day, when he was scheduled to shoot them. ”The next morning, every leaf was off the trees,” says Mr. Valdes.


Local Film : Blanc De Blanc

Local director Lucas McNelly and his team took a two-week filmmaking challenge and created an intimate poem of a film. I’d love to tell you the story; this would, of course, ruin the viewing experience for you. An unlikely love story between Jude (Rachel Shaw), a young ER nurse working at UPMC Shadyside, and Dave (Jason Kirsch), a stranger without a past who synchronicity brings into her life.

Pittsburgh is the third party in the relationship. The informal visual intimacy we Pittsburghers experience day to day in our neighborhoods are echoed in shots of Shadyside, downtown, the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Cinematographer David Eger captures Pittsburgh’s neighborhoody depth of field in precisely-framed, close, yet relaxed shots.


blanc de blanc : still

Blanc de Blanc is a rare thing, a nesting-box film that succeeds. Its about love stories and process of relationship itself as much as it is the narrative that unfolds in Jude’s life. I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch it privately, to test it as hard as any one tests a suitor.

I found Jude’s lack of tests for Dave an exquisitely unbelievable aspect of the plot. My unbelief is, I think, precisely the point – exactly what I needed for the larger functions of the film to become clear. Within the narrative, the love story unfolds with very real moments of struggle and intimacy.

Jude argues with her belief in the possibility of the relationship in a way that is very real, I think, in our own couplings and uncouplings. It is our belief in the very possibility of it that gives any relationship its legs. Lose that belief, and lose the relationship.

Depth of field again … highly detailed moments contrast with the larger visual & poetic structure making an extraordinary piece of work, regardless of production time. McNelly establishes Dave’s character through a short series of images, a brief set of details that open the film. There is exactly enough there for us to struggle with the ambiguity of him – the ambiguity allows a lover’s projections of character; the ambiguity provides fuel for the audience to argue with Jude and Dave’s choices in the way we would argue with our partners; the ambiguity found in poetry.


blanc de blanc : still

Very well-acted – watching the actors dissolve into the story was a pleasure. Their work resonates with ordinary life in just the right way. My only quibble : sound design. I’d love it if the musical presence took a back seat. Perhaps the constant audio presence is meant to create the sense of closeness that the characters are enduring in their shared environment. Perhaps it points to the persistent unreality of their relationship. The music felt too close to the dialogue. I wanted a little more room, the music pushed a little farther back. Give the visuals a little space. But, that’s just my aesthetic talking.

McNelly’s been getting a fair amount of attention for the quality of the work here, particularly given the brief production time. I’ll forego the pile of links and instead send you to the horse’s mouth – http://www.blancdeblancfilm.com

I certainly hope he’s able to line up some of the non-traditional screenings in town to support the film. At an hour and seventeen minutes, its at tightly-edited piece worthy of a few opening short films and a lot of audience.

Keep an eye on where this one goes. Its a gem.