Thanks to DVD, compression software and services like YouTube and Vimeo, technology has changed the way we ingest visual content. But it hasn’t done as much as I’d like to the way we understand it.
Take the Everything is a Remix project, by editor Kirby Ferguson. The second installment was released this week, and it is a slick, well-written and edited piece of work that points out how much of the entertainment we consume is related to other entertainment. Specifically, it breaks down parts of Star Wars and Kill Bill into component elements, presenting scenes from those films alongside the original images re-purposed by George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino. But I’m left wanting more.
Watch both this film-centric second installment and a sidebar dissection of Kill Bill after the break, then hit the comments for a discussion of how the mechanism of influence from one film to another really affects storytelling.
There’s an implicit qualification in my opening to this article, and stated outright it is this: what’s the point? Watching this video, I start to feel a bit like the impatient other Jeffrey Lebowski when the Dude shows up looking for a new rug. (That film, not coincidentally, also being one where innumerable influences combine to form something that feels unique.) “Yes, yes, I know the basics. Make your point.” We know that films explicitly draw upon other films, and that some of the big players in the current cinema landscape built their success by reusing images created by others.
Time to take the next step.
For those who’ve never seen a lot of these clips side by side, this could be a minor revelation. But the short form doesn’t allow much depth, even with respect to the different impact of some essentially identical items.
For instance, Ferguson shows the severing of an arm in Yojimbo and the shot it inspired in Star Wars, but doesn’t talk about how audiences might have reacted differently to each, or how reception to some remixings might affect their future use. Also, it’s easy to point out that the ‘hero framed in the doorway’ shot, as seen in Kill Bill, is always seen as a reference to The Searchers. But why not go a level deeper and point out that John Wayne‘s particular posture in that influential shot was a deliberate reference to b-western star Harry Carey, whose wife and son were both in The Searchers, and whose career was partially a model for Wayne’s own?
This video refers to Sergio Leone when talking about George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino, but doesn’t discuss the fact that Sergio Leone included scads of references in his own films. Once Upon a Time in the West is practically a catalog of nods and winks, both major and minor, to films by John Ford, Howard Hawks and many more. Leone’s films look original now because 2011 audiences don’t know much of the context in which they were produced.
The question that I’d really like to see addressed is: how is it that film ‘remixes,’ as Ferguson calls Star Wars and Kill Bill, manage to outlive the works that inspired them in the first place? By drawing explicitly on a host of influences, were Sergio Leone, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino able to assemble something that would appeal to audiences in a specific way that their films become the ones that linger in memory? Or is it just happenstance that it went down that way? Seems unlikely that several filmmakers whose work is so indebted to others would all find great success, right?
Watch the second part of Everything Is a Remix, enjoy the clear way that the footage is assembled, then hit the comments to talk about the topic further:
Here’s a full look at Kill Bill: