The Experimental Film Remake and the Digital Archive Effect: A Movie by Jen Proctor and Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake
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The Experimental Film Remake and the Digital Archive Effect:
A Movie by Jen Proctor and Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake

When we think of film remakes, what come to mind are likely Hollywood narratives reproduced with new stars, more special effects, and bigger budgets, whose producers hope to cash in on a tried and true formula "updated" to suit the tastes of contemporary audiences. Recently, however, a number of experimental filmmakers have chosen quite different sources to "update." Over the past few years filmmakers Jennifer Proctor and Perry Bard have returned to classics of experimental film to "remake" these provocative works in and for the digital era. Jennifer Proctor's A Movie by Jen Proctor (US, 2010) uses images from online file-sharing sites to mimic Bruce Conner's classic 1958 experimental film A Movie, while Perry Bard's Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake (ongoing since 2008) uses online interactive soft ware to allow users worldwide to upload images and participate in a collective, daily remake of Dziga Vertov's seminal 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera. Given that experimental film oft en encourages the viewer to explore the very experience of viewing a film, these digitally based remakes of experimental films inevitably draw attention not only to how the world that is imaged within them has changed but also to how our experiences of that world through its reproduction as image have been altered by digital media.

The form of the remake allows us to see both similarity and difference as they emerge across time. As Laura Grindstaff has noted, writing about the more mainstream form of remake mentioned above, "The remake is . . . a rich site for critical analysis precisely because its derivative status, its very secondariness and duplicity forces a certain assessment of conventional notions of authorship, authenticity, [End Page 467] and originality. On the one hand, the existence of a remake only seems to confirm the fact that originality lies elsewhere—in the other, prior text. On the other hand, the remake helps expose originality as a relative, not absolute, concept."1

These two shot-for-shot remakes explicitly reveal the fact that their "origin" lies in an "other, prior text"; that is precisely their point. More significantly, however, I would argue that these two films in their "secondariness" point to the "relative" experience of watching similar images produced through different moving-image media, indicating the ways in which digital media technologies have altered the very conditions of knowledge about the world—both past and present—as it is obtained through images. By appropriating images either from digital archives in A Movie by Jen Proctor or into a digital work in Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake, these filmmakers draw attention to the ways in which digital media have reshaped both our experience of watching a film—experimental and otherwise—and our experience of the world through its reproduction as images. In this essay, I argue that these two "remakes" offer an opportunity for us to think through the ways in which digital media produce a mediated experience of the world both similar to and different from the mediated experience of the world produced by filmic images.

A Movie by Jen Proctor

In 1958, Bruce Conner's A Movie radically disrupted notions of authorship while simultaneously drawing attention to the materiality of the filmic image and performing an incisive critique of the relationship between film images and the spectacle of human violence and destruction. Drawing on previously shot or "found" film footage from a variety of sources, including films commercially produced for the home market, Conner craft ed a twelve-minute reflection of the contemporary cinematic unconscious, bringing together pieces of footage—of motorcycle accidents, women undressing, atomic explosions, and a charging elephant, to name only a few—that would likely never have found one another otherwise.2 Fifty-two years later, experimental filmmaker Jennifer Proctor replicated Conner's film in and for the digital era in A Movie by Jen Proctor (2010). Using the same soundtrack—Ottorino Respighi's 1924 Pines of Rome—Proctor constructed a (nearly) shot-for-shot remake of A Movie...