Culture Shock’s pivotal role in the digital preservation of over 500 films by Andy Warhol – “MoMA’s largest effort to digitize the work of a single artist in its collection.”
Warhol’s contribution to contemporary culture is immense. He is remembered for his iconic pop art images but he also made films, foundedInterview Magazine, managed The Velvet Underground, directed the Exploding Plastic Inevitable events, had two series in the early days of MTV, painted Debbie Harry on an Amiga computer in 1985, ‘wrote’ a novel with a tape recorder and was in an episode of The Love Boat. His combined output across multiple media is monumental but has not been appropriately recognized.
When Hugh McGrory, Chief Innovation Officer at Culture Shock, New York, a strategy and innovation consultancy, first contacted The Andy Warhol Museum in 2011 to discuss the possibility of helping to realize the museum’s long-time goal of digitizing Warhol’s film work, he discovered the epic scale of the collection. “I knew there were many films that remained unseen by the public, films I had read about,” commented McGrory, “But I had no idea at the time that there were hundreds of films and thousands of videotapes.” Patrick Moore, The Andy Warhol Museum’s Deputy Director stated in a recent New York Times article that “the films are every bit as significant as Warhol’s paintings.”
McGrory understood that a project accessing over 1 million feet of decades-old 16mm film created by one of the most important artists of the 20th Century would require a partner with the necessary technical know-how, infrastructure and insurances, and that this meant approaching an industry leader beyond the art world. Culture Shock had curated Projection, a series of moving image digital artworks from the website Vimeo at Volta NY Art Fair in 2011 and had come to the attention of Justin Brukman, Managing Director of MPC NY, an Oscar-winning family of VFX studios and a Technicolor company.
“We’ve always believed that VFX can be presented in a fine art setting and I liked Culture Shock’s passion for work at the intersection of art and technology,” said Brukman, “After several years of joint project development we’re now on course to digitize one of the largest bodies of film work by a single artist.”
McGrory sees this as a first step in the right direction. “I’m obviously feeling a sense of accomplishment for initially helping to facilitate a project of such historic importance. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Warhol influenced art, film, music, fashion, photography, illustration, design, advertising, publishing, technology, and television. He was the first artist to exhibit video. By looking at each of these elements as an instance of transmedia storytelling we can begin to understand how the story being told shaped the culture it represented.”
Debra Anderson, Chief Executive Officer and Founder at Culture Shock, adds that “Warhol moved from idolizing celebrity to creating it. We now live in the world of the cultural producer where famous people don’t just endorse products but have enormous business empires across multiple markets built around their personal brand. Andy made this happen.”
McGrory sees this as much more than an exercise in art history. “It is very important to understand the past in order to examine the present. Warhol was a mirror to the culture of his time. By using that mirror to reflect our world fifty years later we see that we now live in Warhol’s imagined future. It can be argued that Warhol’s lasting legacy is a society painted in his own image, where everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes.”
Above Image: “Nico/Antoine” (1966), one of hundreds of Andy Warhol films.Credit: Andy Warhol Museum
Press release contributors: Culture Shock, The Moving Picture Company, The Andy Warhol Museum
Read the featured article in The New York Times:
Andy Warhol wrote lovingly of his ever-present tape recorder. (“My tape recorder and I have been married for 10 years now. When I say ‘we,’ I mean my tape recorder and me.”) But for almost a decade beginning in the 1960s, his real boon companions seemed to be his 16-millimeter film cameras, which he used to record hundreds of reels, many of which are still little known even among scholars because of the fragility of the film and the scarcity of projectors to show them on.
Now the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Modern Art, which holds Warhol’s film archives, are beginning a project to digitize the materials, almost 1,000 rolls, a vast undertaking that curators and historians hope will, for the first time, put Warhol’s film work on a par with his painting, his sculpture and the Delphic public persona that became one of his greatest works. It will be MoMA’s largest effort to digitize the work of a single artist in its collection.
Patrick Moore, the Warhol Museum’s deputy director and a curator of the digitization project, said that the goal was, finally, to integrate Warhol’s film work fully into his career. “I think the art world in particular, and hopefully the culture as a whole, will come to feel the way we do,” Mr. Moore said, “which is that the films are every bit as significant and revolutionary as Warhol’s paintings.”
Warhol began using his first film camera, a 16-millimeter Bolex, in 1963. He spent more than two years shooting what became known as the “Screen Tests,” hundreds of short filmed portraits of celebrities, fellow artists, acquaintances and members of his inner circle, like Lou Reed and the socialite Edie Sedgwick, before moving on to longer, more narrative pieces. He made some 600 films of varying lengths, but only about a tenth of those have been available in 16-millimeter prints through the Museum of Modern Art.
While a few of Warhol’s movies are well known — among them, the feature-length “Chelsea Girls” from 1966 and “Empire” from 1964, a single-shot “antifilm” showing the Empire State Building for eight hours — the great majority have not been shown for years or have been available only through bootlegs of varying quality. Several years before Warhol’s death in 1987, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art joined forces to preserve and study the films, which often use the movie screen as a static canvas, a confessional or a window onto the seeming banality of everyday life. But the films’ visibility, even in the art world, increased only up to a point.
“A lot of people feel like they know Warhol’s films but only because they’ve read about them,” said Mr. Moore. “Fewer and fewer people have the ability to show 16 millimeter.”
Frame-by-frame transfer of the films, which is expected to take several years, will begin this month and be conducted by MPC, an Oscar-winning visual-effects company that is donating its time and services to the project.
(In connection with the project, a few pieces of unseen film will make their way into theaters well before the transfers are completed. “Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films,” a project commissioned by the Warhol Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Centers for the Art of Performance at the University of California, Los Angeles, will screen digital copies of 15 never-before-shown films in October and November, along with newly conceived, live musical accompaniment by musicians, including Tom Verlaine, Dean Wareham and Eleanor Friedberger.)
Film purists will undoubtedly mourn the migration to digital. In a review of “Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures,” a show of part of Warhol’s film work at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, Ken Johnson complained in The New York Times that seeing Warhol films digitally was “like seeing a movie on television, and that casts in doubt their status as works of art.”
Rajendra Roy, the chief film curator at the Museum of Modern Art and a self-described “unexpected analog guy,” agreed, saying that the right way to see Warhol’s films should always be on film, in part because he helped revolutionize the medium by upending or undermining so many of the conventions of moviemaking.
“I get really grumpy sometimes when things can’t be shown on film, but that said, these will become inaccessible very quickly if we don’t digitize them,” he said. “There are still many discoveries to be made, and that’s the exciting part of this project. Folks are looking at work in boxes of some of Andy’s film that probably hasn’t been seen since he shot it.”
Warhol documented so much of the New York art world of the 1960s that the films could also fill in crucial art-historical gaps about who was doing what, when and where. But curators hope that a more important benefit will be an awareness of how, long before phone cameras brought the quotidian and the personal fully into the realm of media, Warhol was already forging his own kind of YouTube. (He once deadpanned in an interview: “I think any camera that takes a picture, it comes out all right.”)
“He filmed everything around him,” said Geralyn Huxley, a curator of film and video at the Warhol Museum. “He went to people’s houses and filmed the dinners. He was basically a workaholic and the amount of film is unbelievable.”
But she added: “For all of the film out there, there’s very little of Warhol himself in any of it, actually. You get the sense that he didn’t really like to see himself on camera.”
Visitors to “A Journal of Insomnia,” part of the Storyscapes section of the forthcoming Tribeca Film Festival, will set up an appointment and, at the agreed-upon hour, receive a phone call. They will then presumably stumble sleepless to their computers, click on the “Insomnia” Web site and interact with one of four characters featured in the festival’s foray into transmedia: the crazy-quilt crossroads of new technology, uncertain expectations and audience participation.
National Film Board of Canada
A scene from “A Journal of Insomnia,” produced by Hugues Sweeney, part of the Storyscapes section of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Simon Duhamel/National Film Board of Canada
Hugues Sweeney produced “A Journal of Insomnia.”
Transmedia is tricky, the senior Storyscapes programmer Ingrid Kopp said, because defining it is like nailing down Jell-O. Is that annoying teenager texting at the movies committing an act of transmedia? Could be. Even if the text is just the story about how much he dislikes the movie he’s supposed to be watching, the marriage of narrative and new technology is a hallmark of transmedia.
Such storytelling has found a place in festival lineups fromToronto to Berlin; Sundance even has a lab devoted to it. But film festivals are by tradition inherently nondemocratic, celebrating the film artist’s individual vision and the audience’s passive consumption. Transmedia, by any nebulous definition, takes the big-screen experience in some other direction. Why include such a section at all?
“I think passive viewing and active viewing are changing. You see it in our own cultural habits, where you watch TV and have a second screen on Twitter or are interacting on Facebook,” said Genna Terranova, director of programming for the Tribeca festival, which begins Wednesday. “Now you’re starting to see independent projects harnessing all these tools and creating stories that live on multiple platforms.”
Over coffee near the festival’s offices, she and Ms. Kopp agreed that transmedia was in a nascent stage, and it might seem more mysterious than it should.
“When you ask people what they’re doing while watching ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Walking Dead,’ ” Ms. Kopp said of those television series, “a lot of them are already doing exactly the stuff that I might describe in a more academic fashion. They watch ‘Walking Dead’ and they play the game, having a two-screen app experience, or they watch ‘Game of Thrones’ and they follow the characters on Twitter. People have been doing that for a long time now. What I think is interesting is how creative artists, filmmakers, are taking these things that were considered more a part of marketing and thinking of the Web as an artistic medium.”
Besides, they said, none of this is coming out of the blue: The National Film Board of Canada has for several years been supporting transmedia projects, including “A Journal of Insomnia.” Its producer, Hugues Sweeney, pointed out that, just as in conventional filmed entertainment, a transmedia subject dictates style.
“I think we would be wrong saying that better interactivity is when people are highly involved, and bad is when they’re not,” Mr. Sweeney said by phone from Montreal. “Sometimes just moving a mouse in a very simple, minimal manner can be a beautiful metaphor of something. Sometimes we make people do something more radical. Taking an appointment is very radical.”
But he noted too that cinema has always existed at the intersection of art and technology. Sound. 3-D. Even documentaries. “Before ’59 all sound was postproduction,” he said, “and then in ’59 sound was synced to images at the same time they were captured, and that changed the perspective. It’s really about using technology to tell stories in an artful way.”
Stories equal narrative, but where exactly narrative exists in Storyscapes depends on the project. In “This Exquisite Forest” — inspired by the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpses, in which players add to a drawing without being able to see the previous contribution — animators build on one another’s work, and the results will be on view at the festival.
The creators of “A Journal of Insomnia” collected thousands of contributions from insomniacs, so the story has been under way for some time. The interviews captured in another offering, “Robots in Residence,” will be used to make a postfestival documentary, although one of its directors, Alexander Reben, is really in it for the interactivity. The project is based on his master’s thesis, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about the relationships between robots and people. His co-director, Brent Hoff, is more the bona fide filmmaker; Mr. Reben’s interest is in how Tribeca audiences will deal with robots that are calculated to be cute.
“A lot of the dimensions are based on the ratios of a baby’s heads and eyes and that sort of thing,” he said. “Cuteness triggers many effects on the brain, and by making the robot look cute, it seems more vulnerable.” He said that a few years ago, during the testing phase at M.I.T., a runner from the Boston Marathon encountered one of the robots. The runner, unable to return home to Germany because of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, wound up “spilling his guts,” Mr. Reben said. “He seemed to want to talk to someone.”
Exhibits explore how technology can reshape storytelling and engage the audience.
Going to the Tribeca Film Festival? Get ready for your close-up.
For the first time in its 12-year history, the festival will showcase five interactive exhibits that incorporate audiences. So those longing to channel their inner Luke Skywalker will have an opportunity to act out a Star Wars scene, while others can share their innermost thoughts to a robotic therapist and have their musings included in a documentary.
The aim of the exhibits isn’t to find the next Jennifer Lawrence or Daniel Day-Lewis. The project, called Storyscapes, was designed to showcase ways that Web-based interactive or cross-platform approaches can be used to tell a tale.
“I’m interested in the storytelling, and film is one way to do it,” said Ingrid Kopp, director of Digital Initiatives at the Tribeca Film Institute, the nonprofit affiliate of the popular festival. “What we are doing is showing the full spectrum of how stories can be told.”
Storyscapes is TFI’s latest attempt to study how technology is changing the film industry. It grew out of a two-year initiative between TFI and the Ford Foundation to support filmmakers working on social-media projects that go beyond traditional screens. Six of those documentaries will be shown at the festival, which runs from April 17 through April 28. There also will be workshops and panel discussions about new filmmaking trends.
“As a film festival, we have to be part of the conversation about how technology is changing and how we [filmmakers] use it creatively,” said Jane Rosenthal, one of the festival’s founders.
The increased emphasis on nontraditional filmmaking is one way the festival—which was started by Robert De Niro and Ms. Rosenthal after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to bring people back downtown—can set itself apart from others. Over the years, it has experimented with its size and breadth of offerings in an effort to find its niche in the crowded film festival circuit, and the mammoth event has been criticized in the past for lacking a distinct personality. This year, the festival will screen 89 feature films—the same number as last year—at theaters in lower Manhattan.
“To me, focusing on technology is a sign that the festival is forward-thinking,” said Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine, which is representing six films at Tribeca.
Even without the new programming, the festival highlights how much technology has transformed filmmaking. At least 10 of the movies that will be shown were made using funds raised through the Internet. And for one movie, called Tricked, director Paul Verhoeven wrote only the first four minutes, and used crowdsourcing to find 85 different writers to finish the rest.
Much of the experimentation with technology at Tribeca this year, however, is meant solely for education. None of the Storyscapes exhibits were designed for theatrical release. Each already existed, but festival sponsor Bombay Sapphire Gin paid an undisclosed amount to underwrite new elements of each especially for Tribeca.
In fact, some question whether these new interactive methods of storytelling will ever find a way to make money. With funding from the National Film Board of Canada, Hugues Sweeney and his team video-recorded people talking about their insomnia. For Tribeca, they used some of those experiences to create A Journal of Insomnia, which invites festivalgoers to sample someone else’s specific struggle with sleeplessness via the Internet. He was uncertain if it would have attracted independent financing or if viewers would pay to watch it.
“We are still looking for the economic model, and there is no magic recipe,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We wanted to build an audience.”
Drawing interest seems to be the easy part. All of the Storyscapes initiatives triggered significant outside participation. In one, a team created a multimedia archive of people’s Superstorm Sandy experiences, which will offer festivalgoers a chance to add their own recollections. Meanwhile, thousands of people have added their imprint to The Exquisite Forest. Started by a Google creative director and an independent filmmaker, it is a user-generated online gallery of animation. Its popularity already has led to having it on display at the Tate Modern in London, and wannabe artists will be able to add to it at Tribeca.
‘Luke, I am your tabby’
Similarly, when Casey Pugh put out a call on the Internet for people to re-create a 15-second portion of Star Wars in any way they wanted, he got 900 responses, with fans using everything from their cats to liquor bottles as stand-ins for characters. The film now has a cult following on YouTube. Star Wars Uncut will be shown at the festival, and people also will get a chance to act out a scene.
“People really just want to be part of the process,” Mr. Pugh said.
That’s what Alexander Reben hopes. He will bring to the festival about 20 cardboard robots that ask pointed questions, in hopes that people will divulge some interesting stories. At the end of the festival, a film will be created from the footage.
Experts say that there always will be people who simply want to sit back and watch a film, but that finding ways to engage an audience in the process is critical for the new generation.
“This generation has been brought up on being able to control the medium where they get their information,” said Albie Hecht, founding director of the Macaulay Honors College New Media Lab at the City University of New York.
SIDEBAR: What to watch at the Tribeca Film Festival
There are 89 feature films set for screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here are some with big names attached that are generating buzz.
Before Midnight. The third chapter in a popular saga of two lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who met on a train in Europe when they were young in the first installment and reunited years later in the second. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Big Men. A documentary produced by Brad Pitt that explores the toll of oil exploration by big corporations in Africa. Distributor: In the market for one
Bridegroom. Former President Bill Clinton will introduce this timely documentary about the ongoing debate over the right of same-sex couples to marry. Distributor: In the market for one
Byzantium. The latest film by Interview With the Vampire director Neil Jordan, which has the undead wreaking havoc on mere mortals. Distributor: IFC Films
Gasland Part II. The follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Gasland, which continues to explore the controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Distributor: HBO
I Got Somethin’ to Tell You. Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg makes her directorial debut with a documentary about the late comedian Moms Mabley. The presumably wealthy co-host of The Viewgenerated controversy by using Kickstarter to help raise funds for the movie. Distributor: In the market for one
In God We Trust. A documentary about swindler extraordinaire Bernie Madoff’s longtime personal secretary, Eleanor Squillari, and her obsession with the case. Distributor: In the market for one
Lenny Cooke. A documentary about one of the most hyped basketball players ever, who was supposed to be an NBA star but never played in the league. It is the first documentary by brothers Bennie and Joshua Safdie, whose fictional films like Daddy Long Legs have won critical praise and been shown at other festivals, such as Cannes. Distributor: In the market for one
Mistaken for Strangers. This documentary, which follows the rock band The National on the road, will open the festival. It’s directed by Tom Berninger, a roadie with the band and the younger brother of its lead singer. Distributor: In the market for one
Reluctant Fundamentalist. The latest film from director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, TheNamesake) who adapts the best-selling book about how a young Pakistani-born man’s cushy life is upended after 9/11. Distributor: IFC Films
The documentary Bear 71, which premiered at Sundance, invites its viewers to engage with Banff National Park in an interactive experience that allows its viewers to join the forest’s tagged wildlife at the project’s temporary home at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art or by way of webcam through the documentary’s website.
A bear walks through the Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies and is ensnared in a trap where she is tranquilized, tagged, and collared with a GPS device. She has now become Bear 71, and joins a group of wired wildlife who document the interactions between nature and their increasingly encroaching human neighbors. Bear 71 is a new interactive project produced by the National Film Board of Canada’s digital studio, and includes an interactive web documentary site, a social media microsite, and a live installation piece that launched in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival.
The main part of the project consists of an interactive web documentary created by NFB’s Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison, which introduces viewers to Bear 71 and then drops them into an interactive map of the Park, where they encounter other wired creatures that live in Bear 71′s home range: golden eagles, Big Horn sheep, wolves, and deer mice, all similarly tagged and under surveillance. The animals’ movements can be seen as they move about the park, and clicking on their markers reveals a video feed and information about the animal. Viewers can click on their own marker as well, which launches a group of surveillance feeds including their own (the site requests access to the viewer’s webcam and microphone, which can be denied) and any other viewers who happen to be browsing the site at the same time, tagged and tracked like the animals. Landmarks such as the freeway and railroad that run through the park can be seen, cars and trains moving on them as the animal’s markers cross back and forth, highlighting one of the project’s main points: when technology and the wild intersect, it is often to the detriment of the wildlife. There are also video feeds and observation points marked on the map, showing actual pictures and videos from their real-life counterparts in the Park.
While exploring the interactive map, the story continues from Bear 71′s point of view as she describes life for herself, her cubs, and the other resident animals, narrated by Mia Kirshner (The L Word, 24). During the narrative, Bear 71′s marker can be followed as she moves through the forest, in line with the story. In one of her stories, Bear 71 explains how the trains often spill grain onto the tracks, tempting bears to go onto the tracks to eat the grain only to be hit by subsequent trains. During this, if the viewer has followed her marker, the train goes by in pixelated form, backed by a sound effect track. In another, Bear 71 talks about swimming in the lake as the Banff park rangers look on (having tracked her there), and her marker can be seen moving through the map representation of the lake. The entire story is 20 minutes long, and afterwards the viewer is left on the map to explore at will, or to replay the story.
There’s an additional social networking layer to the story, centered around @iambear71 on Twitter, a Tumblr blog, and a microsite where visitors can role play as one of Banff’s wired wild animals. Selecting an animal displays a screen capture from a video feed, facts about the creature, and the ability to tweet as the chosen animal.
The highlight of the project is the art installation, which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier in Park City, Utah on January 20th and was on display through the 29th. Co-created by Lance Weiler (Pandemic 1.0), the installation has a large screen which shows surveillance videos of the wired animals alongside viewers of the website, a larger version of the window seen on the main website when the viewer clicks on their own marker. Along with the surveillance screen is another large screen playing the interactive documentary as seen on the main website. Unlike the online version, the installation uses an iPad to add an additional layer of augmented reality by allowing the viewer to use the iPad’s camera to “select” one of the trail markers, and view the video recorded from that trail marker’s camera. Also included with the installation are an actual trail cam from Banff, and a tree brought over from Banff, stripped to resemble a bear’s rub tree. The installation can now be seen at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through April 19.
Bear 71 is a unique and powerful way of telling the story of a bear under the influence of human technology, using that same technology as the medium. By adding viewers as markers on the map alongside the video feeds from animals and fellow visitors to the site, Bear 71 allows its audience to watch surveillance of fellow participants while at the same time being subject to surveillance. The pervasiveness of observation throughout the story helps to bring the viewer deeper into the story, nurturing a deeper sympathy and connection with the wild’s wired animals.
Jam3, in collaboration with the National Film Board, have just completed the interactive documentary Bear 71. The multi-user experience launched alongside an installation at the Sundance festival entitled “Bear 71 Live”. The narrative follows the life of a female grizzly bear in Canada’s Banff National Park from the moment she is tagged and collared by park rangers to the moment of her untimely death. Created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanna Allison, the story is narrated by Mia Kirshner from the bear’s perspective, but users witness it through real footage collected from surveillance cameras that encompass the park.
Bear 71 highlights how our increasingly heavy dependence on technology separates us from nature even though it allows us to keep closer tabs on it. It also forces us to confront how we view ourselves in relation to technology and nature, and makes us question the validity of surveillance both in the wild and in human society. Bear 71 blurs the line between the wild world and the wired one.
While watching TV the other night, a commercial came on showing a couple hiking and camping in the woods. The wife was clearly not an “outdoorsy type” and visibly out of her element, but putting on a brave face while scaling the steep cliffs and fighting off mosquitos. Then at night, in the golden glow of the campfire, the guy pulls out a laptop with Boardwalk Empire, “her show,” all cued up and suddenly she’s all glowing and loving camping and life again.
Anyway, images like that make me wonder if we’ve finally reached a point where we’re no longer capable of enjoying nature without the comforting crutch of technology (to speak nothing of the cities, where we’ve proven actively incapable of surviving without our technological appendages). More importantly, do we even consider how our use of technology—even our very presence—impacts animals and nature?
It’s exactly this topic that co-creators Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison are examining in their new interactive web-based documentary Bear 71, from the innovative National Film Board of Canada (NFB), that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.
The 20-minute documentary chronicles the life of a female bear in the Canadian Rockies who was tagged and tracked by Banff National Park rangers from 2001-2009. Told from the first-person perspective of the female grizzly, named Bear 71, the film is split between live footage of the bear’s key experiences and a virtual map that the user can navigate freely—supplemented with over one million photos captured by Allison with motion-triggered cameras, as well as several videos, all set to a soundtrack of Radiohead, Atlas Sound, Tim Hecker and Caspian.
As Bear 71 lets us into her life, we learn about how her landscape has changed, how she has to deal with new human smells that hinder her ability to find food, and most importantly how she must learn to not listen to her natural instincts in order to survive in this new kind of world. The documentary poses questions like “How can we coexist with nature?” and shows that even while we’re able to keep closer tabs on nature and animals through the use of technology and surveillance, it renders us even more detached.
As part of the interactive experience, users have the option of either exploring the bear’s world via webcam (where they can interact in real-time with other users) or visiting the Bear 71 microsite and choosing another animal to embody to find out how human presence affects other types of wildlife.